Some films have everything needed to execute a Western genre movie, from family rivals to desert stand-offs. According to Rotten Tomatoes, these top-ranked historical dramas take us back to the Old West.
40. The Claim (2000)
After hearing of a treasure of gold, Dillion, played by Peter Mullan, sets out on a journey through the cold winter nights to find it. Along the way, the pioneer sells his wife and daughter for the mining claim - but 20 years later, that decision comes back to haunt him...
"Though it sometimes feels cold and detached, The Claim is evocative, beautifully shot, and full of understated performances," described a movie critic on Rotten Tomatoes. The thrilling western drama received a relatively decent score of 62% from the website's film reviewers.
39. Maverick (1994)
Typically movies set in the Old West are more serious-toned and filled with thrilling scenes. And while Maverick does include these classic themes, the film does include a few comedic moments. The movie, which was adapted from the TV series with the same name, follows the life of Bret Maverick.
Movie critics had many opinions on the western film, which got a 66% from Rotten Tomatoes. One reviewer said, "Despite the attention of master scriptwriter William Goldman, this gentle tribute to the hit comedy western TV series missed a golden opportunity for a razor-sharp spoof. There's no doubt the stars had a ball, though."
38. Dead Man (1995)
Johnny Depp plays William Blake in Dead Man, a man who is on the run in the western frontier of America because he had taken away another person's life. On his journey, the cowboy encounters a man who claims his name is "nobody." The stranger helps Depp's character enter a spiritual awakening.
The film has been described as showing the true colors of what the US was like in the Old West. "Dead Man is an elegiac poem of a film that examines our country's shameful history of viciousness and racism," said a movie critic on Rotten Tomatoes, which gave the production a 71% rating.
37. The Salvation (2014)
This film portrays cliche western film antics, from cowboy boots to vicious arguments, but there were some contrasts. Rotten Tomatoes critics wrote, "It's all but impossible to add anything new or fresh to the traditional Western, but -- thanks in no small part to Mads Mikkelson's performance -- The Salvation comes close."
The western drama followed a Danish settler, Jon, after he shot the man who took his wife's life. As in many drama films that take place in the time of outlaws, the man's brother seeks revenge against Jon, which had audiences at the edge of their seats. The thriller received a score of 72% from those at Rotten Tomatoes.
36. The Keeping Room (2015)
With a rating of 74% from Rotten Tomatoes, this western film comes in 32nd place. The 2015 release didn't stop the quality of the movie from accurately representing an older time, but with a twist. Rather than the men being the lead fighting protagonist, this film has two women as the star of the production.
Two sisters, played by Hailee Steinfeld and Brit Marling, and one slave, Mad (Muna Otaru), must battle to protect their home after nearly all the men in their town are hurt in the Civil War. "A Western that revolves around a trio of gun-wielding female leads and has a clear and consistent feminist message," said a movie critic.
35. The Horse Whisperer (1998)
After suffering a traumatic horse accident, a young teenage girl Grace, played by Scarlet Johnson, is taken to a horse whisper by her mother to fix her now injured pet. But little did Grace know that Tom, the man who is helping heal her horse, would change her and her mother's life.
The movie was based on a real-life cowboy named Dan "Buck" Brannaman, who had the ability to tame wild horses. From a complicated love story to western roots, it's no wonder why The Horse Whisperer was given a relatively high score of 74% by critics at Rotten Tomatoes.
34. Tombstone (1993)
Tombstone follows the life of Wyatt Earp (Kurt Russell) and Doc Holliday (Val Kilmer). The two best friends and Earp's brother move to Tombstone, Arizona, and accidentally become the prey of a cowboy gang.
The film was influenced by real-life historical figures and events from the Old West. This may be why critics admired how meticulous the director was with the settings and outfits. Being one of the top-grossing movies of the past four decades, it's no surprise it's a western classic. It even got a 74% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
33. The Ballad of Little Jo (1993)
When unmarried Josephine (Suzy Amis) falls pregnant, she is thrown out of the family home. With limited resources, she decides to give up the baby and move west. To protect herself from the unwanted advances, she dresses up as a man named Jo. Working as a sheepherder, Jo struggles to hide her true identity.
