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True Grit

Are westerns dead? I’d say no. Every now and then, you get a new entry in the horse opera genre, like the Coen Brothers 2010 remake of True Grit. That said, let me just repeat that date again. 2010. That’s practically a whole decade ago!

While there have been some other noteworthy westerns in-between 2010 and now (two of them are on this list, and one of them is a dark comedy), honestly, most of the best westerns are in the past. But that’s okay, since a lot of them are streaming on various services right now. So, giddy-up, partner, and lasso up some friends because we’re going to check out some westerns! Yee-haw! (Okay, I'll stop now.)

True Grit

True Grit (1969)

The film that won John Wayne his one and only Oscar (he even beat out Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman for Midnight Cowboy!), True Grit tells the story of one U.S. Marshal, Rooster Cogburn (Wayne) and a Texas Ranger named La Boeuf played by Glen Campbell, who track down the murderer of a little girl’s (Kim Darby) father. John Wayne’s character is drunk throughout most of the film, but he still has what it takes to get the job done.

True Grit is a pretty fun western, and the famous shoot-out with Wayne blasting people away in a meadow is still great stuff. The remake is pretty good, but I honestly prefer the original instead.

Stream it on Netflix: Netflix

And you can stream the 2010 remake on Amazon Prime.

For a Few Dollars More

For a Few Dollars More (1965)

You know what’s kind of maddening? The full Man With No Name trilogy (which features A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly) is not all available on one streaming service. Doesn’t that suck? That said, at least we can get them somewhere, and—controversial pick that this is—For a Few Dollars More is my favorite in the spaghetti western trilogy.

The story, like the first one, stars Clint Eastwood as the man with no name. But this time, he has a partner in Lee Van Cleef who plays Colonel Douglas Mortimer. They team up as bounty hunters and go after the ruthless bank robber, “El Indio.” What makes this my favorite in the trilogy is the fact that Lee Van Cleef and Clint Eastwood make such a great team, and I love how they are constantly glaring and showing off to be the more badass of the two. Another unpopular opinion, but this is also my favorite theme by Ennio Morricone. Overall, a great western and one that even non-fans of the genre will likely appreciate. Plus, you can skip A Fistful of Dollars if you want to (Even though, I suggest you watch it since it’s very good) since the two stories aren’t really connected. Nice.

Stream it on Starz: Starz

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966)

Many people's favorite western apparently, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is in all truths, probably the most famous western of all time, right up there with John Ford’s The Searchers. It’s because it’s so much fun. The story is again about The Man With No Name, but this time, Clint Eastwood (The Good) and Lee Van Cleef (The Bad) are no longer working together. Instead, along with Eli Wallach (The Ugly), they’re out to find some Confederate gold buried beneath an unknown grave.

The violence is stylistic, and the famous final duel is the stuff of legend. Also, the main theme is what usually comes to people’s mind whenever they think of westerns. Honestly, if you watch one movie on this list, make it this one. It’s definitely the most popular.

Stream it on Netflix: Netflix

Hud

Hud (1963)

Now for a different kind of western. Sure, Paul Newman is great in The Left-Handed Gun and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, but I thought I would talk about this “revisionist western” where Paul Newman plays a real son of a bitch in the lead role as Hud.

Now, you might be surprised that not all westerns have shoot-outs and horse races. Instead, this is more of a movie with a western setting rather than an actual “western.” The story concerns a bright-eyed nephew who idolizes his uncle (Hud), which is a bad idea because Hud is a terrible human being who treats his father like garbage and likes to stir up trouble at every opportunity he gets. Melvyn Douglas won a best supporting actor award as Hud’s father, Homer, who you feel sympathetic for throughout. Check it out once you get through all the other westerns on this list and want something less action-y.

Stream it on Hulu: Hulu

The Sisters Brothers

The Sisters Brothers (2018)

Another revisionist western where we follow the "bad guys," The Sisters Brothers is about two killers who are on the hunt for a guy played by Nightcrawler’s Riz Ahmed who has a chemical compound that can work on gold-mining expeditions. This could have been a run-of-the-mill western, but said two killers are played by John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix, and they’re enjoyable throughout.

