The 35 Best Western Movies Of All Time, Ranked

Since the earliest days of cinema, Westerns have been one of Hollywood's favorite genres. 1908's "The Great Train Robbery" was one of the most successful early films, while 1939's "Stagecoach" kicked off a golden age of Westerns that lasted until the mid-20th century, making stars out of actors like Gary Cooper, James Stewart, Robert Mitchum, Henry Fonda, Glenn Ford, and Walter Brennan.

While thought of as a hallmark of American movies, international Westerns grew in popularity, too. European films referred to as "Spaghetti Westerns" emerged in the '60s thanks to Sergio Leone's "The Man With No Name" trilogy, while experimental filmmakers like Alejandro Jodorowsky coined the term "acid Western." Westerns often meld with other genres as well. Films like "Blazing Saddles" poke fun at Western clichés, while science fiction borrows heavily from Westerns; famous sci-fi properties like Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, "Star Wars," and "Firefly" reimagine Western storylines in an intergalactic setting, while movies like "Westworld" and "Back to the Future: Part III" directly combine the genres.

Given the expansive history of the genre, narrowing down the greatest Westerns of all time is no easy task. These 35 films, ranked, epitomize everything the Western is capable of: grand adventures, romances, comedies, historical tales, and even social commentaries.

35. The Great Train Robbery (1903)

Many people believe that 1903's "The Great Train Robbery" was the first-ever Western film, which simply isn't true -– the genre's origins actually date back to the 1890s. However, historians do not deny that Edwin S. Porter's silent cowboy crime caper was one of the genre's first bonafide commercial successes, and by all accounts, set the genre in motion. Its disturbing final shot (even by today's standard), in which Justin D. Barnes fires directly toward the camera, will forever be one of the Western canon's most iconic images.

It can be difficult to look back on the film nowadays and take in its significance. The film is a bit overlong, even at just 12 minutes, and contains a plot so procedural that the story almost functions better as a tutorial for wannabee outlaws than it does an actual dramatic narrative. Still, as with most silent films, it's all a matter of perspective. Less than 10 years before the release of "Great Train Robbery," a train leaving the station was all it took for a film to blow people away. In this film, you have not just a moving train but actors climbing on top of it and fighting! For 1903, this was the peak of action cinema.

Most importantly, Porter's film laid the aesthetic and conceptual groundwork for the genre's swell of popularity later in the decade and in subsequent eras. You'll be hard-pressed to find a Western film that doesn't evoke "The Great Train Robbery" in some capacity, which shows its immense impact.

34. Dances With Wolves

Indigenous representation has come a long way since 1990, but it's impossible to discount the impact of Kevin Costner's "Dances With Wolves." The film remains one of the few Hollywood epics that attempts to bring dignity and empathy to Native American characters, portraying their way of life as more spiritually and personally enriching than that of the Civil War-era American people. Though it ultimately cannot fully escape its white savior perspective — nor its more glaring central white romance — it is still powerful to see an ensemble of Indigenous actors speaking extensive Lakota dialogue (even if it isn't properly gendered) in a Best Picture Oscar-winner.

That said, there is power to the film outside of its Indigenous characters. For a first-time director, Costner proves to have a strong visual and tonal grasp of the American West. The actor-director had loved Westerns since childhood, making him passionate about the genre, but the film's epic scale would have been a lot for even an experienced director. The film required interactions with real wild animals, intricate period production and costume design, and a fair share of violent combat. Despite some initial setbacks on the first day, Costner proved to be the perfect man for the job, capturing all of these elements with a tender but rugged reverence for a period of history that is long-gone. The film's striking success would begin Costner's storied career in Westerns, both in front of and behind the camera, and that continues with his "Horizon" saga hitting theaters.

33. A Fistful of Dollars

Few films in a genre as tried and true as the Western have the distinction of redefining it. However, Sergio Leone's "A Fistful of Dollars" was so singular in its approach that it effectively birthed the spaghetti Western, a subgenre initially defined by its Italian origins that has since gone on to become its own stylistically subversive framework: low budgets, international casts, and operatic stories of vengeance and violence.

When the film first premiered in 1964, critics were quick to call out its melodramatic tone, shoddy production values, and expository writing. Years later, it's hard not to see where they were coming from. The film's sloppy dialogue dubbing and excessive close-ups haven't aged well, nor has its surprisingly convoluted story of a stranger's efforts to clean up a small town by double-crossing its two crime families.

Despite this, 60s audiences devoured "A Fistful of Dollars" both in its home country of Italy and in the United States. To this day, Leone's film is seen as a masterwork amongst its ilk, and despite its flaws, it has earned its reputation. Clint Eastwood's "Man with No Name" became a household one, paving the way for countless Western anti-heroes, and Ennio Morricone's expressionist score turned him into one of the medium's all-time great composers. Leone's filmmaking style oozes cool but also drips with suspense, embodying its protagonist's stoic but ultimately dutiful moral compass.

32. Django

Spaghetti Westerns don't get much more ridiculous than "Django." The controversial thriller (which went on to inspire Quentin Tarantino) was accused of being one of the most violent films ever made on its release in 1966 and was banned in several territories. And yet, it also made director Sergio Corbucci one of the most prominent spaghetti Western filmmakers, thanks to his inclusion of dark comedy and savage anti-hero characters.

