Special Report

The 30 Best Western Films Ever Made

Anyone who thinks that repetition is a new concept in Hollywood will think again when they revisit the classic Western era. Recycling sets and storylines alike, studios churned out literally thousands of films in this particular genre. Many were quite cheap to produce for the reasons just mentioned, lending them a “B movie” reputation with quality to match. Every now and then, however, a veritable masterpiece or occasional Oscar winner would emerge from the pack.

To loosely trace the arc of the genre’s rise and fall is to simultaneously follow the career of its foremost star. He was born Marion Robert Morrison but audiences know him best as John Wayne. An archetypal embodiment of American myth-making, Wayne’s patriotic brand of machismo hasn’t necessarily aged well in these times of national introspection. That said, films such as “Rio Grande” and “The Searchers” are more nuanced than one might expect. Both paired him with frequent collaborator John Ford, who helmed some of the best Westerns of all time.

Carrying the torch from Wayne was living legend Clint Eastwood, who broke through in the 1960s. He and director Sergio Leone brought a completely different sensibility to the genre, eschewing fantasy-based heroism in favor of unsparing grittiness and morally ambiguous characters. It would all come full circle in Eastwood’s 1992 masterpiece “Unforgiven,” which combined traditional genre elements with the notion that there are no real heroes in the Old West. By the time it rolled around, the Western genre was a shadow of its former self. To this day, it remains something of a subgenre with a lasting cinematic legacy. (For more recent fare, here are the best Westerns of the 21st century).

To determine the best Western films of all time, 24/7 Tempo developed an index using average ratings on IMDb, 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, weighting all ratings equally. Only movies with at least 10,000 audience votes on either IMDb or Rotten Tomatoes were considered. Directorial credits and cast information comes from IMDb.

30. The Sons of Katie Elder (1965)
> IMDb user rating: 7.2/10 (16,707 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 81% (10,170 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 100% (13 reviews)
> Directed by: Henry Hathaway

After paying respects to their deceased mother, four sons find themselves in the middle of a bitter land dispute and a murder conspiracy. Star John Wayne was recovering from cancer during the shoot but he nevertheless insisted on performing his own stunts.

[in-text-ad]

29. The Rider (2017)
> IMDb user rating: 7.5/10 (17,308 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 82% (2,068 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 97% (185 reviews)
> Directed by: Chloé Zhao

Before “Nomadland” and “Eternals,” director Chloé Zhao delivered this award-winning Western drama. In the wake of a career-ending accident, a young rodeo cowboy (Brady Jandreau) searches for personal meaning in the modern world. The story is loosely based on Jandreau’s own experiences.

28. Of Mice and Men (1992)
> IMDb user rating: 7.5/10 (42,292 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 82% (47,889 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 97% (29 reviews)
> Directed by: Gary Sinise

Not exactly a Western, but with a Western setting, this drama, one of numerous adaptations of Steinback’s timeless novella, takes place at the height of the Depression era. Gary Sinise directs and stars as nomadic farmer George Milton, whose pursuit of a better life is waysided by his slow-witted companion (John Malkovich). Both actors had previously played the same roles in a lauded theater production.

27. High Plains Drifter (1973)
> IMDb user rating: 7.5/10 (52,462 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 86% (35,967 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 93% (29 reviews)
> Directed by: Clint Eastwood

Clint Eastwood drew upon his iconic Man With No Name persona for this gritty Western, which he also directed. It follows a gun-toting stranger (Eastwood) to a small town, where he’s tasked with protecting the locals from invading outlaws.

[in-text-ad-2]

26. Johnny Guitar (1954)
> IMDb user rating: 7.6/10 (16,647 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 85% (3,605 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 93% (46 reviews)
> Directed by: Nicholas Ray

This stylish Western incorporates intellectual themes and taut melodrama to stand out from its many contemporaneous peers. Joan Crawford plays a tenacious saloon owner, who gets embroiled in a local controversy involving her former lover.

25. Shane (1953)
> IMDb user rating: 7.6/10 (38,919 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 81% (15,575 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 97% (36 reviews)
> Directed by: George Stevens

A weary and mysterious gunfighter (Alan Ladd) seeks a quieter life but finds only more violence in this classic Western. Brought to life in stunning Technicolor, it features one of the most heart wrenching endings in cinematic history.

[in-text-ad]

24. The Magnificent Seven (1960)
> IMDb user rating: 7.7/10 (91,371 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 88% (54,058 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 89% (44 reviews)
> Directed by: John Sturges

This legendary remake of Akira Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai” stars an inspired ensemble cast. It tells the story of seven gunmen who must protect a small Mexican village against an army of bandits. Three sequels, a TV series, and a recent 2016 remake were to follow.

23. Destry Rides Again (1939)
> IMDb user rating: 7.7/10 (10,958 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 82% (4,902 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 96% (25 reviews)
> Directed by: George Marshall

James Stewart plays lanky lawman Tom Destry Jr. in this action-packed Western with elements of romantic comedy. Upon his arrival in the small town of Bottleneck, Destry squares off against a powerful saloon owner. This was Stewart’s first film in the Western genre.

