The 20 Best Western Movies That Are Anything but Dusty
Whether you're looking for a spaghetti Western or a John Wayne classic, these are the best Western movies to stream
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The greatest Westerns ever made
From gunslinging sheriffs and lone cowboys to stagecoach shooters and renegade robbers, Hollywood’s actors have taken to the American West for more than a century. For decades, the best Western movies reigned supreme on the big screen, thanks to our love of cowboys and bad guys, and the genre has encompassed everything from classic movies, action films and thrillers to disaster movies and cowboy flicks. Many of the best movies of all time are considered Westerns and range from splashy spaghetti Westerns to dramatic stories of the Wild West set in Wyoming, Texas and even Mexico. And thanks to their high stakes and tense battles, they’re often ranked among the best action movies of all time.
Beyond taking place in and around the American West, there aren’t specific time frames or parameters around what’s considered a Western—many take place in the 19th and early 20th centuries (and quite a few are based on historical fiction books). People love the Old West and the stories it has to tell, so we’ve rounded up the best Western movies out there, all available to stream.
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Rated: Not rated
Starring: Alan Ladd, Van Heflin, Jack Palance and Jean Arthur
Set in Wyoming and the Grand Tetons, Shane is considered one of the best Western movies of all time, not just for its titular gunslinger played by Ladd, but also for its cinematography, which won the film an Oscar. After Shane, a drifter, is hired by a Wyoming homesteading couple (Heflin and Arthur), a local cattle baron begins intimidating the family. With their land threatened, the Starretts (and Shane) become entangled in a battle to save their home, which culminates in a gunfight and a truly iconic Western scene. (In many ways, you could say that Shane was the original Yellowstone.) Shane is a book-to-movie adaptation, the book originally published in the ’40s by author Jack Schaefer, and considered one of the most realistic and historically accurate Westerns.
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Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Starring: Paul Newman, Robert Redford and Katharine Ross
Wisecracking renegades Butch Cassidy (Newman) and the Sundance Kid (Redford) might be the most legendary on-screen duo of all time, and the actors can thank this film for making them the Hollywood icons they became. Famed screenwriter William Goldman (who also wrote The Princess Bride and All The President’s Men) penned the script for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, about two outlaws on the lam following a slew of bank robberies. After a famous cliff-jumping scene in an effort to escape the law, the duo flees to Bolivia, where they stick up banks, try to make names for themselves and get into one final guns-a-blazin’ shootout. Composer and musician Burt Bacharach is responsible for one of the best movie soundtracks of the era with the film’s Oscar-winning score and hit single “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head.”
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman and Morgan Freeman
Unforgiven ranks as one of the best ‘90s movies and certainly one of the best Western movies ever made. Eastwood directed and starred in the film about a notorious, retired outlaw named William Munny, who lives a life of virtue for years but then decides to take on one last job: kill a cowboy with a bounty on his head. The film won four Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Supporting Actor (Hackman), and is widely considered one of the best dramas of all time.
Starring: John Wayne, Jeffrey Hunter and Vera Miles
Directed by the legendary John Ford and starring Wayne in what many consider to be his greatest performance, the 1956 film The Searchers was named the greatest American Western film of all time by the American Film Institute. The movie co-stars Hunter, Miles and a young Natalie Wood as members of a Texas family who are embroiled in a battle with a local Native American camp that has kidnapped Wood’s character, Debbie. Wayne then sets out on a year-long journey to rescue his kidnapped niece.
There are no doubt aspects of The Searchers—and several other movies on this list—that are considered problematic today for the way Indigenous people are regarded and treated on-screen. And while it may exemplify values of a time gone by, it does feature masterful storytelling and cinematography and includes some of the most influential filmmakers and actors of the era, so it’s still worth a watch.
Starring: Gene Wilder, Madeline Kahn, Slim Pickens and Cleavon Little
One of the only comedies on this list, Mel Brooks’s satirical Blazing Saddles is one of the most influential movies ever made. Although it sends up the genre, the film utilizes many of the same tropes that appear in legitimate Westerns: powerful people attempting a land-grab on a newly developed part of the American frontier and a gun-slinging savior who swoops in to save the day. But, of course, it has the classic Mel Brooks stamp on it: Little plays a local Black man appointed sheriff, and the film addresses all the racial stereotypes present in other Westerns, using them as fodder for its comedy. Brooks, who co-wrote and directed the film, makes multiple cameos in different roles, and the movie actually breaks the fourth wall, becoming a film-within-a-film by the end. It may not be a serious Western, but it masterfully parodies every aspect of the genre.
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Samuel L. Jackson, Kerry Washington and Leonardo DiCaprio
Writer and director Quentin Tarantino is responsible for some of the most iconic movies of the past three decades, penning action films like Kill Bill and crime thrillers such as Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs, before taking on the Western genre with Django Unchained. As with his previous movies, Django features a vast ensemble cast, and this one includes Foxx, Jackson and DiCaprio. In the film, a tribute to spaghetti Westerns, Foxx plays a freed slave named Django Freeman, who sets out on a dangerous and often violent journey to reunite with his wife, Broomhilda (Washington), a slave living on a different plantation. Waltz, who plays a dentist turned bounty hunter, won the Best Supporting Actor Golden Globe and Oscar for his role, while Tarantino took home an Oscar for the film’s screenplay.
