The best modern westerns for Yellowstone fans
This classic genre has been given a new lease of life.
The western is usually associated with another era. Sure, a lot of them are set back in the dusty old west, a world of cowboys and oil prospectors. But a lot of the classics were also made in another time, when Clint Eastwood was a pin-up rather than a grizzled industry treasure.
However, plenty of brilliant western movies were made far more recently - as this 'best modern western' list proves. And not just movies that are secretly westerns, hidden behind a veneer of gloss that has nothing to do with the old west.
Thanks to the likes of Yellowstone on Paramount+, there is renewed interest in the western genre and we've been rewatching some of the modern classics to hone in on the ones you too should hunt down.
Blood, crime and bad hair: these are the definitive cowboy flicks from the past quarter century. Vote for your favourite.
1. No Country For Old Men (2007)Stream now (NOW)
It’s a Coen brothers film, so of course there’s a quirky villain sporting an unusual haircut. But what a villain. John Ford, Sergio Leone or any of the great western directors would have killed – maybe even with a cattle gun – for a character as menacing as Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurh, who pursues a luckless Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) across Eighties Texan turf.
2. True Grit (2010)Stream now (Netflix)
A young girl's father is killed. She hires a husky old lawman to hunt him down. That lawman is played by Jeff Bridges, and it's one of the best performances of his long and stories career. This is a Coen brothers movie, enough to signal True Grit is going to be something special. It's also a remake of a 1969 John Wayne movie, but both are adaptations of a 1968 novel by Charles Portis.
3. The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford (2007)View now (Amazon)
Brad Pitt plays Jesse James, one of America’s most infamous and beloved criminals – hence the description of the man who shot him in the back to claim a reward.
4. Machete (2010)View now (Amazon)
Robert Rodriguez deserves a second mention for making the finest B-movie western of modern times. Danny Trejo as a machete-wielding former Federale hitman is one thing, but adding the enigmatic talents of Steven Seagal, Don Johnson and Lindsay Lohan is cojones-out genius. And Bob De Niro pops up, too.
5. Unforgiven (1992)View now (Amazon)
Clint Eastwood, not content with being one of the iconic western actors, directs one of the genre’s greatest films. Eastwood, Morgan Freeman and Richard Harris all play retired gunfighters, so it could’ve resembled an Old West Expendables. Instead, it’s a delicious blend of the revenge and ‘one last job’ tropes, plus great actors at their grizzly best.
6. Brokeback Mountain (2005)View now (Amazon)
More classic western elements: evil landowner, revenge, latent homosexuality. OK, just one of those. Ang Lee’s wonderful film about a couple of sheep-herding good ol’ boys who fancy each other must’ve had a few rednecks weeping into their checked shirts. And not in a good way.
7. Rango (2011)View now (Amazon)
Another Oscar-winner. Who cares if it’s a cartoon? And let’s be honest here; voicing the eponymous Wild West chameleon sheriff is probably Johnny Depp’s greatest performance in a decade.
8. El Mariachi (1992)View now (Amazon)
A low-budget box-office hit set in a Mexican border town, the first of Robert Rodriguez’s Mariachi trilogy features Carlos Gallardo as the put-upon musician and victim of mistaken identity, who would later transform into a) a vengeful killer, and b) Antonio Banderas in the subsequent Desperado and Once Upon A Time In Mexico.
9. The Homesman (2014)View now (Amazon)
Tommy Lee Jones has a face that looks as if it’s been carved from red Texan rock – making him ideal for westerns. The fact that this face rejects Hilary Swank’s face on the grounds of its looks is one weak point in an otherwise excellent tale – directed by Jones – of two people transporting mentally ill women across the Midwest.
10. The Three Burials Of Melquiades Estrada (2005)Stream now (Prime Video)
We know Jones has a face for westerns, and he has an eye for them, too, which is why he directed not only The Homesman, but also this excellent contemporary Tex-Mex drama about a Mexican immigrant shot by border guard.
11. 3:10 to Yuma (2007)Stream now (Lionsgate)
Russell Crowe's Ben Wade is a criminal, escorted across the plains by Christian Bale's Dan Evans. But the outlaw's gang are in pursuit, keeping the tension high at all times. This is a remake of the 1957 original, but has a thoroughly modern flavour despite being quite traditional in its theming and style.
12. Django Unchained (2012)Stream now (Prime Video)
Crime, guns and a perfect excuse for some elaborate speeches; not to mention a catalogue of films featuring western-style elements; it’s a miracle that Quentin Tarantino didn’t go ‘trad’ sooner. Anyway, he enjoyed it so much, he’s doing it all again with The Hateful Eight, set to be released later this year.
13. Open Range (2003)Stream now (Prime Video)
What’s that? Kevin Costner made another western? Hell yeah, as Ed Miliband would say. Costner stars as a former soldier-turned-cattle hand who, along with his boss and fellow hands, crosses an evil Irish land baron. Some might even argue it’s better than his lupine award-magnet. It certainly has more traditional western ingredients: revenge; repentant man with violent past; town controlled by ruthless landowner; conveniently single woman roughly the same age as our troubled hero.
14. Dances With Wolves (1990)View now (Amazon)
Before he started making films about the postal service, this bagged Kevin Costner a couple of Oscars, including one for best picture, which means, according to the Academy, it’s a better film than GoodFellas. And that’s no mean feat for a story about cross-cultural understanding and how best to wear fur.
15. The Proposition (2005)Stream now (BFI)
Co-written by the man behind The Birthday Party and Murder Ballads, Nick Cave’s inevitably grisly tale of criminally violent brother set upon criminally violent brother is based in the Australian outback. Yes, that counts as a western. In fact, the Aussies have coined their own genre: the meat-pie western (an antipodean play on spaghetti western).
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