March 24, 2017
May 27, 2017



I’ve seen a couple of lists regarding this category of films that amazed me, not only for films included but for films left out.  Being a lifelong fan of this genre and a former subscriber to the Encore Westerns Channel, I’ve created a list of my own.  These are, actually, all westerns, not to be said for other lists I’ve seen.  Some cross genres into suspense, mystery and thriller.  It is impossible for me to rank any of these over many others.  The top of the list contains three films not too well known but deserving high rank.  All are entertaining.  All feature excellent cinematography, sound and production design.  If you haven’t seen some of these and are a westerns fan, I strongly recommend you invest a little time to find and watch.  Absent are John Wayne’s early westerns, which I still love, Hopalong Cassidy, which I still love, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and other Saturday Matinee heroes we all loved.  All on this list are feature films, most with “A” list casts when they were made.  Many worthy films did not make my list.  As always, I’m grateful for your input.

  1. Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) is a Sergio Leone directed classic without Clint Eastwood or Lee Van Cleef. With Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson, Jason Robards, Claudia Cardinale and a host of support, Clint and Lee were not needed.  Add excellent cinematography, sound, music and a story wrapped in mystery, this is a must see.
  2. The Hanging Tree (1959) was directed by Delmer Daves and Karl Malden, starring Gary Cooper, Maria Schell, Karl Malden, George C. Scott and a great supporting cast. It is set in California gold rush country where greed and lust rule over justice.  Excellent cinematography, sound and story keep you riveted to your chair.
  3. Blood on the Moon (1948) was directed by Robert Wise, starring Robert Mitchum, Robert Preston, Barbara Bell Gedes and Walter Brennan. This film was classified film noir at the time it was made.  Robert Mitchum plays a hero with a jaded past and Robert Preston plays a villain with charm.  Shot in black and white, I hope you enjoy the contrasts and deep shadows as much as I did.
  4. Ramrod (1947) was directed by Andre De’ Toth, starring Joel McCrea, Veronica Lake, Don DeFore and Preston Foster with great support.  Here’s a story of power, greed and revenge with excellent black and white cinematography.
  5. She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) is one of many John Ford directed classics made with John Wayne in the lead. Here, Wayne gets support from Joanne Dru, John Agar, Harry Carey Jr. and Victor McLaglen.  This excellent ride with the United States Cavalry is one of Ford’s best efforts ever.
  6. Shane (1953) was directed by George Stevens, starring Alan Ladd, Jean Arthur, Van Heflin and Jack Palance. This was the acting debut for Walter Jack Palance who was nominated for an academy award in a supporting role as a deadly gunfighter.  If you are a fan of the western genre, I’m sure you’ve seen this very powerful film.  Pale Rider, Malone and No Way Out are but three of the many remakes of this classic story.  My own Deliberate Justice uses this story-line in a sub-plot.
  7. The Stalking Moon (1968) was directed by Robert Mulligan, starring Gregory Peck, Eva Marie Saint and Robert Forster. This film crosses into the thriller genre where a retired army scout helps a woman and her son rescued from a murderous Apache chief who pursues them across three states.  You will enjoy this very realistic ride.
  8. The Outlaw Josey Whales (1976) was directed by Clint Eastwood, starring Clint Eastwood, Sandra Locke and Chief Dan George. After his family is murdered by a Union Army unit, Whales (Eastwood) joins a troop of Confederate guerrillas and refuses to surrender.  Pursued by the same army unit that murdered his family, he collects stragglers on his way to Texas.  Eastwood combines his typical gritty humor with savvy story telling and quality filmmaking.
  9. The Salvation (2014) was directed by Kristian Levring, starring Mads Mikkelsen, Eva Green and Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Revenge doesn’t get any sweeter.  This one had me cheering for Mads.
  10. Cowboys and Aliens (2011) was directed by Jon Favreau, starring Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford and Olivia Wilde. Space aliens arrive in 1873 Arizona, mine for gold and take human specimens as guinea pigs.  Outlaws, ranchers and Indians block their ability to take over the planet.  This is a great idea and a very entertaining ride.
  11. The Searchers (1956) is another John Ford classic starring John Wayne. Here, he is joined by Jeffrey Hunter, Harry Carry Jr., Ward Bond and Natalie Wood in the rescue of a girl kidnapped by a Comanche war party in territorial Texas.
  12. Stagecoach (1939) was directed by John Ford, starring John Wayne, Claire Trevor and Andy Devine. A character driven flight from Geronimo shows us 9 passengers with completely different objectives, a very fun ride in black and white.