Django (Franco Nero) disguises himself as a war veteran and dispatches a gang of vicious outlaws loyal to crime lord Major Jackson (Eduardo Fajardo) alongside a border town. After saving a defenseless woman Maria (Loredana Nusciak), Django discovers that the town is a neutral zone between Jackson's Red Shirts gang and a company of revolutionaries sworn to General Hugo Rodríguez (José Bódalo). Django reluctantly stays to protect the villagers from the gang war.

One of the quintessential spaghetti Westerns, "Django" remains a cult classic. Quentin Tarantino loved the film so much that he brought back Nero for a cameo appearance in "Django Unchained."

31. The Wild Bunch

In the Western genre's long and ongoing history, no other filmmaker has come close to matching Sam Peckinpah's chaotic, ultraviolent filmmaking style. Frankly, nobody ever should. This isn't to say that Peckinpah wasn't a master of his craft, but his work can definitely be overwhelming. Case in point: Just one shootout in "The Wild Bunch" is the cinematic equivalent of repeated blunt force trauma. Frenetic cutting and explosively bloody violence thoroughly deromanticize what's often a celebrated type of action set piece, and shooting that Battle of Bloody Porch scene was exhausting. What other filmmakers portray as heroic, Peckinpah reveals as harrowing.

This disillusionment drives "The Wild Bunch," which is centered on a gang of outlaws who struggle to maintain their abandon in a society that has settled down. They decide to take one last job smuggling weapons for a Mexican warlord, which takes them into an even seedier world where they're forced to confront their own principles. It's the ultimate anti-Western Western, probing a wide array of the genre's familiar sticking points — racism, greed, misogyny, betrayal — only to come to a natural consensus: Violence begets violence, trauma begets trauma, and selfishness begets selfishness.

Peckinpah was wise to cast several then-older Golden Age stars to play his withered protagonists. Though actors like William Holden, Ernest Borgenine, and Robert Ryan were successful throughout their careers, the height of their success can be seen as a strong corollary to the glory days of the American West. These outlaws are past their prime; in a way, these stars are as well.

30. The Outlaw Josey Wales

Clint Eastwood's legacy of Westerns extends far beyond Leone's "Dollars" trilogy, including several films he directed and starred in. Amongst his many credits is the oft-forgotten "The Outlaw Josey Wales," a revenge story set in the direct aftermath of the Civil War. The film's prologue sees Wales' wife and son killed in a violent raid by Union soldiers, leading him to join a Confederate gang and become a skilled gunman. However, come the end of the war, his gang surrenders to the Union only to then be killed for their transgressions. This sets Josey on the run, where he winds up forming a new unique band of outcasts, including Cherokee hermit Lone Watie (Chief Dan George) and the young ingénue Laura Lee (Sondra Locke).

It's hard to imagine that, even in 1976, Eastwood had the gall to tell a story that so distinctly vilified the Union side of the conflict. However, this prying open of typical Civil War-era morality makes "Josey Wales" stand out as one of a more historically subversive Western that doesn't sacrifice the genre's trademark shootouts and country landscapes. Eastwood brings a similar "Man with no Name"-esque persona to Josey, a borderline Confederate who acts like he is only in it for himself but still cares for people in need. Many calmer moments see Josey gaining wisdom in life from Lone, who is an understated but more authentic piece of Native American representation than something like "Dances With Wolves."

29. One-Eyed Jacks

"One-Eyed Jacks" survived a troubled production to become a Western classic. Originally, Stanley Kubrick was going to direct the technicolor Western, but dropped out two weeks before filming after disputing the budget with Paramount Pictures. The film's star, Marlon Brando, stepped in and directed a five-hour version with a nihilistic finale, but Paramount grew concerned, forcing Brando to cut the runtime in half (including a scene with a drunk Brando) and change the ending. Unfortunately, much of the footage was destroyed and Brando's director's cut will never see the light of day. The experience was so challenging that Brando never directed another film.

However, the version of "One-Eyed Jacks" that was released is still a terrific Western. Brando stars as a bank robber nicknamed Rio "The Kid" who is betrayed by his mentor "Dad" Longworth (Karl Malden) and spends five years in prison. After Rio is released, Dad denies his version of events and boasts that his former partner will never defeat him in a duel. Rio reluctantly pursues his old friend, despite once loving him.

Brando makes the emotional core of the movie feel authentic, as he had a personal connection to the story: Brando had a troubled relationship with his father, and used the relationship between "The Kid" and "Dad" to reflect on his own experiences.

28. Destry Rides Again

James Stewart would become known for his gritty, serious performances in Western films, but he explored the genre's more playful side early in his career. 1939's "Destry Rides Again" is a heartwarming and hilarious romp. Stewart was one of classic Hollywood's most charming stars, and "Destry Rides Again" sees him play a sincerely noble character distinguished by his dedication to nonviolence.

Tom Destry (Stewart) arrives in Bottleneck and is tasked with bringing order to the violent town, but refuses to carry a gun. The villagers mock his pacifism, but he proves his merit after beating a group of thugs in a sharpshooting contest. Destry suspects that the town's previous sheriff, Keogh (Joe King), has been murdered, and teams up with the saloon singer Frenchy (Marlene Deitrich) to unravel the mystery. Frenchy is initially skeptical that Destry's passive approach will be effective, but grows to respect the new sheriff's earnestness and begins to fall in love with him.

"Destry Rides Again" features great original songs, including "See What the Boys in the Back Room Will Have" and "You've Got That Look," which contribute to the lighthearted tone. The family-friendly approach makes "Destry Rides Again" a great film to introduce younger audiences to Westerns.

