(My favorites anyway. Click for trailers.)
Based on the 1890 poem by Banjo Patterson, River features an untamed Australian landscape, Kirk Douglas in twin roles, and some of the very best horsemanship ever shown on film. A sequel would follow, as would a television series, soundtrack, and musical.
A sprawling classic, Giant encompasses a plethora of themes – greed, family ties, prejudice, oil, ambition – each one intrinsic with the west. Set in mid 19th century Texas, Giant was also James Dean’s third and final film.
8. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Probably the most fun of all the movies on this list. This is a buddy cop movie in reverse with Paul Newman and Robert Redford as two famed and doomed outlaws. The scenery is beautiful too with much of the filming having taken place in Durango, Colorado.
Widely considered a great film, Brokeback is often neglected as a great western. No matter how you feel about the subject matter, the theme of dangerous, inhibited love is universal and brilliantly brought to life by all the players involved, including the two western legends that wrote it – Larry McMurty (screenplay) and Annie Proulx (short story).
Not only one of the greatest westerns of all time, but also one of the greatest comedies. There’s enough one-liners worth repeating to last a lifetime. And the setups are so wild and ridiculous that if they ever did happen, you know they happened in the old west.
A bit, how you say, Hollywood-ized, but still a whole helluva lot of fun. The legendary gunfight at the O.K. Corral is gory and intense, and you can’t help but root for Wyatt as he takes off on his famous vendetta ride. But it’s Val Kilmer’s smooth-talking and sickly Doc Holliday that immortalizes the film.
A dark, violent image of the wild that still exists in today’s west, especially on the border. With their signature wit and surprising, realistic brutality, the Coen Brothers could not have found better source material than a novel by Cormac McCarthy.
3. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
A classic. After two brilliant precursors, Sergio Leone finds utter perfection in the third installment of the Man With No Name trilogy. It remains one of the only Hollywood films to depict the Civil War in the west.
In the long history of westerns, Wolves was a landmark for its elegant portrayal of Indians as humans instead of simply as antagonists. It was, and still is, a poignant glimpse from the eyes of those swept over by Manifest Destiny.
1. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
About as true to history and its source material as a movie can be, this adaptation of Ron Hansen’s novel features characters that are heartbreakingly familiar, lyrical storytelling, grimly beautiful cinematography, and about the best damn acting ever caught on camera.