Westerns The Top 25 Must-See Quintessential Western Movies  

Ranker Film
39 votes 7 voters 25 items

List Rules Vote 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. 

1 5 VOTES

Rio Bravo


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Rio Bravo is a 1959 American Western film produced and directed by Howard Hawks and starring John Wayne, Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson, Angie Dickinson, Walter Brennan, and Ward Bond. Written by Jules Furthman and Leigh Brackett, based on the short story "Rio Bravo" by B. H. McCampbell, the film is about the sheriff of the town of Rio Bravo, Texas who arrests the brother of a powerful local rancher in order to help his drunken deputy/friend. With the help of a cripple and a young gunfighter, they hold off the rancher's gang. Rio Bravo was filmed on location at Old Tucson Studios outside Tucson, Arizona in Technicolor. In 2014, Rio Bravo was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically ...more on Wikipedia

Actors: John Wayne, Dean Martin, Angie Dickinson, Ricky Nelson, Walter Brennan, + more

Initial Release: 1959

Directed by: Howard Hawks

Also Ranked

#11 on The Best Western Movies Ever Made

#71 on Which Ensemble Films Should Be Remade With All-Female Casts?

#7 on The Best 50s Western Movies

#36 on Maxim's Greatest Guy Movies Ranked by Fans

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High Noon


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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 on Wikipedia

Actors: Grace Kelly, Gary Cooper, Lee Van Cleef, Harry Morgan, Lloyd Bridges, + more

Initial Release: 1952

Directed by: Fred Zinnemann

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#33 on The Best Black and White Movies Ever Made

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The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is a 1966 Italian epic Spaghetti Western film directed by Sergio Leone, starring Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, and Eli Wallach in the title roles respectively. The screenplay was written by Age & Scarpelli, Luciano Vincenzoni and Leone, based on a story by Vincenzoni and Leone. Director of photography Tonino Delli Colli was responsible for the film's sweeping widescreen cinematography and Ennio Morricone composed the film's score, including its main theme. It was a co-production between companies in Italy, Spain, West Germany and the United States. The film is known for Leone's use of long shots and close-up cinematography, as well as his distinctive ...more on Wikipedia

Actors: Clint Eastwood, Viggo Mortensen, Mark Strong, Jason Isaacs, Eli Wallach, + more

Initial Release: 2008

Directed by: Sergio Leone, Vicente Amorim

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#39 on The Greatest Soundtracks of All Time

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#1 on The Best Western Movies Ever Made

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The Searchers


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The Searchers is a 1956 American Technicolor VistaVision Western film directed by John Ford, based on the 1954 novel by Alan Le May, set during the Texas–Indian Wars, and starring John Wayne as a middle-aged Civil War 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. It was named the greatest American western by the ...more on Wikipedia

Actors: John Wayne, Natalie Wood, Vera Miles, Ward Bond, Lana Wood, + more

Initial Release: 1956

Directed by: John Ford

Also Ranked

#6 on The Best Western Movies Ever Made

#1 on The Best 50s Western Movies

#60 on Maxim's Greatest Guy Movies Ranked by Fans

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