The 10 Best Westerns on Netflix

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The 10 Best Westerns on Netflix

Netflix had all but given up on the Western when they surprise-dropped the Coen Brothers’ brilliant anthology The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. Gone are the types of classic Western films you’ll find on our list of the 100 best Westerns of all time. In fact, Netflix only lists 16 films available for streaming as “Westerns.” We’ve broadened the description to include neo-Westerns like No Country for Old Men, Wind River and Hell or High Water and found 10 films to recommend if you’re looking for good-guy sheriffs, outlaw villains and stand-offs at high noon.

Here are the 10 best Westerns on Netflix:

CasaDeMiPadre210x310.jpg 10. 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

fievel-goes-west.jpg 9. An American Tail: Fievel Goes West
Year: 1991
Director: Don Bluth
Legendary animator Don Bluth was replaced by a Disney veteran Phil Nibbelink and newcomer Simon Wells for the follow up from Steven Spielberg’s animation studio Amblimation. Our young Jewish-Ukranian immigrant Fievel Mousekewitz keeps getting farther from home, once again separated from his family, this time in the old American West. Featuring Jimmy Stewart as dog-sheriff Wylie Burp in his final film, along with Dom DeLuise, John Cleese and Jon Lovitz, this is a fine-if-uninspired sequel to an animated classic, vastly superior to the direct-to-video spin-offs that followed. —Josh Jackson

buffalo-boys-210.jpg 8. Buffalo Boys
Year: 2019
Director: Mike Wiluan
Martial arts cinema’s foundation is built on history both richly composed and impeccably choreographed: Tsui Hark, King Hu, Zhang Yimou and Lau Kar-leung, for instance, value beauty in the construction of their films as much as they prize discipline and perfection in the filming of fight sequences. Buffalo Boys—Singapore’s Oscar entry for Best Foreign Language Film—may not quite be a classic in the making, but it is a worthy update based on blueprints derived from both the martial arts and western genres. Ever hear the one about the two aggrieved brothers who ride into town looking for a piece of the evildoer who wronged their family? Of course you have. In Mike Wiluan’s film, the brothers are Jamar (Ario Bayu) and Suwo (Yoshi Sudarso), sons of a sultan killed decades prior during the invasion of Java. Their uncle, Arana (Tio Pakusadewo), fled with the infants strapped to his back, avoiding death at the hands of the evil Von Trach and fleeing to America. In the film’s present, Jamar, Suwo and Arana return to Java with retribution on their minds, six-shooters in their holsters, and martial prowess aplenty, ready to take out any bad guy fool enough to stumble into their path. Conventional wisdom suggests that it’s a bad idea to openly defy tyrants with more power than you, so the gang keeps it on the down low for as long as they can until, inevitably, their cover’s blown and they’re forced to fight in the open. What Buffalo Boys lacks in originality it makes up for in spirit. There’s a verve in Wiluan’s direction, a sense of joy shaping his approach to the tried and true familial vengeance hook. He and his team of action coordinators and stunt performers make sure the all-important fight scenes are genre-worthy events. Eye-popping duels and brawls are the whole point of the exercise, which is probably why Wiluan has Suwo run a dude through with a bull’s skull, or why one recurring hapless henchman keeps on getting stabbed in the eyes; it’s why the climactic battle kicks off with Jamar and Suwo riding into Von Trach’s town on buffalos, lending the movie both a title and a unique take on western iconography. The details here are as bonkers as the choreography is crisp and the geography well-laid. Buffalo Boys looks forward, bringing elements from another time and from veteran genres into 2019, treating those elements with respect, right down to the muddled gender politics that accompany its genre politics. Leave stuffy, issue-driven prestige to AMPAS, and savor Wiluan’s bloody action artistry instead. —Andy Crump

slow-west-210.jpg 7. Slow West
Year: 2015
Director: John Maclean
The thing that’s so impressive about John Maclean’s direction in his feature film debut Slow West (about a Scottish teenager in the Old West searching for the woman he loves and avoiding bounty hunters on his trail) is his damned confidence. No, he won’t cut away from that long shot of the snow-capped mountains; he wants you to sit with it for a minute more. No, he won’t choose a tone and stick to it; he’ll switch tones from scene to scene as the story warrants. No, he won’t spell out the meaning of each line for you; he wants some of them to ring in your ears, for you to have trouble figuring them out. It’s rare to find a director so intent on his vision, and making so many unusual—and effective—choices. —Michael Dunaway

