The 25 Best Westerns of the 21st Century

Source: Courtesy of The Weinstein Company

We often think of the Western as an obsolete movie genre, a film category about a time long past, some of whose themes seem to be out of step with modern sensibilities. Some contemporary filmmakers would beg to differ. For movie makers such as Joel and Ethan Coen, Quentin Tarantino, and actor/director Tommy Lee Jones, there is plenty to be mined from Old West.

To determine the best Western films of the 21st century, 24/7 Tempo developed an index using average ratings on IMDb, an online movie database owned by Amazon, and a combination of audience scores and Tomatometer scores on Rotten Tomatoes, an online movie and TV review aggregator, as of Sept. 13, 2023, weighing all ratings equally. Documentaries were not considered. Director information is from IMDb. This list was produced with the assistance of automated technology. (Whatever the time period, these are the 30 best Western films ever made.)

Westerns in the 21st century have broadened the genre to include the experiences of women and Native Americans, as well as exploring some of the darker aspects of frontier life. As with its celebrated film predecessors, violence always looms.

Tarantino, known for paying homage to the grindhouse-film genre, has made a nod to Westerns with films such as “The Hateful Eight” and “Django Unchained” – the only movies on our list that won Academy Awards.  

Remakes of classic Western films occupy three spots on the list: “3:10 to Yuma,” “The Magnificent Seven,” and “True Grit.” The last of these was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, including a nod to Jeff Bridges, who reprised the Oscar-winning role of John Wayne in the original version of the film. Bridges also starred in another Oscar-nominated Western on the list, “Hell or High Water.”

Some contemporary actors that we don’t associate with Westerns have appeared in them in this century, as well, including Denzel Washington, Hilary Swank, Tom Hanks, Jessica Chastain, and Omar Sharif. (You might be surprised at our list of every movie genre’s top-grossing actor.)

Source: Courtesy of Destination Films

25. Seraphim Falls (2006)
> IMDb user rating: 6.7/10 (30,849)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 53% (10,976 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 55% (85 reviews)
> Directed by: David Von Ancken
> Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Liam Neeson, Anjelica Huston

“Seraphim Falls” is a riveting Western in which a Confederate colonel (Neeson) relentlessly pursues a Union soldier, (Brosnan), post-Civil War. The film explores themes of violence, survival, and war, woven into a tense bounty hunt narrative. It premiered at the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival to positive reviews.

Source: Courtesy of Buena Vista Pictures

24. Hidalgo (2004)
> IMDb user rating: 6.7/10 (83,133)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 64% (130,448 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 46% (164 reviews)
> Directed by: Joe Johnston
> Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Omar Sharif, Zuleikha Robinson

This epic biographical Western transported to the Middle East tells the tale of real-life Wyoming-born horseman Frank Hopkins and his mustang, Hidalgo. The narrative unfurls as they compete in a gruelling 3,000-mile race in Arabia against Bedouins on pure-blooded Arabian horses.

Source: Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

23. Frontera (2014)
> IMDb user rating: 6.6/10 (7,732)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 59% (1,788 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 54% (24 reviews)
> Directed by: Michael Berry
> Starring: Ed Harris, Eva Longoria, Michael Peña

In this dramatic tale of border crossings and misjudgments, Miguel, an illegal immigrant, is accused of murdering a former sheriff’s wife. As the truth unravels, the film explores tensions and tragedies along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Source: Courtesy of A24

22. Woman Walks Ahead (2017)
> IMDb user rating: 6.6/10 (7,562)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 61% (352 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 53% (38 reviews)
> Directed by: Susanna White
> Starring: Jessica Chastain, Louisa Krause, Boots Southerland

“Woman Walks Ahead” follows portrait painter Catherine Weldon (Chastain), who travels from New York City to the Dakotas in 1890 to paint a portrait of Sitting Bull. The narrative delves into the Lakota people’s struggle over their land rights.

Source: Courtesy of Drafthouse Films

21. The Keeping Room (2014)
> IMDb user rating: 6.0/10 (6,782)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 50% (1,804 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 74% (86 reviews)
> Directed by: Daniel Barber
> Starring: Brit Marling, Hailee Steinfeld, Sam Worthington

In the waning days of the Civil War, two white sisters and an enslaved African-American must defend their home against rogue Union soldiers. The film is a stark portrayal of survival, revealing the brutal realities faced by women during war.

Source: Courtesy of Focus World

20. In a Valley of Violence (2016)
> IMDb user rating: 6.0/10 (17,051)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 51% (4,127 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 77% (69 reviews)
> Directed by: Ti West
> Starring: Ethan Hawke, John Travolta, Taissa Farmiga

A mysterious loner passing through a small town gets pushed too far, setting off a violent chain of events. “In a Valley of Violence” was a commercial failure, but received critical acclaim for its compelling story of revenge in the Old West, led by strong performances from Hawke and Travolta.

