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Played Red Dead Redemption? 10 Great Westerns You Must Watch

It should come as no surprise to anyone that Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption is one massive whiskey-addled love letter to the classic westerns of the sixties and seventies, but just in case you didn’t know, the OneMetal posse is here to lasso you around the waist and drag you on a tour of the best cowboy classics.

Shane

Directed by George Stevens, 1953
Starring Alan Ladd, Jack Palance, Jean Arthur and Ben Johnson

Goddamned varmint ranchers are plaguing a family of homesteaders and only little Alan Ladd can stop them. The settlers slowly learn to trust Shane and propel him to the status of saviour – read, they all kind of fancy him a bit. Much more emotionally and morally complex than the westerners of the time, Shane is one of the most picturesque movies you’ll ever see and at its core are two fantastic performances. For a wee man, Laddy is surprisingly effective as world-weary tough guy Shane, despite his height complex and booze-battered body, while Jack Palance is the embodiment of arseholes as his archenemy Jack Wilson. Bizarre and annoying child performance aside, this is an essential slice of cinema history.

For A Few Dollars More

Directed by Sergio Leone, 1965
Starring Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef and Gian Maria Volonté

While For A Few Dollars More isn’t Leone’s best film, it’s definitely his most enjoyable; more epic and elegiac than its prequel, A Fistful Of Dollars, but more fun and flamboyant than The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, Eli Wallach notwithstanding. The suspense-laden revenge story stars Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef as rival bounty hunters who team up to take down a murderous Mexi bad guy. Grand stand-offs, flying hats, extreme close-ups, and a melodramatic score from Ennio Morricone make it a riotous revisionist western with one of the greatest endings of all-time.

Django

Dircted by Sergio Corbucci, 1966
Starring Franco Nero

Sergio Corbucci’s spaghetti western is a demented cult classic that sees a coffin-dragging stranger play two warring factions off against each other. Caught between the KKK and a group of Mexican bandidos, Django (Franco Nero) is a bringer of justice, initially motivated by filthy lucre. The movie is exceptionally violent, especially when our angel of death discovers the pains of torture by having his hands crushed under a horse’s hooves. When it all gets a little too much, he simply busts out a mini-gun from his coffin to take some names. If you want to go one level weirder then you could always watch Takashi Miike’s bizarre Django tribute movie, Sukiyaki Western Django.

Once Upon A Time In The West

Directed by Sergio Leone, 1968
Starring Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson, Jason Robards and Claudia Cardinale

No list of great Westerns could be complete without mention of Sergio Leone’s piéce de la resistance. Once Upon A Time In The West is simultaneously a homage to the classic westerns of John Ford and Anthony Mann and a stinging attack on the American Dream. It’s as though Leone watched every single western ever made before he created this gargantuan tale of a vengeful gunslinger (played by Charles Bronson) prowling through an America on the cusp of ‘civilisation’. The standout performance has to come from an ageing Henry Fonda as the strikingly evil antagonist, who brings a wealth of cinematic reference to the table in by far his best performance. The western to end all westerns.

The Wild Bunch

Directed by Sam Peckinpah, 1969
Starring William Holden, Robert Ryan, Ernest Borgnine and Warren Oates

Man’s man ‘Bloody Sam’ Peckinpah tore the puritanical westerns of the previous decades apart with this epic tale of an ageing gang of outlaws on the run. Craggy cad William Holden stars as Bishop Pike, a bullet-spitting criminal whose gang, the Wild Bunch, roams the Tex-Mex border robbing trains and rutting with Mexican girls. Equally butch man-actor Robert Ryan plays Pike’s old buddy, Deke Thornton, sent by the railroad company to bring his ex-colleagues to justice. What ensues is an epic game of cat and mouse culminating in one of the biggest and bloodiest battles ever committed to celluloid, replete with mini-gun massacre. It’s all so macho that this writer witnessed a near-brawl at a Wild Bunch retrospective – the perfect testament to the testosterone-fuelled, slow-motion mayhem of Peckinpah’s greatest film.

The Hired Hand

Directed by Peter Fonda, 1971
Starring Peter Fonda, Warren Oates and Verna Bloom

The Hired Hand is Peter Fonda’s directorial debut, an elegiac western that was inexplicably buried by the studio. It’s a small but beautiful movie driven by three outstanding performances from Peter Fonda, Verna Bloom and Warren Oates, and a haunting score from Bob Dylan collaborator Bruce Langhorne. Fonda stars as Harry, a burnt out drifter who returns to his wife, Hannah (Verna Bloom), and child after years out in the American wilderness with his buddy, Arch (Warren Oates). In the face of an angry wife who struggles to accept his disappearance, Harry promises to renounce his old ways, but the violence that coloured his former life is never far away. It’s kind of like Paris, Texas with guns.