  13. Tombstone (1993) was directed by George P. Cosmatos and Kevin Jarre, starring Kurt Russell as Wyatt Earp and Val Kilmer as Doc Holladay. The supporting cast includes Sam Elliott, Michael Biehn, Powers Boothe, the late Charlton Heston and Bill Paxton and a host of others to give us probably the most accurate look at this legendary battle between good and evil in the American west.  Val Kilmer definitely gives us a clear look at the much maligned Doc Holladay.  I grew up hearing stories about this family member and am researching his life for a future novel.
  14. My Darling Clementine (1946) was directed by John Ford, starring Henry Fonda as Wyatt Earp and Victor Mature as Doc Holladay. Other cast members include Walter Brennan, Linda Darnell and Ward Bond who join to make this historically inaccurate, black and white film very entertaining.
  15. Open Range (2003) was directed by Kevin Costner, starring Kevin Costner, Robert Duval, Annette Bening, Diego Luna and Michael Gambon.  Kevin gives us a heartwarming yet grizzly peak into a plausible past.  This is a great, character driven ride.
  16. Rio Grande (1950) was directed by John Ford, starring John Wayne, Maureen O’hara and Ben Johnson. This black and white follows a thoroughly believable, character driven love story through Apache raids and perilous rescues to a satisfactory conclusion.  You’ll like it.
  17. Destry Rides Again (1939) is directed by George Marshal, starring James Stewart, Marlene Dietrich and Brian Donlevy. Great story and deeply etched characters drive this black and white classic from beginning to end with a famous and realistic female saloon brawl between Dietrich and a jealous housewife.  Everybody is at their collective best in this great ride.
  18. Quigley Down Under (1990) is directed by Simon Wincer, starring Tom Selleck, Laura San Giancomo and Alan Rickman. You can’t get any farther west than Australia, where the story takes place.  Selleck plays Matthew Quigley, a long rifle marksman from the American west who travels to Australia at the behest of an Australian rancher bent on the destruction of Aborigine nomads.  Their feud begins almost immediately and gives us a very enjoyable ride.
  19. Red River (1948) was directed by Howard Hawks and Arthur Rosson, starring John Wayne, Montgomery Clift and Walter Brennan. Shot in black and white, a desperate group of post Civil War Texans drive their collective herd north, fighting against the rigid discipline of their trail boss played by John Wayne.  Great story driven by vivid characters and smooth cinematography will keep you in your chair wondering who to root for.
  20. The Big Country (1958) was directed by William Wyler, starring Gregory Peck, Charlton Heston, Jean Simmons, Carroll Baker and Burl Ives. This excellent story of a sea captain on the prairie trying to prove himself good enough among cattlemen deserves the excellent cast, cinematography, sound, music and scenery William Wyler brings to the big screen.
  21. Hombre (1967) was directed by Martin Ritt from a novel by Elmore Leonard, starring Paul Newman, Fredric March and Richard Boone. Newman plays a white man raised by Indians who makes a decision to save stage passengers who despise him for being raised by Indians.  This is a taught thriller with a hero worth rooting for.
  22. Lawman (1971) was directed by Michael Winner, starring Burt Lancaster, Robert Ryan and Lee J. Cobb. Lancaster plays a hard nosed marshal who must arrest a powerful land baron in another sheriff’s (Ryan) town for the accidental shooting of someone in the town where he (Lancaster) keeps the law; an unvarnished look at the law against public resistance to enforcement.  This is a powerful film with Lancaster at his best.
  23. Unforgiven (1992) was directed by Clint Eastwood, starring Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman and Richard Harris. Eastwood and Freeman play a pair of has-been shootists who join a young want-to-be in order to collect a reward to bring justice for the brutal beating and knife slashing of a prostitute in Gene Hackman’s town.  Hackman is at his very best as a brutal, self-righteous sheriff who holds himself as judge, jury and executioner.
  24. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) was directed by George Roy Hill, starring Paul Newman, Robert Redford and Katharine Ross. This film is a highly entertaining look at two of the west’s most famous outlaws.
  25. Silverado (1985) was directed by Lawrence Kasdan, starring Kevin Kline, Scott Glenn, Kevin Costner and Danny Glover. Corrupt law enforcement and intermingling back-stories wait around ever corner in this fast paced race for justice.
  26. High Noon (1952) was directed by Fred Zinnemann, starring Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly and Thomas Mitchell. Shot in black and white, Cooper plays a newly wed, retiring town marshal who decides to stay and fight a deadly foe recently released from prison, but the town refuses to help him.  This gripping, character drive drama is guaranteed to entertain.
