The Best 29+ Western Movies, Ranked by Critics
| LAST UPDATE 05/09/2022
With their memorable characters and stand-offs, Western movies make for the ultimate adventures. From vintage classics to modern-day blockbusters, these films are the best of the genre, according to Rotten Tomatoes.
40. The Claim (2000)
Dillion is a man on a treacherous hunt for a treasure of gold. Despite the difficult winter temperatures, all is looking good until a decision to sell his wife and daughter is one he comes to regret...
"Though it sometimes feels cold and detached, The Claim is evocative, beautifully shot, and full of understated performances," noted a Rotten Tomatoes movie critic. Overall, the western film received a 62% rating from the site, making it the lowest ranking our this list.
39. Maverick (1994)
Although it has all the serious and thrilling scenes we desire from the Old West, Maverick sets itself apart from other western movies with its numerous comedic moments. Based on the television series with the same title, this film follows Bret Maverick on his life adventures.
Scoring 66% on Rotten Tomatoes, the movie proved to be a popular point of discussion. One review wrote, "Despite the attention of master scriptwriter William Goldman, this gentle tribute to the hit comedy western TV series missed a golden opportunity for a razor-sharp spoof. There's no doubt the stars had a ball, though."
38. Dead Man (1995)
After murdering a man, William Blake (Johnny Depp) is on the run. Journeying through the western frontier of the US, he meets an interesting man named "nobody." The two strangers develop a strong bond as nobody prepares his new friend for his journey into the spiritual world.
Highly praised for its accurate portrayal of the American Old West, a Rotten Tomatoes critic said, "Dead Man is an elegiac poem of a film that examines our country's shameful history of viciousness and racism." Combining the reviews, the site gave it a 71% rating.
37. The Salvation (2014)
Despite including all the classic clichés of most western films, this film still managed to have some unique moments. "It's all but impossible to add anything new or fresh to the traditional Western, but -- thanks in no small part to Mads Mikkelson's performance -- The Salvation comes close," wrote one critic.
Like many movies on this list, The Salvation follows a sequence of murder and revenge. A Danish settler, Jon, vengefully shoots the man who murdered his wife. Following that, the murdered man's brother seeks to avenge the death of his brother. This thrilling chain of events earned the film a 72% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
36. The Keeping Room (2015)
This 2015 movie, rated 74% on Rotten Tomatoes, added a modern twist to a film set in older times. Although it accurately brought the period to life on screen, The Keeping Room differed from other western movies with its choice to cast two women in the leading roles in place of the traditional male protagonist.
When the Civil War leaves most of the men in their town hurt, two sisters (Hailee Steinfeld and Brit Marling) and an enslaved woman work together to save their home. One reviewer noted this is "a Western that revolves around a trio of gun-wielding female leads and has a clear and consistent feminist message."
35. The Horse Whisperer (1998)
A young Scarlett Johansson plays Grace, a teenager with a severely injured pet horse. Following her mother's instructions, she seeks the help of a horse whisperer named Tom (Robert Redford). In the process of healing the horse, Grace and her mother discover Tom is somewhat of a people whisperer too.
A real-life cowboy named Dan "Buck" Brannaman was the inspiration behind Redford's character. Dan made a name for himself for his unique ability to discipline misbehaved horses. Awarded a score of 74% on Rotten Tomatoes, this heartwarming story, with its western tones, stole the hearts of its audiences.
34. Tombstone (1993)
Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer play brother duo Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday in this 1993 Western classic. Along with Earp's brother, the pair move to Tombstone, Arizona. Here, they surprisingly find themselves in danger after being hunted down by a gang of cowboys.
Critics were highly impressed by how the director carefully chose the sets and costumes to accurately represent the film's historical setting. Because the film was based on real-life people and events, this precision was essential, and perhaps because it pulled it off so well, Rotten Tomatoes rated it 74%.
33. The Ballad of Little Jo (1993)
After an unexpected pre-marital pregnancy results in an expulsion from her family home, Josephine (Suzy Amis) packs up her few belongings, abandons the baby, and heads west. Along the way, after experiencing many aggressive male advances, she takes on the male identity of Jo.
Although the film was rated 76% on Rotten Tomatoes, it was met with mixed reviews. While one critic on the site praised its ability to "take aim at the glorious macho westerns of the past," others criticized the confusing storyline and doubted the credibility of Amis passing off a man.
32. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)
Brad Pitt stars as a Missouri outlaw named Jess James in this critically acclaimed western film. Following the direction of the book with the same name, the movie centers around the life of Jess as he plans his next big heist and fights off those desperate to capture him and claim the bounty.
Audiences were impressed by the movie's unprecedented contemporary spin on a western film. Critics praised it for being "an expertly crafted period piece, and an insightful look at one of the enduring figures of American lore." With a Rotten Tomatoes score of 77%, this film finds itself in 32nd place on this list.
31. Red Hill (2010)
This thrilling western film had audiences gripped as it followed the wild adventures of a police officer named Shane Cooper. On the first day of his new job in a new town, he is assigned a mission to track down an escaped prisoner with a murder record.
A Rotten Tomatoes critic wrote, "the age-old trope of Cowboys and Indians is transformed into a vessel for the rage of Indigenous people who've been colonized since the day the British set foot in Australia." The site gave the film a positive rating of 79%.
30. The Homesman (2014)
In contrast to most movies in the Western genre, The Homesman made the praiseworthy decision to feature a female, rather than male, protagonist. Mary Bee Cuddy, a frontier farmer, enlists George Briggs to help her on her mission to relocate three emotionally broken women to Iowa.
Michael Smith, a Rotten Tomatoes critic, wrote, "The Homesman is a dark, complex story of gender issues and changing conventions on the frontier, and in an era that sees this genre fading, Jones has made a Western winner." With a review like that, the site understandably gave it an 80% rating.
29. Dances with Wolves (1990)
This seven-time Academy Award-winning movie impressed critics everywhere. With a rating of 83% on Rotten Tomatoes, the movie's director Kevin Costner received much praise for his portrayal of the Sioux tribe. Perhaps more importantly, Native Americans were appreciative of how the tribe and their language were depicted on screen.
Attracted by their simple way of life, a Civil War soldier leaves his old life behind to go and join the Lakota Indians. After he is welcomed into the tribe and falls in love with another one of its members, things are looking good. That is until the Union Soldiers arrive on the land and threaten their existence.
28. Westworld (1973)
Westworld is a futuristic amusement park where visitors can experience the gun-slinging adventures of the Wild West. Park guests Blane and Martin are excited to get into the saloon and shoot their guns. However, when the system malfunctions and one of the friends is killed by a shooting robot, things take a turn for the worse.
This sci-fi/action/western movie proved incredibly popular with audiences, with an 85% Rotten Tomatoes score. Described by a critic as "a thrilling What If?" the film's clever twist on a classic premise was admired. "Combines solid entertainment, chilling topicality, and superbly intelligent seriocomic story values," wrote another.
27. Django Unchained (2012)
Django Unchained brought issues of slavery and racism to the big screen in a way never seen before. The Academy Award-winning original screenplay, directed by Quentin Tarantino, tells the story of a slave and a German bounty hunter who combine their skills to find and serve retribution against vicious slave owners.
The star-studded cast included Christoph Waltz, Jamie Foxx, Samuel L. Jackson, and Leonardo DiCaprio. Rated on Rotten Tomatoes as 87%, it is one of Tarantino's most successful projects. One critic said, "Bold, hysterical, entertaining, brutal and daring, it is another masterpiece from the present-master of the western."
26. Blazing Saddles (1974)
With its humorous undertones and satirical approach, it could be argued that Blazing Saddles does not fit in within the Western movie genre. Ultimately, however, this film is a historical tale that depicts the aftermath of a black man being appointed as the town sheriff.
Despite its initial criticisms, movie reviewers grew to love the film, labeling it a comedy cult classic. One reviewer wrote, "daring, provocative, and laugh-out-loud funny, Blazing Saddles is a gleefully vulgar spoof of Westerns." Overall, Rotten Tomatoes awarded the movie an impressive 88% rating.
25. True Grit (1969)
Unknown to many is that the 2010 movie True Grit is a remake of the film with the same name released in 1969. Like the remake, this original movie was incredibly popular and highly praised by critics. Although it received an impressive 89% score on Rotten Tomatoes, the 2010 version impressively surpassed it.