Receiving a score of 76% from Rotten Tomatoes, this film did relatively well. While Jackie Potts from the Miami Herald praised the movie for taking "aim at the glorious macho westerns of the past," it was simultaneously criticized by other critics due to Amis's unconvincing portrayal of a man and the undeveloped storyline.
32. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)
Based on the book of the same title, this western film has become a renowned film in the movie critic world. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford starred Brad Pitt and followed the life of his character, Jess James, a Missouri outlaw.
The 2007 movie was one of the first to portray a revised contemporary take on western films. With a Rotten Tomatoes ranking of 77%, it's safe to say it proved to do well. Critics described the movie as "An expertly crafted period piece, and an insightful look at one of the enduring figures of American lore."
31. Red Hill (2010)
Red Hill centered around a police officer, Shane Cooper, who recently moved to a new town and discovered his first task on duty involved a killer that escaped from prison. With all the adventure, revenge, and drama, this Western film kept audiences on the edge of their seats.
"The age-old trope of Cowboys and Indians is transformed into a vessel for the rage of Indigenous people who've been colonized since the day the British set foot in Australia," described one critic on Rotten Tomatoes. The historical movie received a rating of 79%.
30. The Homesman (2014)
This historical storyline focused on the life of Mary Bee Cuddy, an independent woman who recruits a man known as George Brigg to help her. Together, the two of them guide three women to a safe place located in Iowa. The film has been critically acclaimed for the lead role being a woman rather than a man.
Rotten Tomatoes gave The Homesman an 80% rating. One critic, Michael Smith, said, "The Homesman is a dark, complex story of gender issues and changing conventions on the frontier, and in an era that sees this genre fading, Jones has made a Western winner."
29. Dances with Wolves (1990)
Dances with Wolves has been recognized as a film that cleared the way for numerous wild west movies. Critics even rated it 83% on Rotten Tomatoes. But reviewers weren't the only ones who deemed Kevin Costner's directional debut as excellent. Native American's valued the way he depicted the Sioux tribe and their language.
The 1990 drama was about a Civil War soldier that leaves his military life to go be a member of the Sioux tribe. The plot thickened when the Union soldiers threatened the Lakota Indians. With an intense narrative and historical adventures, it's no surprise the Western screenplay won 7 Academy Awards.
28. Westworld (1973)
This 1973 film takes place in a futuristic amusement park named Westworld. The two main characters Blane, played by James Brolin, and Martin, portrayed by Richard Benjamin, are enjoying the theme park's saloons and taverns. But things take a turn when the system crashes.
The Western-style film was admired for its different twists on cult classics. The combination of sci-fi and the old West was a hit amongst critics, with an 85% rating, based on Rotten Tomatoes. One movie reviewer wrote, "Combines solid entertainment, chilling topicality, and superbly intelligent seriocomic story values."
27. Django Unchained (2012)
From epic scenes to eye-opening facts regarding slavery and racism, it's no wonder this Quentin Tarantino film has been critically acclaimed. Django Unchained followed the life of a slave and a bounty hunter who teamed up to find gruesome slave owners. Through their journey, they take part in various retributive acts.
With actors like Christoph Waltz, Jamie Foxx, Samuel L. Jackson, and Oscar winner Leonardo DiCaprio, it quickly became one of Tarantino's top films. Rotten Tomatoes gave it an 87% rating. One critic wrote, "Bold, hysterical, entertaining, brutal and daring, it is another masterpiece from the present-master of the western."
26. Blazing Saddles (1974)
Due to its parody nature and uninhibited humor, Blazing Saddles may not be called a Western film by some individuals. But the Mel Brook movie does, in fact, fall under the historical category. The tale unravels when a black man is appointed to be the town sheriff.
At first, the story was given both positive and negative feedback. Over time it became admired by many and has been named a comedy cult classic. Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 88% rating. "Daring, provocative, and laugh-out-loud funny, Blazing Saddles is a gleefully vulgar spoof of Westerns."
25. True Grit (1969)
Although many may be more familiar with the more recent version of this movie, which also appears on this list, the original True Grit, released in 1969, was also incredibly popular. The film scored only slightly lower than its re-make with 89% on Rotten Tomatoes.
