25 best Western movies ever
The Wild Bunch (1969)
A movie as much about the end of the American West in the face of advancing civilisation and technology as it is about shooting things up, Sam Peckinpah’s tale of ageing outlaws seeking one last big payday doesn’t pull any punches. A brutal, blood-soaked antidote to what Peckinpah regarded as the anaemic, uncomplicated heroic Westerns of the time.
John Wayne became a Hollywood star following his role in Stagecoach, which was also John Ford’s first ever non-silent western and his first shot in Monument Valley, the red, mesa-filled landscape that quickly became a western staple. The movie, which depicts the fraught journey of a motley band of strangers through Apache territory, was considered by Orson Welles to be a "perfect" film; he reportedly watched it over 40 times while making Citizen Kane.
Rio Bravo (1959)
John Wayne makes yet another appearance in our list, this time as a small town sheriff who turns to a ragtag band of allies (Dean Martin included) to stop a bad guy from busting his murderer brother out of jail. An archetypal western that ticks all the boxes and has clear-cut “goodies” and “baddies” – yet certainly one of the best of its period.
Clint Eastwood bought up the rights to the tale of ageing gunfighter William Munny in the 70s, then sat on it until he was old enough to play the lead role. It was worth the wait – Eastwood's deconstruction of the Western myth, and his own Man With No Name persona, is like a fine vintage to be savoured.
The Searchers (1956)
John Wayne Westerns are often thought of as looking back at the Old West through rose-tinted specs – but The Searchers – possibly his finest collaboration with director John Ford – gives the lie to that idea. The film follows embittered Civil War veteran Ethan Edwards as he hunts for his niece, abducted by Comanches years before – but so virulent is his racism that there's no guarantee he won't kill her if he discovers that she's gone native.
Keep an eye out for the film's iconic shots, including the closing scene in which Edwards stands alone in a doorway, cut off from his family – they've been referenced in everything from Lawrence of Arabia to Star Wars to Saving Private Ryan.