John Wayne won an Academy Award for his performance in this movie as US Marshal Cogburn, known to most as "Rooster." When a fourteen-year-old girl requests his assistance in finding and killing her father's murderer, Rooster abides. With a plot that thick, a re-make was pretty much inevitable.
24. The Magnificent Seven (1960)
Based heavily on the Japanese film Seven Samurai, The Magnificent Seven follows a Mexican village being threatened by a band of outlaws. In a desperate attempt for survival, the warriors hire seven American gunslingers to fight on their behalf and free them.
Critics were impressed with how the movie put an Old West spin on a Japanese film, managing to protect "the story's thematic richness" in the process. Described by a movie critic as "one of the most iconic Westerns," Rotten Tomatoes rated the 1960 classic at 89%.
23. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
Inspired by a true story, Paul Newman plays Butch Cassidy, a surprisingly likable outlaw. After committing a string of train robberies, Butch and his associate Sundance Kid attempt to escape the law on the frontier and set up a new life for themselves in Bolivia.
Like others on this list, this 1969 film was not immediately praised. However, over time, the movie's strengths were eventually recognized, and it was given an 89% rating from Rotten Tomatoes. Critics noted the characters' "iconic" chemistry and labeled the film as one of "the defining moments in late-'60s American cinema."
22. The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)
Taking us into the 90's ratings with its 90% Rotten Tomatoes score is The Outlaw Josey Wales. "This revisionist Western" film again showed Clint Eastwood's talent for directing Western movies. It took on a new approach to the traditional escaped prisoners and vengeful murder plots by focusing on the women and Native Americans.
Josey Wales joins the Confederate Army in an attempt to exact revenge against the Union men who killed his wife and child. After so many of his fellow soldiers are killed, a furious Wales shoots members of the opposite side and flees to Texas to escape punishment. His thrilling escape had audiences at the edge of their seats.
21. The Wild Bunch (1969)
The Wild Bunch took liberties with their graphic portrayals of violence. Paving the way for Western movies after it, this film showed the gruesome ways of the Old West in a way never seen before in the cinematic genre. Initially shocking to some, it certainly set a new precedent.
The film's director described the movie as a symbolic representation of the Vietnam War. Although its graphicness was somewhat controversial, the movie's message was well-received, and Rotten Tomatoes rated it 90%. A critic wrote, "It's the melancholy, the desolation. It's one of the saddest Westerns ever made."
20. Bone Tomahawk (2015)
The filmmakers of Bone Tomahawk took a risk when they decided to bring a horror-style narrative to their western movie. Fortunately, it proved to be a risk worth taking when Rotten Tomatoes awarded the film a 91% score. The unique genre blend was overshadowed by the thrilling storylines and critically acclaimed acting.
When a group of people is held captive by some vicious cave dwellers, a sheriff and his deputy (Kurt Russell and Richard Jenkins) recruit a gunslinger and a cowboy and attempt to rescue them. "Definitely something different for people who like westerns," wrote one Rotten Tomatoes critic.
19. City Slickers (1991)
Another entry that scored 91% on Rotten Tomatoes is the 1991 comedic western tale, City Slickers. Described by a critic as "one cattle drive you won't want to miss," this movie was a critically acclaimed film that showed off the best of Billy Crystal's comedic timing.
Crystal played Mitch, one-third of a hilarious best-friend trio, who set off an adventurous cattle drive across the southwest. Leaving their wives behind, Phil, Ed, and Mitch, along with their designated cowboy, Curly, begin to understand why it is referred to as the Wild Wild West.
18. No Country for Old Men (2007)
No Country for Old Men can be found on almost any "top movie" list. With its riveting storyline and star-studded cast, the film is a must-see for movie fans of any kind. Josh Brolin stars as Llewelyn Moss, a hunter who discovers the tragic remains of a drug deal gone wrong. Stealing the cash left behind, he flees the scene.
Unfortunately for Moss, an aggressive killer and a sheriff are on his tale, hunting him down. Although it is arguably a neo-western movie because of its modern setting, the movie's Western tones shone through and earned it a 93% score on Rotten Tomatoes.
17. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)
A lawyer named Ransom "Ranse" Stoddard arrives in a new town and is immediately attacked by a gang led by Liberty Vance. After Tom Doniphon saves his life, Ranse learns that Vance has a terrifying control over the town. While Tom fights back against the gang leader with violence, Ranse decides to him down by way of the law.
