The 10 Best Westerns of the 21st Century

Who says westerns are dead? While the genre isn’t as prolific as it once was, filmmakers continue to produce terrifically told tales of men (and women) on horseback. If anything, with the genre no longer very popular, one could argue that the quality of the westerns that do make it to the big screen these days is better than ever.

With The Duel shooting its way into theaters and On Demand today (which stars Woody Harrelson and Liam Hemsworth), it seemed as good of time as any to revisit the best westerns of the 21st century. With exception to one movie on this list, we kept the selections pretty traditional–which means No Country for Old Men (a movie sometimes referred to as a western, though it’s set in modern times) or The Revenant (great movie, right time period, but not really a traditional western).

10. The Homesman

Hilary Swank stars in this slow-paced, simply told movie as an overly assertive and independent woman-going-on-30 who is not looked upon as a prime marriage material in the Old West. So, lacking husband prospects, she agrees to transport three mentally incapacitated women to an asylum of sorts in Kansas City–and ends up enlisting the help of curmudgeonly sort-of criminal/drifter, played by Tommy Lee Jones.

9. Rango

Johnny Depp rarely makes a good movie these days, but one of his most overlooked gems is this beautifully animated western about a city dwelling chameleon who stumbles into a dying, dusty town, where is he crowned sheriff. Smart, zany and just a lot of fun, Rango is a must-see.

8. 3:10 Yuma

The western genre was temporarily resurrected in the form of 3:10 to Yuma, a gritty, violent and meaningful action-drama starring Christian Bale and Russell Crowe. Directed by James Mangold (Walk the Line, Cop Land), 3:10 to Yuma features great performances, some exciting action and a tense story that both modernizes the western genre and embraces it at the same time.

7. The Hateful Eight

The Hateful Eight isn’t Tarantino’s best movie–his obsession with being Tarantino errs on the side of hubris at times–but few if any writers/directors can make movies like this and pull it off. He does–The Hateful Eight is bloody fun and features some fantastic, scene-chomping performances by Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh and especially Walton Goggins.

6. Bone Tomahawk

There’s nothing quite like a western where Kurt Russell takes on a tribe of cannibalistic Native Americans who don’t speak–but do howl like the Devil possessed. And if there’s nothing quite like it, there’s Bone Tomahawk, a simply awesome, holy-crap kind of genre flick that will leave you grinning from ear to ear.

5. The Proposition

John Hillcoat and Nick Cave serve up a ravishing and brutal new vision of the western against the Australian outback in the tense and lyrical The Proposition. The movie stars Guy Pearce as Charlie, a renegade who is captured along with his brother Mikey. To save Mikey from the noose, the sheriff offers Charlie a proposition: track down and kill their his other [psychotic] brother.

4. True Grit

This Coen brothers-directed movie is an exceptional western, a picture that, despite excellent performances by Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and Hailee Steinfeld and great visuals, is proud to be conventional in its approach. While not the tour de force some critics claimed it to be, True Grit is an entertaining, funny and poignant action-drama that reminds us about all the great things the genre can offer.

3. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Featuring terrific performances and a long but thoughtful screenplay, Jesse James isn’t your ordinary western, but it is certainly a tour de force in its own right. Brad Pitt plays the famous outlaw and Casey Affleck delivers a career-making performance as the awkward young man who befriends him–and ultimately puts the legend to rest. Literally.

2. Django Unchained

Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz and Leonardo DiCaprio are all at the top of their game in this energetic and exciting western. Funny, action-packed and highly entertaining, Django Unchained may not be Quentin Tarantino’s deepest of films – but it is his most accessible.

1. Open Range

Kevin Costner and Robert Duvall star as free grazers who stumble into an area of country that does not look too kindly on their profession. After their friend is murdered, they set out to enact revenge on the corrupt sheriff and “mayor.” What ensues is a classic western tale that is entertaining from beginning to end, and finishes with an explosive action-packed climax.

Watch ‘The Duel’ trailer, in theaters and On Demand Now

The Duel follows a Texas Ranger (Liam Hemsworth) who investigates a series of murders in a small town led by a charismatic preacher (Woody Harrelson). However, the routine undercover investigation soon turns personal for the ranger who must solve the case before he loses everything to the mysterious town.

By Erik Samdahl
Related categories: Action Movies, Westerns