The Outlaw Josey Wales

Directed by Clint Eastwood, 1976
Starring Clint Eastwood, Chief Dan George, Sondra Locke and John Vernon

Poor ol’ Josey. Not only does he witness his wife and child murdered by hairy Union soldiers, but then his closest ally sells him and his Confederate colleagues out to the very same men. It sounds like a recipe for a straight-up revenge western, but Clint Eastwood’s The Outlaw Josey Wales is more a movie about a violent man’s quest for redemption. It’s not short of iconic scenes – the meeting between Josey and Indian chief Ten Bears – or classic characters – the dispossessed Comanche Lone Watie (Chief Dan George) – but it’s the remarkable way in which Eastwood observes warmth and humour amid a challenging era in American history that stands out the most. It’s a complex vision of ‘the West’, which Clint would later perfect with Unforgiven.

Pale Rider

Directed by Clint Eastwood, 1985
Starring Clint Eastwood, Michael Moriarty, Carrie Snodgress and Chris Penn

Clint Eastwood revisited some old ghosts when he made his starkly beautiful companion piece to High Plains Drifter, Pale Rider. Clint stars as ‘the Preacher’, a nameless stranger who stumbles upon a small prospecting town struggling to fend off a greedy mining company. The sharp-shooting man of the cloth defends the townsfolk with a seemingly supernatural zeal against the local sheriff and a ruthless landowner hell-bent on getting himself some gold. Actor’s actor and general oddball Michael Moriarty also stars in one of the most oblique and beautiful westerns ever made – never more so than during the striking denouement set amid the snowy peaks of Boulder Mountains, near Idaho.

Unforgiven

Directed by Clint Eastwood, 1992
Starring Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman and Richard Harris

It’s a testament to Clint Eastwood that the greatest western ever made was released in 1992. I can hear Sergio Leone fans crying Once Upon a Time In The West, but Clint’s masterpiece edges the showdown for this reviewer. Everything good Eastwood ever did, in front of or behind the lense, is referenced in an astonishing cinematic achievement crafted decades after the golden age of the genre. Watch it for Eastwood’s best performance. Watch it for Gene Hackman’s best performance. Watch it for Morgan Freeman’s best performance. Watch it for one of the most terrifying endings of all-time when Eastwood becomes the physical embodiment of murder – the saint of killers, if you will.

Deadwood

Created by David Milch, 2004-2006
Starring Ian McShane, Timothy Olyphant, Molly Parker and Brad Douriff

Yeah, we know it’s not a film, but you can’t talk about Westerns without mentioning HBO’s Deadwood. If nothing else, the series is responsible for turning a smarmy antiques dealer with a flamboyant Euro-mullet into a snarling bag of Machiavellian malevolence. A mix of fact and fiction, the story begins with the slaying of Wild Bill Hickok, which sends the lawless township of Deadwood, Colorado, spiralling into the hands of the government. The scripts and dialogue are sensational, eclipsing everything seen previously on TV – only The Wire in its finer moments can hold a candle to David Milch’s whiskey-addled enterprise. Amid a town of larger than life characters, Ian McShane steals the show as foul-mouthed bar owner Al Swearangen, feverishly protecting his investments from the shadows; has there ever been a more likeable and loathsome character on TV?

The Proposition

Directed by John Hillcoat, 2005
Starring Guy Pearce, Ray Winstone, Danny Huston and Emily Watson

Definitely the best film in a spate of westerns from the last decade, this one relocates the action to the Aussie Outback, where everything seems much more miserable. Murder ballad warbler Nick Cave wrote the script and penned the music for this surprisingly effective play on the traditional revenge tale, and the savage lyrics of his songs find the perfect home in a beautiful but unremittingly bleak vision on an Australia gripped by a desire to civilise in the face of lawlessness. Guy Pearce plays a notorious outlaw who must bring his psychotic older brother (Danny Huston at his most frightening) to justice or see his younger brother executed at the hands of Pom lawmakers. As awe-inspiring and suspenseful as it is terrifying.

Did we miss any of your most wanted, or do you think we hit the bullseye? Let us know in the Comments.

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14 Responses to “Played Red Dead Redemption? 10 Great Westerns You Must Watch”
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  • David Cox
    David Cox says:

    Excellent and timely article Mr Gough; that would certainly make for a magnificent weekend Western movie marathon…

    July 19, 2010 at 22:40 OneMetal Team Member

  • Graham Gough
    Graham Gough says:

    I think that much machismo might be a little difficult to take in just two days, but that’s a noble sentiment, David. Are there any films you might have added?

