Meg’s 11 Favorite Westerns

After a bit of a discussion about True Grit over on my Facebook page today, a friend asked if I’d make a list of my favorite Western movies so he could see which ones he might’ve missed.  At first, I thought that would be impossible (how could I pick favorites when there are so many great Westerns out there?), yet somehow I managed to do it anyway.

I aimed for a list of ten, but had to bump it up to eleven or else risk omitting something important like Tombstone.  Untenable!

These are in no particular order, mind you.  And if I missed any of your favorites, I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

1.  Shane (1953) — Alan Ladd plays a weary gunfighter who tries to settle into a normal, peaceful life with a homestead family, but gets sucked back into the game when a cattleman picks a fight.  Ain’t that always the way? [netflix it]

2.  The Magnificent Seven (1960) — Funny, clever, and featuring an absolutely awesome cast (Yul Brynner, Eli Wallach, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn, James Coburn!). I’ve practically got the entire script memorized and I’d guess I’ve probably watched it an average of once a year since I was about 12; it only gets better with every viewing.  [netflix it]

3.  The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966) — Another childhood favorite (Sergio Leone spaghetti Western!), this movie combines the Old West with the Civil War and features three characters tangled up in a messy treasure hunt.  The Ennio Morricone score from this film alone — the main theme from which is my cell phone ring tone, by the way — is iconic.  And you can’t beat the combination of Clint Eastwood, Eli Wallach, and Lee Van Cleef.  Oh ho, no you cannot, sir.  Classic.  [netflix it]

4.  The Wild Bunch (1968) — This is Sam Peckinpah’s infamously violent Western starring William Holden and Ernest Borgnine, about an aging outlaw out looking for one last big score who instead ends up on the run from a very unfriendly posse.  It’s as brutal as everyone says, but worth a gander for the interesting look at not just the end of one gunfighter’s career, but the end of the entire “Western” era, as technological advances like cars and pump-action shotguns move in to replace the ol’ horseback-into-the-sunset gunfighter.  (For more Peckinpah Westerns, I also recommend Ride the High Country, by the way.)   [netflix it]

5.  High Plains Drifter (1972) — I actually wanted to go with Two Mules for Sister Sara here, because if I’m going to pick a favorite non-spaghetti Clint Eastwood Western that isn’t Unforgiven, I confess to a real soft-spot for that one, in no small part because Shirley MacLaine is the schizznit in it.  But High Plains Drifter is definitely the better film, so there you go.  It’s about a gunfighter who rides into a mining town and throws the whole place for a loop.  [netflix it]

6. Unforgiven (1992) — Duh.  I mean, honestly.  [netflix it]

7.  Man of the West (1958) — Gotta have at least one Gary Cooper movie on here, so I’m going with this one, which features Coops as downtrodden outlaw Linc Jones, who gets thrown from a train in the first act, losing all his money in the process, and decides it’s time to reform.  I’ve never had the heart to tell him this rarely seems to work out for men of his character.  Cue bank heist.  [netflix it]

8.  Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid (1969) — Closest to a comedy out of all the Westerns on my list, this is a movie even people who hate Westerns probably can’t resist the charms of.  Beautifully made, brilliantly acted (Paul Newman and Robert Redford, not to mention Katherine Ross, who has always reminded me of my mother, and a ridiculously young Donnelly Rhodes), and absolutely laugh-out-loud funny at times, this is another one my father introduced me to as a kid, and thank god for it.  [netflix it]

9. The Man from Laramie (1955) — This one stars Jimmy Stewart as a guy obsessed with finding the killer of his brother, a US Cavalryman murdered by a group of Apaches wielding repeating rifles.  (It’s not the Apaches he’s after, by the way, but instead the dude who sold them the guns.)  There are several Anthony Mann/Jimmy Stewart Westerns out there, and I like them all, but this one’s my favorite.  It’s beautifully filmed — lots of sweeping landscape shots — and has a lot of emotional heft to it as well. [netflix it]

10.  The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) — I’m not a huge John Wayne fan, as I’ve mentioned before, but it’s hard to resist this one, in no small part because it also stars Jimmy Stewart and Lee Marvin.  It’s about a senator recounting the story of the time he saved a town from an evil-doer named Liberty Valance (played by the ever-awesome Marvin).  The only problem is, he’s recounting it to a reporter who doesn’t believe him.  Oh, it’s much more complicated than that.  Rent it and see. [netflix it]

11.  Tombstone (1993) — Sure, it’s got some flaws, but the dialogue is infinitely quotable, Val Kilmer’s the best big-screen Doc Holliday ever (don’t bother trying to argue with  me on that point — I’ll never come around to your position), and it’s just plain FUN.  My nickname in college was “Huckleberry” and it stemmed in large part from my open, avid affection for this flick.  I could watch Tombstone every day for the rest of my life and never get tired of it.  How’s that for a recommendation?  [netflix it]

This is probably a boring list to any Western fan, I’m now realizing — these are all really obvious choices.  But I figured I at least had to start with the favorites that are great, right?  There are some admittedly-not-brilliant Westerns that I have a real fondness for, though, including James Garner’s Support Your Local Gunfighter (1971), and Jane Fonda’s Cat Ballou (1965, starring a delightfully crotchety and perpetually drunk  Lee Marvin — have I mentioned that I LOVE LEE MARVIN?  Because I totally love Lee Marvin).

And I also almost put Paul Newman’s Hud on here, but I’m not sure if it qualifies as a Western?  I suppose it does.  Larry McMurtry, after all.  If we’re going to blur the line there slightly (most of these others are gunfighter Westerns, I’m noticing), let’s also add supreme guilty pleasure The Last of the Mohicans, starring Daniel Day Lewis and a lot of untamed spirit and hair.  Mrrowl.