TheSalvation210x310.jpg 6. The Salvation
Year: 2014
Director: Kristian Levring
Mads Mikkelsen makes so much sense as a traditional, brooding Western hero figure that it’s baffling no one thought to cast him in that role before 2014. He makes taciturn stoicism look effortless, as though being both quiet and gallant all at once comes to him as naturally as his raw but sophisticated magnetism. If there are any overt nods to genre canon in Kristian Levring’s superb The Salvation, they’re couched in Mikkelsen, here playing a man of few words who tends to solve his problems with many bullets. The film never asks us to reconsider the Western storytelling blueprints Levring draws upon. Instead, it wisely reminds us why those blueprints remain in circulation today. Levring’s filmmaking is deft, at times even poetic, and he has a real knack for balancing gorgeous landscape imagery against vicious action set pieces. You might catch whiffs of John Ford or Clint Eastwood, and plenty of Sam Peckinpah, throughout the film—it does have its antecedents, no doubt about that—but you’ll likely be too mesmerized by Levring’s craft and Mikkelsen’s performance to really care. —Andy Crump

wind-river.jpg 5. Wind River
Year: 2017
Director: Taylor Sheridan
2017’s Wind River marked the directorial debut of screenwriter Taylor Sheridan (Sicario, Hell or High Water) and it stars Jeremy Renner as Cory Lambert—a veteran tracker for the Fish and Wildlife Service. After discovering the dead body of a young Native American woman, he joins Elizabeth Olsen’s jane Banner, an FBI Agent, on a quest for answers and, for Lambert, personal redemption for something that happened in his past. What follows is nearly two hours of pure white-knuckle tension as the duo tries to solve the murder. It is a sparse, desolate thriller—a snow-covered neo-western—where violent acts bring about violent repercussions. In a land where hope hasn’t existed for a while, or maybe it was never there to begin with, heinous acts go unpunished. Lambert and Banner want to fix that, trying to bring justice and redemption to the condemned few on the Wind River Indian Reservation. The film flirts with the all too real problems of life on Native American reservations, the blind-eye America turned to their once-perpetrated genocide and the real fact that the rape of young Native American women is a crime that rarely sees the perpetrator convicted. Wind River’s thematic resonance and tonal texture is nearly post-apocalyptic in its spatial desperation and tangible sorrow. It is a quiet, methodically paced thriller where a metaphorical kettle is at a constant near boil until it reaches a fever-pitch punctuated by extreme violence, and one of the tensest and most nerve-wracking stand-offs in cinematic history. Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’s somber score interrupt the film’s haunting silence with equally haunting melody. Sheridan proves himself a capable director who frames most of the film in striking wide shots that capture the sheer nothingness of the landscape, and when lead starts flying, he keeps the camera steady—all of the action remains in frame, adding to the sense of desperation, sloppiness and overall pointlessness that each outburst of violence seems to harbor. As a whole, it may fall victim to an all-too-common “white savior complex,” but it’s a thriller that feels as necessary as it is riveting. —Cole Henry

HellHighWater232x345.jpg 4. Hell or High Water
Year: 2016
Director: David Mackenzie
David Mackenzie’s film gets the balance between genre and plot so right that, after a while, I forgot I was watching a genre film and simply found myself immersed in the lives of these characters. That is a tribute to not only the performances and Mackenzie’s direction, but also to Taylor Sheridan’s screenplay, which finds seemingly boundless amounts of colorful human detail and unexpected humor in what, on the surface, stands as a clichéd narrative. Hell or High Water is essentially a cops-and-robbers tale, with grizzled soon-to-retire veteran sheriff Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and his deputy, Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham), going after a brotherly duo of bank robbers: Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster) Howard. Sheridan’s characters are so fully imagined that, combined with actors and a director sensitive to the nuances in the script, we ultimately respond to them as flesh-and-blood people. But Sheridan—who tackled the moral difficulties of the drug war with his script for Sicario—has even bigger thematic game in mind. Hell or High Water is also meant to be a topical anti-capitalist lament, being that it takes place in a west Texas town that looks to have been decimated by the recent economic recession, with big billboard signs of companies advertising debt relief amid stretches of desolation, and with Toby driven in large part by a desire to break out of what he sees as a cycle of poverty for his loved ones, to provide a better life for his two sons and ex-wife. The film builds up to a finale that thankfully goes not for a mindlessly violent showdown, but for a tension-filled dialogue-based confrontation which plays like a meeting of minds between characters who have more sympathy toward each other than they perhaps realized. Even as two of the main characters reach a kind of truce, however, Mackenzie comes up with an even more devastating image with which to end his film: He simply moves the camera from high in the air down to a batch of grass. It’s as if Mackenzie wanted to contextualize these human dramas for us—we all end up in the ground, ultimately. Here, in Hell or High Water, is a sterling example of genre craftsmanship at its intelligent and unexpectedly affecting best. —Kenji Fujishima

