The Western genre is often thought of as a thing of the past ending with the movies of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood. However, in the past decade there have been some truly excellent Westerns that range from straight homages to updated visions for what the genre can be in the modern day. Fans of the genre are sure to see some familiar titles on this list.
Hostiles sees director Scott Cooper coming off his successful gangster drama Black Mass with a respectable Western that skillfully incorporates many different standards for the Western genre. Hostiles may have been, to some extent, a victim of the times. If its narrative isn’t immediately problematic, it’s certainly not the greatest story that could be released in this era. This certainly contributed to the box office failure of the movie even though it boasted stars like Christian Bale and Rosamund Pike.
Hostiles deserves to be watched outside of political context though. Its narrative may not always achieve perfect balance but it means well and when viewed as a throwback to good, old-fashioned Westerns, it is a very enjoyable movie.
19. The Ballad of Lefty Brown
Falling very far under the radar, The Ballad of Lefty Brown deserves to be noticed. Providing a great platform for a captivating Bill Pullman, The Ballad of Lefty Brown is an ode to the bygone Western era. Taking all of the conventions of classic Westerns and packaging them into a sustainable whole, director Jared Moshe may sacrifice a bit of his own filmmaking voice in the name of homage but it works to a wildly entertaining degree. Fans of the Sergio Leone-Clint Eastwood features will find plenty to love in this movie and Bill Pullman’s performance in particular.
18. Meek’s Cutoff
A more contemplative Western, Meek’s Cutoff aimed to bring the Western genre from its action-packed, thrilling roots to more philosophical and ponderous territory. Choosing to show the grueling reality of obstacles like hunger and diseases that lacked the medical proficiency necessary over shoot-outs and standoffs, Meek’s Cutoff is the atypical Western that will draw fans of more thought-provoking cinema to it. Kelly Reichardt’s assured direction keeps Meek’ Cutoff a quietly captivating feature with plenty for audiences to respect.
17. Buffalo Boys
A gritty and violent Western that harkens back to the likes of Sam Peckinpah, Buffalo Boys is a stylized action Western that is sure to thrill audiences looking for a more straight-forward Western viewing. It’s a very entertaining movie that uses the conventions of the Western genre to maximum effect to create a movie that doesn’t fully succumb to homage, retaining a cinematic voice of its own. But Buffalo Boys also succeeds in combining genres and styles. It infuses martial arts in a genre defined by gun fights and shootouts to make for a truly unique Western.
Logan set itself apart from other superhero movies by not only being a more mature movie thematically but being done in an entirely different style. Switching the location from the typical Marvel big city environment for a desolate and dry landscape, Logan aimed to be a more grounded superhero movie that wasn’t interested in the distracting humor that exists in most Marvel movies.
It succeeds in doing this by taking on many of the techniques that the John Wayne type Westerns had. Characters willing to get their hands dirty and toiling in the hot sun to get by are ever-present in Logan as they are in the classic American Westerns.
15. Deadwood: The Movie
Deadwood: The Movie was a perfect big screen adaptation for fans of the show. It provided all the grit and griminess that the show became known for. As evidenced by the show, the team behind the movie clearly knows how to craft truly compelling Western content and does so to maximum effect with the movie. As with any big screen adaptation of a TV show, it can be hit or miss.
Deadwood fans found themselves on the former side of that prospect, enjoying the fact that the movie brought back the themes that made the show successful but also took risks with making a movie with some more sentimental value than the darkness of the show suggests it would have. While people unfamiliar with the show will find its narrative arc unable to sustain itself outside the context of the show, fans will be more than pleased with how it turned out.
14. Sweet Country
A socially conscious, impactful Western, Sweet Country opts to use its genre for more political commentary than the typical straight action of the older Westerns. It’s thought-provoking and relevant and the beautiful cinematography contrasts the pessimistic nature of the film.
Australia has been noted for its uncompromising films and Sweet Country falls right into that category, never feeling that the audience deserves what it wants in the story. As a result, the movie hits hard and it’s rare to see a Western capture such raw emotion. Often times the viewing can be strenuous, but for those willing to stick through its depressing nature, Sweet Country is worth the look.
13. The Sisters Brothers
Jacques Audiard’s venture into not only American cinema but the Western genre, was a well-received movie with compliments going largely towards its compelling leads in John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix. Audiard’s style is on full display as the movie seamlessly transitions from comedy to drama to contemplative without ever losing the audience’s interest. While other directors may have played this movie safe in a more mainstream style, Audiard uses the styles of past Westerns to draw fully-defined characters and craft a moral message that is heightened by those styles.
12. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
The Coen brothers clearly have an affinity for the Western genre as this is their second Western of the decade. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is comprised of a number of different tales. As expected, the Coen brothers’ humor is on display ranging from over-the-top goofiness to more nuanced satire.
The Coen’s craft a concept that allows them to show their full range as directors/writers. By having the movie be a compilation of different stories, they give themselves the freedom to do everything from comedy to drama to action and all of those combined. While it may appear to be a minor effort in the grand scheme of the Coen’s filmography, it is nonetheless a unique Western that fans of the Coen’s and the genre should like.
11. The Beguiled
The Beguiled may, at first, seem like a stretch to qualify as a Western but it is a Western in its cinematic techniques. The themes, character development, and narrative progression all show signs of having been influenced by the likes of directors like John Ford and Sergio Leone.
Much of the conflict in The Beguiled is driven by silence and the emotions that the characters express. Sergio Leone often employed this tactic to build tension within the scene. No dialogue, but everything was through the looks and physicality. Director Sofia Coppola uses the same tactic to maximum effect in this movie in which the influence of classic Westerns can be easily seen.