27. Ride The High Country

Those looking for a lighter Sam Peckinpah joint will be satisfied with "Ride The High Country," a small-scale story that still pokes at familiar motifs for the director: protagonists reckoning with their age, the harrowing effects of gang violence, and an individual's vast duality amidst the gray moral spectrum of the American West. The story follows Steve Judd (Joel McCrea), a retired marshall-turned-courier who is hired to transport $250,000 worth of gold from a remote mining town; he joins forces with his former deputy, Gil Westrum (Randolph Scott), and their young assistant, Heck Longtree (Ron Starr), who secretly conspire to take the gold for themselves.

The film's greatest strength is the juxtaposition of morality between the film's characters. Steve is the unflinching do-gooder of the group, while Gil's age has brought with it cynicism and greed. Heck is a womanizing, mindless drone until he meets Elsa Knudsen (Mariette Hartley), a staunchly independent young woman being looked after by an abusive father. Toward the end of the film, everyone's expectations for the journey ahead are flipped upside down, forcing them to reconsider their motivations and beliefs. Though the entire cast is strong, the film's anchors are McCrea and Scott; the two have countless credits and years of talent shared between them, adding a real-life quality to their characters' aging friendship and the poetic screenplay from Peckinpah and co-writer Williams Roberts (though credited to N.B. Stone Jr., the two did an extensive rewrite before shooting).

26. The Shootist

John Wayne's final film was in this touching tribute to his own career, and it was a constant battle behind the scenes of "The Shootist." While filming, Wayne was suffering from health issues; similarly, his character, J.B. Books, is an older gunslinger recovering from a gunshot wound he'd suffered a decade earlier. The parallels make the film particularly emotional, as Wayne discusses his deteriorating condition with his doctor, Dr. E. W. Hostetler (James Stewart). Seeing Wayne and Stewart reunited is a fun reference to their older collaborations.

While the meditative approach that "The Shootist" takes can be grueling, the film is heartwarming, too. Books falls in love with housekeeper Bond Rogers (Lauren Bacall) and takes her son Gillom (Ron Howard) under his wing. As Gillom grows aware of Books' legacy and seeks to become a hero of his caliber, Howard injects the film with some much-needed humor. However, Books warns Gillom about the dangers of his profession, and reveals the toll that killing has taken on him. Wayne's final act of onscreen heroism during the film's climactic shootout puts a perfect cap on his career.

25. Stagecoach

"Stagecoach" is one of the most important Westerns of all-time, setting many precedents for the genre, including an admiration for natural environments, impressive stunt work that sparked a battle with the studio, and a cast made up of morally ambiguous characters. It was also notable as John Wayne's breakout role; Wayne's introductory scene as the brave everyman known as "The Ringo Kid" is one of the greatest screen debuts of all time.

"Stagecoach" follows a group of strangers as they travel by coach from Arizona to New York. They are forced to work together in order to survive the attacks of Apache raiding parties. It's a movie full of interesting social commentary; although the characters have different professions and belong to various social classes, they're all equal when their lives are in danger.

The film creates tension by confining the characters to the coach, and is still entertaining today. However, certain elements have not aged well; the Apache characters are treated purely as villains and do not have any depth. On a more positive note, the prostitute Dallas (Claire Trevor) has an agency that was rare among female characters in early Westerns. But there's no denying its continued influence on the genre to this day.

24. My Darling Clementine

Speaking of the many onscreen depictions of the O.K. Corral shootout, "My Darling Clementine" is probably the second-most beloved, though for very different reasons. Any film scholar will tell you that "My Darling Clementine" is one of the all-time great Westerns and a necessary piece of John Ford's masterful canon. However, many modern cinephiles aren't even aware of its existence. It's certainly not as exciting as "Tombstone," but Ford's more romantic vision of the frontier perfectly fits this take on the gunfight, even if that's because the filmmakers fudge some of the details.

"My Darling Clementine" is based on Stuart N. Lake's biography "Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal," which is a heavily fictionalized account of Earp's history. Thus, the film takes similar creative liberties, right down to Earp's titular love interest; Clementine Carter (Cathy Downs) was never a real person. Instead, she's an amalgamation of both Earp and Doc Holliday's real-life wives. Though Earp's conflict with the Clanton family drives the plot, Carter is the film's heart and soul, drawing out the humanity and sensitivity in two of the West's most revered figures.

Speaking of which, Henry Fonda and Victor Mature are exceptional as Earp and Holliday. In another creative liberty, the two figures meet for the first time during the events of the film, and their relationship is ripe with tension. Fonda's everyman quality gives Earp a similar relatability while matching Mature's sheer force as a dramatic actor, which itself drives home Holliday's tragic arc.

23. 3:10 To Yuma (1957)

As you settle into the opening act of Delmer Daves' "3:10 To Yuma," you start to wonder when things are going to kick into high gear. Ben Wade (Glenn Ford) and his gang get away with a stick-up rather easily, and Ben himself spends the first act wooing a barmaid. Dan Evans (Van Heflin), whose cattle are left unwrangled due to Wade's robbery, is hesitant to fight back out of fear he'll be killed. There are no sensationalized shoot-outs nor any overt setpieces of any kind. It isn't until Dan and Ben are holed up in a hotel room together that the reasoning becomes clear: Daves' story is not a Western spectacle but instead, at its core, a chamber piece about two men who challenge each other's beliefs.

