There was a time when production of the western movies outnumbered all other genres by a 2-1 ratio. So popular were American westerns that there was always one playing at the local movie theater, and if that did not give audiences their fix there were more than twenty on prime time television in the fifties and sixties. For such a brief period in American history, the time of the cowboy, the gunfighter, the marshal seemed to utterly fascinate audiences. Always deceptive in their simplicity, westerns had a great deal more going on that was often suspected. Man vs. the land, man vs. man, and man vs himself were the main themes of the best westerns, and though John Ford had the market cornered on the greatest westerns, there were some major films directed by the likes of Howard Hawks, Fred Zinnemann and George Stevens before Sergio Leone took them in a different direction with his spaghetti westerns of the sixties. And then as cinema changed so did the western, becoming much more violent, darker, reflecting society until Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate (1989) bankrupted United Artists and all but put a nail on the coffin of the genre.
Kevin Costner brought them back with his Oscar winning masterpiece ‘Dances with Wolves’ (1990) and then two years later Clint Eastwood gave us one of the darkest and greatest westerns ever made with ‘Unforgiven’ (1992). Since then westerns on screen have been spotty emerging every so often, often very good ones, but never finding huge mainstream success like they need to become relevant again. The Coen brothers recent smash hit ‘True Grit’ (2010) was the biggest western in years, rave reviews, more than a hundred million at the box office and ten Academy Award nominations, but even that did not start a slew of western films into production. Thank God for DVD and Blu Ray, as we can always return to those films of the past to view some of the finest western films ever made. In the last fifteen years there have been some outstanding western films, at least five vying for the best of all time list. It is a genre I love, and one I hope young people of today discover and celebrate. With that said, here is the list of top modern western movies of the 21st century.
10. Appaloosa (2006)
OK it is not art, but damn if it is not entertaining and I would watch Ed Harris and Viggo Mortenson together any time. Harris the marshal for hire, Mortenson his deputy with the deadly shot, and together they care called to Appaloosa to try and break the reign of terror of Jeremy Irons, wolf like as a nasty baron handy with a gun. Forget the stupid subplot with Renee Zellweger, watch the men…watch the cowboys…watch the western. Harris directed, Mortenson is terrific as the man handy with a gun.