16.jpg 3. The Hateful Eight
Year: 2015
Director: Quentin Tarantino
 The Hateful Eight is a sprawling film with an intimate core and too much necessary material to trim. There’s a pomp and grandiosity to the weight of the film, and to Quentin Tarantino’s ambition in making it his way, that’s hard not to admire. More so than most marquee movies and tentpoles claiming to be “epic,” The Hateful Eight actually lives up to the word. With this whodunit—or who’s-gonna-doit—Tarantino is chiefly interested in the exchanging of barbs and threats more than he is in action. Make no mistake, The Hateful Eight is insanely violent, but it’s fixated around violent talk and violent reverie before physical violence. Tarantino may lay his timely allegory on thick, but The Hateful Eight bears it out in subtle ways, too: With distrust as the film’s prevailing manner, the notion that you cannot truly know the people with whom you’re having dinner takes on increased gravity and meaning, particularly in the climactic showdown, when all is revealed and we see the film’s various humans for who they truly are. Frontier justice does quench our thirst, but the themes of social justice that drive the film are more satiating by far. It all adds up to a towering work, as profound as it is profane. —Andy Crump

ballad-buster-scruggs-movie-poster.jpg 2. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Year: 2018
Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen
As much an anthology of post-bellum adventure stories as it is a retrospective of the many kinds of films the Coen brothers have made—not to mention a scathing bit of fantasy curbed against the stories we’ve used to water down the tragedy of our country’s growth—The Ballad of Buster Scruggs tells six tales of greed, murder, mercy and the harsh mistress of blind chance, the only through line being the bleakness of the horizon America trampled to stake its imperial claim. A musty traveling showman (Liam Neeson) weighs the burden of his limbless performer (Harry Melling) against each night’s measly cash-out; a lone prospector (Tom Waits) patiently divines the vein of gold he refers to respectfully as “Mr. Pocket”; a cocky outlaw (James Franco) swings between the two sides of fate, his whole life leading to a semi-decent punchline; a disparate collection of travelers argue about the vicissitudes of faith while a bounty hunted corpse sits atop their carriage, all five heading towards some ambiguous symbolism; and the titular mellifluous gunslinger finally meets his match, making for one of the strangest sights the Coens have ever conjured. With the downhome nihilism of No Country for Old Men and Fargo, the mythological whimsy of O Brother, Where Art Thou?, the back-breaking metaphysical weight of A Serious Man or the cutting capers of Raising Arizona, the whole of The Ballad of Buster Scruggs—shot as a series of awe-inspiring vistas by DP Bruno Delbonnel punctuated by the porous mugs of the pioneers who populate them—sings to an unparalleled canon of genres and tones. That its centerpiece is a sweet romance, between a quiet young woman (Zoe Kazan) and a noble cowboy (Bill Heck) leading her wagon train along the Oregon Trail, proves that the Coens still have beautiful surprises in store more than three decades deep into their career-long odyssey of American life. —Dom Sinacola

NoCountryOldMen210x310.jpg 1. No Country for Old Men
Year: 2007
Director: Joel & Ethan Coen
Is No Country for Old Men best categorized as a neo-Western, a postmodern Western, or a Coen brothers joint? Fun as it is to quibble about genre classifications, the exercise is wasted here; No Country for Old Men defies easy labels but wears its Western bearings proudly on its sleeve. The film recalibrates the moralizing traditionally seen in Western pictures, or more accurately jettisons it entirely. Morality is reduced to a grey blur, an obstacle its principle characters either circumvent or stand bewildered by as they each pursue their own ends: Crooked justice, civilized justice, self-advancement by way of monetary greed, or the most basic goal of survival. This is an ugly movie where no decision is made easily or without consequences and where right and wrong own no real estate, a portrait of America struggling through a flux in conscience. Normally we’d look to the Tommy Lee Jones character for guidance, or at least for reassurance, but the poor grizzled son of a gun craves solace and validation just as desperately as we do. That may well be the most unsparing element in No Country for Old Men of all. —Andy Crump

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