The Sisters Brothers is a great example of everything a modern western should be. It’s set in the past, but it feels current and doesn’t try to replicate what came before it. And it’s also humorous to hear the brothers talk and see what new obstacle gets in their way. Plus, it has enough action and humor to make even the most jaded haters of westerns enjoy it.

Stream it on Hulu: Hulu

Blazing Saddles

Blazing Saddles (1974)

People are always saying that “You couldn’t make Blazing Saddles today”, and yeah, they’re right. That said, it’s still a pretty funny movie about a black sheriff, played by Cleavon Little, who is put in charge of a white bread town to ruin it, and this description is coming from a black guy. Gene Wilder also stars in it as Jim “The Waco Kid”, and Mel Brooks is in it, too as the Governor who appoints the black sheriff, as well as, and get this, a Native American…who speaks Yiddish. Yeah…a movie like this is never getting made again.

And because it’s a Mel Brooks’ movie, it’s irreverent and pokes fun at a lot of things, most noticeably racism. A lot of the jokes may seem like they’re at Cleavon Little’s expense, but it’s really satirizing people in general. So watch it. Just try not to get too offended.

Stream it on Hulu: Hulu

The Hateful Eight (2015)

The Hateful Eight (2015)

The Hateful Eight is a Quentin Tarantino picture. If you’re familiar with the director’s work, then that sentence is self-explanatory, but if not, I’ll explain. The story is about a bounty hunter (played by Kurt Russell) who has to get his prisoner out of the cold, so he brings her to a cabin. But it’s filled with a diverse batch of characters—one of whom is played by Samuel L. Jackson—who all have other intentions.

What makes it a Tarantino picture is that the key star of the film is the dialogue, as the movie mostly takes place in a single location. But it’s such great dialogue. The characters are all vivid and alive, and Jennifer Jason Leigh, who plays the prisoner, is both hilarious and terrifying. Check it out if you like your westerns low-scale and personal.

Stream it on Netflix: Netflix

Hostiles

Hostiles (2017)

Here’s the thing about modern westerns. You can’t just have cowboys vs. “Indians” anymore since everybody knows that the Native Americans were often the victims, and to portray them as anything but would be doing them a disservice as a people. So how does Hostiles tackle the subject matter? Well, with nuance.

Christian Bale plays an Army Captain who has to act as a bodyguard for a cancer-ridden Native American chief, played by Street Fighter’s own, Wes Studi. The thing is, Christian Bale’s character hates Native Americans, but due to the events they endure throughout the film, he learns to understand them better and even respect them. It’s not a perfect movie, but its heart is in the right place. For the most part.

Stream it on Netflix: Netflix

The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford

The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford (2007)

Westerns can be introspective, too, you know. The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford is mostly about a man who idolizes the legendary Jesse James and wants to be a part of his outfit of outlaws, but then resents that the legend is just a man, and kills him in cold blood. Brad Pitt plays Jesse James, and Robert Ford is deftly played by Casey Affleck.

This movie is like none of the other films on this list since it’s almost meditative in its pacing. It asks the question of what happens when you learn that your heroes are really just human, just like you. Do you accept them for who they are, or do you destroy them? Given the title of the film, I’m sure you can figure out which option Robert Ford picks.

Stream it on Cinemax: Cinemax

High Noon

High Noon (1952)

Finally, I thought I’d end on my all-time favorite western. High Noon stars Gary Cooper as a town Marshal who defends the town against a band of killers all by himself. It’s a movie about choosing your job over the ones you love, and standing up to overwhelming adversity. It’s also an allegory for being blacklisted, which was something that was occurring to many writers and filmmakers at the time.

High Noon is a classic western and is relevant in any decade. It’s black and white but it feels more modern than a lot of movies today given its subject matter. It’s a masterpiece, and one that you must watch if you haven’t already.

Stream it on Starz: Starz

Westerns may not have the same prominence today that they had in their heyday, but these select films prove that they still deserve a place in any cinephile’s heart. So go west, young cinephile. Go west.