40 best all time Westerns

by drystyx | created - 16 Jul 2011 | updated - 16 Jul 2011 | Public

These are the all time Westerns. I'll admit that special effects aren't important in this list. To make the cut for this list, the Westerns had to pass on aspects in this order 1. Characters-A: Credible, three dimensional, non cliche B: that you could care about C: up and down the cast D: interesting 2. Entertainment value 3. Scenery and set, including horses, mountains, costumes, etc 4. Story 5. Directing 6. other aspects. These 40 are the greatest all time Westerns, the ones people want to see

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1. Union Pacific (1939)

Passed | 135 min | Drama, Western

In 1862, Central Pacific and Union Pacific Railroads compete westward across the wilderness toward California.

Director: Cecil B. DeMille | Stars: Barbara Stanwyck, Joel McCrea, Akim Tamiroff, Robert Preston

Votes: 2,378

The ultimate Western. Full of action and interesting characters that we can actually care about. There is true incentive here, and good comic relief when needed.

2. Hombre (1967)

Approved | 111 min | Western

80 Metascore

John Russell, disdained by his "respectable" fellow stagecoach passengers because he was raised by Indians, becomes their only hope for survival when they are set upon by outlaws.

Director: Martin Ritt | Stars: Paul Newman, Fredric March, Richard Boone, Diane Cilento

Votes: 10,327

You hear about "anti-heroes", and are disapointed. Here is a perfect example of the "anti-hero". Not a brat, but a man who is driven, with a method to his madness, and probably the model for Riddick in sci fi films. An exciting movie, with lots of grit and drama.

3. Shane (1953)

Not Rated | 118 min | Drama, Western

80 Metascore

A weary gunfighter attempts to settle down with a homestead family, but a smoldering settler/rancher conflict forces him to act.

Director: George Stevens | Stars: Alan Ladd, Jean Arthur, Van Heflin, Brandon De Wilde

Votes: 33,979 | Gross: $20.00M

How could I justify leaving out this classic? I couldn't, not without looking foolish. It is more than just an action Western, but there is plenty of action, don't worry. But we care, not just because of the main characters, but because up and down the line up we have .300 hitters blasting away.

4. Ride the High Country (1962)

Approved | 94 min | Drama, Western

An ex-union soldier is hired to transport gold from a mining community through dangerous territory. But what he doesn't realize is that his partner and old friend is plotting to double-cross him.

Director: Sam Peckinpah | Stars: Joel McCrea, Randolph Scott, Mariette Hartley, Ron Starr

Votes: 11,162

Peckinpah's masterpiece. And probably more style than substance, but what style!!! Includes what is probably the greatest gunfight scene ever filmed, even over The Tin Star's dramatic climax. This is rutgut Western action with legendary actors and an all star cast.

5. Fort Apache (1948)

Not Rated | 128 min | Action, Adventure, Western

At Fort Apache, an honorable and veteran war captain finds conflict when his regime is placed under the command of a young, glory hungry lieutenant colonel with no respect for the local Indian tribe.

Director: John Ford | Stars: John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Shirley Temple, Pedro Armendáriz

Votes: 15,136

In most descriptions, the Duke isn't even top billing. This is an all star cast in a larger than life epic cavalry film. Henry Fonda's officer character is not named Custer, but is the best depiction of Custer you'll probably find, and very realistic. Monumental epic scenes that will stay with you forever.

6. The Searchers (1956)

Passed | 119 min | Adventure, Drama, Western

94 Metascore

An American Civil War veteran embarks on a journey to rescue his niece from the Comanches.

Director: John Ford | Stars: John Wayne, Jeffrey Hunter, Vera Miles, Ward Bond

Votes: 74,149

Okay, I could talk about this one for days and never finish, as could most of you. In a few words, an epic story with epic characters, and the duke's anti hero is cruel and evil until the end, but like Russell in Hombre, he knows he has to fight dirty to win, and ultimately he wants to improve humanity, but first he must improve his humanity.

7. Ride with the Devil (I) (1999)

R | 138 min | Drama, Romance, War

69 Metascore

During the American Civil War, two friends join the Bushwhackers, a militant group loyal to the Confederacy.

Director: Ang Lee | Stars: Tobey Maguire, Skeet Ulrich, Jewel Kilcher, Jeremy W. Auman

Votes: 12,341 | Gross: $0.63M

Ang Lee begins this a bit slow, but this is more about interesting characters, and a vast improvement upon Kansas Raiders, as we see a believable story about a young man disillusioned with Quantrill and terror. We get a good mix of comic relief and drama, too. Not your action packed Western, but has awesome moments.

