My Top 5 Modern Westerns

My Top 5 Modern Westerns February 19, 2009

Unlike Adam, I generally don’t have much of an affinity for what many consider the typical, old-school western. I haven’t even seen Unforgiven, which I consider a mark of shame and intend to remedy soon enough. In the meantime, here are my top 5 modern westerns:

1. No Country for Old Men – A truthful film with a deceptively hopeful ending.

2. Assasination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford – One of the most fascinating films I’ve seen. Brad Pitt plays the sort of part he should play, and Casey Affleck is incredible and uncomfortably relatable. None of us want to admit it, but we are the coward Robert Ford.

3. 3:10 to Yuma – Though I agree the finale went off the rails a bit, it’s nonetheless a brilliant and meaningful film with outstanding performances.

4. Back to the Future 3 – Ludicrous and marvelous.

5. City Slickers – Well, I liked it as a kid anyway… kind of.

On second though, maybe I should have sat out of this one.

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  • Tim Briggs

    Can someone please explain to me what was “hopeful” at the end of ‘No Country For Old Men’?

  • I really didn’t consider No Country For Old Men a western in the classic sense, but did like the movie.

    3:10 to Yuma was good.

    I liked Broken Trail and Open Range a lot, and the Tom Selleck westerns were pretty good, including the one in Australia.

    Larry Thompsons last blog post..

  • dhud

    Can’t leave Tombstone off this list!

  • Yeah, this is really sad. I mean, I should make it really clear that I am just the opposite of a western person and that this list turned into a joke after 3:10 to yuma. I pretty much hate City Slickers, but it was either that or Brokeback Mountain, so…

  • So to clarify I haven’t seen Broken Trail or Open Range or Tombstone. Again, to my shame.

  • @Larry: Like I said, “deceptively hopeful” which I would argue is distinct from something simply being hopeful. I’ll just provide this quote with my emphasis:


    He just rode on past… and he had his blanket wrapped around him and his head down and when he rode past I seen he was carryin’ fire in a horn the way people used to do and I could see the horn from the light inside of it. ‘Bout the color of the moon. And in the dream I knew that he was goin’ on ahead and he was fixin’ to make a fire somewhere out there in all that dark and all that cold, and I knew that whenever I got there he would be there.

    I like it because it’s realistic, but incredibly comforting.

  • Alan Noble


    I think I wrote a bit about hope in No Country in an old CAPC post here.

  • David Dunham

    Yeah I wouldn’t consider No County a western at all…

    But I would give my nod to Open Range and Tombstone, both fantastic!

    How come nobody mentioned Will Smith’s “Wild, Wild, West”? Now that was brilliant film making!

  • Adam Carrington

    Continuing on David’s line of thinking, why don’t we add “Blazing Saddles” to the list? A Western who’s depth and pith will live on and on…and can never be played uncut on television.

  • I didn’t include it because the list would have gone on too long for one comment, but Blazing Saddles makes my Top 25. I wouldn’t have named No Country a Western either. By the same logic, I don’t count The Last Picture Show either. Nor City Slickers. I might be convinced to include There Will Be Blood but really I think the Western era ends with the completion of the cross-continental railroad (which is why Once upon a Time in the West,/i> provides good closure to the genre.

    In the interest of being a completist, here is the rest of my Top 15, along with ones I didn’t choose.

    11 – Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
    Tragic and wonderful, this Huston classic is the quintessential tale of greed given over to greed. Human frailties are the foundation to this masterpiece. It’s like
    Lord of the Flies, but with adults.

    12 – Silverado (1985)
    Honestly, it’s been so long that the details of this one are beyond my remembering. But what has stuck with me is that Silverado was an imminently fun picture. And one of the best post-70s westerns (by 1980, the western was pretty much dead as a viable genre for contemporary motion pictures – it wouldn’t be truly revived again until 1992’s Unforgiven).

