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The Top 25 Must-See Quintessential Western Movies

Updated October 1, 2019 511 votes 50 voters 1.5k 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
    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. The screenplay was written by Age & Scarpelli, Luciano Vincenzoni and Leone, based on a story by Vincenzoni and Leone. The plot revolves around three gunslingers competing to find fortune in a buried cache of Confederate gold amid the violent chaos of the American Civil War (specifically the New Mexico Campaign in 1862), while participating in many battles and duels along the way....  more
    • Actors: Clint Eastwood, Eli Wallach, Lee Van Cleef
    • Released: 1966
    • Directed by: Sergio Leone
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  • Video: YouTube
    The Outlaw Josey Wales is a 1976 American revisionist Western film. It was directed by and starred Clint Eastwood, with Chief Dan George, Sondra Locke, Sam Bottoms, and Geraldine Keams. The film was adapted by Sonia Chernus and Philip Kaufman from author Forrest Carter's 1973 novel The Rebel Outlaw: Josey Wales. Forrest Carter was an alias assumed by Asa Carter: a former Ku Klux Klan leader, a speechwriter for George Wallace, and later an opponent of Wallace for Governor of Alabama on a white supremacist platform....  more
    • Actors: Clint Eastwood, Sondra Locke, John Vernon, Royal Dano, Sam Bottoms
    • Released: 1976
    • Directed by: Clint Eastwood
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  • Video: YouTube
    The Magnificent Seven is an American western film directed by John Sturges and starring Yul Brynner, Eli Wallach and Steve McQueen. The picture is an Old West-style remake of Akira Kurosawa's Japanese-language film Seven Samurai. The supporting cast features Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn, James Coburn, Brad Dexter, and Horst Buchholz. They play a group of seven American gunfighters hired to protect a small agricultural village in Mexico from a group of marauding native bandits led by Calvera. The film's musical score was composed by Elmer Bernstein. In 2013, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally,...  more
    • Actors: Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Eli Wallach, Yul Brynner
    • Released: 1960
    • Directed by: John Sturges
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  • Video: YouTube
    Tombstone is a 1993 American western film directed by George P. Cosmatos, written by Kevin Jarre and starring Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer, with Sam Elliott, Bill Paxton, Powers Boothe, Michael Biehn, and Dana Delany in supporting roles, as well as a narration by Robert Mitchum. The film is based on events in Tombstone, Arizona, including the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral and the Earp Vendetta Ride, during the 1880s. It depicts a number of western outlaws and lawmen, such as Wyatt Earp, William Brocius, Johnny Ringo, and Doc Holliday. Tombstone was released by Hollywood Pictures in theatrical wide release in the United States on December 24, 1993, grossing $56.5 million in domestic ticket...  more
    • Actors: Val Kilmer, Kurt Russell, Charlton Heston, Billy Bob Thornton, Dana Delany
    • Released: 1993
    • Directed by: Kevin Jarre, George P. Cosmatos
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