8. The Bravados (1958)

Approved | 98 min | Drama, Western

A man is chasing four outlaws who killed his wife and finds them in a small town's jail but they escape to Mexico.

Director: Henry King | Stars: Gregory Peck, Joan Collins, Stephen Boyd, Albert Salmi

Votes: 4,255

One of the great Revenge tales, because it holds back no punches. Action packed, with an all star quartet of outlaws that Peck chases: the charismatic handsome evil Boyd; the introspective guide Silva; the brutish Salmi; and the pathetic loser played by van Cleef. We root for Peck as he kills the evil men one by one, just what we're fooled into doing, till the ending makes us learn something about taking matters into your own hands.

9. The Last Hunt (1956)

Not Rated | 108 min | Drama, Western

In 1883 South Dakota, two buffalo hunters start a personal feud over a captured squaw and a stand-off with a Dakota raiding party over some stolen horses.

Director: Richard Brooks | Stars: Robert Taylor, Stewart Granger, Lloyd Nolan, Debra Paget

Votes: 1,272

Robert Taylor's sadist is more realistic than any you'll see today. He has insecurities and needs. He needs the acceptance and friendship of his buffalo hunting team, and the characters are all very believable. So is the ending. Iconoclastic and risk taking, as this is one of the few action films ever made in which the hero doesn't take a single human life during the story.

10. Gunman's Walk (1958)

Approved | 97 min | Western

A powerful rancher always protects his wild adult son by paying for damages and bribing witnesses, until his crimes become too serious to rectify.

Director: Phil Karlson | Stars: Van Heflin, Tab Hunter, Kathryn Grant, James Darren

Votes: 1,339

Van Heflin was one of the all time giants. Here, he snake oils his way through convincing us his character isn't evil, but his character is the evil force that does drive his son into evil, as other characters in the film constantly remind us. Great story of prejudice, as Tab Hunter's character listens to the exploits of his father in a salloon much as Opie would listen to exploits of elders in Floyd's barber shop. Lost gem.

11. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

Passed | 126 min | Adventure, Drama, Western

98 Metascore

Fred Dobbs and Bob Curtin, two Americans searching for work in Mexico, convince an old prospector to help them mine for gold in the Sierra Madre Mountains.

Director: John Huston | Stars: Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston, Tim Holt, Bruce Bennett

Votes: 105,062 | Gross: $5.01M

Probably would rank higher if I was as sure it was in the Western genre. Bogie was at his best when he played tough guys with insecurities. This adventure tale is a classic from the get go.

12. The Man from Colorado (1948)

Approved | 100 min | Romance, Western

At the end of the Civil War, two friends return home to Colorado and one of them has changed and is violent and erratic.

Director: Henry Levin | Stars: Glenn Ford, William Holden, Ellen Drew, Ray Collins

Votes: 1,318

This one makes the list because of its Shakespearean style. This stands out in Westerns as an obvious tribute to the bard, with Glen Ford as the tragic Shakespearean king descending into madness. Great action, too.

13. Night Passage (1957)

Approved | 90 min | Action, Adventure, Drama

A fired railroad man is re-hired and trusted to carry a ten thousand dollar payroll in secret, even though he is suspected of being connected to outlaws.

Director: James Neilson | Stars: James Stewart, Audie Murphy, Dan Duryea, Dianne Foster

Votes: 3,220

The MAGIC Western. This one is style over substance I would admit, in the story of good brother helping bad brother reform. The magic is from the perfect casting of a magic trio, as Stewart, Murphy, and Duryea make the greatest Western trio combo ever filmed. The accordion scene is epic directing.

14. Warlock (1959)

Passed | 121 min | Drama, Western

A famous gunman becomes the marshal of Warlock to end a gang's rampages, but is met with some opposition by a former gang member turned deputy sheriff who wants to follow only legal methods.

Director: Edward Dmytryk | Stars: Richard Widmark, Henry Fonda, Anthony Quinn, Dorothy Malone

Votes: 4,905 | Gross: $3.71M

You can tell a lot about a person by which aspect he likes best in this film. The experienced street wise ones will appreciate Widmark's common man, while the naive ones will be awestuck by the glitter of Fonda and Quinn. This is a very dramatic story, and a bit Shakespearean itself.

15. Backlash (1956)

Not Rated | 84 min | Mystery, Romance, Western

Jim Slater seeks a survivor of the Apache ambush his father died in.

