Western movies hold a special place in many people’s hearts due to their ability to transport you to an entirely different reality. Their sweeping desert landscapes whisk us away from the bustle of everyday life or simply give us a sense of wanderlust without ever leaving our couches. In some Westerns, you root for the moral character, sometimes you cheer for the antiheroes, and in others you want the bandits to succeed, but the storylines are always meant to excite.
And the style — we’ll wear vintage dungarees, Western bow ties, and Boss of the Plains brimmed hats any day of the week. If you’ve been wanting to dive into the film category but don’t know where to start, these are the 14 best Western movies to watch right now, listed from oldest to newest.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is the third and final film in Sergio Leone’s Man With No Name series, and it’s arguably the masterpiece of the trilogy. When people think of a quintessential spaghetti Western, people think of this movie, thanks to a collection of iconic shots that have inspired American filmmakers throughout the subsequent decades. In the 1966 film, Clint Eastwood’s character unenthusiastically teams up with two other men (played by Eli Wallach and Lee Van Cleef) to search for gold during the crux of the Civil War. The film’s infamous standoff between the three men is a study in flawless film editing that proves storytelling isn’t just about what happens, but how it actually transpires. Ennio Morricone’s iconic soundtrack is often seen as one of the best characters of the movie.
If you look at this list, there’s a big gap between Butch Cassidy and Unforgiven. And that’s not a mistake, as the American West experienced somewhat of a drought in the 70s and 80s. But then Unforgiven came along and reinvigorated the genre. Clint Eastwood returned to the Wild West as the star and director of the film, which he dedicated to Sergio Leone and Don Siegel, who he considered mentors who helped catapult his career. Unforgiven is a classic story for modern times, a tale that, like many other Westerns, obscures the oftentimes thin line between justice and revenge. It was a seamless transition for Eastwood to dive head first back into the genre, and it paid off when he picked up Oscars for best picture and best director that year.
Sometimes you need a break from all the gore and seriousness of the Western, but you still want to watch a good movie that pays deep respect to the genre. Rango delivers tenfold with a fun and exciting story that will captivate audiences of all ages with its sense of humor and brilliant animation. The fake it ‘till you make it tale follows domesticated chameleon Rango, who loses his way and ends up becoming the sheriff of the small Western town of Dirt. With the support of desert iguana Beans, he helps the townspeople find something they have lost. Its many great references — Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, and Chinatown, to name a few — allow the viewer to sink into something familiar while getting acquainted with the story’s unique characters and oddly beautiful landscapes.
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