People often forget that just a decade and a half ago, there was no feature film streaming. Netflix, founded to send DVDs to people by mail, started its streaming operations in 2002. It now has over 200 million paid subscribers worldwide. Amazon Prime Video was not launched until late 2006. Each of the services, and those that followed, were made possible by the nearly universal availability of broadband service delivered to the home, by cable, telecom or satellite.
Streaming has badly damaged the traditional ways people watch movies, at least financially. At the top of this list is the oldest medium, the movie theater. Streaming has become so popular that some studios release major pictures online before theatrical release. Sadly, it is the theater that allowed the major genres of movies to emerge and thrive. Among these is the western, although the popularity of this genre has waned in recent decades.
The Wild West continues to fascinate, with its sprawling landscapes and seemingly unlimited possibilities for unchecked violence and do-it-yourself justice. All sorts of tough and hardy individuals tried to survive in a place and time where the line between good and evil often didn’t really exist or matter.
Dramatic representations of these times — westerns — started as a literary genre in the late 1800s and began to become popular on the movie screen as early as the silent film era. They are considered to have been the most popular movie genre, at least in America, throughout the first half of the 20th century, and they have seen something of a revival in recent decades.
To determine the best classic western to stream from home, 24/7 Tempo developed an index using average ratings on the Internet Movie Database, an online movie database owned by Amazon, and a combination of audience scores and Tomatometer scores on Rotten Tomatoes, an online movie and TV review aggregator, as of November 2021. All ratings were weighted equally. Only 20th-century movies with the “western” genre classification on IMDb and at least 2,500 audience votes on either IMDb or Rotten Tomatoes were considered.
We considered only films available on the paid streaming services HBO Max, Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime, Philo, Paramount+, Hulu Plus, Apple TV, the Criterion Channel and Fubo TV, or on the free streaming services Tubi, Pluto TV, Peacock, Plex, Crackle, IMDbTV and Vudu Free. Data on streaming availability by website came from streaming data site Reelgood, and was up to date as of November 2021.
The best classic western to stream from home is “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” (1966). Here are the details:
- Available on: HBO Max
- IMDb Rating: 8.8/10 (718,036 reviews)
- Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 97% (239,989 votes)
- Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 97% (77 reviews)
- Director: Sergio Leone
One of the most famous westerns of all-time, “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” is another Sergio Leone epic, this one following three gunslingers who are as similar as they are different. All three are on the hunt for stolen Confederate gold as frontier battles of the Civil War rage around them. They must navigate their treacherous world and their relationships with each other as they race to the hidden cache. The film is acclaimed for its beautiful cinematography, haunting music and masterfully built tension.