Dan is offered some much-needed money to see that Ben catches the titular train ride so that he can stand trial. The rancher is already out of his depth, but it doesn't help that the unconventionally suave Ben has enough mental ammunition to suggest he isn't quite the villain of the story. That said, Ben isn't impervious to Dan's predicament either. It's a battle of wits and convictions that culminates in a suspenseful final sequence, one that poetically bookends Daves' deconstruction of the Western's loose distinctions between lawman and criminal. The film's black and white photography only furthers this aim. Color film was widely popularized by this point, but Daves heightens the contrast to paint literal shades of gray between his emotionally complex characters.

22. Blazing Saddles

The American West is a bleak place, so few Westerns dare to be funny. However, when you're Mel Brooks, everything is funny. Therein lies the appeal of "Blazing Saddles," which pokes fun at just about everything and everybody, even in ways that would be deemed inappropriate in today's culture. While we can't deny certain portrayals make us cringe (yes, that is Mel Brooks in redface), the film's racial pastiche more than makes up for it by putting bureaucratic white bozos at the center of the inanity. Brooks himself is maybe the dumbest of the bunch, as the crosseyed Governor Petomane, but it's no coincidence that he is also the funniest.

Many would suggest this is a Mel Brooks comedy in Western clothing, but that isn't giving "Blazing Saddles" enough credit. The film's takedown of White and hyper-masculine desire for wealth and power is directly prodding at the genre's life force, which ages poorly to this day. Centering the Black Sheriff Bart (Cleavon Little) as the protagonist makes this satire all the more transparent and absurd, elevated even further by Gene Wilder's dry and sardonic wit as Jim The Waco Kid. Though co-writer Andrew Bergman's concept began as merely an anachronistic Western, it somehow evolved into a remarkably brazen comedy of errors that exposes the genre's many weak spots. Then again, sometimes a good roast can make you love something's flaws even more. Capped off by a final meta-sequence that defies description, "Blazing Saddles" embodies the Western as effectively as any other film in the genre, and the Mel Brooks classic still has sharp satire to this day.

21. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Paul Newman and Robert Redford would go on to star in the Best Picture-winning heist film "The Sting" together, but their earlier team-up, "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," is the better movie. Featuring exciting train robbery set pieces and a quirky use of music (including an iconic sequence set to "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head"), it's a breathlessly entertaining thrill ride from start to finish (and the ending was almost a lot different). Despite the comedic elements, the film does hint at the darker side of the criminal lifestyle through its ambiguous ending.

Newman and Redford star as the titular leads, two lifelong bank robbers who lead the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang. Although Butch is more experienced, both are extremely confident, and Newman and Redford do a great job capturing the clashing of personalities while still making it clear that the characters care for one another. Their banter breathes life into crackling dialogue from legendary screenwriter William Goldman.

"Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" reflects on why adventure-seeking outlaws are continuously drawn back to their dangerous lifestyles. Even with enough winnings to sustain themselves, and presented with the option for a normal life, Butch and Sundance continue to keep doing what they know best.

20. Winchester '73

The first Western made by director Anthony Mann and James Stewart utilizes a creative structure to explore cyclical violence on the American frontier. The film changes its point-of-view character as the titular Winchester 1873 rifle passes between owners, while a detective named Lin McAdam (Stewart) traces the history of the weapon, following its story as different criminals claim the gun as their own

McAdam is a darker protagonist for Stewart, and is known for his proficient gunmanship. Despite his arrogance, McAdam is honorable, traveling between towns to train villagers how to protect themselves. The nonlinear narrative makes the central mystery more engaging, and McAdam is forced to start his search over whenever a new owner takes possession of the gun.

McAdam is one of Stewart's most memorable characters, but cinephiles may be surprised to see Tony Curtis and Rock Hudson appear in "Winchester '73" too, making small cameos before they became household names.

19. Johnny Guitar

You wouldn't think a film named "Johnny Guitar" merits much analysis. One of the characters in the film even calls out its ridiculousness ("That's no name"). And yet, this is another example of a massively influential classic Western that has since been forgotten outside of niche circles. "Johnny Guitar" is arguably the most subversive Westerns of the 1950s, in part due to its female-focused story. The film may be named after Sterling Hayden's character, but the star is Joan Crawford, to the point that it's a wonder why the film is not named after her.

She is Vienna, a domineering saloon owner whose plan to build property along an impending railroad puts her at odds with the locals. Things get worse when her associate, outlaw, The Dancin' Kid (Scott Brady), is accused of murdering the vindictive Emma Small's (Mercedes McCambridge) brother. Crawford and McCambridge are the film's dramatic forces, ruthlessly assertive amidst seas of men while still maintaining femme glamor and romantic vulnerability. "Johnny Guitar" has aged extremely well, in large part thanks to this subversion of the genre's traditional gender roles, a claim few other Westerns can make.

Philip Yordan and Ben Maddow's screenplay expertly divulge world-building and backstory in small doses, keeping viewers engaged as to how all of the story's seemingly disparate dots connect. The film eventually descends into full-blown melodrama, expertly blocked by "Rebel Without a Cause" director Nicholas Ray and gorgeously captured in Technicolor alternative Trucolor. No Western fan should go without witnessing this stunning oddity for themselves.

