The 1982 drama Barbarosa starring Willie Nelson and Gary Busey claims the No. 89 spot on our Top 100.
Under normal circumstances, the C&I crew adheres to a time-tested adage: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. In the case of our “100 Best Westerns Ever Made” list, however, we figured it was way past time for an update.
For one thing, the original list compiled by David Hofstede first appeared almost 20 years ago — in January 2002, to be precise — and since then, more than a few list-worthy films have been released. Also: We have decided — reluctantly, we admit — to heed many requests that we restrict this list to theatrical features, and provide another rundown for television series, made-for-TV movies, and miniseries (including Lonesome Dove) in a future issue.
Finally: During the pandemic lockdown, we have had time to rewatch and reevaluate scads of classic westerns. As a result, more than a few titles have moved higher on the list — and others are appearing for the first time.
And so throughout July, we’re going to offer a weekly countdown of our revised list — starting today with Nos. 100-75.
- The Unforgiven (1960)
Audrey Hepburn in a western is reason enough to watch this one, but this John Huston film also features fine performances from Burt Lancaster and the legendary Lillian Gish.
- The Hateful Eight (2015)
Quentin Tarantino’s shrewdly suspenseful and swaggeringly entertaining drama has Kurt Russell, Samuel L. Jackson, Walton Goggins, Bruce Dern, and other notables well cast as strangers — or are they really strangers? — trapped by a snowstorm in a remote stagecoach stopover.
- The Phantom Empire (1935)
Gene Autry battles torch-wielding robots! How much fun going to the movies used to be, when serials like this off-the-wall sci-fi western played before the feature.
- Junior Bonner (1972)
“Bloody Sam” Peckinpah proves he could make a good PG movie with this thoughtful look at rodeo life, with Steve McQueen as an aging bull rider.
- Warlock (1959)
The provocative undercurrents in this tale of a hired gunslinger (Henry Fonda) and his faithful companion (Anthony Quinn) will keep the Freudians busy for hours.
- How the West Was Won (1962)
Gargantuan screen epic chronicling three generations of a pioneer family. Long but engrossing, with a dozen top stars and one of Alfred Newman’s best scores.
- Tumbleweeds (1925)
A landmark silent film starring the screen’s first cowboy hero, William S. Hart. The thrilling land rush scene remains a cinematic tour de force.
- Jeremiah Johnson (1972)
Robert Redford added another significant notch to his list of signature roles with his authoritative performance in the title role of Sydney Pollack’s rugged western inspired by the real-life exploits of a legendary mountain man.
- The Big Country (1958)
Lots of westerns have “Big” in their title. Why this one isn’t more celebrated is a “big” mystery, though it gains new converts with every airing on Turner Classic Movies.
- Man Without A Star (1955)
Ranch hand Kirk Douglas matches wills with a savvy cattle baroness (Jeanne Crain) while trying to keep the fences away from his corner of the frontier.
- Trail of Robin Hood (1950)
A holiday classic. Roy Rogers saves Jack Holt’s Christmas tree business with help from an all-star posse of western heroes, including Rex Allen, Allan “Rocky” Lane, and Ray “Crash” Corrigan.
- Barbarosa (1982)
A laid-back outlaw (Willie Nelson) befriends a farm boy on the lam (Gary Busey) in this amiable, well-photographed character study.
- A Big Hand for the Little Lady (1966)
Breezy comedy with a terrific twist ending, with Henry Fonda and Joanne Woodward as a farm couple who risk their life savings in a high-stakes poker game.
- Last Train from Gun Hill (1959)
Kirk Douglas re-teamed with Gunfight at the O.K. Corral director John Sturges for this lean and mean western about a gunfighter-turned-marshal on the trail of men — one of them the son of an old friend (Anthony Quinn) — who raped and killed his Indian wife.
- Cimarron (1931)
The first western to win the Oscar for Best Picture stars Richard Dix and Irene Dunne as Easterners heading west. Dated, but a vital step in the maturation of the genre.
- Cat Ballou (1965)
Jane Fonda plays the title role, a schoolteacher turned bandit, but Lee Marvin steals the film in an Oscar-winning dual role, capped by the funniest rendition of “Happy Birthday” in movie history.
- Arizona (1940)
Female leads are a rarity in westerns, so it’s a treat to see the talented Jean Arthur pulling off a rootin’-tootin’ shoot-’em-up with only a modicum of support from William Holden.
- Jesse James (1939)
Pure hokum as a biography of the famed outlaw, but grand entertainment starring Tyrone Power as Jesse and Henry Fonda as his brother Frank.
- The Grey Fox (1982)
Stuntman turned actor Richard Farnsworth waited 40 years for a lead role, and then became an overnight sensation as an aging train robber.
- Hombre (1967)
Elmore Leonard’s story of a white man (Paul Newman) raised by Apaches pulls no punches in its condemnation of frontier racism.
- Union Pacific (1939)
Typically bold Cecil B. DeMille blend of history and fiction, with Barbara Stanwyck in one of her best tough-girl roles.
- Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970)
The moral of this story is never pick up a hitchhiking nun. The odd-couple teaming of Clint Eastwood and Shirley MacLaine really clicks.
- The Alamo (1960)
John Wayne plays Davy Crockett. Spurned in its time, the film now gets better with every viewing.
- Cheyenne Autumn (1964)
After portraying Indians as shooting gallery ducks for 25 years, director John Ford switched sides in his final western. Moving, heartfelt, and long overdue, even if the Cheyenne chiefs are played by Ricardo Montalban and Gilbert Roland.
- The Tin Star (1957)
A sheriff turned disillusioned bounty hunter (Henry Fonda) tutors an inexperienced lawman (Anthony Perkins) in this intense Anthony Mann classic.
- Alias Jesse James (1959)
Bob Hope runs into outlaw trouble and is rescued by a historic assemblage of Hollywood cowboys, including Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Gary Cooper, Hugh O’Brian as Wyatt Earp, James Arness as Matt Dillon, and Fess Parker as Davy Crockett.
Additional contributions from David Hofstede’s original 2002 list. Want to stream, rent, or purchase these films? Visit justwatch.com and search for a film title, and you’ll see where and if it is available for home viewing.