Westerns have been around since the beginning and earned their place at the heart of the movie culture and American iconography for decades. And through all this time, many people started to love watching those cowboys on horses with revolvers, tough guys, good vs. evil as well as those beautiful landscapes. During the Golden Age of the western, countless films were produced, but even in the later decades, westerns had always remained popular and always had a fan base.
Even though the genre was criticized for having often having similar formulas, westerns started to grow many subgenres and we got so much original stories through them. That said, for whatever reason, even some of the most acclaimed westerns among the genre lovers can go overlooked by the general audiences. These 10 films are some of the great ones that would please the fans of the genre.
10. Seraphim Falls (2006)
Even though the two Irish gentlemen in the leading roles are pretty big names internationally, “Seraphim Falls” ended up being an overlooked western, which is a bit understandable given the nature of the film. Similar to another revisionist western, “The Outlaw Josey Wales” to some degree, the film is about a former North American civil war officer who has exterminated a Confederate officer’s family and is now being hunted by the surviving head of the family and his clique. The chase keeps going until the time comes for the last duel.
“Seraphim Falls” tells the story of the paralyzing effects that revenge can inflict upon an individual as the perceived villain, Carver, relentlessly hunts down the seemingly innocent Gideon. You get a lot of great things from the movie; sure, it’s slow-paced but it keeps you engaged, it’s gritty, and the acting is perfect – especially Brosnan’s character. The plot is not exactly predictable; in fact, the third act has nice symbolism and the visuals keep getting better throughout the film. Also, yeah, Liam Neeson was an expert on taking revenge even before “Taken,” and the subsequent revenge stuff he got to do. It’s not the most multi-layered movie ever, but it sure is worth checking out.
9. The Salvation (2014)
Mads Mikkelsen and Eva Green previously starred in the great “Casino Royale” and they collaborated once again in a less seen but pretty cool western titled “The Salvation.” Mikkelsen is not a huge fan of the genre, but his acting fits like a glove to the setting and the tone of the film. In fact, his performance is one of the main reasons why this film works so well because mostly, “The Salvation” is a traditional western and that’s totally okay. It’s okay because once again it shows that if you know how to play the familiar beats, the movie can still end up being entertaining.
This is also notable for being a Danish film, which is another reason why the film is on the list since Denmark is not necessarily a country you think of where westerns are concerned. But everything works so great here; it has influences varying from Sergio Leone to Walter Hill, it doesn’t play like it’s overly original, but it serves as a beautiful homage that not any cliché would make you feel annoyed. The social commentary is delivered with such subtlety that it’s a joy to watch and the cinematography is absolutely top level. “The Salvation” is especially for those who love old school genre filmmaking and who don’t mind familiar stories as long as they’re done well.
8. Purgatory (1999)
Most of this list focuses on standard definitions of “western,” mostly classical, revisionist, or spaghetti movies. “Purgatory” serves as a change of pace for the list as it’s a fantasy movie and a very good one. A gang of outlaws attack the bank of a town. Some outlaws, some random people, and a prostitute are killed. The gang flees from the squad and then through a kind of tunnel they reach the town of Refuge, where they think they are safe for the time being. Some of the townspeople seem strangely familiar to everyone. The outlaws are slowly realizing that they are in purgatory and even guys like Doc Holiday and Wild Bill Hickok are here, trying to redeem themselves to get a chance to enter Heaven.
Even though it’s made for television, “Purgatory” almost feels like a big movie and even though it’s not dominated by a typical western setting, it’s something that would intrigue any fan of the genre. With great acting from Sam Shepard, Eric Roberts and Randy Quaid, “Purgatory” somehow gets a cool film out of an unusual premise without getting unnecessarily over-the-top, also just the right kind of pacing for a film to work. Who says supernatural elements don’t fit the western genre? It doesn’t act like it’s something much deeper than it is and that’s where the success of the film lies.
7. Conagher (1991)
Could there be a list of westerns without the great Sam Elliott? He’s an icon but would be an even bigger icon if he was around in the Golden Age of the genre. Not complaining of course, in fact, it’s cool that he didn’t stick to the genre that made him famous and we got to see the different sides of his talent from “The Contender” to “Grandma” that showed his versatility as an actor. But despite being known for a western roles in pop culture, not everybody is familiar with Elliott’s actual western work and if they premiered on television, they get even less heard. “Conagher” is maybe even the best Elliott western based on Louis L’amour’s adaptations, and if you’re unfamiliar with his stuff, you should better start with this before checking his other L’amour adaptations.
“Conagher” was co-written by Elliott himself and is also his own favorite movie. It doesn’t have much action going on but with several stories weaved into it, the film works on so many levels. You get to see your cowboy stuff but it’s also a beautiful romance, portrayed by Elliott and his real-life wife Katherine Ross. It’s a beautiful love song to the genre and the original book with great script, cinematography, and amazing acting. If you end up loving this film, check out other L’Amour adaptations starring Elliott, especially “The Quick and the Dead.”
6. The Big Gundown (1966)
“If you don’t kill me right now… it’ll be the last mistake you ever make.” Jonathan Corbett, a very successful and well-known, ready-to-retire bounty hunter, is persuaded by the wealthy tycoon Brockston to run as a senator. At an election campaign event, Corbett learns about the rape and murder of a 12-year-old girl, which the Mexican Cuchillo Sanchez is said to have committed. Corbett is now being instructed to quickly capture the fugitive Mexican and bring him to justice.
As you can expect from Sergio Sollima, this western also contains a socially critical message and sharp political angle. This underrated but very memorable western also benefits from Lee Van Cleef’s excellent screen presence, he does a bit of a variation of his role in a “For a Few Dollars More” and it works. It also features a brilliant score by Ennio Morricone and the cinematography is often great, feeling very stylish. Despite a slow start, the movie becomes very exciting when the chase starts and as you can expect, there are great gunfights and there’s always something going on to make you keep watching. Basically if you love the Italo-Western kickass movies but somehow missed this, you shouldn’t waste time and check this out as soon as possible..