The tale follows a fourteen-year-old girl who enlists U.S. Marshal "Rooster" Cogburn (John Wayne) to help her avenge the murder of her father. With this plot, we can understand why the movie was so critically acclaimed it got a remake. John Wayne's performance was highly praised, earning him an Academy Award for the role.
24. The Magnificent Seven (1960)
This Western film is a tad different than other ones. The Magnificent Seven was influenced by a Japanese screenplay named Seven Samurai, a story about seven warriors who protect their village. The Old West version has a similar plot, except the location is in Mexico rather than Japan.
The historical drama takes viewers on an adventure, as seven outlaws come together to defend their small village. The 1960 film was given a high rating of 89% by Rotten Tomatoes. "One of the most iconic Westerns," said James Plath, a Movie Metropolis critic.
23. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
With a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 89%, it's no wonder Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid have been praised by many Western film fans. The storyline was based on the true story of Butch Cassidy, portrayed by Paul Newman. The movie followed the outlaw's travel's from the frontier to South America.
When the 1969 film was first released, it was met with adverse reviews. Yet over the years, the critics have shifted their view on the historical drama. Today, critics find the chemistry between the characters to be "iconic," and "[The movie] has gone down as among the defining moments in late-'60s American cinema."
22. The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)
Once again, Clint Eastwood's directional talents provided us with a spectacular Old West movie. The main plot of the film surrounds bandits and revenge. But instead of going the traditional route, he gave women and Native Americans a more dominant role. It's even been referred to as a "revisionist Western."
The Outlaw Josey Whales centers around the life of a Missouri farmer. In an effort to get retribution against Union men, Josey Whales becomes a member of a Confederate guerrilla unit. From being on the run to chilling encounters, the adventurous drama received a rating of 90% on Rotten Tomatoes.
21. The Wild Bunch (1969)
Since The Wild Bunch first came out in 1969, viewers have been astonished at the film's graphicness. But this aspect paved the way for other Western films. Because, before the release of this movie, directors shielded away from excessive portrayals of savagery.
The director, Sam Peckinpah, later admitted that the story was meant to be a metaphor for the Vietnam War. Despite the debates sparked by the violence, the Western classic was given a rating of 90% by Rotten Tomatoes. "It's the melancholy, the desolation. It's one of the saddest Westerns ever made," explained one movie reviewer.
20. Bone Tomahawk (2015)
This movie's blend of the horror and western genres was certainly a risk on behalf of its filmmakers, but with its score of 91% on Rotten Tomatoes, it seemingly paid off. The highly praised acting performances and gripping storyline ensured audiences and critics were too entertained to care about the unconventional genre choice.
Set in the Old West, Kurt Russell, Richard Jenkins, Matthew Fox, and Patrick Wilson play a sheriff, his deputy, a gunslinger, and a cowboy setting off to rescue a group of people from the aggressive cave dwellers. "Definitely something different for people who like westerns," perfectly summarized critic Emma Wolfe.
19. City Slickers (1991)
Three best friends, Phil, Ed, and Mitch, played by Daniel Stern, Bruno Kirby, and Billy Crystal, embark on their annual boys-only vacation. In an attempt to reinforce their masculinity, they decide on a cattle drive across the Southwest. Led by Curly, the cowboy, the men encounter more dangers than expected.
This comedic western tale scored a 91% on Rotten Tomatoes, highly praised by its film critics. Jeff Menell from the Hollywood Reporter told audiences that "City Slickers is one cattle drive you won't want to miss," while other critics all pointed to Billy Crystal's impressive comedic performance.
18. No Country for Old Men (2007)
No Country for Old Men has been hitting the top of various "Best Movies" lists since its 2007 release. The film was created by brothers Joel and Ethan Coen, and let's just say they know how to execute a story. While hunting on the Texas-Mexico border, Llewelyn Moss finds cash left being from a drug deal.
Since he stole the money, Moss is now being chased by a brutal murderer. The bleak setting, ruthless chases, and thrilling aspects all come together to create a good Western film. Although some refer to it as neo-western due to its modern setting. Despite this, critics still admire the film and gave it a 93% on Rotten Tomatoes.
17. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)
Old West genre films typically follow the life of a man who ends up running into challenges. That's what occurred in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Tom Doniphon, played by John Wayne, is a lawyer who recently moved to a new town when he is faced with a conflict with the city's bandit, Liberty Valance, played by Lee Marvin.
