9. McLintock! (1963)
The Duke’s version of The Taming of the Shrew (co-starring his sparring partner from The Quiet Man, Maureen O’Hara) is one of his broadest comedies, an easygoing romp that showed Wayne being more overtly political in the role of a cattle king with family troubles. As a joke on Hubert Humphrey, the governor of the state for whom McLintock has nothing but contempt is named “Cuthbert H. Humphrey.”
8. For a Few Dollars More (1965)
Taking the Western in a tougher, meaner, grittier direction, Italy’s Sergio Leone continued his Man with No Name Trilogy (begun with 1964’s A Fistful of Dollars, which isn’t on Netflix streaming), this time with Lee Van Cleef matching Clint Eastwood scowl-for-scowl as rival bounty hunters who join forces to track down a bandit who needs hanging.
7. El Dorado (1966)
A late collaboration between director Howard Hawks and John Wayne, this funny crowd-pleaser stars Wayne as a hired gun who switches sides against the rancher who hired him because the local sheriff — Robert Mitchum — is an old buddy. Mitchum’s tippler routine, Wayne’s usual swagger and the early appearance by James Caan as a shaky young cowboy give this one the charm that makes up for its groaningly familiar story (it’s virtually the same film as Rio Bravo, released just seven years earlier, and would prove to be the penultimate film by Hawks, who wound up his career doing essentially the same story a third time in 1970 with Rio Lobo).
6. Silverado (1985)
Though only modestly successful upon release, Lawrence Kasdan’s relaunch of the Western has held up nicely. It’s a seriocomic quest movie about an odd couple (Kevin Kline, Scott Glenn) of resourceful survivors trying to figure out why bands of desperadoes tried to kill both of them in separate incidents. As they hit the road together, Kasdan keeps piling in twists and refreshing characters like the no-nonsense sheriff (John Cleese) and the goofball brother of the Scott Glenn character, a man born to be hanged. He is played by an appealingly silly Kevin Costner in his first major role.
5. Lonesome Dove (1989)
The six-hour miniseries that revived the format and steered it away from soapy historical romances, this classic Larry McMurtry yarn starred the irrepressible Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones as quarrelsome but inseparable partners on a long, long cattle drive. Perhaps no Western had such a broad collection of memorable, well-drawn characters, and yet the series featured plenty of great action scenes as well.
4. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)
In his autumn years, director John Ford turned more reflective, and this thorny film on the process of myth-making is among his most profound. A successful senator (James Stewart) returns to the small town where he was once a greenhorn victimized by a sadistic, murderous highwayman (Lee Marvin) to bury the gunfighter (John Wayne) whose girl he wound up marrying. It turns out that there is much more to the story of these three than the legend that everyone knows, and that the power of the press can be more forceful than a bullet.
The film contains the much-quoted line that seemed like a summary of Ford’s work: “This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”
3. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)
The financial success of the earlier spaghetti Westerns gave Leone the freedom to go as far as he dared with this sprawling, sinister, often very funny and altogether operatic epic in which gunmen Eastwood and Van Cleef returned (though Van Cleef played a different character than he did in A Few Dollars More), playing beautifully off a squirrelly Eli Wallach as the bandit they hope will lead them to a bag of gold. Agonizingly long takes and a sweeping Ennio Morricone score drenched the film in drama and suspense, and yet much of the ornery behavior is slightly tongue in cheek.
2. Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
Though not a big success at the time and still somewhat underrated, Leone’s followup to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is even more operatic and ambitious, working on a gloriously vast canvas to tell a tale of ruthlessness and revenge. Casting against type — Charles Bronson is the good guy in desperate need of justice for what happened to him as a boy and Henry Fonda makes for one of the great villains in screen history — Leone abandoned his usual comic undertones and achieved a level of tragedy and grandeur later associated with The Godfather films.
1. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
The easy camaraderie, the dagger-sharp dialogue, the clean yet surprising plot and the everlasting cool of Robert Redford and Paul Newman’s laid-back acting are the reasons why this classic never gets old. I’ve been watching it since I was 13 years old and…excuse me, now I have to go watch it again.