The movie is viewed as some of the best work by its director John Ford, often referred to as the peak of his career. Labeled by many critics as "a genuine masterpiece" and praised for its accurate discussion of critical political issues, it only makes sense that Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a score of 94%.
16. Johnny Guitar (1954)
Joan Crawford rose to fame with her performance as Vienna in this 1954 film. Johnny Guitar had all the western fan favorites, including revenge plots and bitter disputes, but took it from the female perspective over the male. A progressively bold choice for its time, which certainly paid off.
Most critics were quick to praise the film's unconventional central character. "Not too many westerns culminate in a... showdown between two women -- but then Nicholas Ray wasn't your average filmmaker," wrote one of the reviews. The film received a 94% rating from Rotten Tomatoes.
15. Lone Star (1996)
Along the Texas border, in a town name Frontera, Chris Cooper stars as Sheriff Sam Deeds. When the sheriff shockingly digs up the skeleton of an old sheriff in the desert, he begins to investigate its origins. Tracing a forty-year-old murder back to his late father, Cooper discovers some long-buried secrets.
One glance at the movie's Rotten Tomatoes reviews and its 94% rating perhaps makes sense. For example, one wrote, "with old-fashioned craftsmanship, Lone Star is not a movie you'll quickly forget. It may not dazzle you with its flash, but it has more on its mind than all the summer would-be blockbusters put together."
14. Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
When the fictional western town of Flagstone experience a severe water shortage due to a new railroad structure in the area, the residents begin to turn against each other in a struggle to claim the small piece of land with remaining water resources. When the land's owner is killed by a rival, chaos breaks out.
Referred to fondly by critics as a western masterpiece, its high Rotten Tomatoes score of 95% matches up. The film's gripping plot features all the elements of a successful western movie, from aggressive neighborhood disputes to technological developments on the frontier.
13. True Grit (2010)
This movie is a rare case of a movie remake being more successful and popular than its original. Directed by the Coen brothers, this movie made waves in the film-making industry, being nominated in ten of the Academy Award categories. Most noteworthy was the breakout star, Hailee Steinfeld.
Steinfeld took on the iconic character of fourteen-year-old girl Mattie Ross. Seeking to avenge the murder of her father, Ross recruits a Deputy U.S. Marshal and a Texas Ranger to help her travel through the West to achieve her goal. The critically acclaimed western film is rated 95% on Rotten Tomatoes.
12. High Noon (1952)
With its production taking place in an era filled with a fear of communism, High Noon's political connotations were clear. Earning Gary Cooper an Oscar for his leading role as Marshal Will Kane, this critically acclaimed film told the story of a man's fight to save his town from a brutal group of bandits.
Despite the promising plot, it seems not everyone was impressed by the movie's production. After turning down the movie's lead role, award-winning actor John Wayne described the film as "the most un-American thing I've ever seen in my whole life." Despite this critical review, Rotten Tomatoes still awarded it with a 95% rating.
11. 3:10 to Yuma (1957)
Released at a time when Western movies were peaking in popularity, this 1957 movie is adored by many who view the film as a Western classic. Its suspenseful and unpredictable storytelling approach had audiences constantly guessing what Dan Evans would do next.
When outlaw Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) is finally caught after years of terrorizing the state of Arizona, small-time rancher Dan Evans volunteers to escort him to trial. Along the way, the pair face challenges and dangers of all kinds. With a Rotten Tomatoes score of 96%, it makes perfect sense that a remake was released in 2007.
10. Unforgiven (1992)
Director and lead actor Clint Eastwood showed his impeccable talent for the Western movie genre with this 1992 classic. A blockbuster hit at the box office, this film also boasted high levels of critical acclaim, including four Academy Awards. With this, Rotten Tomatoes rated it at 96%.
This film, with its unsettling plot, helped to push Western movies as a whole towards more chilling storytelling. When two cowboys brutally ambush a woman in Wyoming, a former bandit comes out of retirement in an attempt to capture the killers and collect the award. However, he is not the only one willing to do so.
9. The Searchers (1956)
The commercial and critical success of The Searchers is often attributed to the talents of its director John Ford. Alongside its 96% score from Rotten Tomatoes, the American Film Institute cited the iconic western movie as the "Greatest Western of All Time."