Source: Courtesy of Momentum Pictures

19. Forsaken (2015)
> IMDb user rating: 6.3/10 (11,075)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 87% (4,214 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 42% (45 reviews)
> Directed by: Jon Cassar
> Starring: Esther Purves-Smith, Kiefer Sutherland, Donald Sutherland

A retired gunfighter goes back to his hometown to repair his relationship with his estranged father. However, he soon gets entangled in a murderous plot involving a corrupt preacher, his followers, and the woman he once loved.

Source: Courtesy of A24

18. The Ballad of Lefty Brown (2017)
> IMDb user rating: 6.3/10 (6,038)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 54% (604 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 79% (29 reviews)
> Directed by: Jared Moshe
> Starring: Bill Pullman, Peter Fonda, Stephen Alan Seder

“The Ballad of Lefty Brown” is a 2017 Western directed by Jared Moshe. It tells the story of Lefty Brown, a lawman who embarks on a quest for justice after his partner’s murder, despite obstacles and betrayal. The film captures the gritty and lawless era of 1889 Montana.

Source: Courtesy of Roadside Attractions

17. The Homesman (2014)
> IMDb user rating: 6.6/10 (32,085)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 52% (14,247 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 80% (156 reviews)
> Directed by: Tommy Lee Jones
> Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Hilary Swank, Grace Gummer

Set in the 1850s Midwest, “The Homesman” is a heart-wrenching historical drama based on Glendon Swarthout’s 1988 novel of the same name, explores the harsh realities of frontier life, taking the audience on a journey with a spinster and a claim jumper tasked with escorting three mentally ill women back home.

Source: Courtesy of New Line Cinema

16. Appaloosa (2008)
> IMDb user rating: 6.7/10 (59,971)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 55% (55,714 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 76% (164 reviews)
> Directed by: Ed Harris
> Starring: Ed Harris, Viggo Mortensen, Renée Zellweger

The narrative here unfolds in 1882 New Mexico, where two lawmen are hired to regain control of a town terrorized by a ruthless rancher. Romance, power struggles, and gunfights ensue, cloaked in the harsh realities of the Old West.

Source: Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

15. The Magnificent Seven (2016)
> IMDb user rating: 6.9/10 (199,147)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 72% (49,291 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 64% (315 reviews)
> Directed by: Antoine Fuqua
> Starring: Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke

“The Magnificent Seven” is a modern remake of the 1960 classic Western. It follows an eclectic band of seven gunfighters, hired to protect a beleaguered Mexican village from recurring bandit raids. With a mix of courage and camaraderie, they defend the villagers in an epic showdown against the bandits.

Source: Courtesy of Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures

14. Hostiles (2017)
> IMDb user rating: 7.2/10 (77,767)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 75% (5,554 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 71% (224 reviews)
> Directed by: Scott Cooper
> Starring: Scott Shepherd, Rosamund Pike, Ava Cooper

In this Western drama, Bale stars as a U.S. Army officer tasked with escorting a Cheyenne war chief and his family back to their Montana homeland in 1892 – a perilous journey, marked by old grudges and new alliances.

Source: Courtesy of Annapurna Distribution

13. The Sisters Brothers (2018)
> IMDb user rating: 6.9/10 (59,919)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 69% (2,624 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 87% (208 reviews)
> Directed by: Jacques Audiard
> Starring: John C. Reilly, Joaquin Phoenix, Jake Gyllenhaal

Set during the Gold Rush, “The Sisters Brothers” is a darkly comedic Western about two notorious assassin brothers – Reilly and Phoenix – as they pursue two men who have joined forces in a quest for gold. Despite receiving critical acclaim, it was a commercial disappointment.

Source: Courtesy of Warner Bros.

12. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)
> IMDb user rating: 7.5/10 (183,972)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 75% (98,282 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 76% (176 reviews)
> Directed by: Andrew Dominik
> Starring: Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck, Sam Shepard

“The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” is a revisionist Western epic featuring Pitt and Affleck as Jesse James and Robert Ford, respectively. A tale of fame and infamy, based on a 1983 Ron Hansen novel, it explores the complex relationship between the infamous outlaw and his eventual assassin, focusing on the buildup to the pivotal killing.

Source: Courtesy of The Weinstein Company

11. The Hateful Eight (2015)
> IMDb user rating: 7.8/10 (550,683)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 76% (73,769 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 74% (337 reviews)
> Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
> Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh

In this Western mystery thriller, eight strangers – portrayed by a cast also including Tim Roth, Bruce Dern, and Walton Goggins – seek refuge from a blizzard in a post-Civil War stagecoach stopover. The film showcases director Tarantino’s signature blend of suspense, violence, and complex racial dynamics.