Director: John Sturges | Stars: Richard Widmark, Donna Reed, William Campbell, John McIntire

Votes: 1,237

A detective Western, as we follow a Greek style hero into an odyssey. In fact, one could call Widmark's character an Odysseus in search of a Penelope, but he finds her right away.

16. Ride a Crooked Trail (1958)

Approved | 88 min | Romance, Western

Fugitive bank robber Joe Maybe steals the identity of a marshal and rides into a town whose judge asks Joe to act as town marshal but an old flame almost betrays his real identity forcing Joe to claim she's his wife.

Director: Jesse Hibbs | Stars: Audie Murphy, Gia Scala, Walter Matthau, Henry Silva

Votes: 709

Audie is the star, but make no mistake, this is a showcase for Walter as a rogue judge in the West who makes things work. A bit of humor and action mixed in. Lots of fun.

17. The Tin Star (1957)

Approved | 93 min | Western

A cynical former sheriff turned bounty hunter helps a young, recently appointed acting sheriff with his advice, his experience and his gun.

Director: Anthony Mann | Stars: Henry Fonda, Anthony Perkins, Betsy Palmer, Michel Ray

Votes: 4,514

We get to follow a few stories here as Fonda is the mentor figure to young Perkins. The epic showdown scene at the end is a directorial triumph.

18. High Noon (1952)

PG | 85 min | Drama, Thriller, Western

89 Metascore

A town Marshal, despite the disagreements of his newlywed bride and the townspeople around him, must face a gang of deadly killers alone at high noon when the gang leader, an outlaw he sent up years ago, arrives on the noon train.

Director: Fred Zinnemann | Stars: Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly, Thomas Mitchell, Lloyd Bridges

Votes: 91,484 | Gross: $9.45M

It would be foolish to omit this great story with an all star cast. Drama and Action. It's a deeper story than people realize.

19. Hang 'Em High (1968)

M | 114 min | Drama, Western

62 Metascore

When an innocent man barely survives a lynching, he returns as a lawman determined to bring the vigilantes to justice.

Director: Ted Post | Stars: Clint Eastwood, Inger Stevens, Pat Hingle, Ed Begley

Votes: 32,210

This proves even Eastwood can be in a classic. Undeniably his greatest Western ever, as he becomes more of a watcher of justice, and tries to rectify wrongs. He isn't out for revenge, just justice, and he finds himself the dove against a hanging judge's hawk stance.

20. The Ox-Bow Incident (1942)

Not Rated | 75 min | Drama, Western

When a posse captures three men suspected of killing a local farmer, they become strongly divided over whether or not to lynch the men.

Director: William A. Wellman | Stars: Henry Fonda, Dana Andrews, Mary Beth Hughes, Anthony Quinn

Votes: 19,333 | Gross: $1.64M

Epic story makes epic film. A must see for everyone. The truth about lynch mob mentality.

21. Rio Lobo (1970)

G | 114 min | Adventure, Romance, War

55 Metascore

After the Civil War, Cord McNally searches for the traitor whose treachery caused the defeat of McNally's unit and the loss of a close friend.

Director: Howard Hawks | Stars: John Wayne, Jorge Rivero, Jennifer O'Neill, Jack Elam

Votes: 9,554 | Gross: $9.27M

Now that the top 20 is done, I can go to "guilty pleasures", and this is the ultimate "Man Western". We have war action, and post war action, shooting, a crack on the duke's acting, and maybe the best harem of gorgeous women you'll find in a Western, and none of them are killed to placate the jealous wife or girlfriend, so this is for real men, not henpecked whipped ones.

22. Big Jake (1971)

GP | 110 min | Western

57 Metascore

In 1909, when John Fain's gang kidnaps Jacob McCandles' grandson and holds him for ransom, Big Jake sets out to rescue the boy.

Directors: George Sherman, John Wayne | Stars: John Wayne, Richard Boone, Maureen O'Hara, Patrick Wayne

Votes: 10,230 | Gross: $7.50M

Another guilty pleasure ball of fun. This is fun for duke lovers and haters alike. And they knew it when they made this film. Just great action, lots of family style humor, lots of fun. Popcorn and soda fun.

23. The Indian Fighter (1955)

Not Rated | 88 min | Western

A scout leading a wagon train through hostile Indian country unwittingly gets involved with a Sioux chief's daughter.

Director: André De Toth | Stars: Kirk Douglas, Elsa Martinelli, Walter Matthau, Diana Douglas

Votes: 1,897

One of the most misleading titles ever, as Kirk fights against evil white men, not the Indian. And we have a great pairing of bad guys, with Mattheau playing the sneaky one and Chaney the dumb brute.