This 1956 tale tells the story of Ethan Edwards, a Civil War veteran who returns from the war to discover his nine-year-old niece, Debby, is missing. Embarking on an incredibly dangerous and challenging mission to find her, he is forced to venture into Comanche territory.
8. Shane (1953)
Shane took a chance with its narrative choice, telling its Western tale through the eyes of a child. Fortunately, the risk proved worth taking as numerous critics were quick to praise the film's unique approach. This also helps to explain why Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 97% movie rating.
Like many Western movies, Shane tells the story of a man arriving in a new town, hoping to settle down without anyone noticing. As often is the case, the newcomer is pulled into the middle of a local feud; in this case, it's between the villagers and the terrifying cattle baron Rufus Ryker.
7. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)
The third installment of the Dollars Trilogy, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, continued with the film series' unique approach to portraying good and evil characters. While most Western movies present the outlaws as the 'bad guys,' through their dirty clothes and unshaven hair, this film also presents its heroes in this way.
With Clint Eastwood's bandit character possessing a moral compass and other complicated, multi-faceted personalities, the movie has the audience questioning who the real heroes in the story are. This novel approach was highly praised, with Rotten Tomatoes giving it a high 97% score.
6. Deadwood: The Movie (2019)
In light of the success of the HBO series of the same name, a wise but risky decision was made to capitalize on this success and produce a movie. Although often not the case, this film proved just as popular as the original series, and it received a 98% score on Rotten Tomatoes.
Although loyal fans weren't too happy about the thirteen-year gap between the series' end and the movie's release, many noted the film's impressive ability to continue the story as if there had been no break at all. The movie continues to track the progress of the gold mining camp set up by the characters in the original series.
5. A Fistful of Dollars (1964)
A Fistful of Dollars was the original movie in the Dollars trilogy, which marked the first time its director Sergio Leone would shock audiences with his similar representation of good and evil characters. The dirty and unmaintained heroes of the story would continue to be a feature of the movie series.
Clint Eastwood takes on the role of Joe, also known as "Man with No Name." Upon entering the village of San Miguel in Mexico, Joe inserts himself into an age-long local feud, falsely pledging his alliance to both sides in an attempt to serve his own best interests. The movie is rated 98% on Rotten Tomatoes.
4. Rio Bravo (1959)
When Sheriff John T.Chance (John Wayne) arrests Joe Burdette for killing a man, his brother makes it clear he will do whatever it takes to free him. Enlisting a disabled older man and a drunk cowboy, Chance does what he can to keep the brothers in their place. Rotten Tomatoes rated it 98%.
After John Wayne made his negative feelings towards the movie High Noon very clear, he set out to make a movie remarkably different from it. This was later revealed to be Rio Bravo. Highly critical of the weak and soft central figure in High Noon, Wayne's character in Rio Bravo is powerful and fearless.
3. Red River (1948)
These last top three movies all hold a perfect 100% rating from Rotten Tomatoes, placing them at the top of their field and earning them icon status. Red River follows Thomas Dunson and Matt Garth on their cattle drive journey through the West to Missouri. When troubles arise, their friendship is tested.
The movie's incredible portrayal of the characters' physical and emotional struggles, the detailed plot, and the award-winning acting performances all helped Red River stand out from the crowd. Film critic, Roger Ebert, went as far as to describe it as "one of the greatest Western films of all time."
2. Stagecoach (1939)
A revolutionary concept for its time, this Western classic saw an assorted group of people working together to achieve a common goal. The passengers on a train through the Wild West to New Mexico find themselves combing their skills and fighting against an escaped outlaw and the ongoing threat of an Apache attack.
This movie, full of suspense and surprise, was monumental not just for its creative storyline but also because it marked the return of Western movies after an era of silent ones. Although the film was met with some criticisms of its Native American portrayals, it still earned a 100% rating from Rotten Tomatoes.
1. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
The first place award goes to The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, which boasts a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. This film made waves in cinematic history when it chose to tell a western story at a time before the genre became popular. Additionally, its decision to film outside of America was unprecedented.
On the hunt for gold, three men embark on a group adventure to the Sierra Madre Mountains. The story depicts the complicated human emotion of greed. In a film review, one critic wrote, "remade but never duplicated, this darkly humorous morality tale represents John Huston at his finest."