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Top Ten Most Inspiring Modern Westerns!

posted by Douglas Howe

western.jpgThere was a time—especially back in the 1940’s, 1950’s and 1960’s, where Westerns made up a large portion of a year’s annual movies. From Roy Rogers to John Wayne to Clint Eastwood, from the days of cowboys-and-Indians to the towns of the spaghetti westerns, generations were enthralled and inspired.
But recently, well-done Westerns are few and far between. In celebration of the Western—an in acknowledgment to “No Country For Old Men” having so many Oscar nods—we present our list of the Top Ten Most Inspiring Westerns of the last 30 years:
10. “Unforgiven” (1992), with Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman and Richard Harris. “Unforgiven” was beautiful, well-done and deep. It was a western-with-a-conscience, almost the anti-western. Its tragic ending and enduring questions made it wonderful for Oscar and inspiring in a bitter-sweet way.
9. “Dances With Wolves” (1990), with Kevin Costner, Mary McConnell and Graham Greene. Beautiful, enduring and Oscar-worthy, Costner’s redemptive tale somehow made a hero of a guy guilty of abandonment and treason. Some saw the hero-turning-Indian a farce, while others were deeply touched to see individual convictions rise above the mentality of the mob.
8. “Maverick” (1994), with Mel Gibson, James Garner, Jodie Foster. This was perhaps the most feel-good Western of the era, with even the bad guys seeming like good guys. But it sure makes for enjoyable watching, is family-friendly, and has a redemptive quality in its treatment of friends, romance and, in the end, family.


7. “The Mask of Zorro” (1998), with Antonio Banderas, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Anthony Hopkins. A Golden Globe nominee for Best Picture and Best Actor, this brought some good old-fashioned fun with lots of spectacular moments, well-choreographed fight sequences, a love story, old-fashioned clearly-defined heroes and villains and love’s tragic victory in the end.
6. “Lonesome Dove” (1989), with Robert Duvall, Tommy Lee Jones, Danny Glover and Anjelica Huston. Larry McMurtry originally wrote this for John Wayne, James Stewart and Henry Fonda as the leads. Too bad it didn’t happen as it would have been an all-time classic. As it was, it won two Golden Globes and spawned a host of sequels. I liked it for portraying one compelling opportunity that changed the course of everyone’s life. Most of us have that opportunity but rarely take it.
5. “Pale Rider” (1985), with Clint Eastwood and Michael Moriarty. This wasn’t the grand spectacle that “Unforgiven” was, but served as a wonderful bridge from the old spaghetti westerns to a more modern western that was both more realistic as well as moralistic. And, how can you not like Clint as a preacher!
4. “Open Range” (2003) with Robert Duvall, Kevin Costner, Annette Bening. In a time when the mountains were free but the lawmen of cities were bought and paid for, the “free grazers” risk it all to stand for their rights against the oppressive power structure of the town. This came as close to a modern day Eastwood spaghetti western morality tale as any, highlighted by Duvall’s emboldened saloon speech and Costner’s honest effort to play an anti-hero.
3. “The Man From Snowy River” (1982) with Kirk Douglas, Tom Burlinson. Young Jim Craig carries the values of 18 years of Australian farm life into a family feud, and against false accusations, captures the wild horses, defeats his enemies and wins the girl.
2. “Tombstone” (1993) with Kurt Russell, Val Kilmer, Sam Elliott, Bill Paxton. Justice is served and loyalty is honored among friends and family who come together for a cause. Far superior to “Wyatt Earp,” this is the best telling of the Earps self-proclaimed war against the cowboys.
And my #1 choice…
1. “Silverado” (1985) with Kevin Costner, Scott Glenn, Kevin Kline, Danny Glover, John Cleese, Jeff Goldblum, Linda Hunt, Brian Dennehy, Rosanna Arquette. This was a classic western complete with an all-star cast, good guys and bad guys, loyalty and betrayal among friends, family ties, moral dilemmas and the town square shoot-out. Real men and women step up as decent heroes. In another year in Oscar’s fickle climate, it would have won Academy Awards. As it is, it is my pick for Most Inspiring Western.
Sorry, but although “No Country For Old Men” wins this year’s Oscar nominations, it doesn’t make our Most Inspiring Westerns list. Nor does the late Heath Ledger’s “Brokeback Mountain.” Those are my choices; what are yours?



  • Fred Freitag

    I guess those would be possibles if your only considering modern westerns. However, first, I wouldn’t classify “The Mask of Zorro” a western – an action movie, yes. Second, I wouldn’t but “Pale Rider” in my top ten, but then, your right. There hasn’t been many westerns at all made in the last 20 years. I think you hit almost all the modern westerns with of your list. However, you might have missed one of the best ones given your loose categorization of westerns, “The Last of the Mohicans” – that was a great one.

