Western movies bring a certain mystique to them. Classic western movies are in the lore of cinema forever. They provide us with thrills, action, suspense, and the characters make great studies for the audience to watch. Westerns captivate our interest in how the Old West once was.
My father grew up on old western movies. He was captivated by legendary actors such as John Wayne, and Clint Eastwood, who would dominate the western cinema screen. They brought a combination of character, wit, charisma, originality, brutality, style, and mystique to the screen. When it comes down to great western actors, it didn't get better than those two legendary actors.
Westerns carry their own style, and elegance to them. What makes a great western? Probably what makes most great movies classics. Something we like to call obtaining interest of the audience. Westerns need something sticks outs and peaks the audience interest that is different compared to other movies. Obviously any good movie needs good writing, directing, and acting. The acting and the characters are what sticks out in westerns. We don't always have to like the characters. Sometimes we despise them, and what they represent. The characters need to captivate us, and we need to be interested in them. That's what sticks out when we think of western movies that really grab our attention. Old classic westerns were a chance for classic movie stars to pound their chests like Tarzan, and show off their macho, gritty, manhood for the audience to see. My gun is bigger, and faster than your gun! That's what we like to see, the big showdown between the good guy vs the bad guy. The bad boy gunslinger stranger who comes to town, who will shoot and kill anything that crosses his path. Westerns have grit, guts, violence, anti-heroes, villains and lot chaos involved. That's what we like!
We're fascinated by the time they're living in and the events that are unfolding in our American history. A lot of important events were occurring at that time. The civil war, Lincoln assassination, and the gold rush. The clothes they wear, the excessive drinking, gambling, and dialogue used were appealing. "Much Oblige. I reckon so." The entire lifestyle and society they lived in was completely different than today. Living in the 21st century, westerns provided us with a world we've never seen. The climax of westerns tend to not differ very much from each movie. A traditional western usually contains a set of anti-heros, against villains. Whether they're lawmen, or bandits on the run from the law. Majority of westerns have a certain group cast of characters, or just a single person verses another cast of characters, or character who they clash against.
That doesn't mean each western movie doesn't provide different style, story, and charisma to the screen. Everything can happen in a western. A western doesn't define just one genre, rather just a setting in on particular time. Drama, war, action, thriller, romance, and comedy can all make up a western.
Westerns are movies for men. They get our adrenaline and blood pumping. They get us pumping our fist in the air, when our favorite anti-hero saves the town from blood-thirsty gunfighters. Contrary to belief, a little bit of gray usually lies between western movies. No real good guy always exist in westerns. Sometimes there's no good guys at all. It wasn't the called the "Wild West" for nothing.
I've consist a list of my 5 top westerns, along with honorable mentions. This isn't a list of top 5 best western movies. I think it's hard to put a ranking on what defines best, when watching such riveting screenplay, acting, style, and direction. I've seen majority of great western classic movies, but not all of them. So I wouldn't dare make a ranking of best movies, without seeing other great classics. One opinions of best, doesn't define what is best. This is a list of my personal favorites, but classic western movies that help shaped the genre.
My Top 5 favorite Western Movies
1.) The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: starring Clint Eastwood (the good), Lee Van Cleef (the bad), and Eli Wallach (the ugly). Directed by Sergio Leone.
Known in some circles as the greatest western of all-time, along with one of the greatest movies of all-time. Riveting acting, direction, and superb cinematography. A legendary score, from Ennio Morricone. A movie worth watching, even if you don't love westerns. This is what you'd call a spaghetti western. An Italian western flick.
Memorable quote: Blondie - "You see, in this world there's two kinds of people, my friend: Those with loaded guns and those who dig. You dig."
2.) Once upon a time in the West: starring Henry Fonda, Claudia Cardinale, Charles Bronson, and Gabriele Ferzetti. Directed by Sergio Leone.
Sergio Leone was the greatest western director, for me personally. No one could capture tension of a climax scene the way he could, with his riveting cinematography. He could make a dripping water faucet feel intense. An epic movie, dominated by great actors and performances. Similar epic story, highlighted by three characters much like The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. A ruthless gunslinger working for a railroad, clashes against a widow which he killed, a mysterious harmonica stranger and a ruthless outlaw who agree to go after him, on her behest.
3.) High Plains Drifter: starring Clint Eastwood. Directed by Clint Eastwood.
For any Eastwood lovers, who just want to see Eastwood be Eastwood, rent this movie. This movie manages to fly under the radar. It's a bit disturbing, haunting, thrilling, and mystery wrapped into one. Who is this stranger who rides into town? Played by Clint Eastwood who enters town, not long after the town marshall was killed by ruthless outlaws who rule over this small town. Was this just the lone violent act of three killers, or does the town know more than they're letting onto?
4.) Unforgiven: starring Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman, and Richard Harris.
Gene Hackman won an oscar, and well deserved. Unforgiven also won best picture. Hackman plays a ruthless Sheriff, who has the town living in fear of him and justice is unethical according to the township. Clint Eastwood plays a retired old gunslinger, who no longer bounty hunts or drinks out of respect to his departed wife. His old partner played by Morgan Freeman comes calling about a job, with the slashing of a prostitute in town. Justice isn't good enough for the girls employers, whose face has been slashed, and left deformed. With money running tight these days living on a farm, Clint saddles up for old times sake.
5.) 3 Godfathers: starring John Wayne, Pedro Armendariz, and Harry Carey Jr. Directed by John Ford.
It's hard to list a top 5, without mentioning John Ford or John Wayne. This might not be known as their best western movie. I personally love it, though. It's not loaded with your typical action, violence, or brutality from western movies we've become accustom to. It's the re-telling story on the the three wise men. Instead told in a western, with three outlaws being chased by a town sheriff, and encountering a dying woman out in the desert. She has a baby, in which she requests the three men to look after. Played out with a lot of humor, heart, charm, and quality. This film is a must see movie, played wonderfully by John Ford. Even three tough outlaws can have a bit of sensitivity to them.
Honorable mentions and other great western movies: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Tombstone, High Noon, Rio Bravo, The Wild Bunch, The Searchers, The Outlaw Josey Wales, The Shootist, and Fort Apache.