The movie was sadly one of the last ones by John Ford, a sensational Western director. Till today it's referred to as a "genuine masterpiece." This comes as no surprise with a Rotten Tomatoes score of 94%. Critics admired the film's ability to discuss political issues, especially with small towns and print media.
16. Johnny Guitar (1954)
From revenge to small-town rivalries, Johnny Guitar has all the aspects used in great Western genre films. The lead role of this movie was a woman rather than the usual male. And let's just say it was a good choice because Joan Crawford, who played Vienna, outdid herself.
Critics raved about the story's atypical protagonistic. One passionate movie reviewer wrote, "Not too many westerns culminate in a... showdown between two women -- but then Nicholas Ray wasn't your average filmmaker." Rotten Tomatoes rated Johnny Guitar a 94%.
15. Lone Star (1996)
After a town's sheriff, Sam Deeds (Chris Cooper), stumbled across the former sheriff's skeleton, he begins to uncover more local secrets. The Western murder mystery had audiences at the edge of their seat. With a thrilling plot and praised performances, it's no wonder Lone Star is a top Old West film.
Based on Rotten Tomatoe's movie reviewers, the film deserved a 94% rating. One top critic wrote, "With old-fashioned craftsmanship, Lone Star is not a movie you'll quickly forget. It may not dazzle you with its flash, but it has more on its mind than all the summer would-be blockbusters put together."
14. Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
Since this movie contains common ideas typically seen in historically West films, it's been named a classic. From modern advancements in the frontier to retaliation against enemies, Once Upon a Time in the West is appreciated by many critics. Rotten Tomatoes rated the screenplay a high 95%.
When a railroad line disturbed the drinking supply of Flagstone, a fictional town in the Old West, the residents began fighting over the land. Violence strikes when the town's outlaw, Frank, played by Henry Fonda, gets rid of the land's owner. With such a thrilling plot, we can see why the film has been critically acclaimed.
13. True Grit (2010)
It's not common for remakes to be better than the original, but the Coen brothers proved otherwise. The 2010 version of True Grit lived up to the 1969 classic. The retelling followed the life of a 14-year old girl seeking vengeance after the passing of her father.
The young girl, Mattie Ross, played by Hailee Steinfeld, gets three men to help her on her journey through the West, including a Deputy U.S. Marshal and a Texas Ranger. The Western story and acting have been critically acclaimed, especially for the uncommon lead role of a girl. Rotten Tomatoes rated it a 95%.
12. High Noon (1952)
When High Noon was filmed in 1952, the fear of Communism was circulating through the US. This may be why this film has been believed to have political suggestions. Oscar-winning Gary Cooper portrayed Marshal Will Kane, who protects his small town from a savage gang of bandits.
The movie received differing reviews. John Wayne said it was "the most un-American thing I've ever seen in my whole life." He thought this because of the strange storyline, where abandonment is prevalent. Regardless of the controversy, the film remains iconic, with a rating of 95% from Rotten Tomatoes.
11. 3:10 to Yuma (1957)
To this day, 3:10 to Yuma is considered to be one of the most admired classic Western genre films. This seems valid since it was released during the height of Old West films. Except it took a more psychological approach, leaving viewers in suspense wondering what the main character, Dan Evans, will do.
Evans volunteers for a job where he accompanies a convicted outlaw, Ben Wade, to a prison. From manipulating his escort to Wade's gang trying to set him free, several shocking events occur during their journey. The original was so admired, with a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 96%, that a remake was even made in 2007.
10. Unforgiven (1992)
The lead actor, Clint Eastwood, was also the director of Unforgiven, and let's just say he did a phenomenal job for both. The film was critically acclaimed and even ended up winning four Academy Awards. It's understandable why Rotten Tomatoes gave it a rating of 96%.
The screenplay followed the life of an elder outlaw who has ended his career of violence but winds up taking one more gig. The plot was applauded for recognizing the difficulty in trying to split away from one's former criminal life. The plot in Unforgiven paved the way for the Western genre to take on a more chilling tone.
9. The Searchers (1956)
John Ford's directional talents were possibly what helped The Searchers become both commercially admired and critically acclaimed. Not only did it receive a high Rotten Tomatoes rating of 96%, but it was even named "Greatest Western of All Time" by the American Film Institute.