    13 – ¡Three Amigos! (1986)
    Forget Mel Brooks and Blazing Saddles. If looking for western comedy, nothing surpasses ¡Three Amigos! for genuine laughs, for genuine charm, and for genuine sweaters. Easily one of the most quotable movies of the 20th century, Amigos features the tie for best comedic use of Chevy Chase (the other best being Fletch!).

    Best Western I Haven’t Seen but Have Only Heard Good About:
    14 – Lonesome Dove (1989)
    I haven’t seen it so I really haven’t anything much to say about it. ‘Cept that I hear I’m bad for not having seen it.

    Best Non-Western that Still Boasts a Cowboy
    15 – Cowboy Bebop (series + movie) (1998, 2001)
    Just. Plain. Rad. Spike Spiegel is every bit as cool as Eastwood’s “Man with Several Forgotten Names.” Perhaps moreso.

    Annnnnnd…. for more closure.

    Why Didn’t I Include?
    Young Guns:
    Actually, this is a pretty fun li’l cowboy flick. But as cool an idea as I think it may be to have peyote-induced weirdness creep into the proceedings, it’s execution seems – to me – a mishandling of the film. In short, I think it breaks the film. Still quite enjoyable though… just not Top 15 worthy.

    Young Guns II:
    In another way, the sequel is also pretty fun. There are plenty of hi-jinx from Billy the Estevez and the film is definitely “hip” to its genereation. Still, there’s not really any driving story, no impetus for character movement. It’s more just a chatty, 104-minute epilogue to its prequel.

    The Outlaw Josey Wales:
    This is probably the most lamentable exclusion from The List, because Josey Wales was a brilliant film – marred by one distinct and fatal flaw. Sondra Locke. Her nepotistic inclusion in the film is its undoing. Eastwood must have been blinded by his bed to imagine she could successfully be added to the film. Blech and double blech.

    The Searchers:
    A good film. Still, not exactly one I would see more than twice in my lifetime. I fail to see the allure for critics. Maybe I was in a bad mood when I saw it?

    One-Eyed Jacks:
    This would probably have made the list with Young Guns had I not gotten tricky and added a film I hadn’t seen and a cartoon that isn’t really a western – being more a sci-fi western. I loved it and found it to be dastardly good fun. I’m sorry Marlon, I didn’t mean it.

    Shane was good. I liked it. It was fun and touching and famous. Gary North would have you believe it the quintessential western. It isn’t. But it is a lot better than a lot of the other tripe that came out of the era.

    Pale Rider:
    This is Clint Eastwood’s remake of Shane with an added apocalyptic twist – kinda like marrying Shane to High Plains Drifter. The imagery was a little too obvious and Sydney Penny (who I adored in ninth grade) is often beyond stilted in her scenes. The beatdown with an axe handle is glorious though.

    This is what I consider the Young Guns version of Wyatt Earp. Fun in its own way, yet utterly inconsequential. I think I really liked about three scenes in the whole film, but found the rest forgettable.

    Wyatt Earp:
    Like Tombstone but better and more documentary. I enjoyed this much more than the other but still, it got pretty darned long and didn’t carry the flash or interest that some of the other looooong westerns did.

    The Wild Bunch:
    Really, the only thing Sam Peckinpah’s famous western had going for it in my li’l black book was an overdose of violence at a time when there wasn’t so much of it as there is today. Did nothing for me.

    The Magnificent Seven:
    After seeing Seven Samurai and realizing how good this story could be, I never fail to be unimpressed by the American western version. It’s not so much that I dislike it for being faithless to its progenitor, but more just that now I see what it could have been. It’s like seeing the special effects of Clash of the Titans after seeing Jurassic Park – it would be tough to be impressed.

    Blazing Saddles:
    Alternately side-splittingly funny and then just not. I really do like this one and think it Brooks’s best (if you don’t count the Get Smart tv series), but still, it’s only Top 25 material.

    The Danes last blog post..20081119.ChurchLies