22. Giant (1956)
> IMDb user rating: 7.6/10 (37,057 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 87% (24,274 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 93% (45 reviews)
> Directed by: George Stevens

Starring James Dean in his final major film role, this sprawling 20th-century Western spans two generations in the life of a Texan rancher (Rock Hudson) and his family. It was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, winning for Best Director.

[in-text-ad-2]

21. True Grit (2010)
> IMDb user rating: 7.6/10 (323,355 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 85% (158,421 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 95% (275 reviews)
> Directed by: Joel & Ethan Coen

This adaptation of a Charles Portis novel is the Coen Brothers’ highest-grossing film to date by a wide margin. It sends a precocious teenager (Hailee Steinfeld) and surly U.S. Marshall (Jeff Bridges) on the trail of a rugged criminal (Josh Brolin). A previous 1969 adaptation starred John Wayne in his one and only Academy Award-winning performance.

20. Blazing Saddles (1974)
> IMDb user rating: 7.7/10 (131,541 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 91% (218,474 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 88% (59 reviews)
> Directed by: Mel Brooks

Mel Brooks’ send-up of the Western genre doubles as a scathing satire of American history itself. Rife with politically incorrect humor, it puts a Black railroad worker (Cleavon Little) in charge of a small racist town. Various barriers are broken, including the fourth wall.

[in-text-ad]

19. Fort Apache (1948)
> IMDb user rating: 7.5/10 (17,222 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 83% (7,930 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 100% (21 reviews)
> Directed by: John Ford

John Ford and frequent collaborator John Wayne re-teamed for this heralded Western, the first in an unofficial “cavalry trilogy.” It takes place after the Civil War at a remote outpost, where two men butt heads while dealing with a local tribe. This was one of the earliest films of its kind to depict Native Americans in a sympathetic manner.

18. The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)
> IMDb user rating: 7.8/10 (69,738 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 91% (46,848 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 90% (41 reviews)
> Directed by: Clint Eastwood

Clint Eastwood once again channels the revisionist Westerns that made him famous in this gritty outing. It follows the title character through a post-Civil War landscape as he tries to escape his violent past. As one might expect, Wales’ pursuit of the quiet life doesn’t exactly go as planned.

17. The Wild Bunch (1969)
> IMDb user rating: 7.9/10 (81,636 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 90% (34,261 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 90% (63 reviews)
> Directed by: Sam Peckinpah

Sam Peckinpah’s bloody revisionist Western tells the story of aging outlaws who plan one final job before calling it quits. The action takes place in 1913, when the traditional Old West was in a parallel state of decline. An opening gunfight sets the stage for two-plus hours of relentless violence and rugged characters.

[in-text-ad-2]

16. Jeremiah Johnson (1972)
> IMDb user rating: 7.6/10 (30,195 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 89% (12,927 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 95% (20 reviews)
> Directed by: Sydney Pollack

A war veteran (Redford) retreats to the mountains for a life of isolation, only to find himself in the midst of combat against a local tribe. The story may seem vaguely familiar but Redford and director Sydney Pollack imbue it with breathtaking visuals and a quiet intensity. Those who’ve never heard of the film have still surely seen the Internet meme of Redford nodding with approval.

15. Winchester ’73 (1950)
> IMDb user rating: 7.6/10 (18,953 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 86% (5,471 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 100% (27 reviews)
> Directed by: Anthony Mann

A coveted Winchester rifle lies at the heart of this complex Western, which builds toward a showdown between two men. It helped revitalize James Stewart’s career and kicked off a string of big screen collaborations between him and director Anthony Mann.

[in-text-ad]

14. The Ox-Bow Incident (1942)
> IMDb user rating: 8/10 (22,306 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 91% (5,137 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 91% (22 reviews)
> Directed by: William A. Wellman

Based on a classic novel, this ever-prescient Western doubles as a chilling exploration of the mob mentality. Three men stand accused of killing a small-town farmer and a local posse takes justice into their own hands.

13. El Dorado (1966)
> IMDb user rating: 7.6/10 (25,687 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 87% (12,709 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 100% (23 reviews)
> Directed by: Howard Hawks

A noble gunfighter (John Wayne) and his peers protect a helpless family against a greedy land grab in this technicolor Western. Writing for Time Out, critic Geoff Andrew called it a “witty, exciting and deeply moving masterpiece.”

12. The Searchers (1956)
> IMDb user rating: 7.9/10 (85,281 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 88% (40,865 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 96% (49 reviews)
> Directed by: John Ford

This epic adventure follows an obsessive Civil War veteran (John Wayne) as he searches for his abducted niece (Natalie Wood). Darker and more ambiguous than the standard Western, it helped reinvent the genre’s narrative tone and character tropes. On AFI’s list of the 10 TOP 10 Westerns, it holds the #1 spot.

