Input needed for list of essential westerns

I am currently working on a month long series of video reviews/essays on the history of the western on film. This was inspired by James Rolfe Monster Madness series, which sparked my interest in horror films. I’ve come up with a list of 31 titles to discuss, one for each day of the month. I would appreciate any input you all might have. It should be noted that I’ve selected films for their impact on the genre and on pop culture, as opposed to any artistic or technical merits (though many of these films are among the best the genre has to offer). My object here is to present viewers with a basic understanding of the genre and it’s history, not to supply an exhaustive list of recommendations.

This is what I’ve come up with so far (in chronological order):

  1. Hell’s Hinges (1918)
  2. Sky High (1922)
  3. The Covered Wagon (1923)
  4. Hopalong Cassidy (1935)
  5. Tumbling Tumbleweeds (1935)
  6. Jesse James (1939)
  7. Stagecoach (1939)
  8. King of the Cowboys (1943)
  9. The Ox-Bow Incident (1943)
  10. John Ford’s Cavalry Trilogy (1948-1950)
  11. Winchester 73’ (1950)
  12. Broken Arrow (1950)
  13. High Noon (1952)
  14. Shane (1953)
  15. Seven Men from Now (1956)
  16. The Searchers (1956)
  17. Rio Bravo (1959)
  18. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)
  19. The Dollars Trilogy (1964-1966)
  20. Django (1966)
  21. A Bullet for the General (1966)
  22. Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
  23. The Wild Bunch (1969)
  24. They Call Me Trinity (1970)
  25. Blazing Saddles (1973)
  26. The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)
  27. The Shootist (1976)
  28. Dances with Wolves (1990)
  29. Unforgiven (1992)
  30. Tombstone (1993)
  31. True Grit (2010)

I was also considering:
The Virginian (1929) because it’s the first sound western.

Under Western Stars (1938) as it’s the first Roy Rogers feature, I think King of the Cowboys is probably more representative of a typical Roger’s outing.

My Darling Clementine (1946) and Red River (1948) for obvious reasons. I couldn’t find room for them in the end, and both directors are represented with other films.

The Magnificent Seven (1960) mainly because it spawned so many imitators, again I couldn’t find room for it.

Cat Ballou (1965) as many cite this as a significant western though I’m unclear why.

McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971) as a representative of the art-house westerns of the late 60’s and early 70’s. Couldn’t find room for it.

Django Unchained (2012) as it’s probably the most successful western of the past ten years. I opted not to include it because, for one, it’s hard to say at this point how much influence it will continue to have and, secondly, I’m not a huge fan.

Oh well there are tons of lists you could cross-reference

In the end it comes down to whether you want popularity, influence, entertainment, cultural or historic importance, I mean it depends on what your criteria are …

I’m generally looking for films that are culturally significant (ie. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly) or that have shaped the genre in important ways (ie. Stagecoach).

He, he … that guy is obviously a great fan of Spagies and of the Clint.

Interesting idea. Let’s see:

I would skip at first the comedies which are at first a comedy and only then also a western:

  • They Call Me Trinity (1970)
  • Blazing Saddles (1973)

I like both, but with only 31 films space is very restricted. (But would otherwise definitely take Trinity Is Still My Name, here the sequel is the superior film)

I would also pass on films by Mix, Hart, Autry, Rogers and Hopalong Cassidy. Even if a film with Hart would make sense.