18. The Magnificent Seven (1960)

Akira Kurosowa's 1954 classic "Seven Samurai” told the story of seven very different warriors who reluctantly join forces in order to protect a poor town threatened by a gang of murderers. It's a timeless tale about brave heroes who defeat evil against seemingly insurmountable odds. In 1960, director John Sturges reimagined the story as an American Western adventure. "The Magnificent Seven" is a creative remake that retains the themes of "Seven Samurai" even while moving the action to a different setting.

Seven distinguished lawmen join forces when a raider named Calvera (Eli Wallach) assaults a Mexican village. The honorable Chris (Yul Brennar), enigmatic traveler Vin (Steve McQueen), impulsive hustler Chico (Horst Buchholz), troubled career man Bernardo (Charles Bronsan), war veteran Lee (Robert Vaughn), fortune teller Harry (Brad Dexter), and weapons expert Britt (James Coburn) have little reason to trust each other, but are united in their noble cause. The cast has terrific chemistry as they compare their different experiences and work together to teach the villagers how to protect themselves.

While the brilliant "Seven Samurai" score from composer Fumio Hayasaka is tough to emulate, the energetic main theme of "The Magnificent Seven" by the great Elmer Bernstein is instantly recognizable, and the score is often credited as the element that really brought the movie together. While a remake itself, "The Magnificent Seven" was remade again in 2016 from Antonie Fuqua and Denzel Washington, and although it's nowhere near as goo, the new film contains fun callbacks for those that love the original.

17. Dead Man

It's exciting when bold filmmakers revitalize the Western by fusing it with other genres, and Jim Jarmusch created a distinctly odd absurdist comedy with the 1995 Western "Dead Man." While "Dead Man" replicates elements from older films through black-and-white cinematography and meticulous production design, "Dead Man" also includes elements of fantasy, raunchy comedy, and shocking violence that are wholly unique. It's an unpredictable story, and one of Jarmusch's best films.

"Dead Man" follows the cowardly accountant William Blake (Johnny Depp) as he travels to a frontier town in order to take a job he's been promised. Upon arriving, Blake realizes that he's no longer up for the job and is forced to flee when he becomes the target of the ruthless bounty hunter Cole Wilson (Lance Henrikson).

Blake receives mysterious visions throughout the film that guide him, adding a spiritual element to "Dead Man." An untraditional score by Neil Young also adds a sense of uneasiness, and the bizarre dialogue adds intentionally awkward comic relief.

16. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Sergio Leone first introduced the Man with No Name (Clint Eastwood) in "A Fistful of Dollars," where he comes to the assistance of a border town when rival families threaten its citizens. The mysterious bounty hunter returns in "For A Few Dollars More," chasing down bandits who escaped imprisonment. The enigmatic character gradually revealed his heroism, and the trilogy's final installment "The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly" sees him embark on an epic quest for gold during the final days of the Civil War.

Now referred to as "Blondie," the Man forms an unlikely partnership with the fast-talking thief Tuco (Eli Wallach) as they compete in a treasure hunt against the sadistic mercenary Angel Eyes (Lee Van Cleef). The three men duel in an epic final gunfight, which has been homaged and parodied countless times since. Leone also incorporates subtle commentary about the destructive nature of war as the characters travel through devastated battle camps.

At nearly three hours long, "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" is entertaining throughout thanks to the stylized action sequences (that bridge explosion had to be shot twice), the comedic banter between Blondie and Tuco, and the iconic score by Ennio Morricone. Each installment in the trilogy stands alone, but "The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly" is a great sendoff for its hero.

15. Django Unchained

Leave it to Quentin Tarantino to take a genre as old as film itself and find ways to reinvent it. Though "Django Unchained" takes inspiration from many Westerns before it, the film feels like a first of its kind. Tarantino not only heightened traditional Spaghetti Western violence with his own bombastic flair, but combined the stylized bloodshed with his staple revenge fantasy formula, this time centering the film on a Black protagonist in a revisionist take on American slavery.

Though the film drew ire for these fantastical elements — and not undeservedly — "Django Unchained" remains a meticulously well-crafted Western. Tarantino is known for recreating whatever period he's capturing in detail, and "Django Unchained" is no exception. Incredible costuming and set design wholly immerse audiences in both the pre-Civil War Deep South as well as a palpable Western landscape. However, the film is also incredibly modern; the sharp editing, explosive sound work, and eclectic soundtrack all shed a new perspective on this time-tested genre.

In addition, much of the film's success rests on its performances. As Django, a former slave who's trained as a bounty hunter, Jamie Foxx is at his most brazenly confident as a leading man. Similarly, Leonardo DiCaprio's Calvin Candie, a wicked plantation owner who possesses Django's wife, Hildi (Kerry Washington), is utterly compelling in his vileness and has become one of cinema's most memorable on-screen villains. Christoph Waltz and Samuel L. Jackson are also excellent, continuing to prove that Tarantino has a way of bringing out their strongest work.

14. Rio Bravo

Thanks to the sharp dialogue between its central characters, "Rio Bravo" is one of the most entertaining classic Westerns. It's no surprise that it's a favorite of Quentin Tarantino, who stated that it's one of his favorite films of all-time, and notes that he was inspired by its "hang-out" approach when writing "Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood." The crackling mix of comic banter and exciting gunfights make "Rio Bravo" an early action-comedy.

