14th August 2023
What Are The Best Cowboy Movies Of All Time?
14th August 2023
When we think about cowboy movies, we think of westerns. These are a film genre defined by the American Film Institute as films which are “set in the American West that [embody] the spirit, the struggle, and the demise of the new frontier”. Generally set in the American frontier. Between the California Gold Rush of 1849 and the closing of the frontier in 1890. The genre also includes many examples of stories set in locations outside the frontier. Including Northern Mexico, the Northwestern United States, Alaska, and Western Canada. As well as stories that take place before 1865 and after 1890. Western films comprise part of the larger Western genre, which encompasses literature, music, television, and plastic arts.
Which cowboy movies made the cut today? Let’s find out.
The Searchers is a 1956 American Technicolor VistaVision epic Western film directed by John Ford and written by Frank S. Nugent, based on the 1954 novel by Alan Le May. It is set during the Texas-Native American wars. Starring John Wayne as a middle-aged Civil War veteran who spends years looking for his abducted niece (Natalie Wood). He is accompanied by his adopted nephew (Jeffrey Hunter).
The film was a critical and commercial success. Since its release, it has come to be considered a masterpiece. It has even been called one of the greatest and most influential films ever made. It was named the greatest American Western by the American Film Institute in 2008. It’s been placed 12th on the same organization’s 2007 list of the 100 greatest American movies of all time. Entertainment Weekly also named it the best Western.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is a 1969 American Western buddy film. It was directed by George Roy Hill and written by William Goldman. Based loosely on fact, the film tells the story of Wild West outlaws Robert LeRoy Parker, known as Butch Cassidy (Paul Newman), and his partner Harry Longabaugh, the “Sundance Kid” (Robert Redford). They are on the run from a crack US posse after a string of train robberies. The pair and Sundance’s lover, Etta Place (Katharine Ross), flee to Bolivia to escape the posse.
In 2003, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress. It was “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” The American Film Institute ranked Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid as the 73rd-greatest American film on its “AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition)” list. Also, number 50 on the original list.
No Country for Old Men is a 2007 American neo-Western crime thriller film. Written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. Based on Cormac McCarthy’s 2005 novel of the same name. Starring Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, and Josh Brolin. The film is set in the desert landscape of 1980 West Texas. The film revisits the themes of fate, conscience and circumstance. Themes that the Coen brothers had explored in the films Blood Simple (1984), Raising Arizona (1987), and Fargo (1996).
This film follows three main characters. Llewelyn Moss (Brolin), a Vietnam War veteran and welder who stumbles upon a large sum of money in the desert. Anton Chigurh (Bardem), a hitman who is sent to recover the money. And Ed Tom Bell (Jones), a sheriff investigating the crime. The film also stars Kelly Macdonald as Moss’s wife Carla Jean. Also, Woody Harrelson as a bounty hunter seeking Moss and the return of the $2 million.
The Magnificent Seven is a 1960 American Western film directed by John Sturges. The screenplay, credited to William Roberts, is a remake – in an Old West–style – of Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 Japanese film Seven Samurai (itself initially released in the United States as The Magnificent Seven). The ensemble cast includes Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn, Brad Dexter, James Coburn, and Horst Buchholz as a group of seven gunfighters and Eli Wallach as their main antagonist. The seven title characters are hired to protect a small village in Mexico from a group of marauding bandits led by Wallach.
Brokeback Mountain is a 2005 American neo-Western romantic drama film directed by Ang Lee and produced by Diana Ossana and James Schamus. Adapted from the 1997 short story of the same name by Annie Proulx, the screenplay was written by Ossana and Larry McMurtry. The film stars Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway, and Michelle Williams and depicts the complex romantic relationship between two American cowboys, Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist, in the American West from 1963 to 1983.
Lee became attached to the project in 2001 after previous attempts to adapt Proulx’s story into a film did not materialize. Focus Features and River Road Entertainment would jointly produce and distribute the film. After Ledger and Gyllenhaal’s casting was announced in 2003, filming commenced in various locations in Alberta, Canada, in 2004.
Hell or High Water is a 2016 American neo-Western crime drama film directed by David Mackenzie and written by Taylor Sheridan. It follows two brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) who carry out a series of bank robberies to save their family ranch, while being pursued by two Texas Rangers (Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham). It was the final film produced by OddLot Entertainment due to its dissolution in 2015.
Hell or High Water premiered at the Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes Film Festival on May 16, 2016, and was theatrically released in the United States on August 12, 2016. It received critical acclaim, particularly for Pine, Foster, and Bridges’ performances, Sheridan’s screenplay, and the editing.
True Grit is a 2010 American Western film directed, written, produced, and edited by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen. It is an adaptation of Charles Portis’ 1968 novel of the same name, starring Jeff Bridges as Deputy U.S. Marshal Reuben J. “Rooster” Cogburn and Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross. The film also stars Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, and Barry Pepper. A previous film adaptation in 1969 starred John Wayne, Kim Darby and Glen Campbell.
Fourteen-year-old farm girl Mattie Ross hires Cogburn, a boozy, trigger-happy lawman to go after an outlaw named Tom Chaney who has murdered her father. The bickering duo are accompanied on their quest by a Texas Ranger named LaBoeuf who has been tracking Chaney for killing a Texas state senator. As the three embark on a dangerous adventure, they each have their “grit” tested in various ways.
The Power of the Dog is a 2021 revisionist Western psychological drama film written and directed by Jane Campion. It is based on Thomas Savage’s 1967 novel of the same title. The film stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons, and Kodi Smit-McPhee. Set in Montana and shot mostly within rural Otago, the film is an international co-production among New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia.