Also, for the record, no fan of the genre should miss season one of HBO’s Deadwood, either.  (You can skip the other seasons, if you want, but not the first one.  If only for the expansion of your knowledge of cuss words.)

Okay, my friends — What did I miss?  Let me have it!

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15 Responses to “Meg’s 11 Favorite Westerns”

  1. Trip Says:

    What the…?

    How did a wrap-up of the best Westerns of all time get posted here, and not a single word about Wild Wild West?!* Will Smith! Kevin Kline! Kenneth Branagh as the villain! A mechanized SPIDER, dadgum it!

    OK, I think I’ll duck now. INCOMING!

    * Not.

  2. Laurel Says:

    I’ll admit, there are a lot of classic Westerns that I’ve never seen. Including most of the ones on your list. But I do intend to remedy my woeful ignorance, and now seems like a good time. I’ve been wanting some cinematic diversion, and some classic Westerns would totally suit my mood. That said, I do have a few favorites whose honor I must defend. What about Silverado? And the original True Grit? And if you need Gary Cooper, what about High Noon?!

  3. megwood Says:

    As I said in my review of the new True Grit, I didn’t really care for the original much. And High Noon is good, but not a favorite, I’m afraid. Silverado, though, YES!

    Trip, I read your comment before I read your name and was a little worried for a second — wait, someone’s not SERIOUSLY arguing that. . . Oh wait, no, no they are not. WHEW.

  4. Big Bro Says:

    OK. Good list and I’d have a tough time pulling one off there. I was also glad (Nay! Proud!) to see proper runner up respect paid to Support You Local Either One. The glaring mistake, however, is that Blazing Saddles is not there.

    For shame.

    Also, I’m not sure you’ve ever seen Once Upon a Time in the West. An epic Bronson film with a good showing by Henry Fonda. I haven’t checked
    Netflix, but you can borrow my DVD if you’re interested.

  5. Laurel Says:

    I would have read your review, but I haven’t seen the new True Grit and I do want to. As much as I love the original True Grit, it’s all about the dialogue and that’s what the Coen’s do best, so I am eager to see what they do with the material. Of course, I also loved the character of Maddie from the original. Probably because I first saw the movie when I was about that age, (14?), and she was one of the only young female characters I’d ever seen with that much agency.

    Silverado. Another movie with great dialogue, and a magnificent cast. You don’t see great ensembles like that much anymore.

  6. ysabelkid Says:

    Add me to the Silverado lovers. A great list here, Meg – I haven’t seen everything that’s on it, but at least now I have an idea of what’s good to watch.

  7. Speff Says:

    “Liberty Valance” FTW! All-time favourite, largely because of the performances from the leads – most especially that of Mr Marvin, who doesn’t bottle out of making Valance a cowardly little git. Another favourite – although I don’t know if it entirely counts as a Western or not – is “The Big Country”, again because of the performances by Heston, Peck, Simmons, Connors and the God-like Ives.

  8. megwood Says:

    Bro, I think of Blazing Saddles as a comedy more than a Western, which is why I left it off here, but I love that movie, and you know I love it, and now everybody else does too, so there you go. Now, somebody go back and get me a shitloada’ dimes.

    Once Upon a Time in the West is awesome, but it’s Sergio Leone too and I was trying to pick a range of things for the list. I ADORE The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, so I went with that one for the spaghetti entry. But everybody should see Once, too, if only so you get all the bazillions of references made to it in pop culture — one of the only things I liked about that movie Australia was the half-dozen homages to Once. Luhrman must be a fan.

    Speff, I haven’t seen The Big Country, believe it or not! It’s on my list!

  9. Jo Says:

    Yay for Cat Ballou! I was totally obsessed with that movie when I was about 10 or so.

    I’m apparently not a Western fan, since I don’t think I’ve actually seen about 9/10ths of your list. But I do recall really liking The Cowboys, mostly because I thought Cimarron was cute (and just discovered a zillion years later that it was a young A. Martinez) and Roscoe Lee Brown is awesome.

  10. Liz Says:

    Hooray for “Blazing Saddles” (esp. the “I’m Tired” song, by Madeleine Kahn)!

    I’m NOT a Clint Eastwood fan, but I know you are, Meg. What do you think of “The Outlaw Josey Wales?” I had thought that that one was sort of your quintessential Clint Eastwood movie. Also, the “riding off into the sunset” bit – did that originate in that movie, or was it already a … er … cliche?

    There was an interesting TV movie on a few years ago, called “Purgatory,” where a lot of famous Western “anti-heroes” were being kept until it was decided whether they’d go to Heaven or Hell.

  11. Trip Says:

    All I can say is…to this day, if I see a red sash, I kill the man wearin’ it.

  12. megwood Says:

    Outlaw Josey Wales is a great film — I can’t think of a Clint Western I don’t love. But I like High Plains Drifter better, which is why it went on the list. If I hadn’t been aiming to make the list cover sort of a range of actors, styles, and time periods, it might very well have ended up being just a list of Eastwood films, though.

    Trip, you’re a daisy if you do.

  13. Liz Says:

    Trip, I’ve begun to realize that when you start spouting what appears to be nonsense, you’re probably quoting something. So I trotted over to IMDb (as I usually do), and found that this time, it was “Tombstone.” But, Meg, what the heck is this “daisy” stuff??

  14. megwood Says:

    Also Tombstone — infinitely quotable film.

  15. Trip Says:

    I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.

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