10 Western Movies That Totally Forgot About Historical Accuracy
These movies certainly didn't let a little thing like facts get in the way of a good story (not that we're complaining all that much, to be honest).
1. The Undefeated (1969)
Starting off strong with a John Wayne classic, The Undefeated sees the Duke himself playing a Union colonel who becomes pals with a former Confederate officer in the aftermath of the Civil War. While it's a solid western with some entertaining moments, the film tends to play fast and loose with historical facts. Confederate soldiers heading to Mexico en masse to continue fighting after the Civil War? Not exactly what you'd find in your high school history books. Despite its historical missteps, the film still garnered a respectable 47% on Rotten Tomatoes, being, of course, a rather entertaining watch.
2. My Darling Clementine (1946)
This one's a retelling of the Gunfight at the OK Corral, a famous historical event. Or rather, it's a retelling of the retelling of the retelling...you get the idea. My Darling Clementine takes liberties with historical facts that would make a Texas Hold 'Em player blush. For example, the infamous Doc Holliday was a dentist, not a surgeon, as the film suggests. Despite the factual discrepancies, the film managed to score a stellar 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, proving that sometimes, viewers just want a good story, even if it's mostly made up.
3. The Wild Bunch (1969)
The Wild Bunch might be a classic, but it isn't your high school history teacher's western. The film portrays the outlaw Pike Bishop (played by William Holden) and his gang using Colt M1911 pistols – a neat trick, considering the film is set in 1913, and those guns didn't see widespread use until World War I. Historical facts be damned when there are cool gunfights to be had, right? Audiences seemed to agree, as the film holds a 91% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
4. Stagecoach (1939)
While Stagecoach is considered a groundbreaking western for its complex characters and moral ambiguity, it's not winning any awards for historical accuracy. John Wayne's breakout role saw him playing an outlaw who protects a stagecoach from Apache warriors. The film, unfortunately, falls into the all-too-common western movie trap of inaccurately portraying Native American tribes. Despite this, it was well-received by critics, holding a whopping 100% on Rotten Tomatoes.
5. A Fistful of Dollars (1964)
It wouldn't be a list of historically inaccurate westerns without a nod to spaghetti westerns, and A Fistful of Dollars fits the bill perfectly. The film, directed by Sergio Leone, throws historical accuracy to the wind in favor of stylish gunfights and a moody, anti-hero protagonist played by Clint Eastwood. Despite its lack of historical fidelity, the film still managed to carve a niche for itself in the annals of Western film history, boasting an 98% Rotten Tomatoes rating.
6. Cat Ballou (1965)
Cat Ballou takes the traditional Western genre and tosses it in the corral with slapstick comedy, creating a hybrid that's less about historical accuracy and more about laughter and entertainment. Jane Fonda stars as the titular Cat, a schoolteacher-turned-outlaw after the murder of her father. The film features a drunk gunfighter, played by Lee Marvin, who at times is on horseback...while the horse itself is noticeably standing on two legs. While it may not be the best for a history lesson, its box office success, raking in $20.6 million, speaks for itself. Oh, and let's not forget its impressive 90% on Rotten Tomatoes.
7. Maverick (1994)
Maverick blends comedy with the Western genre, creating a fun, entertaining romp that's less concerned with historical accuracy and more about delivering laughs. The film, based on the 1950s TV series of the same name, stars Mel Gibson as Bret Maverick, a card-playing cowboy who needs to raise $25,000 to enter a high-stakes poker tournament. The film leans into its comedic elements and strays from historical accuracy with plot devices like Russian royalty appearing in the Old West. Despite playing loose with the facts, Maverick drew in audiences, earning a whopping $183 million worldwide.
8. The Quick and the Dead (1995)
The Quick and the Dead, directed by Sam Raimi, is another Western that tosses historical accuracy out the window. It pits a mysterious woman, played by Sharon Stone, against a host of eccentric gunfighters in a quick-draw tournament. The film incorporates numerous anachronisms, like its liberal use of dynamite, which wasn't invented until several years after the film's setting. Despite these missteps, the film still managed to haul in $46.6 million at the box office, although it did earn a 'rotten' 58% critics rating after all.
9. Wild Wild West (1999)
Wild Wild West is a fantastical steampunk Western that's more concerned with giant mechanical spiders than historical accuracy. Will Smith and Kevin Kline star as government agents trying to foil a Confederate general's diabolical plan involving said mechanical spider. This film so completely disregards historical accuracy, it's practically in a genre of its own. While it didn't fare well with critics, garnering a (understandably) dismal 16% on Rotten Tomatoes, it was a box office success, reeling in $222 million worldwide.
10. The Ridiculous 6 (2015)
The Ridiculous 6 is a Netflix original film that parodies classic Westerns, with a particular nod to The Magnificent Seven. Starring Adam Sandler, the film tells the tale of an outlaw raised by Native Americans who discovers he has five half-brothers. Together, they set out to save their kidnapped father. While the film clearly intends to be a comedic take on the genre, it strays significantly from historical accuracy, featuring a baseball game with Abner Doubleday years before he supposedly invented it. Surprisingly, despite a 0% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the film still proved popular with Netflix viewers, ranking as the most-watched movie on the platform in its first month of release.