No Country for Old Men
Starring: Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin and Tommy Lee Jones
Set in 1980, No Country for Old Men is not just a modern take on a Western but also one of the best thriller movies in recent years. Based on the Cormac McCarthy book by the same name, the 2007 film stars Bardem (whose performance was almost as talked-about as his hairstyle in the film) as a hitman named Anton Chigurh, who’s hired to find a man named Llewelyn Moss (Brolin), who has stolen a stash of money from the scene of a drug deal gone wrong. The local sheriff, Ed Bell (Jones), also gets involved. Written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, the film won four Academy Awards in 2008, including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor for Bardem.
The Wild Bunch
Starring: William Holden, Ernest Borgnine and Robert Ryan
Director Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch is the story of a group of outlaws, led by Pike Bishop (Holden), who are hired to pull off one last train robbery before they retire. After an ambush where most of Bishop’s men are killed, he and his remaining gang move to Mexico, where they continue to find themselves entangled in violent battles and double crosses. Notable for its shooting style and the fact that it was filmed entirely on location in Mexico, The Wild Bunch is considered one of the great early revisionist Western movies, a counter to the romanticization of the Old West.
Starring: James Dean, Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and Dennis Hopper
During his short career and life, icon of cool James Dean made just three films, and the sprawling Western epic Giant is one of them (although he was killed in a car crash before the film was released). In Giant, Dean plays Jett Rink, a ranch hand on a Texas farm owned by Leslie and Bick Benedict (Taylor and Hudson), a wealthy couple who marry after a whirlwind romance. After Bick’s sister, Luz, is killed, Jett is left with a piece of land that he discovers to be oil-rich. He makes a fortune, which fuels a vicious, decades-long rivalry between him and Bick. Director George Stevens won an Oscar for the film.
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld, Josh Brolin and Matt Damon
True Grit is Joel and Ethan Coen’s second entry on this list, and it’s their adaptation of Charles Portis’s classic fiction novel of the same name. In the film, a young girl (Steinfeld) hires a man (Bridges) to help her avenge the murder of her father by a drunken killer, Tom Chaney (Brolin). Along the way, they’re joined by a Texas Ranger (Damon) who is also after Chaney. As they travel through Indian territory in the late 19th century, they encounter various foes, until they find the killer and a battle ensues.
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
Rated: Not rated
Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston and Tim Holt
Legendary director John Huston is the man behind dozens of classics, including the Bogart-starring Maltese Falcon and The African Queen. In The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, one of the best Western movies of its time, he teams up with Western star Holt, longtime collaborator Bogart and his own father, Academy Award–winning Walter Huston, to tell the story of three men who travel to Mexico in search of gold. Although they’re successful in their quest to mine the treasure, they soon become suspicious of one another and tensions arise as locals pursue them. The final product is a cautionary tale about greed, but it’s also a fine action film set against a beautiful Mexican backdrop, which added to the story’s authenticity and became a first, as American films had not been produced there before.
Starring: Billy Crystal, Bruno Kirby, Daniel Stern and Jack Palance
Three middle-aged men from New York, Mitch (Crystal), Ed (Kirby) and Phil (Stern), take adventurous trips together to infuse their otherwise boring lives with excitement in City Slickers. For Mitch’s 39th birthday, his friends propose they all go on a cattle drive in New Mexico, where they join a bigger group of tourists led by the gruff trail boss, Curly, memorably played by Shane star Palance. The trip is no picnic, though, and the men are faced with torturous weather, violent and threatening ranch hands and the unexpected delivery of a baby calf. But in the end, their time out West rejuvenates them and gives their lives purpose.
Crystal, who is the star of some of the best ‘80s movies, including When Harry Met Sally and The Princess Bride, is at his peak here. City Slickers may not be a true Western, but it’s certainly a love letter to the genre.
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Starring: Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly, Lloyd Bridges, Ian McDonald and Katy Jurado
Winner of four Academy Awards, the 1952 film High Noon is one of the best Western movies for several reasons. First and foremost, it’s a thoroughly entertaining film about town marshal Will Kane (Cooper), who sent an outlaw named Frank Miller (McDonald) to prison. Miller has been released, and Kane knows he’ll come after him. With the clock ticking—the film takes place in real time—the tension builds until the final, action-packed ending.
High Noon is also remarkable for the part it played in Hollywood history. The screenwriter, Carl Foreman, was blacklisted by the House Committee on Un-American Activities, which looked into those suspected of Communist ties. The film was blasted by beloved Western star John Wayne, who was offered the role of Kane but turned it down because he disagreed with Foreman’s politics. Ironically, when Cooper won the Best Actor Academy Award that year for his role in High Noon, he had his friend Wayne accept it on his behalf.
