Support Your Local Sheriff with James Garner claims the No. 50 spot on our Top 100 list.
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 offering a weekly countdown of our revised list. Last week, we gave you Nos. 100-75. This week, we’re continuing with Nos. 74-50.
- Dodge City (1939)
What’s the best barroom brawl in the history of western movies? It has to be the donnybrook in Dodge City, starring Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, and one condemned saloon.
- The Mark of Zorro (1920)
There have been many fine movie and TV Zorros — from Tyrone Power to Guy Williams to Antonio Banderas — but none has been more enthusiastically acrobatic and exuberantly heroic than silent-movie superstar Douglas Fairbanks as the masked swashbuckler.
- News of the World (2020)
It may be too soon to rank this acclaimed drama starring Tom Hanks as a traveling Old West news reader saddled with responsibility for a young white girl (Helena Zengel) captured and raised by Kiowa. But we suspect it will appear even higher on subsequent lists.
- The Man From Snowy River (1982)
The Man From Snowy River captured the mythic spirit of the West as well as any homegrown product has, perhaps because it was based on a revered Australian legend. Critics shrugged; audiences fell in love.
- Annie Get Your Gun (1950)
Often overlooked among the great MGM musicals, Annie Get Your Gun has an extraordinary Irving Berlin score, brassy Betty Hutton as Annie Oakley, and more dancing cowboys than Gilley’s in its heyday.
- Hang ’Em High (1968)
Clint Eastwood’s first film after the Dollars trilogy has him playing an innocent rancher condemned for murder. Lively attempt at cooking Leone’s spaghetti recipe stateside.
- The Plainsman (1936)
Cecil B. DeMille’s frontier epic about Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane surrounds Gary Cooper and Jean Arthur with 2,500 Sioux and Cheyenne extras. Note the dramatic Star Wars-style credits.
- Giant (1956)
Director George Stevens won the Oscar for Giant’s amazing visuals, including the iconic image of James Dean, cowboy hat low over his forehead, reclining behind the wheel of a vintage roadster.
- Comes a Horseman (1978)
Superb Gordon Willis photography elevates this post-World War II spin on the old story of independent ranchers under siege from big business.
- Django (1966)
Franco Nero shoots first, last, and seldom asks questions at all in Sergio Corbucci’s spaghetti western, one of the first and best to ride the coattails of Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars. It spawned scads of unrelated sequels (and outright rip-offs), and inspired Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained (2012).
- Hell or High Water (2016)
Two brothers (Chris Pine, Ben Foster) try to save their family farm through a series of bank robberies, all the while pursued by determined Texas Rangers (Jeff Bridges, Gil Birmingham) in this gripping contemporary drama scripted by Taylor Sheridan.
- Little Big Man (1970)
Director Arthur Penn may be best known for Bonnie and Clyde, but he often insisted he was equally proud of his seriocomic revisionist western epic starring Dustin Hoffman as a white man who was raised by members of the Cheyenne Nation, and spends most of his long life attempting to bridge the gap between two cultures.
- Lonely Are the Brave (1962)
The passing of the Old West was indelibly captured in one unforgettable image when fugitive cowboy Kirk Douglas tries to cross a superhighway on horseback.
- 3 Godfathers (1948)
Three Cowboys Find a Baby: John Ford’s take on the oft-filmed story is sentimental in the right way and gave John Wayne a chance to stretch his familiar screen persona.
- Silverado (1985)
An ambitious attempt to revive the old-school western by writer Lawrence Kasdan, who manages to simultaneously salute and send up every cliché of the genre.
- The Sons of Katie Elder (1965)
- Ride the High Country (1962)
Two western icons, Joel McCrea and Randolph Scott, get back in the saddle for career-capping performances in Sam Peckinpah’s poetic tribute to a disappearing way of life.
- Quigley Down Under (1990)
Tom Selleck stars to perfection as Matthew Quigley, a sharpshooter hired by Elliott Marston (Alan Rickman), a rich Australian cattle rancher, to rid Marston’s land of troublesome aborigines. But Quigley refuses to shoot innocent bystanders, a moral distinction that eludes Marston.
- Oklahoma! (1955)
As long as the wind still comes sweeping down the plain, we’ll never grow tired of spending time with Curly and Laurey and Ado Annie, and listening to “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning.”
- Lone Star (1996)
Writer-director John Sayles’ engrossing contemporary drama focuses on the investigation of a South Texas lawman (Chris Cooper) into the unsolved murder of a brutal sheriff (Kris Kristofferson) — who may have been killed by the lawman’s deceased father (Matthew McConaughey), long considered to be a local hero.
- For a Few Dollars More (1965)
Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name meets Lee Van Cleef, Man with No Facial Expression. Violence ensues.
- High Plains Drifter (1973)
This was Clint Eastwood’s first western as both star and director, and it brought new meaning to the phrase “paint the town red.”
- Cowboy (1958)
A Chicago hotel clerk bails a cowboy out of debt, in exchange for a job on his next cattle drive. Terrific East-meets-West discord, personified by Jack Lemmon and Glenn Ford.
- McLintock! (1963)
Copyright complications and a variety of other legal cockleburs kept this comedy featuring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara out of circulation on video for decades, but thankfully we can watch it now.
- Support Your Local Sheriff (1969)
No one played the reluctant hero better than James Garner, whose easygoing charm fit perfectly in this delightful comedy.