6. Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid (1973)
James Coburn is Pat Garett. Kris Kristofferson is Billy The Kid. Two friends who eventually become enemies. Coburn walks with a strong masculinity that he brought to many of his roles. That strong masculinity would win him an Oscar 25 years later for playing an alcoholic father in Paul Schrader’s Affliction. Kristofferson was born to be in westerns. The way he walks, talks and shoots a gun is exactly how you’d imagine a cowboy would. In the Director’s Chair – Sam Peckinpah who’s responsible for reinventing the western genre with his unique take that started with his 1969 classic The Wild Bunch.
In addition to its style, one of the film’s unique traits is one member of the cast. In his first of very few on-screen roles, Bob Dylan appears in the film as he also provides the film’s soundtrack to give it a very unique feel. While it had bad reviews and was a box office bomb on it’s initial theatrical release, the film would have a resurgence fifteen years later. It gained the respect it couldn’t earn at first and even earned the right to be called a lost masterpiece by critics.
7. The Electric Horseman (1979)
Sydney Pollack delivers another memorable western from this decade that again stars Robert Redford. He plays a former rodeo champion who takes a deal as a spokesperson. He discovers the electric-lit horse who accompanies him at these appearances has been mistreated. Redford kidnaps the horse, but for the right reasons. He takes him to a canyon where many horses roam free. On the way, he meets a television reporter who wants to break the story. She’s played by Jane Fonda and the two eventually fall for each other.
This marks the first film appearance of Country Singer Willie Nelson who would go on to take on several parts in film and television, usually playing himself. Pollack and Redford continue their long collaboration together to make another winner.
8. The Villain (1979)
As the only pure comedy on this list, there was no film quite like it when it was released in 1979. More like a live-action version of a Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner cartoon, it’s a lot of fun. Kirk Douglas stars as a hired outlaw trying to rob the money from the likes of Ann-Margaret. His attempts go wrong and he endures painful but hilarious consequences.
In one of his earliest roles, Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a handsome stranger. Rather that’s his name in the film, “Handsome Stranger.” He escorts Ann Margaret to her destination unknowingly managing to avoid Douglas. This would be only a few short years before Schwarzenegger’s dominance of Hollywood that started with Conan The Barbarian. While it might appear odd that this large muscular cowboy with a German accent is in the West, it’s important to remember this is just a silly comedy.
9. Buck And The Preacher (1972)
Starring in this western is the amazing Sidney Poitier as Buck and multi-talented Harry Belafonte as the Preacher. The great Ruby Dee also stars as Ruth, Buck’s wife. They’re headed to unsettled territories for a better life, but have to escape a violent group of men who are after them. This marks the directorial debut of Poitier who would go on to direct several films throughout the 70’s and 80’s which included the successful comedies Uptown Saturday Night and Stir Crazy.
As director, Poitier cast his best friend, Belafonte, as his co-star. Both are pioneers by redefining what it is to be black men at that time. This was yet another milestone for Poitier who continually made his mark throughout his illustrious career which included winning several awards and honors. Poitier had a charm about him which came through in his work. But that charm would often be mistaken for weakness and characters would find out the hard way that Poitier had an underlying power that was not to be messed with. His roles still hold up with that power today especially as Buck.
10. Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia (1974)
In Sam Peckinpah’s second film on this list that he also co-wrote, the title says it all. When a million-dollar bounty is put up, a retired Army officer played by Warren Oates takes off on a expedition to find the head of Alfredo Garcia. Oates is best known for playing the uptight drill sergeant in the Bill Murray comedy Stripes. Here he’s all business and all about the money. But the journey won’t be as straight forward as he expected. Warren Oates was an underrated actor. His talent could span from an inadequate police officer in In The Heat Of The Night and to a tough outlaw in The Wild Bunch.
Much like Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid a year earlier, this film would tank at the box office and receive appalling reviews. But similar to Peckinpah’s previous film, Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia would earn a cult following decades later. That just goes to show that Peckinpah might have been ahead of his time and his work is definitely worth a watch.