Ok, this is a list with 52 films (one for every week :wink: ) following your criteria. And therefore are not exactly my favourite films. Actually a few of them wouldn’t make a top 200 of mine, but I like them all to a certain extent:.

|1.|The Great Train Robbery (1903)|
|2.|The Massacre (1914)|
|3.|Hell’s Hinges (1918)|
|4.|The Iron Horse (1925)|
|5.|The Virginian (1929)|
|6.|Stagecoach (1939)|
|7.|Union Pacific (1939)|
|8.|Jesse James (1939)|
|9.|Dodge City (1939)|
|10.|The Ox-Bow Incident (1943)|
|11.|Duel in the Sun (1946)|
|12.|My Darling Clementine (1946)|
|13.|Pursued (1947)|
|14.|Fort Apache (1948)|
|15.|Red River (1948)|
|16.|Winchester 73’ (1950)|
|17.|Broken Arrow (1950)|
|18.|The Gunfighter (1950)|
|19.|High Noon (1952)|
|20.|Shane (1953)|
|21.|The Naked Spur (1953)|
|22.|Johnny Guitar (1954)|
|23.|Seven Men from Now (1956) or The Tall T (1957)|
|24.|Run of the Arrow (1956)|
|25.|The Searchers (1956)|
|26.|3:10 to Yuma (1958)|
|27.|Man of the West (1958)|
|28.|Rio Bravo (1959)|
|29.|The Magnificent Seven (1960)|
|30.|One Eyed Jacks (1961)|
|31.|Ride the High Country (1962)|
|32.|The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)|
|33.|A Fistful of Dollars (1964)|
|34.|Django (1966)|
|35.|The Shooting (1966)|
|36.|The Good, the Bad, the Ugly (1966)|
|37.|Hombre (1967)|
|38.|True Grit (1968)|
|39.|The Great Silence (1968)|
|40.|The Mercenary (1968)|
|41.|Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)|
|42.|The Wild Bunch (1969)|
|43.|Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid (1969)|
|44.|Little Big Man (1970)|
|45.|McCabe and Mrs Miller (1971)|
|46.|Ulzana’s Raid (1972)|
|47.|Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973)|
|48.|The Shootist (1976)|
|49.|Heaven’s Gate (1980)|
|50.|Unforgiven (1992)|
|51.|Dances with Wolves (1990)|
|52.|The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)|


hmm, I’ll have to consider at least some of those. I’m reluctant to drop Autry/Rogers series westerns as they played an important role in creating a market for westerns in the 30s and 40s. Perhaps I’ll just keep one to represent the bunch. I would definitely like to make room for one or two noir hybrids like Pursued and for more revisionist westerns like Little Big Man.

Well, I think this serial western stuff has not a great importance any more. But then, I’m from Europe and those kind of early westerns is more or less unknown here.

I have never watched any film with Autry (at least not for sure), and watched only a few as a child with Rogers, but have little interest to change this. I should probably one day try to watch a film with Mix, just out of curiosity, but I don’t expect much of it either.

In the end there were so many other influential westerns, influential on this or that, so that a list with only 31 films is problematic anyway, and one has to make some compromises.

As it is fun to discuss these things I probably give a few comments to your choices over the next days (if I find the time). And are also interested to hear some further explanations and thoughts from you.

Here are some others on the board, who are also very knowledgeable about the western as a whole, not only the Spaggies, and maybe there comes more.

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Kinda surprised Vera Cruz wasn’t mentioned.

It ushered-in the BIG MEXICO/star-studded outlaw-gang era, with Cooper, Lancaster, Borgnine, Bronson, Romero, Elam, Macready, etc., directed by Robert Aldrich. 1954.

If I had named 10 more films Vera Cruz and probably also Aldrich’s Apache would have been amongst them.

That’s a great list, Stanton. I was happy to see a couple (like The Tall T) that consistently go under others’ radar. Here’s a handful that I might add, following the original criteria, though most of them skirt the definition of what a western is: George Stevens’ Giant, David Miller’s Lonely Are the Brave, Elliott Silverstein’s Man Called Horse, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s El Topo, Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man. I think some or all of these would provide useful lenses through which to view the genre as a whole.

Of course.

Just like comedies I purposely left off post westerns like Lonely Are the Brave or The Misfits or Bad Day at Black Rock or No Country for Old Men or the Rodeo films The Lusty Men and Junior Bonner, all films which are in books often considered as westerns.