The Power of the Dog had its world premiere at the 78th Venice International Film Festival on September 2, 2021, where Campion won the Silver Lion for Best Direction. The film had a limited theatrical release in November 2021, and was released to stream worldwide on Netflix on December 1, 2021.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Italian: Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo, literally “The good, the ugly, the bad”) is a 1966 Italian epic spaghetti Western film directed by Sergio Leone and starring Clint Eastwood as “the Good”, Lee Van Cleef as “the Bad”, and Eli Wallach as “the Ugly”. Its screenplay was written by Age & Scarpelli, Luciano Vincenzoni, and Leone (with additional screenplay material and dialogue provided by an uncredited Sergio Donati), based on a story by Vincenzoni and Leone. Director of photography Tonino Delli Colli was responsible for the film’s sweeping widescreen cinematography, and Ennio Morricone composed the film’s score, including its main theme. It was an Italian-led production with co-producers in Spain, West Germany, and the United States. Most of the filming took place in Spain.
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is a 2007 American epic revisionist Western film written and directed by Andrew Dominik and starring Brad Pitt as Jesse James. Adapted from Ron Hansen’s 1983 novel of the same title, the film dramatizes the relationship between Jesse James and Robert Ford (Casey Affleck), focusing on the events that lead up to the titular killing.
Photography started on August 29, 2005 and ended in December 2005. Filming took place near Calgary, Canmore, and Edmonton, Alberta, and Winnipeg, Manitoba.
The Hateful Eight (sometimes marketed as The H8ful Eight or The Hateful 8) is a 2015 American Western mystery thriller film written and directed by Quentin Tarantino. It stars Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Demián Bichir, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen and Bruce Dern, as eight strangers who seek refuge from a blizzard in a stagecoach stopover some time after the American Civil War.
Tarantino announced the film in November 2013. He conceived it as a novel and sequel to his 2012 film Django Unchained before deciding to make it a standalone film. After the script leaked in January 2014, he decided to abandon the production and publish it as a novel instead. In April 2014, Tarantino directed a live reading of the script at the United Artists Theater in Los Angeles, before reconsidering a new draft and resuming the project.
The Revenant is a 2015 American historical action drama film directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu. The screenplay by Mark L. Smith and Iñárritu is based in part on Michael Punke’s 2002 novel The Revenant, which describes frontiersman Hugh Glass’s experiences in 1823, and which is based on the 1915 poem The Song of Hugh Glass. The film stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy.
In August 2001, Akiva Goldsman purchased Punke’s manuscript. Iñárritu signed on to direct The Revenant in August 2011; in April 2014, after several delays due to other projects, Iñárritu confirmed that he was beginning work on it and that DiCaprio had the lead role.
Shane is a 1953 American Technicolor Western film starring Alan Ladd, Jean Arthur and Van Heflin. Released by Paramount Pictures, the film is noted for its landscape cinematography, editing, performances, and contributions to the genre. The picture was produced and directed by George Stevens from a screenplay by A. B. Guthrie Jr., based on the 1949 novel of the same name by Jack Schaefer. Its Oscar-winning cinematography was by Loyal Griggs.
Shane was the last feature film and the only color film of Arthur’s career. It also features Brandon deWilde, Jack Palance, Emile Meyer, Elisha Cook Jr., Edgar Buchanan, and Ben Johnson. It was listed as No. 45 in the 2007 edition of AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies list, and No. 3 on AFI’s 10 Top 10 in the ‘Western’ category.
Django Unchained is a 2012 American revisionist Western film written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, starring Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, and Samuel L. Jackson, with Walton Goggins, Dennis Christopher, James Remar, Michael Parks, and Don Johnson in supporting roles. Set in the Old West and Antebellum South, it is a highly stylized, heavily revisionist tribute to Spaghetti Westerns, in particular the 1966 Italian film Django by Sergio Corbucci (the star of which, Franco Nero, has a cameo appearance). The story follows a black slave who trains under a German bounty hunter with the ultimate goal of reuniting with his long-lost wife.
Unforgiven is a 1992 American Western film starring, directed, and produced by Clint Eastwood, and written by David Webb Peoples. The film tells the story of William Munny, an aging outlaw and killer who takes on one more job, years after he had turned to farming. The film co-stars Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman, and Richard Harris.
Unforgiven grossed over $159 million on a budget of $14.4 million and received widespread critical acclaim, with praise for the acting (particularly from Eastwood and Hackman), directing, editing, themes and cinematography. The film won four Academy Awards: Best Picture and Best Director for Eastwood, Best Supporting Actor for Hackman, and Best Film Editing for Joel Cox.
Hostiles is a 2017 American western drama film written and directed by Scott Cooper, based on a story by Donald E. Stewart. Hostiles stars Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, Wes Studi, Ben Foster, Stephen Lang, Jesse Plemons, Rory Cochrane, Adam Beach, Q’orianka Kilcher, Jonathan Majors and Timothée Chalamet. It follows a U.S. Army cavalry officer in 1892 who must escort a Cheyenne war chief and his family back to their home in Montana.
The film had its world premiere on September 2, 2017, at the Telluride Film Festival. It had a limited release in the United States by Entertainment Studios beginning December 22, 2017, before going wide on January 26, 2018. It received generally positive reviews from critics, but grossed just $35 million worldwide.
Do you agree with our list of the best cowboy films of all time? Are there any you think we have missed? We hope you have enjoyed this article about the westerns that have really hit the nail on the head. And we suggest having a real binge sesh of any of the above if you haven’t seen them yet!