10 Timeless Western Movies You Can Watch Today And Still Enjoy

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Summary

  • Classic Western films have had a significant impact on modern pop culture, influencing the work of recognized and praised directors today.
  • Many classic Westerns subvert the genre’s tropes and characteristics, offering fresh perspectives and storytelling methods that still hold up in modern times.
  • The diverse range of classic Western films provides great entertainment for both devoted fans of the genre and newcomers, with timeless themes and engaging characters.

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While the Western genre comes with an extensive list of films, many classics within the genre are still enjoyable for modern audiences today. The emergence of the golden age of the Western genre in pop culture is roughly credited to the late 1930s. With such a long-running genre, it’s easy to see how the staple tropes and characteristics of the Western might have started to feel repetitive over the years.

However, many classic Western films are credited with changing the genre itself and are widely referenced as influences on the work of recognized and praised directors today. Inspiration for stories celebrated by modern audiences in films such as Star Wars can often be credited to Western movies. For both devoted fans of the genre and newcomers, a number of classic Westerns are still hugely entertaining for audiences now.

10 The Big Country (1958)

Where to Watch: Prime Video

The Big Country

Directed by William Wyler, the film follows Gregory Peck as James McKay and the conflicts that arise when visiting his fiancée Patricia’s family and discovering hostility between his soon-to-be father-in-law, Henry Terrill played by Charles Bickford, and Rufus Hannassey portrayed by Burl Ives. Throughout the film, there are many attempts to get McKay to fight but with every push towards violence, he does his best to dissolve the matter. McKay’s actions, or lack thereof, disappoint Patricia and her father as they see it as cowardly. It’s McKay as the protagonist that alters expectations of a Western film, and it’s this characteristic of his that allows the film to hold up well through a modern lens.

Related: 10 Best Western TV Shows, Ranked

9 Rio Bravo (1959)

Where to Watch: Prime Video & Apple TV

Starring John Wayne as Sheriff John T. Chance, Rio Bravo follows Chance after he arrests Joe Burdette for murder. As a result, his brother Nathan works with a team to hatch up a plan to get Joe out of prison. Standing guard against Nathan is Chance and his own team of eccentric individuals, Dude, Colorado, and Stumpy. Rio Bravo has been recognized as a staple Western film by critics and Quentin Tarantino. He’s mentioned it’s one of his favorite movies of all time, influencing his own work.

Related: 10 Best Spaghetti Westerns for Quentin Tarantino Fans (That Aren’t Sergio Leone Movies)

8 High Noon (1952)

Where to Watch: Prime Video, Apple TV, YouTube

High Noon

In the film directed by Fred Zinnemann, Gary Cooper portrays the soon-to-be-retired Marshal Will Kane. Kane and his wife Amy, played by Grace Kelly, receive news that the man Kan arrested years prior, Frank Miller, has been pardoned and is coming back to town to look for Kane. Throughout the film, Kane goes around asking for help, but others, including his wife, reject the notion and urge Kane to leave town before Miller’s arrival.

The film has proven to be a conversation starter as the two lenses most commonly used to view the film are those that are anti-violence and those who believe it is important to follow through with one’s duty. Rio Bravo is seen to be the response film to High Noon, with its director and lead star publicly criticizing the characteristics of Zinnemann’s film.

7 Buck And The Preacher (1972)

Where to Watch: Prime Video & Apple TV

Buck and the Preacher

In Sidney Poitier’s directorial debut, he stars as Buck alongside Harry Belafonte as the Preacher. The film follows the titular characters as they travel to the West with freed slaves in hopes of owning land. However, their journey is trailed by Deshay and a group of men whose job is to return Buck and the freed slaves back to the South. Unlike what’s typically seen in classic Western films, Buck and the Preacher‘s central storyline is focused on Black characters and their liberation. It’s a different approach to the genre that still holds power in modern times.

6 The Gunfighter (1950)

Where to Watch: Prime Video & iTunes

The Gunfighter

Gregory Peck as Jimmy Ringo, a well-known gunfighter, heads to the town of Cayenne to visit his estranged wife and their son. While in town, Ringo comes into contact with people who want him killed – some for revenge and others for recognition. The Gunfighter takes a look at the other side of the Western lifestyle, shining a spotlight on Ringo’s isolation and the adversity that he faces as a result of his lifestyle. The character of Ringo is a refreshing contrast to the protagonists seen in most Western films.

5 My Darling Clementine (1946)

Where to Watch: Prime Video & Apple TV

My Darling Clementine

Director John Ford tells the story of the Earps as they seek revenge for the killing of their younger brother James. Henry Fonda as Wyatt Earp becomes the Marshal of the town and through his interactions with the townspeople, he learns that one of the Clanton boys took his brother’s life. The Clantons await the arrival of the Earps at the O.K. Corral and a gunfight ensues. Drawing inspiration from the real-life events of the O.K. Corral shootout in 1881, Ford’s My Darling Clementine is still widely cited as his best work, and it’s a highly praised Western film overall.

4 Stagecoach (1939)

Where to Watch: MAX, The Criterion Channel, Apple TV

Stagecoach

The premise of Stagecoach follows a stagecoach full of passengers with differing backgrounds and reasons for traveling. One of those individuals is Ringo Kid, played by John Wayne, an escaped prisoner on his way to avenge the deaths of his family members. While the portrayal of Native Americans in the film is outdated and vastly different from what’s seen in today’s content, the film is still an exciting viewing for fans of the genre and of Wayne and his Western roles. This was Wayne’s first starring role in a Ford film, despite being cast in uncredited roles years prior.

The 1966 color remake of Stagecoach directed by Gordon Douglas is also available on Prime Video.

3 Vera Cruz (1954)

Where to Watch: Prime Video & Apple TV

Vera Cruz

Seeing how they can benefit from the ongoing Franco-Mexican War, Ben Trane and Joe Erin head to Mexico. It is there that they are offered a financial reward to take the countess to Veracruz via stagecoach and act as her guards against the Juaristas. However, during their travels, they discover cases of gold within the stagecoach worth more than what they’ve been offered. Each character then attempts to take the money for themselves and greed is seen in varying degrees within each character, most notably in Erin. Director Robert Aldrich provides the tone and character traits that are often noted as inspiration for many films that would follow in the Western genre.

2 The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly (1966)

Where to Watch: Hulu & Prime Video

Directed by Sergio Leone, this spaghetti Western follows the story of Blondie, Tuco, and Angel Eyes, played by Clint Eastwood, Eli Wallach, and Lee Van Cleef. These characters are on the search for $200,000 worth of gold buried in a cemetery. Throughout their journey, tricks are played on one another in an attempt to get the gold before the others, as greed is a central theme within the film. It’s an essential Western viewing with praise for bringing about a fresh approach to the Western genre. While the use and tone of violence were criticized in early times following the film, it’s this style by Leone that credits it as the best.

1 McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971)

Where to Watch: Prime Video & iTunes

McCabe & Mrs. Miller

Directed by Robert Altman, the film follows Warren Beatty as John McCabe and Julie Christie as Constance Miller. McCabe and Miller are successful business partners running a brothel in the town of Presbyterian Church. Altman, as noted by himself and others, wanted to make McCabe & Mrs. Miller as a sort of inverse of the classic Western film. This is seen during the standoff, which takes place in the snow and with townspeople unconcernedly walking around. Though Altman’s work has the needed elements to classify it as a Western, the way the film is shot and the story that is told, is what makes up the reconceptualized story of the West.