8 Westerns So Authentic, They’ll Teleport You a Few Centuries Back

8 Westerns So Authentic, They’ll Teleport You a Few Centuries Back
Image credit: Legion-Media

A great addition for the history course.

While we all love the Wild West adventure stories of brave cowboys and sheriffs saving the day, the reality of that era was far more devastating than most of those movies care to show. While it was an escape for many law-abiding people looking for big money or a fresh start elsewhere, it was also a dangerous and violent time.

If you are looking for stories that go beyond the glorification of dubious heroes and shots of beautiful scenery, and want to learn about all sides of this exciting time, check out one of the movies below.

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

Starring two A-listers, Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck, this 2000s western is undoubtedly heavily fictionalized, but it captures the overall atmosphere of the era quite well. There was a certain amount of freedom, but it was available to all kinds of outlaws as well as honest people.

And the former knew how to use it to become living legends, leaving the latter in the shadows and in constant fear.

Shane (1953)

Although the story of a battle between a powerful cattleman and a family of homesteaders has been told in many other westerns, it was a real-life struggle for many people, and Shane happens to capture it in the most authentic way.

From the mundane details of everyday life to the intricacies of the firearms of the time, the production team put a lot of effort into the research for the film, which hasn't gone unnoticed by audiences or critics.

Heaven’s Gate (1980)

What makes Heaven's Gate so realistic and impressive is the real-life bloody conflict that took place between 1889 and 1893. The movie tells a fictionalized version of it through the eyes of Sheriff James Averill.

Finding himself in the middle of a bloody massacre of landowners, the U.S. Cavalry and the government against the foreign immigrant farmers, Averill must try to ensure the safety of his area without going against the morals of his own heart.

The Iron Horse (1924)

As the railroads spread across America, young and determined Davy Brandon decides to pave the way for the first locomotive to reach his hometown of Springfield, Illinois. When the workers go on strike, he jumps in to finish the project of his father's dream himself, risking everything against the saboteurs.

Though the film isn't based on a true story, it accurately captures the era and the struggle many workers faced.

Monte Walsh (1970)

Many consider this to be one of the most underrated Westerns of the 70's, if not all time. The movie captures the moment of change, the transformation of society that suddenly didn't need so many men riding horses around their ranches and forced many people to go back to their industrial lives.

Saying goodbye to what many saw as a life of freedom was never going to be easy, and Monte Walsh does a great job of portraying a whole range of dramatic emotions.

The Culpepper Cattle Co. (1972)

The post-Civil War Wild West wasn't the happiest of places. All the money people got there was earned by the sweat, blood and tears of the common workers.

The Culpepper Cattle Co. is one of the few movies to cut through the romanticizing of the era and show how cruel reality could really be for all the dreamers looking for an escape. Sure, the Wild West offered plenty of adventure, but it also offered too much cruelty and violence in return, making it hard to survive.

McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971)

Set in the Pacific Northwest, the film follows the titular duo of charismatic but inexperienced businessman McCabe and brothel owner Madame Mrs. Miller. Seeing the potential in a green but eager newcomer, she joins his pursuit as they mix the gambling business with the pleasures of a brothel.

Just as in real life at the time, successful small businesses were often hunted down and bought out by large corporations. The only difference is that, unlike McCabe, most business owners were happy with the offers.

The Covered Wagon (1923)

The Covered Wagon follows two groups of pioneers who leave their lives in Kansas to start a new life in Oregon. As the road becomes increasingly difficult for the travelers, they become more desperate to survive and begin to turn on each other instead of coming together.

It is a powerful and devastating movie that was truly ahead of its time, both in how truthfully it portrayed the struggles of the pioneers, and in how much it was able to accomplish without the use of any of today's special effects.