Seven Best

Seven Best: Modern Westerns

No longer defined by white hats and spangly shirts, the Western has evolved over the past few decades to include closer representations of the original stories, and a more nuanced definition of a hero. It’s not just the bad guys who wear black anymore.

Westerns were all the rage at my house growing up, but I never connected with them. Maybe because they were black and white, or maybe because I was bored by the 89 minutes of idle talk, followed by the 60 seconds of a shootout in the middle of the street. But as I grew older, Hollywood began to add a little more action into their Westerns, and even recently, a little more accuracy into the tall tales of the Old West. Follow along!!

  • Deadwood
  • Tombstone
  • Unforgiven
  • Young Guns
  • 3:10 to Yuma
  • Magnificent Seven
  • Open Range
  • Assassination of Jesse James
  • Hateful Eight
  • The Quick and the Dead
  • Django Unchained
  • Logan
  • The Kid

7. The Magnificent Seven

White hats: Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, and five more…magnificents
Black hats: Peter Sarsgaard
Based on historical events: Nope

Make your case:

My distaste for movies made before I was born is no secret, so maybe that’s why this category appealed to me, and why remakes give me a chance to hear a story that’s been done previously in a new light. Is this as good as the original? Who knows. I’m not gonna watch it to compare. Does this have a significantly more diverse cast, a female lead who’s capable and takes part in the action, likely less racism, AND Antoine Fuqua? Yes. Yes it does.

Surprise cowboy: Matt Bomer! Ah shit, he’s dead.

6. Deadwood

White hats: Timothy Olyphant
Black hats: Gerald McRaney
Based on historical events: Kind of? A majority of the characters are based on people from history—even notoriously famous ones like Calamity Jane, and Senator George Hearst—though most of their stories were embellished.

Make your case:

I had just finished rewatching the entire series in anticipation of the movie’s release, and I’m glad I did. The series was canceled by HBO, so the story just kind of…ended. No happy endings, no sad endings…no ending. So when they announced plans to make a movie, fans of the show were excited, and that excitement paid off. Even though some of the actors had died in real life—meaning we got no significant ending for their characters, and some of them didn’t go out the way I hoped *cough*Hearst*cough* I was still ecstatic to see Bullock and Swearingen on my screen again.

Surprise cowboy: Garret Dillahunt as a background cowboy. He played Jack McCall and Francis Wolcott, both of whom died in the original series.

5. 3:10 to Yuma

White hats: Christian Bale
Black hats: Russell Crowe
Based on historical events: Nope.

Make your case:

I remember liking this movie a lot when it came out, and maybe I like it more now, knowing that it laid some of the groundwork for Logan. The reluctant hero who just wants to do right by the kid, the isolation of being the only one who’s willing to stand and fight. Dan Evans and Logan are both reluctant heroes, who die in their attempt to prove they’ve got one last fight in them.

And of course, it’s another remake.

Surprise cowboy: Alan Tudyk as Doc Potter

4. Open Range

White hats: Kevin Costner and Robert Duvall
Black hats: Michael Gambon
Based on historical events: Nope

Make your case:

This movie is way better than it has any right to be. Kevin Costner stars in so many lofty roles that end up fizzling out and being duds, but in Open Range he plays the perfect part—a gunfighter who just wants to leave his past behind. But like Unforgiven, you don’t want to go poking this bear. It’s best to leave him lay. Just ask Butler…

Surprise cowboy: Albus Dumbledore!!

3. Unforgiven

White hats: Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman
Black hats: Gene Hackman
Based on historical events: Nope

Make your case:

I don’t know that there’s much I can say here that hasn’t already been said. The king of all westerns comes out of retirement to make one last western…about a man who comes out of retirement to take one last job.

Surprise cowboy: Albus Dumbledore again!

2. Logan

White hats: Hugh Jackman
Black hats: Boyd Holbrook
Based on historical events: Uhhh…no.

Make your case:

“But Chris, Logan isn’t a western!!” Isn’t it? A hero, minding his own business, living in a remote, desolate area, is called upon to defend people who can’t defend themselves by being called back into the one thing he was trying to refrain from becoming. If anything, this is the better of the two James Mangold westerns on the list. And that’s saying something.

Surprise cowboy: I mean, the entire movie is a surprise cowboy movie, soooo…

1. Tombstone

White hats: Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer
Black hats: Powers Boothe and Michael Biehn
Based on historical events: Yes! Based on the real life events in Tombstone, New Mexico in 1881, and the lead up to the gunfight at the OK Corral.

Make your case:

Damn. This movie is just the best. I know, I know, it gets a little lost towards the end as it just becomes a mindless revenge fantasy. And I know it was riddled with production issues—only to be saved daily by Kurt Russell’s guidance—but if you’re under 50 years old, is this not the first movie you think of when you’re asked about the best western movies? I’ll say it: it’s Val Kilmer’s best role.

Surprise cowboy: Billy Bob Thornton as Johnny Tyler

Honorable Mention: Young Guns 1 & 2

They sure aren’t the best written, or even best acted, but when I was growing up, these guys were the coolest group of actors you could find to play cowboys. And yes, a lot of it is based on the true-life exploits of Billy the Kid. With surprise cowboys like Bradley Whitford and Viggo Mortensen! Just don’t pay attention to the two different Pat Garretts.