30 Greatest Western Movies Ever Made, According to Critics

Best Westerns

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Django Unchained

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The Western genre has a little more giddyup in its step these days, thanks to the popularity of series like “Yellowstone,” “1883,” and "1923." We’ve rustled up the top Western films of all time in the eyes of the critics, examined here in chronological order. You’re sure to find a few favorites on the list.

Related: 33 Cult-Classic Movies We Can’t Stop Watching


‘Stagecoach’ (1939)

Critic Quote: “Action-packed and jaw-droppingly epic (it was the first time director John Ford ever shot in Monument Valley), ‘Stagecoach’ is the perfect Western to show to people who don’t like Westerns.” — Entertainment Weekly

After years of appearing in forgettable Westerns, John Wayne’s role as the Ringo Kid proved to be a breakout. While the film lost the Best Picture Oscar to “Gone With the Wind,” it won two Oscars including one for Thomas Mitchell as Best Supporting Actor. It also checks in at No. 9 on the American Film Institute’s list of Top 10 Westerns.

Related: The Highest-Grossing Movie the Year You Were Born

The Ox-Bow Incident

‘The Ox-Bow Incident’ (1942)

Critic Quote: “It shows a tragic violation of justice with little backlash to sweeten the bitter draught. But it also points a moral, bluntly and unremittingly, to show the horror of mob rule. And it has the virtue of uncompromising truth.” — The New York Times

Henry Fonda stars in this frank look at vigilante justice in the old West based on the best-selling novel by Walter Van Tilburg Clark. Variety said parts were “too raw-blooded for the screen,” but it ended up as a Best Picture nominee (losing to “Casablanca”).

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

‘The Treasure of the Sierra Madre’ (1948)

Critic Quote: "One of the best things Hollywood has done since it learned to talk; and the movie can take a place, without blushing, among the best ever made." — Time

Humphrey Bogart leads a trio of down-on-their-luck men searching for gold in Mexico in writer/director John Huston’s classic adventure tale that won two Oscars (directing and writing) for Huston and a third (supporting actor) for his father, Walter Huston. The film also was nominated for Best Picture, losing to Laurence Olivier’s “Hamlet.”

Related: Small-Budget Films That Went on to Win Oscars

Red River

‘Red River’ (1948)

Critic Quote: “(I)t stands sixteen hands above the level of routine horse opera these days.” — The New York Times 

A 1,000-mile cattle drive from Texas to Missouri runs into problems in this drama starring John Wayne, Montgomery Clift, and Walter Brennan. It received two Oscar nominations (for writing and film editing) and is ranked at No. 5 on the American Film Institute’s list of top Westerns.

High Noon

‘High Noon’ (1952)

Critic Quote: “(I)t has a stunning comprehension of that thing we call courage in a man and the thorniness of being courageous in a world of bullies and poltroons.” — The New York Times

Gary Cooper won an Oscar for his portrayal of a small-town marshal who refused to run from a looming showdown. The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and won four. It ranks second on the American Film Institute’s list of the top 10 Westerns.


‘Shane’ (1953)

Critic Quote: “Shane wears a white hat and (the bad guy) wears a black hat, but the buried psychology of this movie is a mottled, uneasy, fascinating gray.” — Chicago Sun-Times

Alan Ladd plays a gunfighter who attempts (unsuccessfully) to leave his old life behind in this Best Picture-nominated film that the American Film Institute considers to be the third-best Western ever made.

The Searchers

‘The Searchers’ (1956)

Critic Quote: “This C.V. Whitney production is undoubtedly one of the greatest Westerns ever made. The whole film looks as though it had sprung for the dramatic brush of Frederic Remington.” — The Hollywood Reporter

Director John Ford gets one of the best performances of his career from John Wayne, playing a Civil War veteran who takes on a years-long search for his niece (Natalie Wood) who has been taken by Comanches. Jeffrey Hunter, Vera Miles, and Ward Bond also star in the film the American Film Institute crowned the top Western of all time.


‘Giant’ (1956)

Critic Quote: “An excellent film which registers strongly on all levels, whether it's in its breathtaking panoramic shots of the dusty Texas plains; the personal, dramatic impact of the story itself, or the resounding message it has to impart.” — Variety

The sprawling epic of life on a Texas cattle ranch from the best-seller by Edna Ferber scored 10 Oscar nominations including Best Picture, Best Actor (Rock Hudson and James Dean). But only director George Stevens — in his followup to “Shane” — went home with a statuette.  

Rio Bravo

‘Rio Bravo’ (1959)

Critic Quote: “To watch ‘Rio Bravo’ is to see a master craftsman at work. The film is seamless. There is not a shot that is wrong. It is uncommonly absorbing, and the 141-minute running time flows past like running water.” — Chicago Sun-Times

The second of five films director Howard Hawks made with John Wayne (including “Red River”) finds the Duke as a sheriff guarding an outlaw with help from Dean Martin, Rickey Nelson, and Walter Brennan.

