Sam Elliott is an undisputed, mega-talented, and still relatively underrated icon of both the big and small screen. His role as Shea Brennan in the 1883 cast is only the latest example of why.
If the 19th-century-set Yellowstone prequel series - which premiered on Paramount+ on Sunday, December 19 - is your introduction to the Academy Award nominee, you have quite a bit of catching up to do. Allow us to help you speed up the process with our following picks of the best Sam Elliott movies and TV shows, starting with another one of his many, many Western roles over the years.
Tombstone (Amazon Rental)
A lawman (Kurt Russell) seeking a nice, quiet place to retire thinks he has found it in a small Arizona town, until a gang of vicious outlaws stir up trouble that quickly turns personal, leading him to enlist the help of his friend and fellow gunfighter, Doc Holliday (Val Kilmer).
Why it’s worth checking out if you like Sam Elliott: Just a year before Yellowstone cast lead Kevin Costner coincidentally released his own Wyatt Earp biopic, Sam Elliott starred as Virgil (brother of Kurt Russell’s Wyatt) in 1993’s Tombstone - a thrilling recreation of the events that led to the legendary shootout at the O.K. Corral in 1881.
Road House (Showtime)
A martial arts expert (Patrick Swayze) is enlisted to become a bouncer at a roadside bar in rural Missouri and helps protect it from an unscrupulous businessman and his henchmen.
Why it’s worth checking out if you like Sam Elliott: In addition to his many traditional Westerns, a title that could be considered one of Sam Elliott’s best Neo-Western movies is the 1989 cult favorite, Road House, in which he plays the mentor to James Dalton - the role that made a certified badass out of the late, great Patrick Swayze.
The Ranch (Netflix)
A semi-professional football player (Ashton Kutcher) reunites with his dysfunctional family when he returns to help run their business in rural Colorado.
Why it’s worth checking out if you like Sam Elliott: A title that could be considered one of Sam Elliott’s best Neo-Western TV shows (geographically speaking, that is) is The Ranch - a hit, Emmy-winning, Netflix original sitcom that lasted from 2016 to 2020, and on which Sam Elliott played Ashton Kutcher’s no-nonsense father and the owner of the titular ranch.
A young girl (Rebecca Harrell Tickell) tries to convince her widowed and financially struggling father (Sam Elliott) that the stray, injured reindeer she found is from the North Pole.
Why it’s worth checking out if you like Sam Elliott: One of the earlier times that Sam Elliott played a farmer was in the more family-friendly of his 1989 releases - Prancer, one of the more fun and underrated Christmas movies of its time that puts the spotlight on one of Santa’s other reindeer.
Mask (Blu-ray/DVD Purchase)
A divorced mother (Cher), with help from her boyfriend (Sam Elliott), is determined to make sure her son (Eric Stoltz), a teenager with a rare bone disorder that causes facial deformities, has a normal and fulfilling life.
Why it’s worth checking out if you like Sam Elliott: Another ‘80s classic that is some parts heartwarming and heartbreaking, and stars Sam Elliott in a fatherly role, is Mask - director Peter Bogdonavich’s 1985 biopic about Roy “Rocky” Dennis and his struggles with craniodiaphyseal dysplasia up until his death.
A Star Is Born (HBO Max)
A rock star (Bradley Cooper) struggling with addiction gets a chance at redemption and love when he meets an aspiring singer-songwriter (Lady Gaga), whom he helps achieve her dream.
Why it’s worth checking out if you like Sam Elliott: Despite actually playing his half-brother and manager, Sam Elliott’s Academy Award-nominated role could be seen as a father figure to co-writer and director Bradley Cooper’s troubled character in A Star Is Born - the Oscar-winning, 2018 edition (and arguably best interpretation) of a tragic romance told three times before.
A heavily decorated, but highly problematic and conceited, former special forces agent (Will Forte) is called out of retirement again and tasked with taking down a dangerous man from his past (Billy Zane) with the help of his trusted allies (Kristen Wiig and Ryan Philippe).
Why it’s worth checking out if you like Sam Elliott: One of the funnier and more recent instances of Sam Elliott in a fatherly role is when he appeared in the MacGruber cast as the father of Will Forte’s bumbling titular hero on the Peacock original series, spun-off from the cult favorite 2010 movie that was spun-off from the popular Saturday Night Live sketch.
