! /articles/top10UnderratedWesterns

The Internet's Oldest Drive-In Movie Resource

Top Ten Underrated Westerns

by Released : 2023-09-18

1. Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)


The Outlaw Josey Wales

Although a box office success when released the film is not as popular as Clint’s other westerns: The Man with no name trilogy, High Plains Drifter, Pale Rider, and Unforgiven. However, Eastwood himself, as noted in 1999 commentary of the film, considers it one of his best westerns and a “high point of his career”. The film has a strong anti-war message, unusual for Eastwood’s films especially at the time. Unlike The Man with No Name, the character Josey Wales is easier for the audience to feel compassion for: as his character has a wife and family. He is also not an unstoppable killing machine like Eastwood’s other characters. Written by the great Philp Kauffmann, who would later write Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Right Stuff. Oscar Nominated Chief Dan George is also great here. Like every Clint western the shootouts are great, but it’s the film heart and superior storyline that makes it stand out from Easwood’s other westerns  

2. Little Bag Man (1970)

Little Big Man

One of Quentin Tarantino's favorite westerns the film can best be described as Forrest Gump meets Western history as the film goes through events such as Buffalo Bill death of Wild Bill Hancock, and battle of little bighorn (commonly known as Custer’s last stand). The film follows the life story of 121-year-old Jack Crabb like Forrest Gump keeps an irrelevant tone as the protagonist stumbles through history, but also has a somber undercurrent. Arthur Penn directed two of the best westerns of the 70s with this and Missouri Breaks. Penn just like in Bonnie and Clyde (1967) and Night moves (1975) he’s able to balance humor with darkness, while never letting one emotion overpower the other. An epic tale and unique western: Dustin Hoffman gives one of the best performances of his career, Faye Dunaway is stunning, Richard Mulligan is great as general custer later reprising the role in Teacher's (1984), and Chief Dan George in an oscar nominated turn is heartbreaking. 

3. The Shootist (1976) 

The Shootist

This film is revered by Western film affincdos and fan’s of The Duke. However, everyone always credit’s John Wayne’s last hoorah with True Grit or when they talk about his 70s films, in which he started to veer away from westerns (Brannigan and Mcq)  people often remember how he turned down Dirty Harry. Or when his westerns are mentioned people think of The Cowboys (1972) and the infamous villain role of Bruce Dern. But his best western of the 70s, one of the best performances of his career, and a superior film to True Grit is the Shootist, which also starred Ron Howard. Wayne, dying of stomach cancer, also plays a dying gunslinger.While shooting this film according to Ron Howard Wayne was in very poor health, but it did not stop him from caring about every frame and being passionate to the end. In fact, Wayne enjoyed working with Howard so much that he tried to develop another film with him after the release of the Shootist. By the late 1960s spaghetti westerns ushered in by Clint Eastwod and Sergio Leone overtook the genre and westerns by the 1970s looked very different than they did in their heyday. The genre also started to lose steam in popularity by the mid 1970s. Overshadowed by Outlaw Josey Wales released that same year the film was a minor success at the box office, but largely forgotten today especially when talking about Wayne’s filmography. Akin to older westerns, but unusually reflective for a Wayne film. This film perfectly combines the blood and violence of later 1960s/1970s westerns with the pure traditional westerns of the 1950s.The film also has a great score and meticulous production design. Many classical actors from Wayne’s heyday are in this film including the beautiful Laurance Bacall and legendary James Stewart, playing a similar role from The Man who shot Liberty Valance (1962).

4. Duck You Sucker (1971)

 Duck, You Sucker!

The least well known film of Sergio Leone’s filmography and his last western, also the darkest and most personal one. Often also referred to as a Fistful of Dynamite (which leads to confusion of it being connected to the Trilogy). Starring the great James Coburn as an IRA terrorist, who besides John Wayne and Clint Eastwood might be the best actor of this genre. The versatile Rod Steiger is also excellent (only a few years removed from an Oscar and Waterloo Steiger always played uncompromising characters). Has one of the best train sequences ever put to film topping what was done this year with the new Mission Impossible. Also has one of the best shootouts ever and a creative use of the Gatling Gun. Unlike Leone’s other westerns in that it takes place in a more modern time at the start of the Mexican Revolution in 1931. Stieger and Coburn have excellent chemistry, the set’s are epic, and there's even cool motorcycle chases. Before Once Upon Time In America this was Leone’s biggest film, the flashbacks to Ireland about Coburn’s character are magnificent and give another layer to the film. The film’s use of music, particularly the score that follows Coburn’s character throughout, is breathtaking. 