The Magnificent Seven

‘The Magnificent Seven’ (1960)

Critic Quote: “‘The Magnificent Seven’ is a rip-roaring rootin’ tootin’ western with lots of bite and tang and old-fashioned abandon.” — Variety

The Americanized version of Akira Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai” finds a pack of gunslingers including Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, and James Coburn defending a small town from a ruthless outlaw (Eli Wallach) and his gang. Elmer Bernstein’s score was nominated for an Oscar.

Related: The Best (and Worst) Movie Remakes of All Time

'A Fistful of Dollars' Movie Poster

‘A Fistful of Dollars’ (1964)

Critic Quote: “A cracker-jack Western made in Italy and Spain by a group of Italians and an international cast, this is a hard-hitting item, ably directed, splendidly lensed, neatly acted, which has all the ingredients wanted by action fans and then some.” — Variety

Sergio Leone didn’t invent the spaghetti Western, but this film — his first of three to feature Clint Eastwood’s iconic gunman — made them popular. “Eastwood handles himself very well as the stranger, shaping a character strong enough to beg a sequel,” Variety said. “For a Few Dollars More” was released the next year.

Related: The Worst Clint Eastwood Movies Ever Made, According to Critics

Cat Ballou

‘Cat Ballou’ (1965)

Critic Quote: “It is a carefree and clever throwing together of three or four solid Western stereotypes in a farcical frolic that follows — and travesties — the ballad form of Western storytelling made popular in ‘High Noon.’” — The New York Times

Jane Fonda and Lee Marvin inject some comedy into the normally rugged genre to produce what the American Film Institute considers to be the 10th-best Western of all time. The film was nominated for five Oscars with Marvin, in a dual role, winning Best Actor.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

‘The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance’ (1962)

Critic Quote: “Arguably, the best John Ford film ever, certainly one of the very best, ‘The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance’ is an American classic.” — The Austin Chronicle

James Stewart, John Wayne, Vera Miles, and Lee Marvin tell the complicated story of a showdown between a young lawyer and a local troublemaker. It also contains the famous line “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

‘The Good, The Bad and the Ugly’ (1966)

Critic Quote: “An improbable masterpiece – a bizarre mixture of grandly operatic visuals, grim brutality and sordid violence that keeps wrenching you from one extreme to the other.” — Chicago Tribune

Sergio Leone’s masterpiece teams Clint Eastwood as the Man With No Name, Eli Wallach, and Lee Van Cleef in a hunt for a fortune in gold buried in a cemetery. And don’t forget that haunting score.

'Once Upon a Time in the West' Movie Poster

‘Once Upon a Time in the West’ (1968)

Critic Quote: “The real stars are (Sergio) Leone’s camera, going eye-to-eye with his actors or tracking through the labyrinth of his invented West, and Ennio Morricone’s score — arguably the richest in movie history.” — Time

Henry Fonda as a bad guy? Yep. After turning down the role, Fonda called Eli Wallach, who’d worked with director Sergio Leone in “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” and Wallach urged Fonda to take the role, telling him “working with Leone was an experience no actor should miss,” Variety says.

'True Grit' Movie Poster

‘True Grit’ (1969)

Critic Quote: “(John Wayne) towers over everything in the film — actors, script (from Charles Portis’ novel), even the magnificent Colorado mountains. He rides tall in the saddle in this character role of ‘the fat old man.’” — Variety

John Wayne won the Best Actor Oscar for his larger-than-life portrayal of Rooster Cogburn, an aging U.S. Marshal hired to track down Robert Duvall’s Ned Pepper. It also marked the high point of singer Glen Campbell’s acting career. 

'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid' Movie Poster

‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’ (1969)

Critic Quote: “Newman and Redford both sock over their respective roles with a humanness seldom attached to outlaw characters.” — Variety


Following a string of successful robberies, Butch (Paul Newman) and Sundance (Robert Redford) become the target of a talented posse determined to end their growing legend. The film won four Oscars and is ranked No. 7 on the American Film Institute’s list of the best Westerns.

The Wild Bunch

‘The Wild Bunch’ (1969)

Critic Quote: “Pouring new wine into the bottle of the Western, Peckinpah explodes the bottle; his story is too simple for this imagist epic.” — The New Yorker

Director Sam Peckinpah’s violent tale of a band of aging outlaws (starring William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, and Warren Oates) ranks sixth on the American Film Institute’s list of the top 10 Westerns.

McCabe & Mrs. Miller

‘McCabe & Mrs. Miller' (1971)

Critic Quote: “Robert Altman has made a dozen films that can be called great in one way or another, but one of them is perfect, and that one is ‘McCabe & Mrs. Miller’” — Chicago Sun-Times

A gambler (Warren Beatty) and a prostitute (Julie Christie) form a partnership in one of director Robert Altman’s early films that ranks 8th on the American Film Institute’s list of best Westerns. Christie was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar.

