The 20 Best Westerns on Netflix

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The 20 Best Westerns on Netflix

Yee-haw, pardners.

Maybe I shouldn’t really start this list of the Best Westerns on Netflix off with that level of clichéd pandering, but every now and again it’s okay to hoot, holler and proclaim one’s exuberance for one of the most quintessential American movie genres. (No disrespect to the slew of Western movies produced by other countries, but like the stars and stripes, Mom’s apple pie, and fireworks on the Fourth of July, the image of a cowboy on horseback is classically American—for better or worse, a symbol of rugged Yankee freedom and also cancer, if you’re the Marlboro type.) So let’s indulge, don our Stetsons, kick up our spur-adorned heels, and queue up some good ol’ fashioned frontier entertainment on Netflix’s streaming service.

Be warned, though, that the Netflix streaming library only goes so deep as it concerns Westerns of quality. There’s nearly as much overwhelming garbage and underwhelming mediocrity on hand as there are must-sees. (If I’m being generous, I guess that’s just the nature of the genre, and perhaps the nature of streaming.) If you’re looking for a definitive, canon-oriented list, maybe put your eyes here on our list of the 100 best Westerns of all time. But if you’ve seen the best, maybe dare to check out the rest, and see what all Netflix has to offer on streaming:

RidiculousSix210x310.jpg 20. The Ridiculous Six
Year: 2015
Director: Frank Coraci

I know what you’re thinking: What kind of Western aficionado am I that I’d include an Adam Sandler film on this list? But if we’re making a list of the best Westerns available for your streaming consumption on Netflix, logically that list can also include the worst Westerns, can’t it? The Ridiculous Six has a spot here by the sole grace of Netflix’s extremely limited selection of streaming Western titles. (And if we want to be generous, it’s nice to have an "arc" here that traverses a range of quality from "utter horseshit" to "unassailable masterpiece.")

It’s possible to make a good comic Western. (For proof, scroll to entry #2.) The Ridiculous Six is not a good comic Western. It’s not anything, really, other than an excuse for Sandler and his coterie of equally apathetic friends to goof around on a movie set and make some moolah while yukking their way through parody so half-assed it can hardly be called "parody" without dishonoring parody as an aesthetic. Sandler fans will dig it, though it’s sort of hard to imagine Sandler having "fans" without contextualizing Sandler fandom through Stockholm syndrome. —Andy Crump

Gallowwalkers210x310.jpg 19. Gallowwalkers
Year: 2012
Director: Andrew Goth

A bad movie made worse by the waste of its awesome premise, Gallowwalkers would probably take the #20 spot on this list if The Ridiculous Six didn’t exist. They’re both awful, just different flavors of awful. Gallowwalkers is the kind of awful that takes years to produce, languishes on a shelf for years after, and on arrival in the marketplace validates its slow, tortured journey toward commercial availability via sheer fucking atrociousness. How, you may ask, does a film where Wesley Snipes fights a gang of outlaw zombies turn out to be unwatchable? Endure the first, oh, let’s say 20 minutes of Gallowwalkers and you’ll have your answer. This here’s a flick that ought to have stayed dead. —Andy Crump

TheTimber210x310.jpg 18. The Timber
Year: 2015
Director: Anthony O’Brien

The Timber either needed to be longer or it needed to be better edited; it clocks in at 80 minutes, thereabouts, but somehow manages to feel twice as long as that, a real slog about two brothers (Josh Peck and James Ransone) on a mission to track down and turn in their dad (William Gaunt) in exchange for the bounty placed on his head. It’s an ostensible tale of desperation, of the fight to survive on the snowy American frontier, but quite frankly The Timber is so damn boring as to override any hint of hazard or whiff of tension. It’s a high stakes film with low-grade storytelling, a slog lacking in both tempo and urgency. —Andy Crump

Traded210x310.jpg 17. Traded
Year: 2016
Director: Timothy Woodward Jr.

In context with this list, the nicest thing a person can say about Traded is that it is not The Ridiculous Six. The second nicest thing is that it has Kris Kristofferson in it, which only matters because seeing Kris Kristofferson’s name on anything is usually a pleasure. After that, there’s really very little worth saying about Traded in the affirmative. It’s as rote as they come, and worse than that, it’s horribly dated. If Timothy Woodward Jr. had fallen into a time warp and made this movie back in the 1960s, we’d probably regard it as a curio, a product of its time and era and the prevailing attitudes of both. In 2017, it just reads as ass-backwards. Traded is serviceable, and if you’re in dire need of a Western fix it’ll do in a pinch, but it’s a film out of time and out of fresh ideas. —Andy Crump

TheNewtonBoys210x310.jpg 16. The Newton Boys
Year: 1998
Director: Richard Linklater 

Between 1919 and 1924, the Newton Gang—a family-owned and run operation based in Uvalde, Texas—robbed over eighty banks and six trains, sparing bloodshed in their outlaw ventures and taking in an astronomical tally of pelf in the process. The sibling quartet—Willis, Wylie, Jess and Joe—cut their legend from the same cloth as Jesse James and Butch Cassidy, sharing more in common with the latter by virtue of their humanitarian ideals; theft is one thing, but killing people is another entirely. Maybe their claims of non-violence are immaterial, maybe not, but go try to prove them wrong a century after the fact, and see how far you get.