Sheriff John Chance (John Wayne) enlists the help of town drunk Dude (Dean Martin), former lawman Stumpy (Walter Brennan), and rising street fighter Colorado (Ricky Nelson) to keep the dangerous outlaw Nathan Burdette (John Russell) in prison while his loyal private army plots to free him. The heroes are forced to stay in close quarters as they protect the prison outpost while awaiting the arrival of the U.S. Government militia forces. Wayne adds gravity to the role, but finds room for humor as Chance grows annoyed by his bickering allies.

The plot is similar to "High Noon," but the two films were in competition with each other. Hawks disliked the idea that a sheriff would consider abandoning his duty, and created the unflinching heroes of "Rio Bravo" as a response. Despite their different approaches, both films are classics in their own right.

13. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

The last Western film from John Wayne and John Ford is a surprisingly downbeat commentary on the perils of hero worship (and Ford made it a nightmare for everyone involved). Told entirely in flashback, "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" has a chilling final line that questions why violence is perpetual on the frontier. Although color film was already mainstream when the film was released in 1962, Ford shot the film in black and white, giving it the pensive feeling of a fleeting memory of a bygone era.

"The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" follows respected politician Ransom Stoddard (James Stewart) as he travels to the funeral of the rancher Tom Doniphon (John Wayne). It's initially unclear why an important political figure cares so deeply about the life of a working class man, but the film delves into their early friendship, showing how Stoddard helped establish a new political framework for Doniphon's hometown, Shinbone. The town resists political meetings and debates about statehood, but an empathetic Stoddard simply wants to save Shinbone from isolation. Doniphon distrusts Washington, but respects Stoddard.

Their advancements are threatened by the vicious bounty hunter Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin), who aims to take over the town before it is fully incorporated within the U.S. Government. Stoddard is forced to take up a weapon and engage in conflict for the first time, while Doniphon struggles to keep the peace. Both men are out of their comfort zones, forced to face the limits of their abilities.

12. Red River

Although Westerns are commonly thought of as pure entertainment with obvious good guys and bad guys, the Howard Hawks classic "Red River" is a dramatic character study without clear cut heroes and villains. The film follows ranchers Thomas Dunson (John Wayne), Nadine Groot (Walter Brennan), and Dunson's adopted son Cliff (Montgomery Clift) as they embark on the first cattle drive from Texas to Kansas. While the time passes gradually, "Red River" steadily ramps up tension as the former allies turn on each other. Dunson, overcome by greed, considers stealing the business for himself.

Wayne is terrific in a role that requires him to slowly become unlikeable; Hawks brings out a vulnerable side to Wayne that wasn't seen in Ford's more masculine films. As a tortured son forced to reckon with his father's choices, Cliff is incredibly sympathetic. Although inspired by history and the real-life feuds among early settlers, the story goes in surprising places, especially once the cattle drive attracts the attention of war parties.

11. Unforgiven

After working with Sergio Leone, Clint Eastwood became one of the most popular Western stars of all time, and leveraged his fame into a successful directing career. Two decades after his directorial debut, "Play Misty For Me," Eastwood released his masterpiece, "Unforgiven." One of the darkest Westerns ever made, "Unforgiven" was Eastwood's last Western (give or take "Cry Macho"), and focused on characters forced to reckon with their past actions.

Eastwood's character, Will Munny, is not a hero. A former bounty hunter now living in isolation with his two children. Munny is called back into action when an up-and-coming gunslinger called the Schofield Kid (Jaimz Woolvett) asks for his help tracking down two cowboys that scarred a local woman. Reteaming with his old ally Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman), Munny comes face-to-face with the corrupt sheriff Little Bill (Gene Hackman). Bill's brutality towards local residents prompts Munny to return to a life of crime he thought was behind him.

"Unforgiven" suggests that violence is cyclical, and that those drawn to it are doomed to repeat their failings. Munny can't escape his past, and the other characters face the consequences of employing him. The final confrontation, in which Munny battles Bill's men, is grizzly, with subtle acting from Eastwood. Although his tough-guy persona is well utilized in more crowd-pleasing Westerns, Eastwood delivers threats without a hint of irony. With all of the baggage Eastwood brings to the screen, you can't help but believe him.

10. Rango

There are very few animated Western films and even fewer that closely align with the genre's staples: courageous cowboys, gunslinging outlaws, and suspenseful duels at high noon. This is what makes "Rango" such a unique treat as not just one of the best Western or animated films of all time but a marvelous showcase for what can be achieved when a movie is both at once. Director Gore Verbinski's sole animated project follows a chameleon (voiced by Johnny Depp) stuck in the desert, a perspective that renders the West with a level of microscopic detail that live-action could never accomplish. The desert sun feels even hotter when you can see the dry crustiness appear on every scale of the lizard's lanky body.

However, "Rango" doesn't merely become intimate with the Western on a visual level but also on a spiritual one. The film's "Spirit of the West," a mystical being who purportedly provides enlightenment to those who seek it, is revealed to be an elderly form of The Man With No Name (voiced by Western mainstay Timothy Olyphant). The character, made famous by Clint Eastwood, is about as synonymous with the Western as you can get. It's no coincidence that he ultimately provides our protagonist with the film's main lesson, that "no man can walk out on his own story" and that a hero puts his community first. This is a foundational tenet of the classic Western, comfortably slotting "Rango" into the genre with ease. Give us more animated Westerns!

9. High Noon

"High Noon" was a novelty in 1952, featuring a more conflicted hero than the fearless gunslingers of earlier Westerns. It presents a complex moral dilemma and focuses on intimate conversations over non-stop action, and its pacifist message generated controversy. The recurring appearance of a ticking clock adds tension to the story, making its 85 minutes fly by.

