44 voters

The Top 25 Must-See Quintessential Western Movies

Updated October 1, 2019 445 votes 44 voters 1.4k views25 items

List RulesVote up the Western movies that define the genre and should be required viewing for beginners in an Intro to Westerns class.

For years in the United States, Western movies were the most popular films around. Before we ever launched a man into space, kids everywhere wanted to be cowboys as they represented humanity bravely exploring uncharted territory. A lot of this perception had to do with Westerns, which often glorified life on the wild west and presented cowboys as heroic figures. At one point in time, John Wayne was America's hero and everyone rushed to theaters to see the latest Westerns. If you want to understand American film, these are must-see movies. 

However, Westerns have been on the decline in recent years, especially after Blazing Saddles provided a sharp deconstruction of the genre that highlighted some of the less savory details of life on the frontier. However, Westerns are nevertheless important to cinematic history as they helped refine filmmaking tropes and techniques during the height of their popularity. If you're ready to learn more about the influential genre, consider these Western movies for beginners! 

There are hundreds, if not thousands of Westerns, but these are the essential Western movies everyone should watch. You can use this list as an intro to the genre that brought us classics like High Noon and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Watch these famous Westerns and then give your favorites a thumbs up below. 

  • Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
    Video: YouTube
    Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is a 1969 American Western film 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 to history as Butch Cassidy, and his partner Harry Longabaugh, the "Sundance Kid", as they migrate to Bolivia while on the run from the law in search of a more successful outlaw career. In 2003, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."...  more
    • Actors: Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Cloris Leachman, Sam Elliott, Katharine Ross
    • Released: 1969
    • Directed by: George Roy Hill
    Is this a must-see?

    More Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid 

    #91 of 1,189 Every Oscar Winning Film Ever#897 of 1,540 The Most Rewatchable Movies#83 of 557 The Greatest Film Scores of All Time

  • The Searchers
    Video: YouTube
    The Searchers is a 1956 American Technicolor VistaVision Western film directed by John Ford, based on the 1954 novel by Alan Le May, and starring John Wayne as a middle-aged veteran who spends years looking for his abducted niece, accompanied by his adoptive nephew. Critic Roger Ebert found Wayne's character, Ethan Edwards, "one of the most compelling characters Ford and Wayne ever created". The film was a commercial success, although it received no Academy Award nominations. Since its release, it has come to be considered a masterpiece, and one of the greatest and most influential films ever made. ...  more
    • Actors: John Wayne, Natalie Wood, Vera Miles, Ward Bond, Lana Wood
    • Released: 1956
    • Directed by: John Ford
    Is this a must-see?

    More The Searchers 

    #476 of 549 The Greatest Epic Movies Ever Made#87 of 206 The Best Adventure Movies#80 of 675 The Best Movies Roger Ebert Gave Four Stars

  • High Plains Drifter
    Video: YouTube
    High Plains Drifter is a 1973 American film directed by and starring Clint Eastwood, written by Ernest Tidyman, and produced by Robert Daley for The Malpaso Company and Universal Studios. Eastwood plays a laconic and enigmatic figure, who metes out justice in a frontier mining town where he arrives as a stranger. The film was influenced by the work of Eastwood's two major collaborators, film directors Sergio Leone and Don Siegel. The film was shot on location on the shores of Mono Lake, California. Dee Barton provided the eerie film score. ...  more
    • Actors: Clint Eastwood, Geoffrey Lewis, John Hillerman, Mitchell Ryan, Billy Curtis
    • Released: 1973
    • Directed by: Clint Eastwood
    Is this a must-see?

    More High Plains Drifter 

    #38 of 553 The Best '70s Movies#24 of 450 The Best Movies For Guys#5 of 45 The Best Movies Starring Clint Eastwood

  • The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
    Video: YouTube
    The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is a 1962 American Western film directed by John Ford starring James Stewart and John Wayne. The black-and-white film was released by Paramount Pictures. The screenplay by James Warner Bellah and Willis Goldbeck was adapted from a short story written by Dorothy M. Johnson. The supporting cast features Vera Miles, Lee Marvin, Edmond O'Brien, Andy Devine, John Carradine, Woody Strode, Strother Martin, and Lee Van Cleef. In 2007, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant"....  more
    • Actors: John Wayne, James Stewart, Lee Marvin, Lee Van Cleef, Vera Miles
    • Released: 1962
    • Directed by: John Ford
    Is this a must-see?

    More The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance 

    #5 of 399 The Best Western Movies Ever Made#47 of 99 The Most Patriotic Movies of All Time#28 of 175 The Best Movies Of The '60s