  27. Angel and the Badman (1947) was directed by James Edward Grant, starring John Wayne, Gail Russell and Harry Carey. Quirt Evans (Wayne) is not such a bad man.  He just likes to raise hell and cause problems for an old foe.  When wounded, he is nurtured back to health by a Quaker family and must decide between his love for the Quaker girl and his old ways.  A very fun ride with the Wayne.
  28. The Westerner (1940) was directed by William Wyler, starring Gary Cooper and Walter Brennan. Brennan brilliantly plays the self appointed hanging judge (Roy Bean) of Vinegarroon, TX who befriends a charming saddle tramp played by Cooper.  Cooper turns against the judge’s policies and things go dark.  A very nice black and white film.
  29. One Eyed Jacks (1961) was directed by Marlon Brando, starring Marlon Brando, Karl Malden, Ben Johnson and Pena Pellicer. Brando directs a great story of betrayal, revenge and forgiveness with some of the richest dialogue on film.
  30. The Spoilers (1942) was directed by Ray Enright, starring John Wayne, Marlene Dietrich, Randolph Scott and Harry Carey. Randolph Scott brings his fake judge to Alaska with a scheme to fleece gold miners of their property.  Wayne and Dietrich bring the house down on their heads.  There’s a great love story hidden inside this black and white.
  31. Ulzana’s Raid (1972) was directed by Robert Aldrich, starring Burt Lancaster, Bruce Davison, Richard Jaeckel and Joaquin Martinez. An experienced army scout (Lancaster) must take orders from a young, inexperienced officer (Davison) on the hunt for murderous renegades, ending in disaster.
  32. The Unforgiven (1960) was directed by John Huston, starring Burt Lancaster, Audrey Hepburn, Audie Murphy and Doug McClure. A frontier family must stand alone against a Kiowa war party trying to rescue the now adult sister of their chief, stolen from their tribe as a baby.
  33. Blazing Saddles (1974) was directed by Mel Brooks, starring Gene Wilder, Cleavon Little and Slim Pickens. Mel’s hilarious romp through his shredded pages of history is a must see for those who like to laugh.
  34. Four Faces West (1948) was directed by Alfred E. Greene, starring Joel McRae, Frances Dee and Charles Bickford. In order to save his father’s ranch, cowboy Ross McEwen (McRae) borrows $2,000 at gunpoint and the banker sets a dead or alive bounty on his head.  Pat Garrett (Bickford) chases McEwen to a poor ranch where McEwan has saved the lives of a family of four struck by cholera.  With a love story along the way, the repayment of the loan and the fun of the chase, this is a great ride with a happy ending.  Black & white.
  35. The Big Trail (1930) was directed by Raoul Walsh and Louis R. Loeffler (uncredited), starring John Wayne, Marguerite Churchill, El Brendel and Tyrone Power Sr. This film makes my list for several reasons.  First, this was the first film I’m aware of shot in cinemascope, black and white.  Second, they use live stage sound effects over cinematography in the great outdoors.  Third, this was John Wayne’s first leading role and his second credited role.  He plays Breck Coleman, hired to guide a wagon train from the Mississippi River to California.  A great love story is wrapped in a nice ride across America’s early plains and mountains.  A very good journey for film buffs of all stripes.
  36. Jonah Hex (2010) was directed by Jimmy Hayward, starring Josh Brolin, John Malcovich, Megan Fox and Michael Fassbender. Johah Hex (Brolin) must stop his former commanding officer, Confederate General Quentin Turnbull (Malcovich) from destroying the United States with a secret weapon.  This grizzly, fanciful jaunt through double revenge is highly entertaining and well worth your time.
  37. Joe Kidd (1972) was directed by John Sturges from an Elmore Leonard script, starring Clint Eastwood, Robert Duvall and John Saxon. Ex bounty hunter Joe Kidd (Eastwood) is hired by wealthy rancher (Duvall) to track down a troublesome Mexican (Saxon) but discovers that the wealthy rancher is actually the villain.  A very nice ride.
  38. McClintock (1963) was directed by Andrew V. McGlaglen (son of Victor McGloglen), starring John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara, Patrick Wayne and Chill Wills. Wealthy rancher McClintock (Wayne) uses his power and influence to keep the peace between ranchers, settlers, Indians and corrupted government while trying to mend his marriage.  Guaranteed to entertain.
  39. The Mask of Zoro (1998) was directed by Martin Campbell, starring Antonio Banderas, Anthony Hopkins, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Stuart Wilson. This film makes my list as a remake of many earlier versions because it is far more entertaining.  The villain (Wilson) is vividly real and the acting is superb.  On this rare occasion, I favor the remake.