    I purposely left off the John Ford, Anthony Mann and Howard Hawks westerns because they didn’t tie in so neatly with the themes of RDR. I only regret not adding High Noon.

    Someone at work took umbrage that we didn’t include The Magnificent Seven, but I made an unwritten rule of no films starring Robert Vaughn.

    July 19, 2010 at 23:02 OneMetal Team Member

  • David Cox
    David Cox says:

    For an irreverent respite from the machismo, Morricone and Lee Van Cleef’s weasely eyes, perhaps “Blazing Saddles” might make a mirthful interlude.

    I have to admit I haven’t played RDR so I’m not entirely sure if it ties in but the only one I would have pushed for promotion into the list would be “Bring Me The Head Of Alredo Garcia”. For me it enshrines Peckinpah simultaneously at very his best and very worst in Warren Oates’ performance.

    Given the ruckus that “The Wild Bunch” can prompt in traditionally staid middle class town movie theatres, perhaps leave that one to the very end of the marathon!

    July 21, 2010 at 21:42 OneMetal Team Member

  • Graham Gough
    Graham Gough says:

    Alfredo Garcia is my favourite Peckinpah and my favourite Oates. I feel a retrospective coming on…

    July 21, 2010 at 21:49 OneMetal Team Member


  • The Cap'n says:

    BIG miss by excluding ‘Magnificent Seven’. The movie that inspired it, ‘Seven Samurai’ is much better but it is still a great story.
    Drop ‘Pale Rider’. It was a pale addition to Eastwood’s legacy of Westerns.
    ‘The Proposition’? Can’t be a western if it doesn’t take place in the west, dude.
    Add:
    Stagecoach
    3:10 to Yuma (original version)
    Good, Bad, Ugly (add the’s)
    The Shootist (Best. Western. Ever.)
    No Country for Old Men
    aaannnnd how ’bout Treasure of the Sierra Madre?
    Agree? Hate me?

    July 24, 2010 at 08:11

  • Graham Gough
    Graham Gough says:

    Howdy Cap’n.

    One of my mates actually said the same thing about The Magnificent Seven. It’s a solid re-working of The Seven Samurai with some great performances, but it lacks the sweeping grandeur of the Ford and Mann westerns or the biting brutality of the revisionist Peckinpah and Leone flicks. Fantastic score, though.

    As for Pale Rider, it’s Eastwood’s attempt at the classic western in the Anthony Mann mode – a powerful celebration of the western landscape with some beautifully subtle supernatural elements and a further expansion of Eastwood’s ‘man with no name’ persona. It definitely deserves its place up there.

    Although The Proposition isn’t set in the Old West, it’s definitely a western in every other sense. It’s a genre that shouldn’t be defined by location alone. What about the conflict between the natives and the settlers, the struggle between the lawmakers and the lawbreakers, or the huge expanse of untamed country? It’s a revisionist Aussie western, plain and simple.

    July 24, 2010 at 08:51 OneMetal Team Member

  • Dave Convery
    Dave Convery says:

    I have to agree about The Proposition. It’s a Western plain and simple, and it specifically resonates with Red Dead Redemption in the nature of the deal that is at it’s core. It would be like saying No Country for Old Men has to be excluded because it’s set in the present day – thematically, it is very similar to most Westerns, as you say.

    July 24, 2010 at 09:25

  • Joe Gastineau
    Joe Gastineau says:

    Yeah, but is The Proposition a zombie film?

    I’d like to give an honorable mention to the Monte Hellman westerns The Shooting and Ride in the Whirlwind. That said, I haven’t played RDR, so I have no idea why I’m commenting on this piece.

    I’ll just go.

    July 24, 2010 at 14:42

  • Dave Convery
    Dave Convery says:

    *Waves fist*

    Curse you, Gastineau!

    July 24, 2010 at 14:58


  • john says:

    NO The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, no list of western movies can not be without it.

    December 14, 2011 at 01:34


  • Graham Gough says:

    I do explain why I chose For a Few Dollars More in preference, but I hear what you’re saying, John. Everyone knows it’s great, so they don’t need me to tell them.

    December 14, 2011 at 18:44


  • ryan simpkins says:

    Charles bronson had his dad on his shoulders his dad neck in a noose and he had to play a harmonica until he couldnt stan no more i would love to find this movie

    January 17, 2012 at 16:56

  • Dave Convery
    Dave Convery says:

    @Ryan – That would be “Once Upon a Time in the West”.

    January 17, 2012 at 21:46


  • Cuffs says:

    Lee Van Cleef in AF$M is one of the greatest roles in westerns. His performance was flawless, that face, those eyes are riveting perfection. The best of the bad. Once upon in the West should have been his film.

    October 2, 2016 at 00:34