10. In a Valley of Violence
Director Ti West had previously been known for his work in the horror genre, but he takes a unique step by venturing into the Western genre. He is very successful as In a Valley of Violence proves to be a smart, taut Western that perfectly blends all of the elements that genre enthusiasts look for. With self-aware humor and intense sequences of action, this movie stands out among Westerns of the modern era. West’s knack for creating mystery and narratives that keep audiences guessing translates perfectly into the Western genre making for a very fun and entertaining moviegoing experience.
Rango is the product of a unique, and brilliant, choice to make an animated Western that blends beautiful animation of Pixar with the dry style of classic Westerns. Due to the animated supremacy of Disney and Pixar, Rango often gets overlooked when discussing the better animated features of recent years. This is unfortunate as the vocal performances combined with the pleasing visuals make it an enjoyable feature for children and adults alike.
Similar to other movies on this list, Rango also uses the desolate Western landscape as a backdrop for philosophical musings and proves to be a far more intelligent movie than what’s on the surface.
8. True Grit
The Coen brothers find themselves with a second movie on this list in True Grit, a remake of the John Wayne classic. As expected, the Coen brothers make the movie all their own bringing in strong new characters that engage in entertaining banter and keep the audience invested in their story.
The contrast between Jeff Bridges’ rugged, old man and Hailee Steinfield’s innocent but determined young fighter is the real main conflict and the gunfights are secondary to the overall point of the movie. The witty dialogue and engaging Western set pieces satisfied critics and audiences alike and it was recognized by the Academy Awards with a nomination for Best Picture, among other nominations.
7. Hell or High Water
Jeff Bridges seems comfortable in playing the traditional Western roles as he finds himself a leading man for another movie on this list. Under the direction of David Mackenzie who proved himself capable of creating tense and thrilling stories with his previous Starred Up, Hell or High Water is an unusually smart thriller. The movie pits the traditions of the old west with the newfound traditions of the modern west in a morality battle that is both entertaining and thought-provoking. Paying homage to movies like High Noon, Hell or High Water respects its influential predecessors but not at the expense of its own originality and quality.
6. The Revenant
While more a Western in a literal sense as it bears little resemblance to the traditional Western style, The Revenant nonetheless qualifies. Earning Leonardo DiCaprio his first Oscar, The Revenant is different than other movies on this list in that its style is counter to what one might expect. Gritty, grimy, dry landscapes are substituted with lush, beautiful, winter settings. Even with these substantial changes to what the genre is traditionally recognized for, The Revenant retains the gruff characters, hard living, and bleak atmospheres that should satisfy fans of the genre and beyond.
5. Slow West
Slow West rejuvenates the Western genre by updating all of the things that made the Westerns of the past great. Mysterious characters, a pervasive sense of danger, and total disregard for law and rules, Slow West is never short of fascinating. It’s a movie that has the power to bring the experience that audiences of the 60’s felt when watching John Wayne or Clint Eastwood.
Beautiful photography of the bleak landscape that represents the hopelessness of the journey at hand punctuates the movie’s engaging nature. Though it is called “Slow West” there’s really nothing slow about this Western and genre fans will find themselves ecstatic at it.
4. Django Unchained
Quentin Tarantino’s noted admiration for spaghetti westerns is fairly well known and, for those familiar with the genre, its influences are easily seen on his work. While the majority of Django Unchained is actually not set in the West, it so stylistically resembles the spaghetti westerns of old that it’s hard not to classify it as such in its own unique way.
Tarantino is so familiar with the genre and style that it’s not surprising that Django Unchained ranks among the best Westerns of the decade. It’s a genre whose popularity has diminished since the days of John Wayne and Sergio Leone so bringing it back into mainstream attention was a feat in its own right. Unfortunately, Westerns have always been somewhat polarizing. Either you like them or you don’t. Where Django Unchained succeeds also is in having crossover appeal. It is a Tarantino movie after all so you can reasonably expect the gallons of blood, incessant profanity, sharp dialogue, and memorable scenes.
3. Wind River
Wind River is a truly depressing affair that sees the Western genre at its most punishing. Ditching the stylized shootouts for more believable and realistic violence, Wind River’s nihilistic view of the world is only for those seeking a hard-hitting, emotionally draining experience. With that said, audience’s willing to seek it out will find it very rewarding.
It’s a nuanced movie that bring Western realism into the modern day for a movie that is politically astute and, perhaps, important in this day an age. Revenge, justice, and tragedy don’t scrape the surface of this movie’s deeply rooted themes and driving factors and audiences will find themselves in equal parts intellectually stimulated and disturbed. It’s upsetting but well worth the viewing.
2. The Hateful Eight
Another Tarantino movie makes the list, marking his second film of the 2010s to be done under the spaghetti Western style. The Hateful 8 is a polished whodunnit thriller that incorporates the different, traditional styles of Westerns. Critically, The Hateful 8 divided audiences and it ranks as one of his lower rated movies on review aggregate sites like Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic. However, much like the characters in the movie, critics may have been too quick with the trigger in dismissing it.
It’s an endlessly entertaining movie filled with immensely watchable characters that features some of Tarantino’s wildest sequences. Underrated overall, The Hateful 8 deserves to be recognized as not just one of the best Westerns of the decade but one of the best movies.
1. Bone Tomahawk
In a striking debut for S. Craig Zahler, Bone Tomahawk was a welcome surprise for audiences upon its release. Hard-hitting violence and shocking imagery are set on a dry plain that reflects the hopelessness of the situation at hand. Bone Tomahawk hits all the marks of a great Western. Everything from the dialogue to the costumes to the characters is so finely tuned to represent its time period that it makes the audience feel as if they are right there.
Even though it has a cast of familiar faces including Kurt Russell and Patrick Wilson, Bone Tomahawk was more of an independent movie that flew under the radar. Audiences who missed out on it should definitely seek it out as it is well worth a watch whether you are a fan of Westerns or not.