10 Westerns Where The Villain Stole The Show



  • Villains can outshine heroes in Western movies, stealing the spotlight with captivating performances.
  • Villains like Ryan, John Herod, Calvera, and Charlie Prince exhibit morally ambiguous qualities, blurring the line between good and evil.
  • Great Western movie villains, such as El Indio, Calvin Candie, and Frank, are capable of leaving a lasting impression and overshadowing the heroes.



The heroes usually take the spotlight in Western movies, but they’ve been overshadowed by the villains in some of the genre’s greatest entries. When it was first pioneered in the early days of film, the Western genre presented filmmakers with a framework to explore clear-cut stories of good versus evil. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the genre became a lot more complex as directors like Sam Peckinpah and Sergio Corbucci brought a rougher, bloodier vision of the Old West to the screen, featuring morally ambiguous antiheroes. In these movies, the heroes have villainous qualities, blurring the line between the two.

A great Western movie protagonist, like High Noon’s Marshal Will Kane or the titular ex-gunfighter in Shane, is easy to root for. But sometimes, the heroes get upstaged if the villain actor gives a captivating enough performance.The best Western movie villains are capable of outshining the heroes, regardless of who wins in the end.

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10 Death Rides A Horse – Ryan

Lee Van Cleef with a gun in Death Rides a Horse

Giulio Petroni’s Death Rides a Horse begins with a familiar Spaghetti Western premise: a boy named Bill Meceita watches a gang murder his family, then grows up training to kill them and sets out to exact vengeance. A seemingly kind mentor – Ryan, played by Lee Van Cleef – takes the young gunslinger under his wing. However, Bill is shocked to learn that Ryan is a part of the gang that murdered his loved ones. The fact that Ryan is introduced as a father figure before being revealed to be the murderer, combined with the same ruthlessness brought to Van Cleef’s portrayal of the unapologetically evil Angel Eyes in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, helps makes him an unforgettable villain.

9 The Quick And The Dead – John Herod

A tilted camera angle of Gene Hackman in The Quick and the Dead

Sam Raimi’s revisionist Western The Quick and the Dead has a star-studded cast that includes Sharon Stone, Russell Crowe, and a young Leonardo DiCaprio. But Gene Hackman steals the show with his turn as the villainous John Herod. In the movie, Herod puts on the fast-draw, single-elimination shooting tournament that forms the backbone of the film’s action. Hackman gives a compelling performance as usual, combining the grit of The French Connection’s “Popeye” Doyle with the over-the-top menace of Superman’s Lex Luthor to match the stylized tone of Raimi’s Western.

8 The Magnificent Seven – Calvera

Calvera looking off-screen in The Magnificent Seven

John Sturges’ Western-set reimagining of Seven Samurai, The Magnificent Seven has a grand total of seven heroes working together to defend a small town from attacking bandits. The titular seven includes some of the most iconic actors of all time: Steve McQueen, Yul Brynner, James Coburn. But western genre legend Eli Wallach steals the show as the leader of the bandits, Calvera. Calvera is a truly evil villain who will stop at nothing to get what he wants. Wallach, who would later play the equally memorable role of the unscrupulous Tuco in The Good, the Bad, and Ugly, has a ton of fun chewing the scenery every time he’s on-screen.

7 3:10 To Yuma – Charlie Prince

Ben Foster with a gun in 3 10 to Yuma

Russell Crowe and Christian Bale lead the cast of James Mangold’s 3:10 to Yuma remake with a pair of terrific performances, but they’re both surprisingly outdone by Ben Foster as Charlie Prince, the ruthless right-hand man of Crowe’s outlaw character. Foster seemingly relished the opportunity to play a truly cruel and uncaring character, and it showed onscreen. Charlie is so sadistic that his unceremonious death in the final act is a moment to celebrate.