Marshall Will Kane (Gary Cooper) is on the eve of retirement, preparing to leave his duty to focus on raising a family with his new bride, Amy Fowler (Grace Kelly). He receives word that the dangerous murderer Frank Miller (Ian McDonald), whom Kane had imprisoned earlier in his career, is set to be released from prison and will arrive by train to threaten the town once more. Amy informs her husband that she will depart on the noon train with or without him, and Kane must weigh his conflicting loyalties as Miller gathers a band of criminals.

The film's final sequence, in which Kane casts his badge aside after dueling Miller, is a defining moment in western cinema; in this moment, Kane gains the love of the townspeople who feared he'd leave. Cooper won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his sensitive, yet commanding performance. The film was also awarded best editing for its meticulous pacing, and earned both Best Original Score and Best Original Song for its memorable music.

8. True Grit (2010)

After dabbling in neo-Western storytelling with "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" and "No Country for Old Men," not to mention a brief stint in adaptation with "The Ladykillers," the Coen brothers went all-in on both counts with "True Grit." It's one of the rare instances of a newer film adaptation of a prestigious novel has exceeds the legacy of the original (think "The Great Gatsby" or "Little Women"), as the Coens' knack for criminal character studies gives this take on Charles Portis' novel a starker, more darkly comedic edge than the John Wayne original.

The choice to anchor the film in Mattie Ross' (Hailee Steinfeld) perspective, which hews truer to the source material, is a big part of what makes this adaptation work so well; the film's harsher portrayal of the American West, complete with a dulled color palette, reflects the character's no-nonsense attitude. It also creates distance between Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) and LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), two elusive lawmen with grounded motivations who still act heroic in a classically Western way.

Though the story is quietly harrowing, no Coen brothers movie is complete without sparks of dry humor. Bridges' Cogburn provides most of the laughs, a grizzled but quick-witted marshal whose "can't be bothered" attitude makes him a joy to watch. In addition, Josh Brolin's Tom Chaney is subversively portrayed as a doofus, the underling of his new gang, and an ultimately worthless human being. It makes the story all the more tragic, which, in turn, makes it all the more comic.

7. Hell or High Water

David Mackenzie's "Hell or High Water" is one of the newer films on this list, yet it already sits comfortably as one of cinema's definitive neo-Westerns. Though the subgenre plays fast and loose with the more surface level tropes of the American Western, its stories are firmly rooted in the kind of morally ambiguous, often Southern-drawled drama that pervades the region even today. Case in point: Chris Pine and Ben Foster are two brothers in bank robbing, attempting to nab enough money to pay off their mother's long-standing debts. Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham, sporting hats just widely brimmed enough to satisfy genre purists, are the two rangers tasked with bringing them down.

Frankly, Bridges' performance is so virtuous yet grizzly (read: excellent) that he alone would qualify this film as a Western, but the entire cast touches the genre's tenets – Pine especially shows a unique dramatic shade as the quieter, regretful brother to Ben Foster's sociopathic ex-con (a performance that Foster was quite dedicated to). In addition, Giles Nuttgens captures West Texas' working class with a ground-level camerawork that makes the film's moral questions feel human and attainable. Sheridan's screenplay observes generational poverty, advantageous corporate greed, and where the law fits in-between the struggle between those two forces, something that any Western fan can latch onto. Even the film's climactic shootout, which begins at a bank and moves onto the open highway, ends on a mountainous range that feels plucked right out of a John Ford film.

6. Tombstone

There are few post-Golden Age Westerns as legendary as "Tombstone." Though it helped cement the genre's '90s revival, it's still somewhat of a sleeper hit, even though the Wyatt Earp movie isn't exactly historically accurate. However, upon discovering it, you'll realize how much fun you've been missing: a stacked cast, luscious period design, ruthless shootouts, and even a charming love story. It's the complete package, led by Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer in two legendary performances as historical icons Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday.

The film chronicles the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, a deadly shootout that saw Earp and Holliday, along with Earp's two brothers, confront a group of outlaws who were wreaking havoc in the film's titular town. The event has been depicted in films many times before, but "Tombstone" took a unique approach by placing the shootout in the middle of a much larger epic. Though the sequence's kinetic action fulfills the genre's requirements, it's the climax to an hour's worth of character building, and sets the stage for an additional hour of twists and turns.

In the end, the characters and their relationships push "Tombstone" to its dramatic heights. Earp and Holliday's friendship is a particular highlight, cheekily written but carried by a deeper loyalty that's evident by the film's end. Bill Paxton and Sam Elliott are also impeccable as Earp's brothers, proving the film is just as much a family story as it is a Western.

5. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Although few modern Westerns are as worthy as those from the golden era, this 2007 masterpiece from director Andrew Dominick is an exception. "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" is a fascinating deconstruction of the lionization of Western outlaws told through the eyes of an obsessive fan. It's an astute commentary on Western mythology, placed in a grittier setting.

Robert Ford (Casey Affleck) has grown up idolizing the famed train robber Jesse James (Brad Pitt) and wants nothing more than to join his band of criminals. James' crew, including Ford's brother Charley (Sam Rockwell) and James' cousin Wood Hite (Jeremy Renner), mock the starstruck younger man, but he eventually gains an audience with James, who recruits him for a series of heists. Ford's loyalties stray as he becomes disillusioned by his hero's cruelty and betrays him. Pitt weaponizes his charisma to give depth to a reprehensible character, and Affleck is perfect as a timid, yet jealous adolescent.

