Best of the westerns — our top picks

Riley Riley
Alan Ladd is Shane

Shane (1953)

What’s the best Western you’ve ever seen?

That’s a good question and everyone seems to have a different answer.

For me, it’s the classic 1953 movie Shane which starred Alan Ladd.

Shane is a gunfighter running from an undisclosed past who rides into an isolated Wyoming valley sometime after the Civil War.

Hanging up his gun and fancy frontier clothes, and putting his past behind him, he is hired as a farmhand by rancher Joe Starrett (Van Heflin), who shares a homestead with his wife, Marian (Jean Arthur) and their young son, Joey (Brandon De Wilde).

Starrett tells Shane that the valley’s settlers are being intimidated by a ruthless cattle baron named Rufus Ryker who wants them to leave.

Though they have a legal right to the land, he hires henchmen to harass them and run them off.

When one of Ryker’s men pours a drink over him, Shane initially turns the other cheek.

Joey wants to know why he didn’t fight back, but the quietly spoken Shane shrugs off the question.

Things come to a head however when Ryker hires a notorious gunfighter named Jack Wilson (Jack Palance).

The two know of each other and Shane is forced to strap on his gun and ride into town for the final showdown.

Joey watches secretly as the drama unfolds.

Only one will walk away.

Shane was produced and directed by George Stevens from a screenplay by A. B. Guthrie Jr. and is based on the 1949 novel of the same name by Jack Schaefer.

It also stars Emile MeyerElisha Cook Jr. and Ben Johnson.

The boy, Brandon De Wilde, who was 11 when the film was released, received an Oscar nomination.

He died in a car accident at the age of 30.

Shane is available to rent on Apple TV.


Tombstone cast photo kilmer as Doc Holliday sam elliott bill paxton kurt russell as wyatt earp
Val Kilmer, Sam Elliott, Kurt Russell and Bill Paxton in Tombstone.

Tombstone (1993)

I’m also rather partial to the 1993 blockbuster Tombstone, a retelling of the Wyatt Earp saga and famous shootout at the OK Corral.

Think of it as the equivalent of our Ned Kelly bushranger legend and the siege at Glenrowan.

Tombstone stars action man Kurt Russell as Wyatt Earp, the perennial Sam Elliott as Virgil Earp and Bill Paxton as the younger Morgan Earp.

Lookout for Val Kilmer too, who turns in an unforgettable performance as the pallid, ailing Doc Holliday who’d rather go down fighting than succumb to TB.

The tense, final shootout is one of the most anticipated, exciting emotionally-charged scenes ever filmed.

Tombstone is available to stream on Disney+ or rent from Apple TV.


Unforgiven 1992
Clint Eastwood is William Munny.

Unforgiven (1992)

Clint Eastwood’s Academy award-winning 1992 Unforgiven is right up there.

Retired gunslinger William Munny reluctantly takes on one last job, with the help of his old partner Ned Logan and a brash but inexperienced young gunman known as the “Schofield Kid.”

The action takes place in 1880s Wyoming’s dangerous town of Big Whiskey where the disfigured whore is seeking retribution.

Eastwood takes the lead role, with Gene Hackman as Sheriff Little Bill Daggett, Morgan Freeman as Ned Logan and Richard Harris as English Bob.

The film claimed four Academy awards including best picture, best director and best supporting actor for Hackman.

In fact, Unforgiven was selected in the United States by the National Film Registry for preservation by the Library of Congress as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

Unforgiven is available to rent on Apple TV.


Silverado 1985
Danny Glover, Kevin Costner, Scott Glenn and Kevin Kline in Silverado.

Silverado (1985)

Who could forget the rollicking 1985 Silverado.

Two brothers and their friends band together to take on a gang of bad guys who run the city of Silverado.

It’s fairly long at 134 minutes, but the time flies with a great cast and intriguing story line.

Silverado stars Kevin KlineScott GlennDanny Glover and Kevin Costner.

The supporting cast features Brian DennehyRosanna ArquetteJohn CleeseJeff Goldblum, Linda Hunt and Jeff Fahey as badie Tyree.

It was produced and directed by Lawrence Kasdan, as well as being written by Kasdan and his brother Mark.

Kline is a standout as the snappy dresser “Paden”, Glenn is always watchable and Costner so young he can’t be more than a teenager.

Brian Dennehy deserves a special mention as the villainous “Sheriff Cobb”.

Silverado is available to rent on Apple TV.


Last Mohicans 1600x900 c default
Daniel Day-Lewis at full tilt in The Last of the Mohicans.

The Last of the Mohicans (1992)

The Last of the Mohicans (1992) is set in 1757 during the French and Indian War.

It was co-written and directed by Michael Mann and was based on James Fenimore Cooper‘s 1826 novel The Last of the Mohicans: A Narrative of 1757 and George B. Seitz‘s 1936 film adaptation, owing more to the film than the novel.

The film stars Daniel Day-Lewis and Madeleine Stowe, with Jodhi MayRussell MeansWes StudiEric Schweig, and Steven Waddington in supporting roles.

The last members of a dying Native American tribe, the Mohicans — Uncas, his father Chingachgook, and his adopted half-white brother Hawkeye — live in peace alongside British colonists.

But when the daughters of a British colonel are kidnapped by a traitorous scout, Hawkeye and Uncas must rescue them in the crossfire of a gruesome military conflict of which they wanted no part: the French and Indian War.

The Last of the Mohicans is available to rent on Apple TV.


Jeremiah Johnson 1972
Robert Redford is Jeremiah Johnson.

 Jeremiah Johnson (1972)

Jeremiah Johnson is about a mountain man who wishes to live the life of a hermit becomes the unwilling object of a long vendetta by the Crow tribe and proves to be a match for their warriors in single combat on the early frontier.

Directed by Sydney Pollack it stars Robert Redford as the title character and Will Geer as “Bear Claw” Chris Lapp.

It is based partly on the life of the legendary mountain man John Jeremiah Johnson, recounted in Raymond Thorp and Robert Bunker’s book Crow Killer: The Saga of Liver-Eating Johnson and Vardis Fisher‘s novel Mountain Man.

Jeremiah Johnson is available to rent on Apple TV.


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Time out score

Final thoughts . . .

Like me, particular westerns seem to resonate for different reasons — but some seem to standout!


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