Or don’t even bother, because their myth takes on a kind of romanticism when viewed through a contemporary lens. If it’s a lie, it’s a pretty lie. Maybe that’s what drew Richard Linklater to the four brothers and their exploits when he cobbled together his 1998 heist flick, The Newton Boys. Today the film feels like an anomaly in his body of work, a straight-up genre exercise that sticks out like a sore thumb against the vast majority of his catalog. We salute Linklater as a filmmaker primarily for his array of high fallutin’ ramblings on human nature and the meaning of life, whether in Boyhood, the Before trilogy or Waking Life. We do not necessarily think of his name in conjunction with stories about stick ups and car chases. —Andy Crump

NevadaSmith210x310.jpg 15. Nevada Smith
Year: 1966
Director: Henry Hathaway

It stings a little that neither of the Henry Hathaway Westerns available in Netflix’s streaming catalogue are True Grit. You know Hathaway for that movie, and for Niagara, Rawhide, Call Northside 777, and probably Kiss of Death, while we’re at it, but instead of getting these, we get Nevada Smith plus one other Western flick, found further down in this list. (We also get The Desert Fox: The Story of Rommel, but really that’s neither here nor there.) This is arguably better than getting no Hathaway at all, but Nevada Smith is too preposterous to be mentioned in polite conversation of its director’s filmography, a film that demands its audience buy Steve McQueen as a teenager, or at least a twenty-something, at thirty-six-years old. If he had not starred in, for instance, The Magnificent Seven or The Great Escape prior to starring in Nevada Smith, that pill might be easier to swallow, but ageism aside the film is perfectly conventional on its own terms: A man is wronged, a man seeks out those who wronged him, a man receives his satisfaction, only the man is a boy who has become a man once the end credits start rolling (because in a Western, manliness is earned through gunfire and bloodshed). It’s a fine enough movie, but it might be more useful as a piece in McQueen’s and Hathaway’s respective careers than as entertainment. —Andy Crump

Frontera210x310.jpg 14. Frontera
Year: 2014
Director: Michael Berry

Three years have passed since Michael Berry’s Frontera opened in theaters, and in that time, reality has done us a solid and proven out its unspoken premise: That white people pose more of a danger to Americans than immigrants making the hazardous trek across the U.S./Mexico border. The film unravels the fallout of a fatal accident involving idiot American boys and their guns; it is, apparently, their idea of fun to shoot at people, but their fun turns to shit when they open fire on Michael Peña and unintentionally end up killing Amy Madigan instead. Because Frontera is a fantasy, justice comes for the little bastards in the form of a heartbroken and pissed-off Ed Harris, who constitutes your number one reason for queueing the film in the first place. Peña is reason number two. The scenery is reason number three. After that, there’s arguably less to recommend the movie than more—it has too many problems on its plate and cries out for more focus and more authenticity—but you can certainly do worse than a broadly sketched portrait of the country’s immigration problem, especially with Harris riding high in the saddle. —Andy Crump

TheKeepingRoom210x310.jpg 13. The Keeping Room
Year: 2015
Director: Daniel Barber

The Keeping Room is the intimate story of three women and two men—the women, Southern daughters, sisters and slaves, and the men a pair of marauding Union soldiers rampaging through Georgia in the days before Sherman’s conquest of Atlanta. At its heart, the strongest comparison is to call it something akin to a home invasion period piece, although the film is continuously reaching for something more poetic. That gravitas, however, is just barely outside its grasp, despite beautiful imagery and a near-perfect capturing of the stifling, war-torn American South, captured in high definition, bathed in reality and natural light. —Jim Vorel

JaneGotAGun210x310.jpg 12. Jane Got a Gun
Year: 2016
Director: Gavin O’Connor

Coherence should rarely if ever be considered a noteworthy achievement for most films. Jane Got a Gun isn’t most films. You probably think you’ve seen it even though you also probably haven’t. Jane Got a Gun had problems and then some going through the production pipeline, including casting woes (it’s difficult not to view replacing Michael Fassbender with Joel Edgerton as a step down) plus directorial woes, which are considerably more grievous. Lynne Ramsay directing Natalie Portman in a woman-centric take on classic Western structures sounds like a recipe for greatness. Losing Ramsay and getting Gavin O’Connor in exchange sounds like a swift kick to the ass. It’s kind of amazing that Jane Got a Gun managed to come into being, and perhaps more so that it’s even a little bit watchable. Solid though it may be, though, you can’t shake the feeling that God is a cruel old bastard. Jane Got a Gun should be more than merely "solid." It should be whatever degree of brilliant Ramsay would have shaped it into. —Andy Crump

CasaDeMiPadre210x310.jpg 11. Casa de Mi Padre
Year: 2012
Director: Matt Piedmont

The saving grace of Casa de Mi Padre is its commitment to its running gag; your appreciation of the film will hinge on how gleefully Matt Piedmont and Will Ferrell both go for broke shaping a telenovela parody around Ferrell’s trademark man-child screen persona. You don’t want to bother with Casa de Mi Padre, for example, if you’re tired to death of that particular Ferrell character. Being as he’s spent the majority of his career playing that character, odds are good that you’re already way past the point of burnout, but maybe a change in setting and language can remedy that. There is, after all, something distinctly joyous about listening to Ferrell willingly humiliate himself by mangling the film’s Spanish dialogue on purpose, a problematic joke made less so once it becomes clear that the joke is on Ferrell alone. (It must be noted that the joke is clear immediately, for posterity’s sake.) Maybe Casa de Mi Padre works better in the form of a Youtube sketch, and maybe, on repeat viewings, it loses some of its effect. But the effect works well enough once, and that’s as often as it needs to. —Andy Crump

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