6 The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance – Liberty Valance

Lee Marvin with a newspaper in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

As the title would suggest, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is all about Liberty Valance’s killer, but Valance himself is the one who earns spotlight. Lee Marvin was renowned for his “tough guy” on-screen persona, which was on full display in the 1962 Western. He made a great foil for co-star James Stewart, who has the complete opposite on-screen persona typifying the American ideal. Valance is so shamelessly evil that it’s easy to root for Stewart’s Ranse to exact justice, but he’s also the most interesting character in the movie. Becoming the highlight of a movie that stars both John Wayne and James Stewart would be a massive accomplishment for any Hollywood actor.

5 For A Few Dollars More – El Indio

El Indio reaches for his gun in For a Few Dollars More

In Sergio Leone’s first sequel to A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, Clint Eastwood’s “Man with No Name” reluctantly teams up with fellow bounty hunter Colonel Douglas Mortimer, played by Lee Van Cleef, to take on a dastardly villain and cold-blooded gang leader in the form of a character named El Indio. It’s not easy to overshadow Eastwood, but the layered versatility and violent on-screen temper portrayed by Gian Maria Volonté managed to make this task possible. His performance makes El Indio one of the most memorable villains across the entire Spaghetti Western genre.

RELATED: 10 Best Scenes From Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns

4 Django Unchained – Calvin Candie

Calvin Candie holds up a hammer in Django Unchained

After Dr. Schultz has sufficiently trained Django in the art of bounty hunting in Django Unchained, they go after their most important target: the ruthless plantation owner in possession of Django’s estranged wife, Broomhilda. Django Unchained has one of Quentin Tarantino’s most evil villains, second only to Inglourious Basterds’ Col. Hans Landa. Calvin Candie is both campy and eccentric, and a truly sinister presence. He puts on a friendly, affable facade for the dinner, but when he realizes he’s being tricked, the evening takes a very dark turn. Django may be lovable and charismatic, but Candie’s eccentric personality steals every scene he’s in.

3 The Cowboys – Asa “Long Hair” Watts

Bruce Dern at night in The Cowboys

The classic, latter-day John Wayne western The Cowboys revolves around a desperate rancher working with an inexperienced group of boys to transport his cows across the frontier, all while being pursued by vicious cattle rustlers. Bruce Dern, one of the most versatile and commanding actors of the 1970s, gives a compelling performance as the movie’s villain, Asa Watts, better known as “Long Hair.” Watts will stop at nothing to steal the herd, including threatening children at gunpoint, which only enhances his despicable image in the film.

2 No Country For Old Men – Anton Chigurh

Chigurh standing at a counter in No Country For Old Men

The Coen brothers’ neo-Western thriller No Country for Old Men is a classic cat-and-mouse caper about a hunter going on the lam with a briefcase full of blood money and a sadistic hitman relentlessly chasing him. Javier Bardem took home the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his chilling turn as cold-hearted contract killer Anton Chigurh. Llewelyn Moss is an engaging protagonist, and Sheriff Bell gives the movie a moral center, but they can’t compare to Chigurh’s mesmerizing on-screen presence. The character’s ambiguous ending hints that he is a representation of violence itself: it arrives unexpectedly, makes a huge mess, then drifts away just as mysteriously.

RELATED: Anton Chigurh & 9 Other Non-Horror Characters Scarier Than Actual Horror Villains

1 Once Upon A Time In The West – Frank

Henry Fonda in a showdown with Charles Bronson in Once Upon a Time in the West

Leone nailed the stunt casting of Once Upon a Time in the West’s villain. Frank is the notorious outlaw that Charles Bronson’s “Harmonica” seeks revenge against. In an early scene, Frank is seen callously gunning down family man Brett McBain and his three children in Sergio Leone’s 1968 Western. The camera pans up to reveal Frank’s face and it turns out he’s being played drastically against type by Henry Fonda, who usually played warm-hearted everyman roles. There’s no quicker way to make an audience hate a villain than by making them a child killer. The fact that this heartless murderer was played by the Tom Hanks of yesteryear only added to the shock factor.