24. Rancho Notorious (1952)

Approved | 89 min | Western

After the murder of his fiancée, a Wyoming ranch hand sets out to find her killer.

Director: Fritz Lang | Stars: Marlene Dietrich, Arthur Kennedy, Mel Ferrer, Gloria Henry

Votes: 3,565

Another of the "style" Westerns, with a revenge story and an interesting search for a hidden unknown land. Great dirercting and lots of style in this action thriller.

25. The Man from Laramie (1955)

Not Rated | 103 min | Western

A stranger, Will Lockhart, defies the local cattle baron and his sadistic son by working for one of his oldest rivals.

Director: Anthony Mann | Stars: James Stewart, Arthur Kennedy, Donald Crisp, Cathy O'Donnell

Votes: 8,615

Another with a bit of Shakespeare, as the main plot, which is sometimes overlooked, is about a menacing omen of an old baron's dream, with Stewart's epic Greek style hero overshadowing in his search.

26. The Way West (1967)

Approved | 122 min | Adventure, Drama, Western

42 Metascore

In 1843, a former U.S. Senator leads a wagon train of settlers to Oregon, but his megalomania leads to growing dissatisfaction with his leadership.

Director: Andrew V. McLaglen | Stars: Kirk Douglas, Robert Mitchum, Richard Widmark, Lola Albright

Votes: 2,186

Epic larger than life wagon train journey that is a success in film making. And though he is never shown close up, the Indian chief becomes one of the most honorable and justice loving characters in film history as he allows the wagon train to deliver a guilty man to him instead of wiping them out

27. The Magnificent Seven (1960)

Approved | 128 min | Action, Adventure, Western

74 Metascore

Seven gunfighters are hired by Mexican peasants to liberate their village from oppressive bandits.

Director: John Sturges | Stars: Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, Eli Wallach

Votes: 81,874 | Gross: $4.91M

When you emulate a super classic, and you have an all star cast, you're going to do something right, and this does fall a bit short of the seven samurai, because the Japanese classic is about the farmers as well as the samurai. Still, this is a top notch action film and worth watching.

28. 7 Men from Now (1956)

Approved | 78 min | Action, Western

A former sheriff blames himself for his wife's death during a Wells Fargo robbery and vows to track down and kill the seven men responsible.

Director: Budd Boetticher | Stars: Randolph Scott, Gail Russell, Lee Marvin, Walter Reed

Votes: 4,161

The three opposing forces, with Randolph as the central good. Marvin's extra dimension of a bad guy with some good, as evidenced by the line "I was wrong, he wasn't just half a man" makes this a lost gem.

29. El Dorado (1967)

Not Rated | 126 min | Drama, Romance, Western

85 Metascore

Cole Thornton, a gunfighter for hire, joins forces with an old friend, Sheriff J.P. Hara. Together with an old Indian fighter and a gambler, they help a rancher and his family fight a rival rancher that is trying to steal their water.

Director: Howard Hawks | Stars: John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, James Caan, Charlene Holt

Votes: 22,020 | Gross: $12.97M

Great action packed Western. Great cast. Lots of little things, and great style make this worth the popcorn and soda.

30. The Westerner (1940)

Approved | 100 min | Drama, Romance, Western

78 Metascore

Judge Roy Bean, a self-appointed hanging judge in Vinegarroon, Texas, befriends saddle tramp Cole Harden, who opposes Bean's policy against homesteaders.

Director: William Wyler | Stars: Gary Cooper, Walter Brennan, Doris Davenport, Fred Stone

Votes: 4,587

No doubt Paul Newman took Brennan's depiction of the famous judge to base his work on. This is an amiable story about amiable people, and that keeps you interested.

31. Ride Lonesome (1959)

Not Rated | 73 min | Drama, Western

A bounty hunter escorts a killer to be tried for murder, but allows the man's outlaw brother to catch up with them to have a showdown over a previous shocking murder.

Director: Budd Boetticher | Stars: Randolph Scott, Karen Steele, Pernell Roberts, James Best

Votes: 4,042

Epic drama style Action Western, with a trio of forces at work. In this case, Scott's central hero character has a definite evil to face, and the second force is a bit more up in the air.

32. Western Union (1941)

Passed | 95 min | History, Western

When Edward Creighton leads the construction of the Western Union to unite East with West, he hires a Western reformed outlaw and a tenderfoot Eastern surveyor.

