Western Movies - What are your favorites?

Can you name these four movies? | 

For as long as movies have been made, Westerns have been a staple as American as apple pie. While their popularity ebbs and flows, they continue to be made to this day, albeit in a different tone from their peak.

As part of Elk Grove News' ongoing feature about favorites lists, we solicited lists from a couple readers who enjoy Westerns and included a few of our choices. Below are the lists with YouTube excerpts and referrals to where they can be viewed.

Here is our first list counted down from 10 to Number One!

10 - The Good, Bad and Ugly

One of Clint Eastwood's so-called spaghetti Westerns is considered one of the best of that specific genre. Director Sergio Leone deconstructed the romanticization common in American Westerns, and though it was not well received critically upon its release, its stature has grown. 

The movie made Eastwood a superstar, and who can forget the theme?

Streaming of GBU here. https://bit.ly/3bTcgRO

9 - Stagecoach

Just as The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly propelled Clint Eastwood, the movie was a breakthrough role for John Wayne. It was one of many collaborations between Wayne and famed director John Ford.

Released in 1939 - 83 years ago, Orson Welles said he watched in repeatedly in preparation for his groundbreaking movie, Citizen Kane.

The entire movie can be viewed on the YouTube video below.

8 - Rooster Cogburn

In a John Wayne movie from the early 70s, the Duke repeats the same role he played in 1968s True Grit. This time his costar is Katherine Hepburn.

Streaming options for Rooster Cogburn https://bit.ly/3QIQEqg

7 - Shane

What can be better that a mysterious man helping local folks against a ruthless cattle baron? A timeless theme with universal appeal.

Streaming options for Shane https://www.justwatch.com/us/movie/shane

6 - Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford, this 1969 movie plays well not only as a Western but as a light comedy. Though not critically acclaimed upon its 1969 release, the film was immensely popular, and over time the movie's stature has grown to the point that it is listed as number 11 of the 101 best screenplays by the Writers Guild of America.

Streaming options for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid https://bit.ly/3C9F57z

5 - The Cowboys

What happens when your cowboys flee for a gold rush? Hire school boys, and of course, things go astray for John Wayne when his group is confronted by cattle rustlers.

Streaming options for The Cowboys https://amzn.to/3Qm5DGB

4 - The Outlaw Josey Wales

A Western directed and starring Clint Eastwood is about a man seeking revenge for the murder of his family. Need to say more?

Streaming options for The Outlaw Josey Wales https://bit.ly/3w4gFbs

3 - High Noon

One of the few films that unfold in real-time, Gary Cooper stars as a just married sheriff who, along with his Quaker wife Grace Kelly, is about to leave town for a honeymoon and a new life. The sheriff learns havoc will befall the city he is leaving in less than two hours. What does a person do in such a situation and will others help?

Aside from a fascinating study in human behavior as Cooper tries to organize a posse, there is a fantastic back story on the production of this 1952 film.

Streaming options for High Noon https://www.justwatch.com/us/movie/high-noon

2 - Red River

In yet another critically acclaimed Western, John Wayne is the hard-charging boss on a cattle drive along the Chisolm Trail. Some critics call Red River the best Western of all time.

Streaming options for Red River  https://www.justwatch.com/us/movie/red-river  

#1 - Lonesome Dove

Though not a theatrical release, the six-hour mini-series has been lauded for its adherence to the novel of the same name by noted novelist Larry McMurty, which won a Pulitzer in 1985.

The movie stars Willian Duvall as Augustus McCrae and Tommy Lee Jones as Woodrow F. Call, two retired Texas Rangers. After stealing a herd across the Rio Grande in Mexico, Call and McCrae organized a cattle drive to Montana, which is not surprisingly filled with adventures, loss, and betrayal.

Duvall and Jones' performances as the former Rangers so closely matched their characters' descriptions in the book that it was as if they were born for the roles. Along with a strong ensemble cast, great storytelling, and an exceptional soundtrack, it is easy to understand why many select this as their favorite Western.

The entire movie be viewed on the YouTube video below

This Top 10 list was compiled by a contributor who saw his first Western in the 1930s. Oklahoman by birth and West Texas-bred, Mr. Jack Lee worked at the Roxy Theater in Olton, Texas, in the 1950s, where he saw many Westerns on their release and is now an Elk Grove resident via Bakersfield. 

When he isn't catching an episode of Gunsmoke, Mr. Lee likes watching football, especially the Dallas Cowboys.

Continued on next page

Here is another list of Western favorites. Although there is some overlap with our first list, there are some more masterpieces that any film aficionado should view. This list starts with the best and works down. We have added links to those movies not listed in our first list.

1 - My Darling Clementine (1946)

John Ford’s epic rendition of the shootout at the OK Corral with Henry Fonda (Wyatt Earp), Victor Mature (Doc Holiday), and Walter Brenan (old man Clanton). Ford got the story directly from Wyatt Earp himself but took many liberties for sake of the drama. Totally classic scenes. A true masterpiece.

Streaming Options for My Darling Clementine https://www.justwatch.com/us/movie/my-darling-clementine

2 - Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

George Roy Hill’s totally enjoyable story of a couple of outlaws trying to outrun a dying frontier and wealthy businessmen determined to end their felonious escapades; ending in a fatal shootout they didn’t see coming.