Blazing Saddles

‘Blazing Saddles’ (1974)

Critic Quote: “It's a crazed grabbag of a movie that does everything to keep us laughing except hit us over the head with a rubber chicken.” — Chicago Sun-Times

Mel Brooks — in what many called his best film — sends up the genre as only he could. Gene Wilder, Cleavon Little, Harvey Korman, and Madeline Kahn (nominated for an Oscar) star in this baudy, irreverent, hysterical film.

The Outlaw Josey Wales

‘The Outlaw Josey Wales’ (1976)

Critic Quote: “Eastwood as a director manages his action sequences in a no-nonsense manner. He gets to the heart of the matter briskly, orchestrates his confrontations intelligently and gets off without lingering unduly over the resultant ugliness.” — Time

Clint Eastwood stars (with Sondra Locke and Chief Dan George) and directs (after Philip Kaufman was fired) this tale of revenge in the post-Civil War West in what Time said was one of the best films of 1976.

Dances With Wolves

‘Dances With Wolves’ (1990)

Critic Quote: “This is a film with a pure ring to it. It’s impossible to call it anything but epic.” — Los Angeles Times

The film won seven of the 12 Oscars it was nominated for including Best Picture and Best Director in Kevin Costner’s first turn behind the camera. Graham Greene and Mary McDonnell also received nominations as did Costner for Best Actor.

City Slickers

‘City Slickers’ (1991)

Critic Quote: “Witty one-liners crackle and cowboy cliches are given a good kicking as the three stars give excellent accounts of themselves.” — Empire

An ad salesman (Billy Crystal) joins his friends (Bruno Kirby and Daniel Stern) on a cattle drive/vacation. Hilarity ensues. Jack Palance won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role as ornery trail boss Curly.


‘Unforgiven’ (1992)

Critic Quote: “It's the actor/director's best movie — and the best Western by anybody in over 20 years.” — USA Today

Already a veteran of some of the best Westerns, Clint Eastwood skillfully reinvigorated the genre and was rewarded with Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director. Gene Hackman also took home a Best Supporting Actor award. The film is No. 4 on the American Film Institute’s list of the top 10 Westerns.

Brokeback Mountain

‘Brokeback Mountain’ (2005)

Critic Quote: “(A) powerful and moving film, a smart study of relationships that could but can’t and never will be.” — Empire

This Western love story like no other was nominated for eight Oscars including Best Picture, Best Actor (Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal), and Best Actress (Michelle Williams). Ang Lee won Best Director.

No Country for Old Men

‘No Country for Old Men’ (2007)

Critic Quote: “It’s so admirably lean and sinewy that it deserves not merely a rave review but a Johnny Cash song about matter-of-fact killings in shady hotels and sun-scoured landscapes.” — The Baltimore Sun

Joel and Ethan Coen’s blistering tale of a drug deal gone wrong near the Rio Grande won them three Oscars — Best Picture, Best Directing, and Best Adapted Screenplay. Javier Bardem also won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for playing one of the most chilling bad guys the genre has ever seen.

3:10 to Yuma

‘3:10 to Yuma’ (2007)

Critic Quote: “James Mangold’s ‘3:10 to Yuma’ restores the wounded heart of the Western and rescues it from the morass of pointless violence.” — Chicago Sun-Times

Russell Crowe, Christian Bale, and Peter Fonda star in this remake of the 1957 film about the dangerous journey of a rancher attempting to put an outlaw on a train so he can stand trial for his crimes.

True Grit

‘True Grit’ (2010)

Critic Quote: “Jeff Bridges handily reinvents the iconic role of Rooster Cogburn in the Coen brothers’ back-to-the-book remake.” — Variety

Remaking a classic is tricky, but the Coen brothers pull it off, replacing the Duke (John Wayne) with the Dude (Jeff Bridges) in what many critics noted was a more faithful adaptation of the Charles Portis novel. The film, which also stars Matt Damon and Josh Brolin, collected 10 Oscar nominations including Best Picture, Best Actor (Bridges), Best Supporting Actress (Hailee Steinfeld), and Best Director (Ethan and Joel Coen), but went home empty-handed.

Django Unchained

‘Django Unchained’ (2012)

Critic Quote: “‘Django Unchained’ is crazily entertaining, brazenly irresponsible and also ethically serious in a way that is entirely consistent with its playfulness.” — The New York Times

Quentin Tarantino puts his indelible stamp on the genre with this star-studded story about a slave’s quest to rescue his wife. The cast features Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, and Samuel L. Jackson. Waltz won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar and Tarantino also won for his original screenplay.

'The Harder They Fall' Movie Poster

‘The Harder They Fall’ (2021)

Critic Quote: "’The Harder They Fall’ is a bloody pleasure: a revenge Western packed with memorable characters played by memorable actors, each scene and moment staged for voluptuous beauty and kinetic power.” — RogerEbert.com

Jonathan Majors, Idris Elba, and Regina King star in this action-packed tale of revenge in what Metacritic calls an “assured, righteously new school Western” from Netflix.