high june: top ten western movies ya gotta see before ya die!


I was surfing thru my cell phone, and I came across an advertisement for the western movie THE OX-BOW INCIDENT. My initial reaction was, “Wow! What a great movie! That is on my top ten list.” It occurred to me that I say that all the time, but I never actually made a top ten list. Which basically means I am full of crapola because I talk about something without actually having done it. I don’t like being full of crapola, so I decided to make a list and share it with all of you. So here it is my top ten list of western movies ya gotta see before ya die! However, if you can arrange to see any of these after you die that is okay with me. 


PRODUCED: Lamar Trotti.

DIRECTED: William A. Wellman.

STARS: Henry Fonda, Dana Andrews, Harry Morgan.

COMMENT: A cowboy is powerless to stop the lynching of three innocent men from a posse turned mob. 

As a youth Henry Fonda witnessed a lynching. Check out his face in this film – but be prepared for your stomach to turn and to be clinching your seat. 

This film was nominated for Best Picture but lost to CASABLANCA (1942). 


PRODUCED: John Foreman. 

DIRECTED: George Roy Hill.

STARS: Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Katherine Ross.

COMMENT: Two Outlaw pals attempt to go straight only to find out that straight is more convoluted than being crooked. 

The ultimate western buddy movie. The chemistry between Paul Newman and Robert Redford is amazing. Add to that Katherine Ross is lovely, the music is wonderful, and the film won four Oscars. 

#8: WARLOCK (1959)

PRODUCED: Edward Dmytryk.

DIRECTED: Edward Dmytryk.

STARS: Henry Fonda, Richard Widmark, Anthony Quinn. 

COMMENT: The town of Warlock hires a famous gunman to become marshal and clean up the town. But he runs head on up against a former gang member who is now deputy sheriff and wants to do things legally and by the book. 

Despite how old this movie is, and the terrific cast, I didn’t discover this movie until quite recently. I am glad I did. This western is terrific with an outstanding cast that includes not only the three leads I listed but Dorothy Malone, DeForest Kelley, Regis Toomey, Whit Bissell, Frank Gorshin, L.Q. Jones, and Gary Lockwood. Wow! Talk about bang for your buck. 


PRODUCED: Fulvio Morsella.

DIRECTED: Sergio Leone.

STARS: Henry Fonda, Claudia Cardinale, Charles Bronson, Jason Robards.

COMMENT: A harmonica playing stranger teams up with a notorious outlaw to protect a widow from a coldblooded killer working for a railroad baron. 

Picture this, gunfights, shootouts, horses, railroads, western vistas, and Henry Fonda as the bad guy – all told on a scale that has never been equaled. And lest we forget – Ennio Morricone’s music has never been better. 

By the way TIME named ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST one of the 100 greatest films of all time. 

#6: UNFORGIVEN (1992)

PRODUCED: Clint Eastwood.

DIRECTED: Clint Eastwood. 

STARS: Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman. 

COMMENT: A former outlaw and gunslinger turned farmer takes one last job to save his farm and his children. All hell follows. 

“It’s a hell of a thing, killin’ a man. You take away all he’s got and all he’s ever gonna have.” – – Bill Munny (Clint Eastwood)

See the ultimate Clint Eastwood western. He produced it, he directed it, and he starred in it. You can’t get any more Eastwood than that.  

#5: RIO BRAVO (1959)

PRODUCED: Howard Hawks.

DIRECTED: Howard Hawks.

STARS: John Wayne, Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson, Angie Dickinson, Ward Bond, Walter Brennan. 

COMMENT: A sheriff has a showdown with a rich rancher after he arrests his brother. The rancher has an army. The sheriff has a drunk, a kid, and a crippled old man. The sheriff has them outnumbered. 

This was John Wayne and Howard Hawks’ answer to their thinking HIGH NOON was unamerican. They should stick to film making. As political commentators they are full of crapola. 