The story unfolds when a Civil War veteran takes on a journey to find his missing 9-year old niece, Debby, all while the Texas-Indian War was taking place. The voyage turns treacherous when he discovers that the young girl was taken by the Comanche people.
8. Shane (1953)
Observing life in the Old West from a child's perspective isn't common for the historical movie's genre. Yet the film Shane decided to take that risk, and it proved to do well. Critics praised the different outlook, and it's probably a reason why Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 97% rating.
Following the end of the Civil War, a traveler with a mysterious past named Shane (Alan Ladd) settled in Wyoming town. As in most Western films, conflict arises, and the homesteaders and cattlemen begin to go against each other, fighting over the land.
7. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly was the final movie of the Dollars trilogy. The three films, directed by Sergio Leone, have an atypical approach when it comes to perceiving the "good" and "bad" guys of the plot. While typically, the outlaws in Western movies look dirty, unshaven, and rugged, Leone's heroes take on the same look.
Because of the character-driven plot, which included authentic and complicated personalities, the director has been attributed with the usage of ambiguous heroes, especially since Clint Eastwood's character was a bandit who had a moral compass. Rotten Tomatoes rated it a high 97%.
6. Deadwood: The Movie (2019)
Following the success of HBO's Old West genre show, Deadwood, they decided to drop a movie. Luckily, it too did just as well. However, some viewers were displeased with the long wait between the last episode in 2006 and the release of the film in 2019.
It still received a high rating of 98% by Rotten Tomatoes because of its ability to continue the storyline as if nothing ever stopped. The film is set in 1876 and focuses on how the characters' gold mining camp progressed, specifically, how it turned into an official town in South Dakota.
5. A Fistful of Dollars (1964)
The first of the Dollars trilogy, A Fistful of Dollars, was directed by Sergio Leone. He is known for making his villain and hero characters look similar to each other. They usually look rugged and scruffy, giving them an ambiguous appearance. This continued with the following two Dollars movie.
The Western-style screenplay follows savage incidents that occur to the lead character, Joe, or "Man with No Name," portrayed by Clint Eastwood. Joe pits two opposing families against each other in a small town filled with greed and vengeance. Rotten Tomatoes rated the film at 98%.
4. Rio Bravo (1959)
The Western genre movie world holds many timeless classics. One of them happens to be Rio Bravo, which received a rating of 98% from Rotten Tomatoes. Starring John Wayne, the movie plot developed after a popular rancher was apprehended by the sheriff of the town. This event led to many violent backlashes from the residents.
It was later disclosed that the film goal was to be completely different from High Noon, a movie in which John Wayne admitted to loathing the way the main character acted in a weakness. This is the reason why Wayne's character was perceived to be courageous and strong.
3. Red River (1948)
Red River, which starred John Wayne and Montgomery Clift, was arguably an iconic Western film. It centered around the duo's journey of their first cattle drive from Kansas to Texas. Throughout their trip, various situations occur that nearly throw them off track.
Not only were there physical challenges but also emotional ones. The phenomenal plot and talented acting skills are ultimately what took this movie to the next level. The late film critic Roger Ebert even called Red River "one of the greatest Western films of all time." And it holds a perfect 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
2. Stagecoach (1939)
This Western-themed movie was one of the first to introduce the idea of strangers with differing backgrounds collaborating towards a shared objective. The characters of Stagecoach are all aboard a horse-drawn carriage headed towards Lordsburg, an area controlled by Apache nation.
They are on a risky trip, considering the Apache people could attack them as they pass through the Wild West. The thrilling film was seen as a critical one since it brought back a Western genre after the era of silent movies. While some criticize the depiction of Native Americas, it holds a high 100% rating by Rotten Tomatoes.
1. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre holds a top rating of 100% by Rotten Tomatoes. It has been recognized as a defining work in cinematic history because not only was it filmed before Western films were popularized, but also because it was the first movie to be filmed outside of America.
The storyline was a classic tale of dealing with greediness and its effects on people. It followed a group of men on a journey to the Sierra Madre Mountains searching for gold. Critics described it as "Remade but never duplicated, this darkly humorous morality tale represents John Huston at his finest."