The Western is that most quintessentially American movie art form, the genre that speaks to rugged individualism and raises issues of, for better or worse, what it means to be a man.
From the sharply defined roles of heroes and villains in the silent film era of early Western film star Tom Mix to the anti-hero characters of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” in the late 60s, the best Western films have examined the characteristics of manliness — from courage, independence, and assertiveness to honor, duty, and justice.
John Wayne is considered the archetypical American Western hero, and in “The Searchers’’ he is resolute in his pursuit of his abducted niece. But his obsessiveness takes its toll on his family.
Gary Cooper’s Will Kane in “High Noon’’ is compelled to uphold his honor and duty even if it jeopardizes his relationship with his wife Grace Kelly.
In “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,’’ James Stewart’s small-town lawyer Ranse Stoddard believes in justice over violence, until he has no choice but to take up a gun.
24/7 Wall St. considered audience and movie critic reviews from several sources in its ranking of America’s best Western films.
Editor’s note: In a previous version of this piece, in the description of the film “Winchester ’73,” the role of Dutch Henry Brown was incorrectly listed as played by Millard Mitchell. The role was in fact played by Stephen McNally.