The Best Westerns You Probably Haven’t Seen

Source: Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

For decades, the Western was one of the most popular of motion-picture genres. Some of filmdom’s most memorable movies fit the bill: “The Searchers,” “High Noon,” “The Magnificent Seven,” and “Shane” to name just a few. (They’re among the 30 best Western films ever made.)

Every big star of the era made a Western, from Gregory Peck, Rock Hudson, and Joan Crawford to Jeff Bridges, Dustin Hoffman, and Elizabeth Taylor. As prevalent as Westerns were, there are probably some worthwhile “horse opera” films that you may have missed.

To determine the best Western films you may not have seen, 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. Only Westerns with fewer than 40,000 user reviews on both IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes were included. Documentaries were not considered.

Any mention of Westerns must include actors John Wayne and James Stewart. Each starred in seven movies on this list. 

Wayne worked with director John Ford on 14 films, nine of them Westerns, and you’ll find three of those here, two movies having a perfect Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score of 100%. Wayne also starred in two movies helmed by Howard Hawks that scored 100%. (As a change of pace, here are the best and worst John Wayne movies that aren’t Westerns.) 

Stewart appeared in five films on the list directed by Anthony Mann. All five posted a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score of 100%. 

In all, 17 Westerns on our list have Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer scores of 100%. Even though critics appreciated the genre, that did not necessarily translate into Oscar recognition. Just six movies here received Academy Awards.

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