The western film rolls in and out of fashion with movie goers perhaps more than any other type of genre. Even science-fiction and horror are more standard fair from Hollywood, as the cowboy and the lawman fall out of favor with the public. Perhaps only the war film shares the same change in fortunes as westerns, as the genre that comes and goes at least once a generation.
Lets not be mistaken, the western has been part of cinema’s rich history. From the earliest days of film making, the classic cowboy film – or more accurately, films about gunslingers and outlaws – have told the classic Good vs Evil story.
You will find that it is easy to buy the latest DVD releases online and whether you are looking for a classic or something more modern, it will be there. Here are the top 10 western movies of all time, chosen not only for timelessness, but for their strength in ‘tell a great story’:
10. 3:10 To Yuma (1957)
The 1950’s were a real heyday for the western movie, and among many other films from that era that appear in this list, 3:10 To Yuma is a much loved classic.
Starting life as a short story in pulp publication Dime Western Magazine in 1950, and remade in 2007.
9. Unforgiven (1992)
Clint Eastwood puts on his cowboy boots once more, playing a retired gunslinger taking one last job. An exceptional film in its own right, Unforgiven is also one of only three westerns to win a Best Picture Oscar, with the other two being Cimarron (1931) and Dances With Wolves (1990).
8. The Magnificent Seven (1960)
A Mexican town is beset by a bandit and his gang every year. To fight back against this terrorization, the town calls on the help of seven gunfighters to protect them.
Essentially a retelling of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954) – one of many US interpretations of Kurosawa’s work.
7. The Searchers (1956)
One of the many westerns directed by John Ford and starring John Wayne, it follows the story of a Civil War veteran searching for a girl that’s been captured by Native Americans.
Legend has it that John Wayne use of ‘that’ll be the day’ in his dialogue inspired Buddy Holly to write the song of the same name.
6. The Outlaw Josie Wales (1976)
Clint Eastwood plays a guerrilla soldier for the Confederates during the American Civil War on the run from the Union forces. The character of Josie Wales is seen as a lawbreaker, yet it was the Union who murdered is family, offering a tale that covers themes from vengeance, the futility of war and redemption.
5. Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid (1969)
When the law starts to catch up with the eponymous leaders of the Hole-In-The-Wall Gang, they decide to go on the run and hide out in Bolivia.
Paul Newman and Robert Redford bring a charm to these true-life characters, making Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid much more light-hearted than many other westerns.
4. A Fistful Of Dollars (1964, released 1967)
The archetype of the Spaghetti Western, the story surrounds two feuding families and the appearance of a mysterious stranger, who uses the conflict to his advantage.
While A Fistful Of Dollars isn’t seen as the best of of director Sergio Leone’s films, which includes sequel For A Few Dollars More, it’s still a remarkable film. This is the film that sets the tone and vocabulary for what we know to be the classic western today.
3. True Grit (2010)
While fans of the western films may decry the favoring of the more recent version of True Grit over the 1969 version, the newer version is a closer interpretation of the 1968 novel by Charles Portis.
It was a critical and commercial success for writer/directors Joel and Ethan Cohen, with a US gross of over $100 million dollars.
2. High Noon (1952)
Marshall Will Kane is set to marry and hang up his badge for the last time. However a man he had convicted years before returns to settle the score. With no support from Kane’s town, the odds are stacked against him.
The film served as an allegory for Hollywood and its indolence during the anti-Communist witch-hunts of President McCarthy.
1. Shane (1953)
Often upheld as the archetypal western, Shane is a story of a man involved in a conflict between settlers and a rancher. It’s a story that is echoed throughout the genre, emphasizing the bravery of the individual to do the right thing.
The production of the film itself was a concern for Paramount Studios, who considered selling the project off to save money. It turned out to be a massive box office success.