The Big Lebowski (Peacock)
A case of mistaken identity leads an aging pothead (Academy Award winner Jeff Bridges) and his Vietnam-obsessed bowling buddy (John Goodman) to become embroiled in an increasingly concerning situation involving ransom, murderous nihilists, and pee-stained rugs.
Why it’s worth checking out if you like Sam Elliott: Perhaps the funniest of Sam Elliott’s characters in what is even more likely his funniest movie, is the mysterious role of cowboy-hat-clad The Stranger, whose iconic voice also narrates 1998’s The Big Lebowski - Joel and Ethan Coen’s brilliant, cult classic hybrid of film noir movie tropes with stoner humor.
Thank You For Smoking (Amazon Prime)
A skilled, charismatic tobacco company lobbyist (Aaron Eckhart) struggles with balancing the moral complications of his profession with being a role model to his son (Cameron Bright).
Why it’s worth checking out if you like Sam Elliott: Another great dramedy featuring Sam Elliott in a small, but memorable, role is Thank You For Smoking - Jason Reitman’s dazzling 2005 adaptation of Christopher Buckley’s satirical novel in which Elliott plays the former “Marlboro Man.”
Up In The Air (HBO Max)
A cynical corporate downsizing expert who lives in and out of airports all across the country (Academy Award winner George Clooney) begins to change his tune when he meets an alluring fellow frequent traveler (Vera Farmiga).
Why it’s worth checking out if you like Sam Elliott: Sam Elliott would reunite with writer and director Jason Reitman in 2009 for Up in the Air - an inspiring tale of self-rediscovery based on Walter Kirn’s novel, in which Elliott briefly appears as an American Airlines pilot.
We Were Soldiers (Netflix, Amazon Prime, Paramount+, PlutoTV)
Soldiers of various ages endure heart wrenching hardships as their loved ones eagerly await and hope for their return, during the beginning of the United States military’s participation in the Vietnam War.
Why it’s worth checking out if you like Sam Elliott: In addition to Westerns, Sam Elliott is also known for starring in a few war epics, such as when he (sans his famous mustache) played Sgt. Maj. Basil Plumley 2002’s We Were Soldiers - a stirring, emotional depiction of the Vietnam War based on Lt. Col. Harold G. Moore’s memoir, written for the screen and directed by Braveheart scribe Randall Wallace.
The Man Who Killed Hitler And Then The Bigfoot (Hulu)
A former U.S. military assassin (Sam Elliott) who successfully completed a pivotal, top-secret operation during War World II is brought out of his reclusive retirement years later and tasked with taking out an entirely different and more monstrous enemy.
Why it’s worth checking out if you like Sam Elliott: A war epic starring Sam Elliott that is not to be taken quite as seriously as We Were Soldiers is the lengthily titled The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot - an intriguing and surprisingly earnest revisionist history thriller released in 2018, in which Elliott goes full badass in the title role.
The Hero (Amazon Prime)
Not getting the roles he used to anymore and diagnosed with a terminal illness, an actor (Sam Elliott) who rose to fame playing cowboys decades earlier begins to experience a sudden career resurgence as he tries to mend his broken relationship with his family.
Why it’s worth checking out if you like Sam Elliott: Sam Elliott gives a stunning performance as a character with a few glaring similarities to his career (but very few similarities to his own personal life) in 2017’s The Hero - a charming, heartfelt dramedy from co-writer and director Brett Haley.
While these titles are certainly considered among his best, we just barely scratched the surface of Sam Elliott’s highlights, which also includes Marvel movies Hulk and Ghost Rider, a recurring role in the Parks and Recreation cast as who Ron Swanson would be as a “hippie,” or the many times he has lent his golden voice to animated projects like Barnyard or Family Guy.
Following his turn on 1883, Elliott’s voice will also be featured in an upcoming, star-studded documentary about the Gettysburg Address as Abraham Lincoln’s bodyguard, Ward Hill Lamon.
Jason has been writing since he was able to pick up a washable marker, with which he wrote his debut illustrated children's story, later transitioning to a short-lived comic book series and (very) amateur filmmaking before finally settling on pursuing a career in writing about movies in lieu of making them. Look for his name in just about any article related to Batman.
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