The twilight western themes of Lonely Are the Brave are already covered in Ride the High Country. Dead Man was one I considered, but it is too far off the usual western, too much a single personal film to have an influence on the genre (which more modern westerns since the 80s rarely have anyway).

QT’s Django Unchained is one more I should have included, or which I should probably add.

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I’m considering dropping the Roy Rogers and Hopalong Cassidy films and just talking about Autry. As I said, I feel the series westerns represent too big a chunk of western movies collectively, even if their less interesting individually, for me to ignore them completely.

If I do drop Hopalong Cassidy and King of the Cowboys this will open up two further spaces for other movies. I’m leaning toward Little Big Man and Vera Cruz as of now. I am also considering replacing True Grit with Django Unchained, as the latter has arguably had more of an impact even though I think True Grit is a much better film.

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Of Coen Brothers westerns, I think No Country For Old Men is more important (though again a borderline western [no pun intended]), and I think the lasting influence of Django Unchained will be much smaller than we think. Wait a few years and see how Ballad of Buster Scruggs pans out (pan intended).

I think you could also find ways to include discussion of the Rogers/Autry singing cowboys while talking about other films, without discarding their history completely. I think any discussion of the western film also has to acknowledge the television western, and ways in which over-saturation contributed to changes in the genre.

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The difficulty here I guess is you are setting out to create a list of essential westerns and for all their popularity neither Autry nor Rogers ever made a truly memorable or important single film. Their importance was in their popularity in general and the dominance they had in the genre for such a long period. During the 30s and 40s for every Stagecoach or My Darling Clementine there were a hundred short generic features starring a host of popular western heroes. In those days the western was a stalwart of the poverty row studios and they had big audiences spread all over small picture houses across the states and beyond. The likes of Autry and Rogers were massively so but people such as Johnny Mack Brown, Bob Steele, Crash Corrigan, Lash LaRue and others also had their market. I have a personal soft spot for these old Saturday Matinee westerns. They are an essential group if you are talking about the history of the genre. But an essential film? Not a one amongst them I would argue.


Phil brings up a great example of where you could slot in discussion of the western b-pictures for your video series. Crash Corrigan and Bob Steele both played Tuscon Smith in the popular Three Mesquiteers series of films. For eight films of Corrigan’s run, he starred opposite John Wayne as Stony Brooke – all released in the two years before Stagecoach.

I think an acknowledgement and brief discussion of Wayne’s history as a Republic matinee hero (and if I remember correctly [which I might not!], his experiences gave him hesitation to sign onto Stagecoach) would help provide some key historical context to both where Wayne and the western were at the time that Ford made Stagecoach.

After giving it some thought I think I will drop the B-westerns and talk about them in other videos instead. I might devote one video to Tom Mix and use that to introduce the idea, but I’m not sure. In any case, that opens up at least three spots for other movies. I’m thinking I should talk about The Great Train Robbery for sure. Besides that I’d like to put some spotlight on some more subversive or revisionist westerns. I’m thinking about Pursued, Johnny Guitar, McCabe and Mrs. Miller or Little Big Man. Maybe Westward the Woman. What do you guys think?

Another idea, again in consideration of the limited space, would be to drop every film made before 1939. These early films are not that well known, and actually the 4 westerns of 1939 (or 5 if one includes Destry Rides Again), which renewed the genre by bringing it back from the 30s B-Western swamp, these 1939 westerns somehow represent everything the genre had developed before, which was neither aesthetically nor with regards to content that much. And these films embossed the genre for the next years, and can be viewed as a starting point, from which the western then constantly developed in many directions over the next 4 decades.

Some say that the “wild west” was from 1865-1895 but Hell’s Hinges and The Great Train Robbery(1903) weren’t produced too far after the fact.

Also a good place to start is the earliest serious ‘cattle-oriented’ film, since we’re talking about cowboys. I’m not sure what film it would be though.