Five Westerns You Must See Before Dying…

Five Westerns You Must See Before Dying…

Western game Red Dead Redemption has been delayed from April to May. Those looking to bid their time productively with cowboys, read on.

Kotaku previously posted the first part (music!) of its Red Dead Redemption Survival Guide. This is the second part: cowboy movies. You know, Westerns. Dudes on horses. Dudes with guns. Dudes.

Like the list of yakuza films Kotaku posted, this is a personal list. Those were the favourite Japanese gangster films of Otaku USA Editor-in-Chief Patrick Macias. These are my favourite Westerns. Not yours, mine. Cool? They are not in any particular order.

Once Upon a Time in the West

A financial and critical flop when released in the US, Once Upon a Time in the West starred Hollywood star Henry Fonda (Henry Fonda!) in an epic revenge telling of Western gunslingers, the railroad and the West. And it's got Woody Strode and Charles Bronson in it! Director Sergio Leone had planned on moving on from Westerns after his brilliant opus The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. This is the film that brought him back to the genre. Fun facts: the film's story was convinced by Dante Argento and Bernardo Bertolucci, and Charles Bronson accepted the role of "Harmonica" after Clint Eastwood turned it down. Bronson had previously turned down the role of The Man With No Name in Fistful of Dollars. Watch the film's opening.


Starring a young John Wayne, Stagecoach isn't only one of the greatest Westerners ever made, it was of the greatest films ever made. The pairing of John Wayne and John Ford continued throughout their professional careers, and Ford was one of very few directors (if not the only one!) who could treat Wayne like utter crap onset. The reason he got away with it? He made Wayne a superstar. The movie's most memorable stunts inspired this sequence in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

The Naked Spur

Director Anthony Mann let Jimmy Stewart do something few filmmakers ever did: let the actor be a badass. Mann and Stewart made a series of Westerns during the 1950s that includes Winchester '73 and Bend of the River. Bend of the River has been described as "Jimmy Stewart being Rambo". The Mann Westerns were uncompromising, cynical and tough. The Naked Spur with Janet Leigh of Psycho fame and Ralph Meeker who was in Kiss Me Deadly is one of many of Mann's masterworks.

Mann made a name for himself during the 1960s by directing a handful of sword and sandal films. He was the original director of Spartacus, but after a row with star Kurt Douglas, he was fired. Stanley Kubrick, whom Douglas thought he could control but ultimately couldn't, ending up completing the film.

Red River

Howard Hawks, America's greatest 20th century filmmaker, made a handful of Westerns with John Wayne. They didn't have the bawdy humour that the John Ford Westerns did, but rather, Hawks' trademark dry, talky wit. They are landmark films of the genre. Red River has what many consider to be John Wayne's best performance because director Hawks didn't let John Wayne simply be John Wayne. He got him to act.

Actor Walter Brennan, as usual, is superb. John Ireland, who gives one of the film's most memorable speeches, was apparently high on marijuana during the entire shoot.

The Wild Bunch

When the Wild Bunch premiered in 1969, it incited cheers, and it incited booing. Director Sam Peckinpah was attempting to outdo the violence in Depression Era gangster yarn Bonnie and Clyde. He did. One patron got so ill that he threw up during the final gunfight. Another theater-goer said, "I never thought I'd see the day that William Holden called a woman a 'bitch'." Holden had been a big star in the studio system (he was Hollywood's "Golden Boy!", appearing in romantic comedies like the original Sabrina and war films like Stalag 17. Sam Peckinpah was a hard man and an alcoholic, who would end his career directing music videos. His use of slow-motion and different film speeds were revolutionary for its time. Violent and beautiful, The Wild Bunch would later inspire a generation of American, European and Hong Kong filmmakers. Check out the trailer.


  • Nice list. I’m also a western fan (there don’t seem to be that many of us left nowadays…)

    I hadn’t heard about Clint Eastwood being cast as Harmonica- From what I understood, Sergio Leone had originally wanted Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, and Eli Wallach to play the three men who Harmonica guns down at the start of Once Upon A Time in the West, to sort of represent the ways of the old west dying, much in the way the film as a whole (with the coming of the railroads and civilisation) represents this change.

    Some of my other must-see westerns would include:
    Shane, High Noon (probably my favourite!), Django, the Trinity films, Johnny Guitar, and of course Blazing Saddles!

  • Nice list. Never heard of The Naked Spur, guess I gotta look out hard for that one.

    Anyway, I think this is a good Western list, but for a Red Dead Redemption Survival List, why is there only one Sergio Leone movie in it(this game sure is italo-western inspired more than american as far as I’ve seen the trailers)? And also…Once upon a time sure is epic, but The Good, the Bad & the Ugly not in the list?!?? Com’on! Yeah, everybody knows that already, but then you have to rename your list in “Five western you probably haven’t seen been but must see before dying”!

  • Very glad to see OUATITW! Sure, Leone did the Dollars trilogy but this was most definately his shining western achievement. I think people tend to bring up the dollars titles because they are more well known.

    That being said, Unforgiven would have to be in my own list.

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