The cinematography by Roger Deakins is among the most beautiful to ever grace the screen, and incorporates still images and photos to authentically recreate life in the 19th century. Dominik's film had a challenging road to release, was edited several times by Warner Bros. (with a longer cut never released), and underperformed financially. However, the introspective themes and gradual pacing make "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" a modern classic worthy of renewed acclaim.

4. McCabe & Mrs. Miller

Writer-director Robert Altman described his revisionist period film "McCabe & Mrs. Miller" as an "anti-Western." Despite being set in the growing American frontier during the early 20th Century, it's far from an exciting adventure, taking a much more realistic approach to its historical setting. Altman's crew built an entire town from the ground up, and the cast and crew lived on the set throughout filming. Not only did this commitment to authenticity help recapture specific historical details, but seeing the visible discomfort of the actors in the isolated environment makes the movie's dreary tone more effective.

John McCabe (Warren Beatty) is a scheming gambler who hides out in a secluded Washington community. Sensing a potential profit opportunity, McCabe deceives the local residents into helping him establish a brothel to attract out-of-towners. McCabe boasts that he's a gunfighter, but in actuality flees at the sight of danger. His brothel attracts the mistress Constance Miller (Julie Christie), who improves his hastily constructed operation and begins to fall for him. Outlaws seeking revenge on McCabe arrive in town and threaten their relationship.

The film finds beauty when observing nature and contrasts it with the ugliness of McCabe's character and his false promises to the workers. Beatty delivers a sensitive performance, and it's understandable why his deceptive nature effectively captures the town's attention. The terrific original songs by Leonard Cohen make the film even more somber.

3. Shane

"Shane" is a mature depiction of the last days of the American West, when a more connected nation didn't require frontier justice from independent gunslingers. However, one farm still needs a drifting gunfighter (Alan Ladd) to stand up against the ruthless cattle baron Rufus Ryker (Emile Meyer). Shane is reluctant to settle in this secluded community, but can't ignore his desire to protect the innocent, and bonds with the young boy Joey Starrett (Brandon deWilde), who idolizes him.

"Shane" popularized the idea of a former hero returning to duty after retiring. Ladd gives a heartbreaking performance as Shane considers his destiny, and his relationship with Joey is remarkably poignant. "Shane" was incredibly influential on other films, especially the X-Men spin-off "Logan." "Logan" also features an older hero reminiscing on his life, and James Mangold included several clips from "Shane" in his film, making the parallels explicit.

2. Once Upon A Time In The West

Sergio Leone kickstarted the "Spaghetti Western" subgenre with his trilogy of films starring Clint Eastwood, but one of his greatest films featured an entirely different cast of characters. "Once Upon A Time In The West" is a meditation on the Western genre, exploring the last days of the American frontier as the construction of a transcontinental railroad threatens to put cowboys out of work. Characterized by Leone's slow pace and attention to detail, it's a melancholy reflection on the passing of an era.

Despite the thoughtful commentary, "Once Upon A Time In The West" has a gripping adventure story at its center. A nearly wordless gunslinger simply known as "Harmonica" (Charles Bronsan) debuts in one of the coolest character introductions of all-time, in which he slays a group of assassins who threaten local ranchers. Harmonica's backstory is unveiled when he comes to the aid of the widow Jill McBain (Claudia Cardinale), who tries to keep her husband's business alive.

McBain enlists Harmonica to end the threat of bounty hunter Frank (Henry Fonda), who uses the dying economy to excuse violent actions. Fonda is cast against type, and the likable Old Hollywood star transforms into a remorseless criminal willing to kill children. "Once Upon A Time In The West" continues to be influential, as filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino, Christopher Nolan, and "Breaking Bad" creator Vince Gilligan have cited it as a favorite.

1. The Searchers

Hailed by "Sight and Sound" as one of the 15 greatest films ever made, "The Searchers" is both a beautiful and haunting Western. Gorgeously capturing the scope of the west through portrait-like cinematography, John Ford showed his affinity for natural beauty. George Lucas cited the visual poetry of "The Searchers" as a major influence on "Star Wars," and pays homage to the film when Luke discovers the destruction of the Lars Homestead in "A New Hope." The film's frank depiction of the genocide of Native Americans does not romanticize history, and John Wayne's psychopathic character is a distinct departure from the heroic roles he's known for.

Civil War veteran Ethan Edwards (Wayne) looks to retire to his family home with his brother Aaron (Walter Coy). However, the homestead is suddenly attacked, and while both Aaron and his wife, Martha (Dorothy Jordan), perish, Ethan suspects that his eight-year-old niece Debbie (Lana Wood) has been abducted by Comanche. Ethan's adopted nephew, Martin (Jeffrey Hunter), helps him lead a search party, but the grizzled former Confederate uses the quest to fuel his bloodlust and bigotry. Martin's mixed race heritage creates additional tension between the two.

The searing incitement of cyclical violence in "The Searchers" is explicit, as Ethan is enraged when he learns that an older Debbie (Natalie Wood) has joined a Comanche tribe. "The Searchers" has ambiguous themes that invite analysis; given Ethan's attachment to Debbie, who he bestows his medals to, it's possible that she is in fact his daughter through infidelity.