3 - Unforgiven

Clint Eastwood starred and directed this Best Picture winner about a retired gunfighter seeking justice for prostitutes done wrong. A character who commits awful acts for righteous reasons. Eastwood’s tribute to Sergio Leone, who directed the spaghetti westerns that shaped his early career.

Streaming options for Unforgiven https://www.justwatch.com/us/movie/unforgiven

4 - The Searchers

Another John Ford masterpiece, starring John Wayne as a prejudiced and hate-driven uncle in search of his niece taken captive by the Comanche. His rage magnifies as the story progresses. Ford subtly paints the Native-American in an underdog, sympathetic role for the first time in the genre.

Streaming Options for The Searchers

5 - The Wild Bunch

Sam Peckinpah’s violent rendition of the American Western is classically done with William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Ryan, Warren Oates, and Ben Johnson, perhaps the best cast to ever appear in a single western. Aging outlaws enter Mexico and defend a town dominated by a tyrannical general. Violence ensues.

Streaming options for The Wild Bunch https://www.justwatch.com/us/movie/the-wild-bunch

6 - The Magnificent Seven
A movie based on the 1954 classic Seven Samurai, directed by John Sturgess. Yul Brynner leads a group of misfit outlaws (Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, James Colburn) in defending a Mexican village (sound familiar?). People of a certain age will also immediately recognize Elmer Bernstein's soundtrack.

Streaming options for The Magnificent Seven

7 - High Noon

Howard Hawks directs Gary Cooper, a ready-to-retire sheriff who finds out a group of outlaws are heading into town seeking revenge. The entire town refuses to help him. Tension builds as the showdown looms.

8 - The Outlaw Josey Wales

Another classic starring and directed by Eastwood. He plays a former confederate, now with a bounty on his head as he seeks the union officer who killed his family. A story about how a country patches itself together after a divisive war, ironically appropriate for 1976 America.

9 - The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Sergio Leone’s spaghetti western is about three men, Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, and Eli Wallach, who sometimes work together, and sometimes betray each other in the hunt for a fortune. Violent and suspenseful.

10 - Stagecoach

Another John Ford classic. A young John Wayne plays The Ringo Kid, a gunfighter hired to protect a stagecoach through dangerous territory. Great storylines unfold from passengers, an alcoholic doctor, a prostitute, a pregnant Army wife, and others. Ford masterfully weaves their personal lives into the action. Ford’s first movie shot in Monument Valley. He’d return.

This top 10 Western list was compiled by Steven M. Lee. When time permits, Mr. Lee catches old episodes of Combat on YouTube and, for a fee, can legally preside over marriages but not divorces.

Editor's list

Not to belabor the discussion, but we share some commonalities with the two previous lists. Like theirs, our list includes High Noon, The Wild Bunch, Unforgiven, and Lonesome Dove.

Our other six Westerns, in no particular order, include the following:

Blazing Saddles

As the only comedy on the lists, it is a send-up of almost every Western ever made. Released in 1974, the movie is full of what is now considered politically incorrect language and images. If you have any knowledge of Mel Brooks, though, you'll know he is satirizing things like racism, elitism, and anti-Semitism. If you ever need a really good laugh, watch this.

Streaming options for Blazing Saddles https://www.justwatch.com/us/movie/blazing-saddles

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

In the last collaboration between John Wayne and John Ford, the cast includes James Stewart and Lee Marvin as the villain Liberty Valance. The movie is a subtle warning about hero worship and is summed up by the quote at the end of the movie. "This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

As a side note, the song The Man Who Shot Libery Valance performed by Gene Pitney and written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, never made it into the movie.

Streaming options for The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance https://www.justwatch.com/us/movie/the-man-who-shot-liberty-valance

Open Range

This movie undoubtedly will not make the list of critics' best Westerns, but for our money, it is beautifully photographed, and the storyline is solid. Robert Duvall and Kevin Cosner war against a corrupt sheriff who is a puppet for a ruthless cattle baron. The final showdown is exciting, and the bit about the dark chocolate leading up to the showdown is amusing. 

Streaming options for Open Range https://www.justwatch.com/us/movie/open-range

True Grit - Coen Brothers

The story is identical to the original but with darker imagery. The ending of this True Grit was far different from the original, and Jeff Bridges plays Rooster Cogburn as a far worse drunk than John Wayne did in the 1968 version. 

Streaming options for True Grit https://www.justwatch.com/us/movie/true-grit

The Oxbow Incident

Based on a novella of the same name, The Oxbow Incident is a very short movie. However, the shortness of the movie reinforces the idea that snap judgments by vigilantes can have deadly consequences.

The Oxbow Incident movie

No Country For Old Men

Arguably not a Western in the classic definition, the Coen brothers' Oscar-winning story is set in 1980 West Texas and involves outlaws and lawmen chasing them, so maybe it does fit the definition. 

With his Prince Valiant haircut, the character Anton Chigurh is one of the most chilling characters in recent years because people like him exist in the world. Just watch the video below, and if you don't get spooked, we don't know what will.

Streaming options for No Country For Old Men https://www.justwatch.com/us/movie/no-country-for-old-men

What are your favorite Westerns? Let us know in the comments below. 

Do you have a favorite movie genre, TV shows, books, or any list you would like to contribute? Let us know. 

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