3:10 to Yuma
Starring: Christian Bale, Russell Crowe and Ben Foster
Based on a short story by Elmore Leonard, 3:10 to Yuma follows a rancher, Dan Evans (Bale), who volunteers to escort an outlaw and murderer named Ben Wade (Crowe) on a train ride to Yuma, the city where he will be jailed. Although Evans wants Wade brought to justice for his crimes, the men form a bond of respect as local gangs try to ambush them and kill Wade, with Evans protecting him. The film’s action-packed fights keep a lively pace until the tragic end. The original 1957 version of the film, which stars Glenn Ford and Van Heflin, is also worth a watch. It’s a more faithful telling of the Leonard story and adheres more closely to his original ending.
Courtesy KIRSTY GRIFFIN/NETFLIX
The Power of the Dog
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons and Kodi Smit-McPhee
Based on the name alone, you might think that the Jane Campion–directed The Power of the Dog has more in common with dog movies than Westerns. But the film, set in 1925 Montana, has all the markings of a classic Western and has been hailed as one of the best drama movies and best Western movies in recent years. Cumberbatch stars as Phil Burbank, a wealthy cattle rancher who is often volatile and cruel. After his brother George (Plemons) meets a woman named Rose Gordon (Dunst) and marries her, Phil forms a bond with Rose’s teenage son, Peter (Smit-McPhee). With plenty of plot twists about the men’s personal lives and secrets that we won’t spoil, the film addresses masculinity, sexuality and what it means to hide your true self. It’s ultimately an important entry in the canon of LGBTQ films.
Rated: Not rated
Starring: John Wayne, Claire Trevor, Andy Devine and John Carradine
While Wayne had already acted in dozens of films since the 1920s, his performance as Ringo Kid in Stagecoach is considered his breakout role. Set in 1880, the film, which was directed by Wayne’s longtime collaborator John Ford, is the story of several strangers who board a stagecoach in Arizona bound for New Mexico. Each of the passengers is either attempting to leave behind a life of disrepute or searching for new opportunities. But trouble arises when they learn that Geronimo and his Apache tribe are leading an attack in the area. As the group travels on their dangerous journey, Ringo finds an unlikely romance along the way.
Starring: Jane Fonda, Lee Marvin and Tom Nardini
Most Westerns feature male protagonists, with women playing long-suffering wives or prostitutes. But Cat Ballou is one film that finally lets a woman take center stage—er, stagecoach. Fonda plays Cat Ballou, a woman who hires Kid Shelleen (Marvin) to help protect her father, Frankie, from a hired hit man named Tim Strawn (also played by Marvin). Frankie is killed, though, and the death of her father turns Ballou into an outlaw in her own right. As she heads down a criminal path as a train robber with the likes of Butch Cassidy (played here by Arthur Hunnicut, not Paul Newman), she’s set on vengeance. Shelleen eventually seeks out Strawn to avenge Frankie’s death. And although Fonda is the real star, Marvin won an Oscar for his roles as both Shelleen and Strawn.
A Fistful of Dollars
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Gian Maria Volonté and Marianne Koch
Sergio Leone directed this legendary film that’s widely considered the first mainstream spaghetti Western, the genre of Western films produced in Europe, mainly by Italian filmmakers, including Leone, Sergio Corbucci and Enzo Barboni. Eastwood stars in A Fistful of Dollars, his first-ever leading role, and while many Westerns feature an outlaw attempting to live an honest life, Eastwood’s Man with No Name is a gunslinger looking for some action. Arriving in a Mexican town, he pits two local families against each other. His meddling creates chaos, and he leaves everyone in his dust as he rides off into the sunset. Originally panned by critics, the film has become iconic over the years, and two sequels were later released, For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
Starring: Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Williams and Anne Hathaway
Adapted from a story by Annie Proulx, Brokeback Mountain stars Ledger and Gyllenhaal as Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist, two cowboys who fall in love and have to suppress their feelings for each other. Taking place over the span of 20 years, the film tells the tragic tale of their love and features incredible performances from both male leads as well as from Williams and Hathaway, who star as the men’s wives. Thanks to its mainstream success, this love story is considered one of the most influential LGBTQ movies of the past two decades.
Dances with Wolves
Starring: Kevin Costner, Mary McDonnell, Graham Greene
Before he was John Dutton on Yellowstone, Costner played John J. Dunbar in 1990’s Dances with Wolves, which he also directed and produced. The film won seven Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director, and cemented Costner as an icon of ’90s American cinema. Adapted from the 1988 novel of the same name by Michael Blake, the film is the story of a Civil War lieutenant who travels to the frontier to man a deserted fort. While he’s there, he forms a relationship with the local Lakota tribe, battling alongside them when a group of Union soldiers arrive with threats. With much of the dialogue spoken in the native Lakota language, the film was remarkable for its attempt to honor both traditional Western films as well as the native people who are often overlooked or disparaged within them.