  40. Rio Bravo (1959) was directed by Howard Hawks, starring John Wayne, Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson, Angie Dickinson and Walter Brennan. A good battle against corruption and theft of property with a nice romance thrown in.
  41. Gunfighter’s Moon (1995) was directed by Larry Ferguson, starring Lance Henrickson, Kay Lanz and David McIlwraith. Another remake on my list follows the Shane narrative with gritty and feared gunfighter, Frank Morgan.  This film is one of the reasons I’m a Henrickson fan.
  42. True Grit (2010) was directed by Joel & Ethan Coen, starring Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Hailee Steinfeld and Josh Brolin. I prefer this version over the John Wayne version for three reasons.  First, Glen Campbell’s acting in the first version shattered my suspension of disbelief.  Second, I think Jeff Bridges won his academy award while I think, as much as I love his movies, John Wayne’s award was more for lifetime achievement.  Third, the cinematography, sound, overall acting and epilogue were more rewarding.
  43. The Oxbow Incident (1943) was directed by William Wellman, starring Henry Fonda, Dana Andrews, Anthony Quinn and Harry Morgan. A courtroom drama where a posse of do-gooders holds an outdoor trial on three suspected murderers.  The rich and powerful in the group prevail over Fonda and his pal, Morgan, and three innocent men are hung.  The sheriff arrives with the guilty party and arrests those who did the lynching.  A well acted soul searcher for sure.
  44. Wagon Master (1950) was directed by John Ford, starring Ben Johnson, Ward Bond, Joanne Dru and Harry Carey Jr. This black and white depiction of western migration is another John Ford classic.  It spawned the popular T.V. series, Wagon Train.
  45. The Fugitive (1947) was directed by John Ford and Emilio Fernandez (uncredited), starring Henry Fonda, Dolores del Rio and Pedro Armendariz. I have read that John Ford considered this to be his one perfect motion picture.  An imaginary Mexican government is anti-Catholic and anti cleric, in pursuit of the last priest riding from town to town to take confessions in secret and give absolution.  This is a dark film directed by a man who lost an eye photographing WWII in Europe.  The comparisons of this fictitious Mexican government to fascism are clearly drawn.
  46. Jane Got a Gun (2015) was directed by Gavin O’Connor, starring Natalie Portman, Joel Edgerton and Ewan McGregor. The important back-story is interlinked and often out of synch making it somewhat confusing.  A post civil war migrant (Portman) is thrown into sexual slavery and believes her young daughter and Confederate lover to be dead.  Years after her escape, she is sought after by the bad guys, finds her former Confederate lover, defeats the bad guys and is reunited with her daughter.  Well acted and gripping, this one is worthwhile.
  47. Apache (1954) was directed by Robert Aldrich, starring Burt Lancaster, Jean Peters and John McIntire. Massai (Lancaster), an Apache warrior, refuses to be resettled on a Florida reservation and becomes a peaceful farmer.  Lancaster’s acting is at its best in this very strong, character driven drama.
  48. The Good, The Bad and the Ugly (1966) was directed by Sergio Leone, starring Clint Eastwood, Eli Wallach and Lee Van Cleef. Three bounty hunters fight Confederate soldiers, Union soldiers and each other in search of buried gold.
  49. The Magnificent Seven (2016) was directed by Antoine Fuqua, starring Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt and Ethan Hawke. I chose this version over the 1960 version and all the other versions because I am a huge fan of Antoine Fuqua.  This film is near the bottom of the list because none of these versions are as good as the original Japanese version, Seven Samurai (1954).
  50. Hang ‘Em High (1968) was directed by Ted Post, starring Clint Eastwood, Inger Stevens and Pat Hingle. An ex-lawman is lynched for murder and rustling, cut down by a territorial marshal before he dies, taken to jail and released.  He puts on the badge again to avenge his own lynching but the judge has a different plan.  This is a good film but is often predictable.

Other great westerns worth mentioning include Bar 20 Riders, a feature length Hopalong Cassidy, Fort Apache, John Ford & John Wayne, The Wild Bunch, William Holden, Texas, Glen Ford & William Holden, Dallas, Gary Cooper, Rawhide, Tyrone Power, Appaloosa, Vigo Mortenson & Ed Harris, and The War Wagon, John Wayne & Kirk Douglas.  I could keep going but enough is enough.  I’m personally glad to see this genre regaining popularity.

 IMDb was used for information while compiling this list.

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