  • Lillie

    I liked Brokeback Mountain, but what about Into the West, the TNT Miniseries? I like Westerns that depict the indians in a fair and proper manner. And since this is beliefnet, I thought that might be what you would look for too…a story of the american west that REALLY shows how the European christians came to this so-called “new world” and almost completely iradicated an entire race of people. As I watched the history unfold from a native perspective, I was completely blown away at how “Westerns” have misguided and glorified an american holocaust. As I watched what I beleive was a fairly accurate depiction, I saw native american bodies being piled into a mass grave at Wounded Knee. It dawned on me the depth to which some people will go to cover up the truth. Sorry, I’ll step down from my soapbox now and say thanks to the Creator that humanity has the ability to forgive the unforgiveable.

  • Barbara

    I beg to differ on several. Lonesome Dove is hands down number 1, Silverado 2, Dances With Wolves 3, and Tombstone 5, adding Wyatt Earp with Costner at number 4. Also, Brokeback Mountain’s celebration of homosexuality is an insult to all westerns and to the American Cowboy.

  • jane

    I absolutely agree with Lillie Into The West was by far more enjoyable. That each you were waiting for the next episode eagerly.

  • jane

    I totally agree with Lillie. Into The West was by far more enjoyable . And you couldn’t wait for the next episode. And you sure learned alot of our western history from the Indian’s perspective.

  • Bob

    I’d have Lonesome Dove in at #1. I also agree with ‘Into The West’ miniseries being included, and going back to 1978, I definitely would include the epic miniseries “Centennial”, a made-for-TV production of James Michener’s wonderful novel.

  • Barbara

    I can’t believe I forgot about The Quick and the Dead, a great story and a great movie. I would put it at number 2.

  • b thomson

    I agree Silverado is number 1 Lonesome Dove is number 2 as for brokeback mountain it should never have made it to the screen it is an insult to all westerns and to all christians and especially to God. But I think Shane should have made the list It’s still one of the best ever

  • Randy Green

    Shane, what happen to Shane starring alan Ladd, its in my opinion the best westen ever!!

  • Patricia Quintal

    My all time favorite is Legends of the Fall.

  • edward j farrell, wichita falls, texas

    PALE RIDER GREAT WESTERN AND CLINT A GREAT ACTOR HOWEVER IT LOOKED LIKE A REMAKE OF ALAN LADDS SHANE!!!!!!! COMMENTS INVITED

  • Randy Hall Sr

    I know it would be impossible to list all the greats, but I can’t believe “Legends of the Fall” did not get on the top ten. It is hard to beat a cast of Anthony Hopkins, Aidon Quin, and Brad Pitt. I would like to mention another great favorite of mine, “The Missing” with Tommy Lee Jones and Kate Blanchett.

  • Randy Hall Sr

    What happened to “Legends Of The Fall” with Anthony Hopkins, and “The Missing” with Tommy Lee Jones????

  • Bev

    I personally think Lonesome Dove was THE BEST western ever made although it only showed on t.v. I don’t know anyone who was not moved to tears, laughter, amazement and inspiration watching this one.
    And I like your other choices as well.

  • Gregory Runyan

    You left off one of the best western’s, ever, “The Searchers,” with JOhn Wayne.

  • J. Westbrooke

    “Legends Of The Fall”, should have been listed. I, do agree with your choises.

  • Alicia

    “Maverick”? I made the mistake of seeing it when it came out a number of year’s back, and thought it was among the most predictable, movie-making-by-numbers dreck I have ever seen. Everyone involved should have been ashamed. Please.

  • Andrea

    3:10 to Yuma was a pretty good western that I think should be in the top 3. The acting and storyline were awesome.

  • Charlie

    Your 10 Westerns list was great–Now how about the 10 greatest WAR FILMS
    include WWI–Korea & Vietnam? Thanks

  • PurpleKU77

    Well, as Westerns have been rather scarce for the past 30 years, these listed were about the sum total of all made. I think that one of the very best was Big Jake, with John Wayne. I do not normally like him, but this was an outstanding movie.

  • Douglas Howe

    Andrea, I agree with you; “3:10 to Yuma” was very entertaining and I really liked it. To find it “spiritual,” though, probably dependsd on my figuring out what the ending adds, which I’m not sure I’ve done yet. You?

  • Blake

    What about High Noon with Gary Cooper, Lloyd Bridges, Grace Kelly, Lon Chaney Jr, Harry Morgan, and Lee Van Cleef as the picture intro to this blog suggests? Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid with Newman and Redford, then there is the classic spagetti western C’era una volta il West of 1968 better known as Once Upon A Time In The West with Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson, Jason Robards, Claudia Cardinale, and Keenan Wyn.
    There are too many to limit this list I am afraid!

  • james

    once upon a time in the west, magnificent 7, tombstone, silverado, china 9 liberty 37, unforgiven, cowboys, high noon, missing, the good…the bad….the ugly, are my favorite top ten, not necessarily in the order given…..I haven’t seen 3:10 to yuma

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Bri

    Where is American Outlaws that was a gret modern western and I agree Legends of the Fall was awesome too.

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