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48 voters

The Top 25 Must-See Quintessential Western Movies

Updated October 1, 2019 456 votes 48 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. 

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  • Video: YouTube
    High Noon is a 1952 American Western film directed by Fred Zinnemann and starring Gary Cooper. In nearly real time, the film tells the story of a town marshal forced to face a gang of killers by himself. The screenplay was written by Carl Foreman. The film won four Academy Awards and four Golden Globe Awards. The award-winning score was written by Russian-born composer Dimitri Tiomkin. In 1989, High Noon was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant", entering the registry during the NFR's first year of existence....  more
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      Pale Rider is a 1985 American western film produced and directed by Clint Eastwood, who also stars in the lead role. This movie bears a striking similarity to the classic Western Shane, as well as similarities to Eastwood's earlier film High Plains Drifter. The title is a reference to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse....  more
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      • Video: YouTube
        Once Upon a Time in the West is a 1968 Italian/American epic Spaghetti Western film directed by Sergio Leone for Paramount Pictures. It stars Henry Fonda cast against type as the villain, Charles Bronson as his nemesis, Jason Robards as a bandit, and Claudia Cardinale as a newly widowed homesteader with a past. The screenplay was written by Leone and Sergio Donati, from a story devised by Leone, Bernardo Bertolucci, and Dario Argento. The widescreen cinematography was by Tonino Delli Colli, and Ennio Morricone provided the film score. ...  more
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          Stagecoach is a 1939 American Western film directed by John Ford, starring Claire Trevor and John Wayne in his breakthrough role. The screenplay, written by Dudley Nichols, is an adaptation of "The Stage to Lordsburg", a 1937 short story by Ernest Haycox. The film follows a group of strangers riding on a stagecoach through dangerous Apache territory. Stagecoach was the first of many Westerns that Ford shot using Monument Valley, in the American south-west on the Arizona–Utah border, as a location, many of which also starred John Wayne. Scenes from Stagecoach, including a famous sequence introducing John Wayne's character the Ringo Kid, blended shots of Monument Valley with shots filmed on...  more
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