The 10 Best Westerns on Netflix

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The 10 Best Westerns on Netflix

Ever since Netflix surprise-dropped the Coen Brothers’ brilliant anthology The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, they’ve slowly added back some of the classic Westerns that appear on our list of the 100 best Westerns of all time. The pickings are still pretty slim (only 21 total films categorized as Westerns), but we’ve found 10 movies 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:

1. Once Upon a Time in the West

once-west.jpg Year: 1968
Director: Sergio Leone
Stars: Henry Fonda, Claudia Cardinale, Jason Robards, Charles Bronson, Frank Wolff
Genre: Western, Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 165 minutes

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Let’s get this out of the way: Once Upon a Time in the West is as great as they come, and one of the most influential Westerns of its day. But after the film’s opening 20 minutes or so dribble by, it’s hard not to wonder how the remaining 150 will match them. Sergio Leone’s film is so deliberately paced and so unhurried in getting where it needs to that as soon as the moment passes when we first meet Charles Bronson’s harmonica-playing gunman, we feel as though we’ve already sat through an entire feature. That doesn’t sound like much of a compliment, but Leone’s talent for stretching seconds into minutes and minutes into hours is made all the more amazing by how little we feel the passage of time. Once Upon a Time in the West is truly cinematic, a wormhole that slowly transports us into its world of killers and tycoons, bandits and landowners, revenge and rightness. There’s a reason that Leone’s masterpiece is considered one of the greatest movies ever made and not just one of the great Westerns: Once Upon a Time in the West is an enduring monument of its era, its genre and filmmaking itself. —Andy Crump


2. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

ballad-buster-scruggs-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2018
Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen
Stars: Tim Blake Nelson, Bill Heck, James Franco, Liam Neeson, Zoe Kazan, Tom Waits, Tyne Daly, Brendan Gleeson
Genre: Western, Drama, Comedy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 91%
Rating: R
Runtime: 132 minutes

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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


3. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

good-bad-ugly-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1966
Director: Sergio Leone
Stars: Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Eli Wallach
Genre: Western, Action & Adventure
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97%
Rating: R
Runtime: 161 minutes

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Arguably the greatest of the Italian Westerns, but also one of the finest Westerns ever made. Leone’s penchant for turning the genre’s sacred themes and obsessions inside out goes full tilt here. Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef are back for this third Dollars movie, but the addition of Eli Wallach adds a significant amount of caustic humor and even more cynicism to the mix. Set during the Civil War, though in a dry, barren landscape resembling the surreal panels of a Krazy Kat cartoon more than historical reality, Leone’s epic is the sublime, gloriously cinematic creation that he was always gunning for. Composer Ennio Morricone’s score ties it all together, particularly in the orgasmic “Ecstasy of Gold” finale. The director may have gone even more baroque with his subsequent Once Upon a Time in the West, but this is still his greatest achievement. Pop culture and the genre were never the same. —Derek Hill


4. True Grit

true-grit.jpg Year: 1969
Director: Henry Hathaway
Stars: John Wayne, Kim Darby, Glen Campbell, Robert Duvall, Dennis Hopper
Genre: Western
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 88%
Rating: G
Runtime: 128 minutes

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When you think of The Duke, what’s the first image that pops into mind? I’ll bet you he’s wearing an eye patch and a cowhide leather vest. Rooster Cogburn is arguably John Wayne’s most iconic role. The crusty, hard-drinking, hard-living, one-eyed U.S. marshal was launched into the Western film lexicon in 1969 in Henry Hathaway’s classic adaptation of Charles Portis’ classic novel. Chances are pretty good that Wayne’s portrayal will remain the definitive characterization despite an admirable and brilliant turn by Jeff Bridges in the 2010 remake by the Coen brothers. At times woodenly acted and downright dated by modern standards, the 1969 True Grit nevertheless has a primal power. It’s a coming-of-age story for young Mattie Ross (Kim Darby), a sharp-tongued quick-witted teenager, on a quest for revenge for her murdered father. She hires Rooster Cogburn to track down his killer, who has fled into Indian territory. Rooster admires her spunk, seeing reflections of himself in her stubbornness. Despite their prickly off-camera relationship, Wayne and Darby put aside those challenges and let the characters do the talking. Much of the movie’s beauty is in the deepening of their relationship, in Rooster’s protectiveness toward “Little Sis,” his appreciation and downright enjoyment of her pluck, and in Mattie’s wide-eyed admiration for her champion, a man with true grit. Never mind the many times he lets the bottle let her down. By the time Cogburn hauls snake-bitten Mattie on a desperate all-night journey through the wilderness, it’s hard not to be touched by his devotion and sheer determination to save Miss Ross’ life. The remake is a fine movie in its own right. It has a smoother flow, is truer to the spirit of the novel, and feels grittier to our modern sensibilities. Yet at its best, it can’t escape the shadow of the original and often feels like it is emulating its elder. Isn’t that the sincerest form of flattery, though? —Joe Pettit Jr.


5. The Hateful Eight

16.jpg Year: 2015
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Stars: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Demián Bichir, Bruce Dern, Michael Madsen, Channing Tatum
Genre: Western
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 75%
Rating: R
Runtime: 167 minutes

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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


6. Hell or High Water

HellHighWater232x345.jpg Year: 2016
Director: David Mackenzie
Stars: Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Gil Birmingham, Marin Ireland, John-Paul Howard, Christopher W. Garcia
Genre: Western
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97%
Rating: R
Runtime: 102 minutes

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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


7. Slow West

slow-west-210.jpg Year: 2015
Director: John Maclean
Stars: Michael Fassbender, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Ben Mendelsohn
Genre: Western
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%
Rating: R
Runtime: 84 minutes

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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


8. Back to the Future Part III

bttfiii_poster.jpg Year: 1990
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Written by: Bob Gale
Stars: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Mary Steenburgen
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 80%
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 119 minutes

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After the madcap mania that was Back to the Future Part II, Back to the Future Part III was criticized for restricting itself to a single time period. Or, more accurately, for being an indulgent entry driven purely by its filmmakers’ childhood desire to make a Western. And while most fans of the series will agree that this go-around stands as the weakest of the three, director Robert Zemeckis’ and producer Steven Spielberg’s love for the Western and its various tropes are so ostensibly on display here that it’s hard not to enjoy. And, come on, what better way to cap off this legendary trilogy than with a flying, time-traveling locomotive?—Mark Rozemann


9. Buffalo Boys

buffalo-boys-210.jpg Year: 2019
Director: Mike Wiluan
Stars: Ario Bayu, Yoshi Sudarso, Tio Pakusadewo, Pevita Pearce, Mikha Tambayong, Reinout Bussemaker, Daniel Adnan, Happy Salma, Alex Abbad
Genre: Western
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 79%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 103 minutes

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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


10. Casa de Mi Padre

CasaDeMiPadre210x310.jpg Year: 2012
Director: Matt Piedmont
Stars: Will Ferrell, Diego Luna, Pedro Armendáriz Jr.
Genre: Western, Comedy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 41%
Rating: R
Runtime: 84 minutes

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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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