10. Rio Bravo (Howard Hawks, 1959)
John Wayne’s sheriff faces an army of bad guys with only a drunk, a young gunfighter and a crippled old man on his side. The interplay between Wayne, Dean Martin and Walter Brennan is a delight and Dino even gets to sing. Great fun all round.
9. High Noon (Fred Zinnemann,1952)
Famously regarded as an allegory of the McCarthy witch hunts in Hollywood, High Noon should first and foremost be enjoyed as a cracking Western set more or less in real time, with anguished lawman Gary Cooper deserted by his town as he faces the bad guys alone.
8. Shane (George Stevens, 1953)
Beloved adaptation of Jack Schaefer’s wonderful novel, with Alan Ladd perfect as the buckskinned gunfighter trying to hang up his six shooter but finding that “There’s no living with a killing”. Memorable for so many reasons, from the Oscar-winning cinematography and Jack Palance’s gleeful bad guy to the lump in the throat ending which still resonates as little Joey implores “Come back, Shane!”
7. Red River (Howard Hawks, 1948)
Epic Western from a master filmmaker that gave John Wayne the type of part in which he excelled, as the stubborn, driven rancher determined to see a cattle drive to the bitter end even if it means killing the foster son (Montgomery Clift) who takes his herd away from him.
6. Unforgiven (Clint Eastwood, 1992)
A ruthless killer turned pig farmer reluctantly takes one last job, and carnage ensues. Eastwood deconstructs the myths and legends of the Western and the result is a revisionist masterpiece that deservedly won Oscars for best picture and best director
5. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Sergio Leone, 1966)
The most famous spaghetti Western is a stylish, flamboyant, visual treat, with Ennio Morricone’s famous soundtrack at its core. Innovative and hugely influential, boasting several memorable set-pieces, including the authentic and moving civil war sequence.
4.The Magnificent Seven (John Sturges, 1960)
A great storyline, terrific cast, unforgettable music and a series of memorable vignettes including Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen’s opening hearse scene and James Coburn’s knife/gun duel. What more can you ask from a Western?
3.The Wild Bunch (Sam Peckinpah, 1969)
On its release, Peckinpah’s visceral masterpiece provoked infamy for its level of violence, and even now the amount of blood and gore on show still shocks. But look beyond the balletic beauty of the slow motion carnage and it’s clear that Peckinpah holds true to his recurring themes of the death of the old West, and men out of step with the times facing their own imminent demise.
2.Once Upon a Time in the West (Sergio Leone, 1968)
Once audiences got over the shock of Henry Fonda as a cold-hearted killer, they witnessed a western full of astonishing imagery, and one that has never been matched in scale, scope and ambition. Leone referenced virtually the entire history of Westerns in this stunning epic about the coming of the railroad and the modernisation of the West. Ennio Morricone’s wonderfully evocative score has rarely been bettered.
1. The Searchers (John Ford, 1956)
The saga of a racist outsider’s search for his kidnapped niece still astounds in its dark power, beauty and all round magnificence. Complex, multi-layered and troubling, with a monumental performance from Wayne as the bigoted anti-hero, the film repays repeated viewing.