If dusty landscapes, rugged cowboys and epic gunfights get your heart racing, you might be a Western movie fan. Western movies have thrilled audiences for more than a century, and they still hold the power to tell riveting stories that stand the test of time. From the old Westerns of the silent era to modern adaptations, Westerns often take a simple premise and turn it into so much more.
These classics mythologize the American Old West, starting with “The Great Train Robbery” in 1903. In the ‘20s and ‘30s, Westerns really took off, and they’ve stood the test of time, thrilling even modern audiences.
That makes counting down the top 10 best Western movies almost as epic a task as some of the feats our favorite cowboys accomplish in these films. But we’re hopping on our trusty stead and following that dusty trail, looking at both the classics and the modern evolution of these films.
We delved into Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb scores to help us compile this list. Let’s dive in and check out the best Western movies of all time.
10. ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’ (1969)
IMDb Score: 8/10
A train robbery gone wrong sets the stage for what has become not just a classic Western film, but a true classic of 1960s American cinema. Paul Newman, Robert Redford and Katharine Ross lead the cast, directed by George Roy Hill.
The film racked up four Oscars, including Best Cinematography and Best Music. It was nominated for three more. The awards certainly didn’t stop there. In sum, the film had 15 nominations and 22 wins.
9. ‘The Magnificent Seven’ (1960)
IMDb Score: 7.7/10
You might recognize the 2016 version of this film, but we’re talking about the classic that inspired it. This one was directed by John Sturges and cast Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson as some of the seven gunfighters hired to liberate a Mexican village.
Like a lot of Western movies, it drew inspiration from Japanese samurai films, in this case, “Seven Samurai.” The Old West version was nominated for an Oscar, as well as six other awards. It won two, including one from the Online Film & Television Association.
8. ‘No Country for Old Men’ (2007)
IMDb Score: 8.2/10
Directed by the Coen Brothers and starring Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem and Josh Brolin, this movie adapted the Cormac McCarthy novel of the same name. It tells the wild tale of a drug deal gone wrong and the chaos that ensues from the discovery of more than two million dollars in cash.
When we say this movie got some awards, we mean a lot of awards. We’re talking about 140 total nominations and 164 wins, including four Oscars. Those Oscars included ones for Best Writing and Best Motion Picture of the Year.
7. ‘The Searchers’ (1956)
IMDb Score: 7.9/10
John Wayne is a Civil War veteran searching for his niece, who’s been kidnapped by Comanches, in this classic tale. Director John Ford was at the helm for this movie, which introduced the type of ambivalence to the genre that enthusiasts still love today. It won a Golden Globe for “most promising newcomer” for Patrick Wayne. It also earned two more awards and three nominations.
6. ‘High Noon’ (1952)
IMDb Score: 8/10
Gary Cooper and the rest of the cast broke the mold in this Western directed by Fred Zinnemann. Cooper got an Oscar for his performance. The film broke many of the traditions of the genre at the time while telling the story of a marshal who has to face a gang of killers at “high noon.” The movie earned three Oscars besides Cooper’s. Overall, it got a whopping 17 awards and 11 nominations.
5. ‘True Grit’ (2010)
IMDb Score: 7.6/10
Our favorite gunslingers are often dragged into situations they never meant to stumble into, and Jeff Bridges’ character is no exception when a stubborn teenager convinces him to track down her father’s murderer. The movie also stars Matt Damon and Hailee Steinfeld.
Directors Ethan Coen and Joel Coen guided this star-studded cast to 10 Oscar nominations. The film got an absurd 169 total nominations and 38 wins. Some of those awards include Best Cinematography, Best Leading Actor and Best Screenplay (Adapted) at the BAFTA Awards.
4. ‘Once Upon a Time in the West’ (1968)
IMDb Score: 8.5/10
Also directed by Sergio Leone, this movie is a masterpiece of cinematography and storytelling. Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson, and Claudia Cardinale star in the story of a widow who hires a gunman to protect her land from a ruthless railroad tycoon. The film earned five nominations and six awards, including a Golden Screen award and Best Production.
3. ‘Unforgiven’ (1992)
IMDb Score: 8.2/10
You can’t countdown the best Westerns of all time without talking about Clint Eastwood a few times. He not only stars in this one but also directed it. Gene Hackman and Morgan Freeman star alongside him in this meditative look at the cost of violence and revenge. It won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
2. ‘Shane’ (1953)
IMDb Score: 7.6/10
A tired gunslinger is searching for a quieter life in this film directed by George Stevens and starring Alan Ladd. When war forces the gunslinger to fight, the result is a poignant story that earned six awards and 12 nominations, including an Oscar for Best Cinematography. It’s a visual feast, as well as a touching story that helped shape the genre forever.
1. ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’ (1966)
IMDb Score: 8.8/10
You didn’t seriously think we could make a list of the best Western movies and not include this one, did you? Directed by Sergio Leone and starring Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, and Eli Wallach, this is one of the best-known Westerns of all time. Everyone has seen Blondie the professional gunslinger, in one of his classic showdowns.
This staple of the genre earned six nominations and won three awards, including a Best Actor award for Clint Eastwood and an Online Film & Television Association Hall of Fame award. It doesn’t get much more classically Western than this.