The Best Cowboy Characters In Film & TV History

Over 900 Ranker voters have come together to rank this list of The Best Cowboy Characters In Film & TV History
Voting Rules
Movie and TV characters only

A lot of people have romantic notions about America's Wild West. They dream of a time when people rode on horseback and followed their own code of ethics. Back then, there was still land to discover, and people settled their differences with a showdown at high noon. It seems like it would have been an exciting time to be alive, which is probably why so many people flock to Westerns, and why these stories often feature so many iconic characters. Here is a list of the greatest cowboy characters to ever grace the big and small screens.

The Lone Ranger is a famous example of the classic cowboy. Alongside his friend, Tonto, he follows his own moral code and always stands up for the little guy. Zorro also falls into this category, as did William Munny - at least in his later years. The one thing all these cowboy characters seem to have in common is that they are often loners who stand up for justice, even if it means occasionally breaking the rules. Which cowboy character from films and TV shows is your favorite?

Grab your lasso and vote up all the cowboys you would feel safer having around to protect your town from ruffians.

Most divisive: Dolores Abernathy
Ranked by
  • Doc Holliday
    494 votes
    • Played By: Val Kilmer

    Val Kilmer's portrayal of Doc Holliday in Tombstone is legendary, cementing the character as a fan favorite in western film history. This fearless gambler with a quick wit and deadly aim became known for his fierce loyalty to his longtime friend, Wyatt Earp, and participated in the legendary Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. A deadly combination of charm, intellect, and fierceness, Holliday's complex character and poignant story have left an indelible mark on the western genre.

  • Man with No Name
    The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, A Fistful of Dollars
    415 votes
    • Played By: Clint Eastwood

    Clint Eastwood's iconic Man with No Name in Sergio Leone's Dollars Trilogy is a masterclass in creating a mysterious, captivating cowboy. An enigmatic anti-hero, he moves through the arid countryside with purpose and steely determination, drawing audiences in with his ruthless tactics and stoic demeanor. With ashes strewn from his cigar, this character has become emblematic of the Spaghetti Western genre and a symbol of the Old West itself.

  • Josey Wales
    The Outlaw Josey Wales
    364 votes
    • Played By: Clint Eastwood

    Outlaw Josey Wales, another unforgettable Clint Eastwood character, is a quintessential cowboy driven by vengeance and tragedy. After his family is brutally murdered by Union soldiers, this once-peaceful farmer is transformed into a cold and calculating killer, carving a path through the Wild West in search of justice. Despite his hardened exterior, Josey Wales remains a beloved character due, in part, to his unwavering moral compass and steadfast loyalty to those he encounters on his journey.

  • Wyatt Earp
    332 votes
    • Played By: Kurt Russell

    Few figures are as iconic to the American West as Wyatt Earp, immortalized in both film and television by numerous actors, including Kevin Costner and Kurt Russell. As the fearless lawman of Dodge City and Tombstone, Earp represents the ultimate symbol of frontier justice, staring down outlaws with unshakable resolve. His role in the legendary shootout at the O.K. Corral has solidified his place as a cowboy hero for the ages, embodying the spirit of justice in a lawless land.

  • Rooster Cogburn
    303 votes
    • Played By: John Wayne, Jeff Bridges

    Portrayed by John Wayne and later Jeff Bridges, Rooster Cogburn is a gritty U.S. Marshal with a penchant for whiskey and an unyielding sense of duty. Featuring a rugged exterior and a no-nonsense approach to justice, Cogburn's character resonates with fans of westerns due to his unwavering commitment to overcome personal flaws in pursuit of the greater good. This one-eyed lawman remains an unforgettable character that transcends generations.

  • William Munny
    306 votes
    • Played By: Clint Eastwood

    Unforgiven's protagonist, William Munny, masterfully played by Clint Eastwood, is a retired gunslinger with a dark past struggling to find redemption. Dragged back into the violent world he left behind, Munny displays striking vulnerability beneath his cold exterior, making him a complex and unforgettable character. His moral struggle as he navigates a world of brutality and bloodshed has solidified Munny as a powerful figure in western films.