5. The Missouri Breaks (1975)

The Missouri Breaks

Similar to the problems the Shootist and other traditional westerns of the 1970s faced, was that the genre was overtaken by the popularity of revisionist westerns or spaghetti westerns. Arthur Penn had already directed one of the Best Westerns of the 1970s with Little Bag Man, but was coming off a box office disappointment with Night Moves (1975). Another great underrated film from the 1970s that Penn Worked on that did not get it's just due till years later. Although that film has developed a small but passionate following. The Missouri Breaks has maintained an unfair reception and allure around it. There's a reason why a movie starring two of the biggest actors of all time is not better known. Needed a box office hit Penn Re Teamed with Brando after working on the Chase (1966). Brando coming off the Godfather and Nichoslan coming off Chinatown the film had an enormous amount of hype surrounding it. However, it ended up being a critical and commercial flop and Penn would not direct another film until 1981. Nicholson is steady as always and seemingly could do no wrong in the 1970s. Brando though received much deride for his performance with critics unfairly pointing to his weight. The film had a troubled production with Brando completely changing the character and even the tool he used to kill. He fashioned a weapon that was a cross between a knife and a mace. In the film and real life Brando throws and uses the weapon to kill a running Rabbit. The weapon is also used in one of the best murder’s scenes in film history. Reminiscent of 70s kung fu films of the time. The film has an excellent train heist in the start, but then takes its time developing the characters and has a jam packed final 30 minutes. Critics at the time found the film to be a drag, but the slow burn pays off. Recently the film did get some recognition by being mentioned in M Night Shyamalan's Old (2020). Some critics have also praised the film in recent years with Guardian Critic Xan Brooks noting: "Time has worked wonders on The Missouri Breaks. On first release, Arthur Penn's 1976 Western found itself derided as an addled, self-indulgent folly. Today, its quieter passages resonate more satisfyingly, while its lunatic take on a decadent, dying frontier seems oddly appropriate...Perhaps for the last time, there is a whiff of method to (Brando's) madness. He plays his hired gun as a kind of cowboy Charles Manson, serene and demonic" This film truly seemed to be the last time Brando gave it his all and he’s glorious here. The film combines excellent production design of the 70s with the vibes of a traditional western mixed in with counter culture. Beloved character actors Randy Quaid and Harry Dean Stanton are also great here. One of the most misunderstood films ever, the film deserves a critical reappraisal. 

6. Dead Man (1995)

Dead Man
Johnny Depp and Jim Jarmusch are a wonderful pairing, making one wish they worked together more. The great Robert Mitchum, Crispin Glover, Alfred Molina, John Hurt, Billy Bob Thornton, Gabriel Bryne, and even IGGY POP round out an excellent ensemble cast. Gary Farmer steals the show here (one of the best native american actors ever). Shot in lush black and white, the film feels like a lyrical poem. Hard to describe the films needs to be experienced by fans of westerns and Jarmusch. Depp gives one of the best performances of his career outside of The Brave (1997) and Rango Depp never made another western. Maybe the best looking black and white movie ever, it really fits the film's aesthetic. Unlike any other western an Absorbing slow burn, but a rewarding experience.  

7. Thunderheart (1992)

Basically the 1990s version of Wind River, Thunderheart is also notable for being the first film Robert Deniro produced out of Tribeca. Val Kilmer is excellent as the lead and gives one of the best performances of his career. As a conflicted half Native American FBI agent investigated murders in a Sioux tribe, the film is loosely based on 1973 events. Sam Sheppard is also great as the villain, but Grame Greene (a few years removed from Dance with Wolves) steals every scene he’s in. Making only 22 million the film was overshadowed by White men Can't Jump released that same weekend and was not given a large DVD release. The film also was never released on Blu Ray or is on any streaming services which has limited its chance of being rediscovered by a larger audience. A neo-western which was later popularized in the 2000s or with shows like Yellowstone. Val Kimer looks like a clean cut All-American Hero. If you enjoyed films like Wind River then check this out. 

8. The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford (2007)

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Nominated for two oscars for best Supporting actor and best cinematography. Director Andrew Dominik, who would later reteam with Pitt on Killing them Softly, crafts one of the bleakest best looking westerns ever. Hundreds of films (ranging back to the early 1900s) were made about the exploits of Jesse James, but this film was by far the most accurate of them. Roger Deakans crafts some of the most beautiful shots ever. Casey Affleck before Oscar glory for Manchester by the Sea gives a truly haunting performance. The film is also surrounded by a great supporting cast: Sam Rockwell, Jermany Renner, and Sam Sheppard. Mary Louise Parker also plays a small role and a young Zooey Deschanel has some screen time. Brad Pitt gives the best performance of his career combining the unpredictability of roles like Kalfornia with the laid back nature of roles like True Romance. Pitt is truly haunting here with one scene talking to Casey Affeck in a field leaving a lasting impression long after the credits role. A box office bomb due to its long wordy title and a limited theatrical release after taking a whole two years to get released.

9. Hostiles (2017)


This recent film had a large budget of 39 million and a star with Christian Bale making in one of the higher profile westerns of the 2010 despite this the film was a box office bomb making only 35 million at the box office. The film has a stacked supporting cast- Rosamund Pike, Timotehe Chamletot, Jonathan Majors  Wes Studi, Jesse Plemons, Ben Foster, Bill Camp, and Stephen Lang. One of the most uncompromising grimmist westerns. Full of great performances, beautifully shot by Scott Cooper, whose signature style shines through. Tonally similar to Ulzania’s Raid (1972) and The Revenant (2015). Wes Studi should have been nominated for an oscar and a film that shows that the 2010s are still capable of producing great westerns not named DJANGO.

10. Hearts of the West (1975)

Hearts of the West

Jeff Bridges has one of the most diverse filmographies of all time and his career has a bunch of hidden gems especially in the 70s. The late great Alan Arkin also stars here and is wonderful. One of Andy Griffens rare acting roles and he’s heartbreaking as well as hysterical here. Blythe Danner also stars and her resemblance to her daughter Gwyneth Paltorw is uncanny. A smart satire of old western shows like Gunsmoke.  Hearts of the West is a  love letter to old Hollywood. A Box office disappointment the film has since developed a small but passionate cult following. 

Honorable mention 

Shanghai Noon 


Extreme Prejudice 

11. Ulzana's Raid (1972)

Ulzana's Raid