[in-text-ad-2]

11. Django Unchained (2012)
> IMDb user rating: 8.4/10 (1,427,183 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 91% (429,752 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 87% (291 reviews)
> Directed by: Quentin Tarantino

Tarantino’s blood-soaked action dramedy sends a freed slave (Jamie Foxx) and German bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz) on a perilous rescue mission through the racist South. It was partly inspired by the spaghetti Westerns of Italian director Sergio Corbucci, who’s honored in the recent documentary “Django & Django.”

10. Stagecoach (1939)
> IMDb user rating: 7.9/10 (46,215 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 86% (14,658 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 100% (45 reviews)
> Directed by: John Ford

John Wayne delivers a breakthrough performance as Ringo Kid in this seminal Western, which trails a group of stagecoach passengers through hostile territory. According to philosopher Robert B. Pippin, the characters and story take on a mythical dimension by inhabiting historical archetypes. Many scenes were shot on location in Monument Valley on the Arizona-Utah border, to where director John Ford would return for a number of subsequent films.

[in-text-ad]

9. The Gunfighter (1950)
> IMDb user rating: 7.7/10 (10,510 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 89% (1,321 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 100% (14 reviews)
> Directed by: Henry King

Wherever veteran gunslinger Jimmy Ringo (Gregory Peck) goes, trouble follows in this perfectly crafted Western. It set an early template for the weary protagonist with a violent past, whose path to retirement is beset by various obstacles.

8. High Noon (1952)
> IMDb user rating: 8/10 (100,798 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 89% (25,494 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 97% (58 reviews)
> Directed by: Fred Zinnemann

This Oscar-winning Western defied tradition by way of its unconventional hero, who experiences fear and doubt as he braces for a deadly gunfight. John Wayne and director Howard Hawks reportedly made the 1959 classic “Rio Bravo” as a machismo rebuttal to Peck’s performance.

7. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)
> IMDb user rating: 8.1/10 (72,528 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 92% (23,742 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 94% (48 reviews)
> Directed by: John Ford

Small town hero turned US senator Ransom Stoddard (James Stewart) returns to the place of his (supposed) valiant deed in this poignant drama. As he recounts the story to a local newspaper editor, the truth begins to emerge. The film’s theme of myth-building in politics and media continues to resonate in the modern age.

[in-text-ad-2]

6. The Big Country (1958)
> IMDb user rating: 7.9/10 (16,962 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 90% (5,532 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 100% (11 reviews)
> Directed by: William Wyler

A land dispute between two rival families lays the foundation for this sprawling Western drama, which features epic set pieces and pacifist themes. William Wyler’s confident direction, an iconic score, and top-notch performances elevate the somewhat contrived premise.

5. Rio Bravo (1959)
> IMDb user rating: 8/10 (59,080 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 91% (23,955 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 100% (42 reviews)
> Directed by: Howard Hawks

This expertly realized Western finds director Howard Hawks and an ensemble cast at the top of their respective games. John Wayne plays Sheriff John T. Chance, whose arrest of a local gunslinger leads to a deadly showdown against a powerful land baron.

[in-text-ad]

4. Unforgiven (1992)
> IMDb user rating: 8.2/10 (391,927 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 93% (122,861 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 96% (106 reviews)
> Directed by: Clint Eastwood

Eastwood’s triumphant return to the Western genre plays like a seamless continuation of his former cinematic persona. He tackles the role of once-ruthless killer William Munny, who comes out of retirement for one final job. The film won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

3. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
> IMDb user rating: 8.2/10 (119,669 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 93% (26,178 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 100% (52 reviews)
> Directed by: John Huston

A hunt for buried treasure becomes a parable about greed and mistrust in this famous Western thriller. Its key themes have been revisited time and again across various films and TV shows, including an episode of “The Simpsons” called “Three Men and a Comic Book.”

2. Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
> IMDb user rating: 8.5/10 (314,446 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 95% (65,906 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 95% (65 reviews)
> Directed by: Sergio Leone

Sergio Leone followed his timeless “Dollars Trilogy” with this epic saga, in which rugged characters battle over a plot of land. “Moments of intense realism flow into passages of operatic extravagance; lowbrow burlesque exists side by side with the expression of the most refined shades of feeling,” wrote critic Dave Kehr for Chicago Reader.

[in-text-ad-2]

1. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)
> IMDb user rating: 8.8/10 (718,036 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 97% (239,989 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 97% (77 reviews)
> Directed by: Sergio Leone

The final installment of Leone’s “Dollars Trilogy” chronicles the violent race for a fortune in buried gold. Donning his signature poncho and brown hat, Clint Eastwood imparts a towering presence as The Man With No Name. Unique camerawork and Ennio Morricone’s immortal score bring the film further to life and cement its enduring legacy.

URGENT – New Seats Available (sponsored)

Top financial advisors are now accepting new clients for 2024! Finding the right advisor can be the difference between retiring early, or working forever. Don’t waste a moment matching with the right advisor for you. Every moment today can mean riches tomorrow, with the right advisor by your side.

Use the advisor match tool below, or click here now, to find your financial freedom!

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us?
Contact the 24/7 Wall St. editorial team.