Director: Fritz Lang | Stars: Robert Young, Randolph Scott, Dean Jagger, Virginia Gilmore

Votes: 2,161

One of the definitive Westerns, with characters you can care about, and are interested in following. Grand scale Western much like Union Pacific. Top notch entertainment.

33. Walk the Proud Land (1956)

Approved | 88 min | Biography, Western

An agent sent from Washington in 1874 takes charge of an Apache reservation and has the oppressive US Army back off, which creates conflicts and causes the Indians to have great respect for him.

Director: Jesse Hibbs | Stars: Audie Murphy, Anne Bancroft, Pat Crowley, Charles Drake

Votes: 656

This isn't abounding in Action, but it gives the best depiction of the characters of the old West, especially the Apache. It tells of the story of the Apache Police. The Apache are not the super human cliches of later flops, but real people. And while the capture of Geronimo isn't exactly depicted, Geronimo and his band of psychopaths are.

34. The Naked Spur (1953)

Passed | 91 min | Thriller, Western

A bounty hunter trying to bring a murderer to justice is forced to accept the help of two less-than-trustworthy strangers.

Director: Anthony Mann | Stars: James Stewart, Janet Leigh, Robert Ryan, Ralph Meeker

Votes: 9,253

There have been a lot of these films, the grunting working everyman against the charismatic villain, and lots of good ones, but it is a bit of a cliche, so I pick this one over the 3:10 movies and Seven Ways, but it is close. This one is different because it puts us in the heroine's place, as we actually root for the charismatic Ryan a bit until we see his horribly disturbing side.

35. The Comancheros (1961)

Approved | 107 min | Action, Adventure, Romance

Texas Ranger Jake Cutter arrests gambler Paul Regret, but soon finds himself teamed with his prisoner in an undercover effort to defeat a band of renegade arms merchants and thieves known as Comancheros.

Directors: Michael Curtiz, John Wayne | Stars: John Wayne, Stuart Whitman, Ina Balin, Nehemiah Persoff

Votes: 7,520

More than just the frenemies in this action Western, because this is a great look at how many different characters react in a living Hell.

36. The War Wagon (1967)

Unrated | 101 min | Western

The story of a man who was shot, robbed and imprisoned who returns to steal a large gold shipment from the man who wronged him. The gold is transported in an armored stage coach, the War Wagon.

Director: Burt Kennedy | Stars: John Wayne, Kirk Douglas, Howard Keel, Robert Walker Jr.

Votes: 8,062 | Gross: $6.00M

Just rootin tootin fun and humor here in a story of frenemies.

37. Rawhide (1951)

Unrated | 89 min | Drama, Romance, Western

A stagecoach stop employee and a stranded woman traveller find themselves at the mercy of four desperate outlaws intent on robbing the next day's gold shipment.

Director: Henry Hathaway | Stars: Tyrone Power, Susan Hayward, Hugh Marlowe, Dean Jagger

Votes: 2,092

Drama Western with characters we are interested in.

38. Escape from Fort Bravo (1953)

Passed | 99 min | Western

During the Civil War, a group of Confederates escapes from the Union POW camp at Fort Bravo but has to contend with the desert, the Mescalero Apaches and the pursuing Union troops.

Director: John Sturges | Stars: William Holden, Eleanor Parker, John Forsythe, William Demarest

Votes: 2,203 | Gross: $1.45M

Action packed Western, and it's the minor characters that make this high in entertainment

39. The Intruders (1970 TV Movie)

100 min | Western

The James and Younger outlaw gangs ride into town, and it is up to the local marshal, who has lost both his nerve and his gun skills, to stop them.

Director: William A. Graham | Stars: Don Murray, Anne Francis, Edmond O'Brien, John Saxon

Votes: 129

Don Murray and John Saxon were underrated actors. Here, an action drama Western about a lawman who after years of quiet, forgets his nerve.

40. Ambush at Tomahawk Gap (1953)

Passed | 73 min | Action, Romance, Western

An innocent cowboy convicted with three robbers, fresh out of Yuma Territorial Prison, travels with them to get a share of their hidden loot.

Director: Fred F. Sears | Stars: John Hodiak, John Derek, David Brian, María Elena Marqués

Votes: 355

I wanted the number 40 to be special and different. This one is perfect for the role. It begins with the release of jail for 4 men for a robbery, except one of them was innocent, dragged into guilt by the others for their own purposes. He feels he has a right to a share of their hidden loot. They don't. And it climaxes with the greatest grandaddy twist ending of all time in films.

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