Source: Courtesy of RLJ Entertainment

10. Bone Tomahawk (2015)
> IMDb user rating: 7.1/10 (93,087)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 74% (13,750 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 91% (98 reviews)
> Directed by: S. Craig Zahler
> Starring: Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox

“Bone Tomahawk” (is a chilling Western horror film, featuring Russell as a small-town sheriff leading a rescue mission into a desolate wilderness to save captives from a cannibalistic Native American clan. It’s a well-received blend of genres, now considered a cult classic.

Source: Courtesy of Buena Vista Pictures

9. Open Range (2003)
> IMDb user rating: 7.4/10 (69,729)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 84% (51,728 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 79% (184 reviews)
> Directed by: Kevin Costner
> Starring: Kevin Costner, Robert Duvall, Diego Luna

This gritty tale of cattle herders in 1882 Montana unfolds as the herders face off against a ruthless rancher who controls the local town. A stirring blend of romance, deception, and revenge, the film was both a box office hit and a critical success.

Source: Courtesy of Netflix

8. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
> IMDb user rating: 7.3/10 (133,130)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 77% (3,708 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 89% (234 reviews)
> Directed by: Joel & Ethan Coen
> Starring: Tim Blake Nelson, Willie Watson, Clancy Brown

“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” is a Western anthology film by the Coen brothers. It stars an ensemble cast and features six tales from the American frontier. The film, which clinched the Golden Osella Award for Best Screenplay at the Venice International Film Festival, also scored three Academy Award nominations.

Source: Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

7. The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005)
> IMDb user rating: 7.4/10 (39,815)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 81% (33,748 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 85% (149 reviews)
> Directed by: Tommy Lee Jones
> Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Barry Pepper, Dwight Yoakam

In this neo-Western, a Texas rancher forces a Border Patrol officer to exhume the body of his friend, an undocumented Mexican worker he accidentally killed. The journey across Mexico to fulfill a burial promise reveals the harsh realities of the border conflict.

Source: Courtesy of Universal Pictures

6. News of the World (2020)
> IMDb user rating: 6.8/10 (74,696)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 89% (1,590 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 88% (263 reviews)
> Directed by: Paul Greengrass
> Starring: Tom Hanks, Helena Zengel, Tom Astor

“News of the World” is a compelling Western that follows an aging Civil War veteran tasked with returning a young girl, raised by the Kiowa after being kidnapped, to her surviving relatives. The film has been lauded for excellent performances, cinematography, and musical score.

Source: Courtesy of Lionsgate

5. 3:10 to Yuma (2007)
> IMDb user rating: 7.7/10 (297,987)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 86% (394,530 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 89% (224 reviews)
> Directed by: James Mangold
> Starring: Russell Crowe, Christian Bale, Ben Foster

“3:10 to Yuma” – a modern remake of a 1957 classic based on an Elmore Leonard story, is a gripping 2007 action drama about a rancher braving the odds to deliver a notorious outlaw to justice. Despite its $48-$55 million budget, it grossed $71 million worldwide, a testament to its critical acclaim.

Source: Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

4. The Rider (2017)
> IMDb user rating: 7.5/10 (17,308)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 82% (2,068 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 97% (185 reviews)
> Directed by: Chloé Zhao
> Starring: Brady Jandreau, Mooney, Tim Jandreau

“The Rider” is a poignant Western brilliantly depicting the life of Brady, a former rodeo star from the Lakota Sioux community, battling poverty and brain damage. It garnered critical acclaim for its authentic storytelling and compelling performances.

Source: Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

3. True Grit (2010)
> IMDb user rating: 7.6/10 (323,355)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 85% (158,421 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 95% (275 reviews)
> Directed by: Joel & Ethan Coen
> Starring: Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Hailee Steinfeld

This update of the 1969 John Wayne classic tells the tale of 14-year-old Mattie Ross, who hires trigger-happy lawman ‘Rooster’ Cogburn to hunt down her father’s killer.

Source: Courtesy of Lionsgate

2. Hell or High Water (2016)
> IMDb user rating: 7.6/10 (214,372)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 88% (40,252 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 96% (283 reviews)
> Directed by: David Mackenzie
> Starring: Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Jeff Bridges

In this neo-Western crime drama, Pine and Foster play two brothers who orchestrate a series of bank robberies to save their family ranch from foreclosure while being pursued by Texas Rangers. The film earned four Oscar nominations.

Source: Courtesy of The Weinstein Company

1. Django Unchained (2012)
> IMDb user rating: 8.4/10 (1,427,183)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 91% (429,752 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 87% (291 reviews)
> Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
> Starring: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio

Set in the Old West and Antebellum South, “Django Unchained” is the story of an enslaved man (Foxx) who becomes a bounty hunter in a bid to reunite with his long-lost wife. This Tarantino tribute to spaghetti Westerns is the director’s highest-grossing movie to date.

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