With a Texas backdrop, a career-defining performance from John
Wayne and a quest to bring in some outlaws, True Grit is a quintessential Western. The 1969 film was based on Charles Portis’ novel of the same name and yielded Wayne the only career Academy Award of his career. Wayne plays Rooster Cogburn, a drunken U.S. Marshal who is hired by a teenage girl to aid in tracking down her father’s murderer. The film also features Robert Duvall as “Lucky” Ned Pepper and Dennis Hopper as Moon, who has a knack for stealing horses.
Year Released: 1956
Director: John Ford
We begin the list with The Searchers, which is based on a novel by Alan Le May. John Wayne stars as a Civil War veteran who along with his nephew is on a search for his abducted niece. The American Film Institute named The Searchers the greatest American western in 2008.
The film is set in 1868 in the deserts of West Texas, and has obtained such a cultural significance that the Library of Congress has selected the title for preservation in its National Film Registry.
2. Red River
Year Released: 1948
Director: Howard Hawks
John Wayne is a staple of classic Westerns, and Red River features Wayne as Thomas Dunson, a rancher who initiates the first cattle drive from Texas to Kansas. Dunson is accompanied by his son, who is played by Montgomery Clift.
The film, which was also selected for preservation by the Library of Congress, is largely based off of Paul Fix. Borden Chase’s The Saturday Evening Post’s serialization titled "Blazing Guns on the Chisholm Trail."
The Wild Bunch
Year Released: 1969
Director: Sam Peckinpah
The contentious film The Wild Bunch depicts a group of aging outlaws located on the Texas-Mexico border, who are struggling to adapt to the modern times of 1913.
Besides the then rare use of slow motion images, the movie is also highly noted for its graphic violence. The Wild Bunch was ranked 69th on the American Film Institute’s 100 most thrilling films.
Dean Martin, Rick Nelson and you guessed it John Wayne star in Rio Bravo, which is about the sheriff of Rio Bravo, Texas. Along with the help of a cripple and young gunfighter, the sheriff is able to hold off a powerful local rancher’s gang in order to help out his drunken deputy.
Although there are mixed reviews on the film, the film currently holds a perfect 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes.
No Country for Old Men
Year Released: 2007
Director: Joel and Ethan Coen
The neo-Western film No Country for Old Men is based on a novel by Cormac McCarthy, and starts Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem and Josh Brolin. In all, the movie took home four Academy Awards including Best Picture.
The film depicts the violent and chaotic aftermath of a drug deal gone wrong near the Rio Grande. Rolling Stone summed it best when they described the two-hour tension-filled movie as “entertaining as hell.”
Year Released: 1966
Director: Richard Brooks
Four men bring their unique expertise together to help rescue a rancher’s kidnapped wife in The Professionals. The group of Texans must cross the border to track down the bandits responsible.
Reception was positive for the film, which was based on Frank O’Rourke’s novel "A Mule for the Marquesa," landing a total of three Academy Award nominations.
Year Released: 2012
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Inspired by the Spaghetti-Western genre, Tarantino decided to address slavery in Django Unchained. The film begins in Texas where German bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz, who is played by Christoph Waltz, acquires Jamie Foxx’s titular character Django. Django becomes Dr. Schultz’s apprentice and together they collect bounties, find Django’s estranged wife and confronts excessively cruel owner of the Candyland plantation, which is owned by Calvin Candie played by Leonardo DiCaprio.
The movie racked in numerous nominations including five Academy Awards. Tarantino won an Academy Award, BAFTA and a Golden Globe for his original screenplay.
The Outlaw Josey Wales
Year Released: 1976
Director: Clint Eastwood
It wouldn’t be a best Westerns list without at least one Clint Eastwood film. The Outlaw Josey Wales was directed by and starred Eastwood. After Josey Wales’ family was murdered by Union militants during the Civil War, he sets out to avenge his family by joining a Confederate guerilla band. Wales becomes an outlaw and a wild chase ensues throughout western states including Texas.
Perhaps this film’s greatest achievement is the fact that it received such commercial success during the 1970s, which was a period in Hollywood that all-but-forgot the Western genre.
Year Released: 2010
Director: Joel and Ethan Coen
The 2010 remake of True Grit is just as compelling as the original. The Coen brother’s interpretation received mass amounts of critical acclaim including 10 Academy Award nominations.
Jeff Bridges and Hailee Seinfeld star in the film alongside Matt Damon, Josh Brolin and Barry Pepper. According to Ethan Coen, this adaptation is more faithful to the book than its 1969 counterpart. This largely due to the greater focus on Mattie Ross, Seinfeld’s character who is out to seek revenge for her father’s death.
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