The chemistry between Wayne, Martin and Brennan is wonderful. Ricky Nelson sings. Dean Martin sings. Walter Brennan sings, and Angie Dickinson – well, as usual she takes my breath away. 

Absolutely top-flight western!


PRODUCED: Alberto Grimaldi. 

DIRECTED: Sergio Leone

STARS: Clint Eastwood, Eli Wallach, Lee Van Cleef. 

COMMENT: A bounty hunter and an outlaw team up against a third not so nice man in a race to find a fortune in gold buried in a remote cemetery. Along the way they fight the Civil War. 

This is arguably the most famous spaghetti western of them all. 

Initially this movie did not fare well with the critics. Even Roger Ebert gave it three stars although he later on included it in his list of Great Movies. Over time it has been reevaluated and given the respect it is due. It is listed in TIME’s 100 Greatest Movies of the Last Century. It is 49 on VARIETY magazine ‘s 50 greatest movies. On Rotten Tomatoes it has a 97%. 

#3: STAGECOACH (1939)

PRODUCED: Walter Wanger.

DIRECTED: John Ford.

STARS: Claire Trevor, John Wayne, Andy Devine.

COMMENT: A group of strangers traveling by stagecoach are put at risk by Indians and have to depend upon each other to survive. In the process they learn something about themselves, about each other, and about life. 

It won two Academy awards and had five nominations. This is the film that made John Wayne a star. This is the movie that defined the western genre. 

#2: HIGH NOON (1952)

PRODUCED: Stanley Kramer. 

DIRECTED: Fred Zinnemann.

STARS: Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly, Thomas Mitchell.

COMMENT: In spite of the protests of his bride and the townspeople, a Marshal faces a gang of killers alone at “high noon.” 

This is the movie John Wayne and Howard Hawks called unamerican and they did RIO BRAVO in response. It is regarded as an allegory of McCarthyism. I think HIGH NOON and RIO BRAVO should just be watched as fantastic westerns and leave it at that. 

I will say that the concept of the lone hero having a deadline before facing his enemies alone has been used so much since HIGH NOON that it has become almost cliché. 

Winner of four Academy Awards and five Golden Globes.                                                


PRODUCED: John Sturges. 

DIRECTED: John Sturges.

STARS: Yul Brynner, Eli Wallach, Steve McQueen, Horst Buchholz, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn, James Coburn, Brad Dexter.

COMMENT: Three Mexican farmers hire seven down-on-their-luck gunfighters to defend their village from bandits. It’s seven versus an army – the bad guys haven’t got a prayer!

My absolute all-time favorite western ever! I have seen this movie at least a hundred times and I never tire of watching it. A great cast, great music, a great story, and riding shotgun on a hearse, a duel between a gun and a knife, and a western where the Mexicans are not bad guys – well, not all of them. What more can you ask? On Rotten Tomatoes the film has an 89%. 

Okay, don’t be mad at me because I left out one of your favorites. I know I didn’t include THE WILD BUNCH (1969), SHANE (1953), RIDE LONESOME (1959), TRUE GRIT (1969), RED RIVER (1948), THE SEARCHERS (1956), or HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER (1973) – not to mention many more. I also didn’t include anything Randolph Scott. Audie Murphy, Kirk Douglas, or Robert Mitchum. You have no idea how I agonized over this. My original list included over 30 movies and I had to ruthlessly discipline myself to get it down to ten. By the time I finished I was in tears and had killed half a bottle of Tequila. Forgive me!

How about this – how about you let me know what you think I should have included, and I do another list with whatever you send me? If I do that can we still be friends and pardners?

One thought on “high june: top ten western movies ya gotta see before ya die!

  1. We can still be friends 🙂
    I am always impressed when anyone can come up with a top ten list. It is very difficult!

    I wouldn’t put it on a top ten list, but I recently watched Westward the Women (1951) and aside from some rather embarrassing dated bits, found it enjoyable with a few quite great scenes sprinkled in.


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