10 Westerns That Are A Must-Watch For Any Film Fan

10 Westerns That Are A Must-Watch For Any Film Fan
Image credit: Sony Pictures Classics, Miramax, Caliber Media Company, Roadside Attractions, Film Movement, Oscilloscope, First Look International, Warner Bros., MGM, IFC Films, Saban Films

And yes, these are not your traditional Westerns.

1. "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada" (2005)

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Directed by Tommy Lee Jones, "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada" is a film steeped in haunting melancholy and silent outrage.

The plot centers around Pete Perkins, a rugged ranch hand embodied by Jones, whose life revolves around the promise he made to his friend, Melquiades Estrada. Following Estrada's unjust death and the indifferent disposal of his body, Pete takes it upon himself to fulfill the promise he made – to bury his friend in his hometown in Mexico.

The journey is arduous and fraught with obstacles, both physical and moral, as Pete drags along the young border patrol officer responsible for his friend's death.

2. "Bone Tomahawk" (2015)

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"Bone Tomahawk" starts typically enough, with the disappearance of settlers in a small town leading Sheriff Franklin Hunt (Kurt Russell) and a group of volunteers on a rescue mission. But the script takes a sharp, dark turn into horror territory when they encounter… a tribe of cannibals.

Russell's hardened sheriff, backed by a cast including Patrick Wilson and Matthew Fox, contends not just with the brutal landscape but a terrifying adversary. This isn't your average Western, and we're not talking about cannibals (although there's that, too): it's a grueling, thrilling tale that pushes the boundaries of the genre.

3. "Dead Man" (1995)

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Directed by Jim Jarmusch, "Dead Man" is an avant-garde journey through the Western genre. Starring Johnny Depp as William Blake, a meek accountant from Cleveland, the film quickly shifts from a standard narrative into something entirely more ethereal.

When a series of unfortunate events leaves Blake a wanted man, he encounters Nobody (Gary Farmer), a Native American who believes Blake is the reincarnation of the English poet William Blake. Jarmusch melds Western tropes with surrealist elements, doing so beautifully.

4. "The Great Silence" (1968)

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Sergio Corbucci's "The Great Silence" is a Spaghetti Western that defies genre conventions.

The titular Silence (Jean-Louis Trintignant) is a mute gunslinger who communicates solely through his actions, an avatar of retribution in a bleak, snow-laden landscape. He clashes with the sadistic bounty hunter Loco, played with chilling charisma by Klaus Kinski.

The film is marked by its brutally realistic violence and a conclusion that subverts traditional Western endings. Seriously: brace yourself for this one.

5. "Meek's Cutoff" (2010)

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A portrayal of survival in the Oregon Trail, "Meek's Cutoff" is an ode to the human spirit in the face of desolation.

Directed by Kelly Reichardt, the film follows a group of settlers led by Stephen Meek, portrayed with menacing ambiguity by Bruce Greenwood. As they struggle through the unforgiving landscape, hope starts to dwindle, and the settlers begin to question Meek's very ability to lead.

The narrative is as sparse as the surroundings the movie so colorfuly recreates; Reichardt isn't interested in easy resolutions. Instead, she forces us to feel the settlers' despair and fear, their arguments fraught with life and death stakes.

6. "The Proposition" (2005)

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This Australian Western, directed by John Hillcoat, presents a brutal depiction of life in the Outback during the late 19th century. Guy Pearce plays Charlie Burns, a criminal offered a grim choice by Captain Stanley (Ray Winstone) – kill his older, dangerous brother, or his younger, innocent brother will be executed.

"The Proposition" revels in its moral ambiguities and its characters' struggles to retain humanity amid violence. It's an intense, beautifully shot, unconventional western that resonates long after the credits roll, boasting an impressive 85% Rotten Tomatoes rating.

7. "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" (2007)

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This film, long in title and runtime, dives deep into the complexity of hero worship.

Brad Pitt delivers a riveting performance as Jesse James, the notorious outlaw who faces betrayal from Robert Ford, a fan turned foe. Ford, played by Casey Affleck, oscillates between admiration and envy for Jesse, culminating in a profound narrative of heroism and betrayal.

The film pulled in $15 million at the box office, and despite its underwhelming commercial response, it holds a distinctive place in the genre.

8. "The Homesman" (2014)

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A fascinating examination of gender dynamics within the Western genre, "The Homesman" stars Hilary Swank as Mary Bee Cuddy, a strong, independent woman defying societal norms in the wild frontier. She reluctantly partners with Tommy Lee Jones's character, George Briggs, on a mission to transport three women driven mad by frontier life across the country.

The film flips the traditional damsel-in-distress narrative, thankfully, with Swank's character navigating the harsh Western landscape with unyielding determination.

9. "The Salvation" (2014)

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A Danish take on the Western genre, "The Salvation" presents a classic tale of vengeance with an international twist. Mads Mikkelsen plays a peaceful settler turned avenger after his family falls victim to a notorious gang leader.

The film blends traditional Western elements with a European perspective, resulting in an atmospheric, engaging revenge saga. Its box office gross was modest, but its innovative approach to the genre makes it a noteworthy entry for any Western enthusiast.

And seriously, where else would you see Mads Mikkelsen channeling those Western vibes?

10. "Ride the High Country" (1962)

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Directed by Sam Peckinpah, "Ride the High Country" marks an intersection between the classic and revisionist Western.

Aging lawman Steve Judd (Joel McCrea) is hired to transport gold from a remote mining town. He enlists his old partner Gil Westrum (Randolph Scott), not knowing Gil plans to steal the gold. As they journey through the high country, their pasts, principles, and loyalty are put to the test.