It’s been eight years since Rockstar Games rolled out the original Red Dead Redemption, so it’s understandable if these last few hours before the release of Red Dead Redemption 2 seem to be dragging on like the endless horizon over the prairie. With that in mind, we did you a favor and put together a list of ten Westerns that will help pass the time and also get you excited to hit the dusty trail. Oh, and who knows, there may even be easter-eggs tucked away in the plot that references these timeless classics.
We didn’t list them in any particular order, as the Western genre is so immense, ranging from black and white classics to modern epics, Spaghetti Westerns, comedy, and even horror. Western filmmakers themselves also used radically different approaches to attempt the portrayal of one of the most turbulent times in American history. For those reasons, it’s nearly impossible to choose a “best Western,” especially within the context of a game we haven’t played yet (but soon, sooooo soon). So why not just watch them all and let us know what you think!
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Sergio Leone carved out his very own Western subgenre, dubbed Spaghetti Westerns. They got this name because they were filmed primarily in Italy and with many Italian extras, and even main characters who couldn’t speak English and had to have their lines dubbed over. Clint Eastwood, however, became a bonafide Hollywood star after portraying Blondie, the Good gunslinger who gets caught up in an epic struggle with, you guessed it, two equally Bad and Ugly nemeses in a fight over, amongst other things, a timelessly favored object: gold. There probably couldn’t be a more apropos film to complement the scene set by Red Dead Redemption 2, as players will make choices throughout the game that affect the outcome and also how different factions, townspeople, and the law treat you. Will you be good, bad, or just plain ugly?
John Wayne features prominently on this list (of course) and also within the world of Hollywood collectors, but that’s another list for another time (we love famous collectors). Rio Bravo recants the attempt to arrest a local rancher and strong man, a situation you may certainly find yourself in if you decide to take the reins (controller and horse) in Red Dead Redemption 2. A local sheriff, naturally played by John Wayne, teams up with a handful of misfits to take on the corrupt and powerful gang. This movie was listed by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant,” and we think it would also make for a great video game sub-plot.
No Country for Old Men
Although this more recent film may not come to mind when you think of what a Western is, it most definitely fits the description of a modern Western. Deals gone bad feature prominently within video game plots, and one such deal sparks the events that unfold in No Country For Old Men. While the film is set during 1980, well after the era of what we think of as the Wild West, it’s remarkable to consider that it takes place less than one-hundred years after the setting of Red Dead Redemption 2. There was also an anecdote from an old-timer, towards the end of the movie, retelling a story of similar hardships during the turn of the century; exactly when Red Dead Redemption 2 takes place. And, although there may be no easter-egg from this film in Rockstar’s newest game, there was a reference to the opening “deal gone bad” in Grand Theft Auto 5. So it’s not hard to imagine them pulling themes and even perhaps plot elements from this modern Western.
Another John Wayne classic, filmed more towards the end of his career, The Cowboys follows an aging rancher who has a hard time finding hands to help drive his cattle to auction due to the recent gold rush. With no ranch-hands or any other labor, for that matter, in the recently turned ghost-town, John Wayne’s character, Wil Anderson, enlists the help of local schoolboys, thus giving cowboys a whole new meaning. Naturally, they’re set upon by…well…we don’t want to spoil it for you, but suffice it to say: the boys become men.
If you envision the ideal good-guy cowboy as a mysterious, enigmatic wanderer who’s not played by Clint Eastwood or John Wayne, Shane may be what you’re thinking of. Shane is a classic Western following a motif typical of the genre: a heroic outsider who rides into town, almost like a knight, to protect the settlers from a ruthless cattle baron. Shane was especially noted for its cinematography, winning an Oscar for that category in 1954.
Ranked on the American Film Institute’s list of top ten Westerns as the greatest Western of all time, this classic film by John Ford came to epitomize and define the image of the Western frontier. Set during the Texas-Indian wars of the post-Civil War era, the film follows the search for a girl who’s been kidnapped by a Comanche war party. More esoterically, many critics and film analysts have argued that the characters are intended to be subtly perceived as searching for something within themselves…but we’ll let you decide how you feel about that.
We had to include at least one light-hearted flick on this list, and Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles is most definitely that. A parody of the Western film genre in general, Blazing Saddles takes what you could now perhaps refer to more as a Deadpool-esque approach. More aggressively illustrating racism and satirizing other glossed-over aspects of Westward expansion, the film follows the archetypal tale of a town nearly swallowed up in the wake of a railroad. It also has one of the best fight scenes of all time. Trust us.
We’re actually talking about the remake here, not only because it’s one of the few retellings that’s just as good, if not better than the original, but also because there are already three other films starring John Wayne on this list. Keep an eye out (pun intended) for a girl hunting down a gang of outlaws while you’re traipsing around the landscape of Red Dead Redemption 2, she may just need your help.
Dances With Wolves
If you know anything about the history of Native Americans and Westward expansion, you know it’s one full of tragedy, bloodshed, and ultimately a reshaped country, but also a shattered people. Kevin Costner portrays a conflicted Civil War hero turned frontier-outpost commander, stationed in Kansas, who must choose whether or not to trust the local Sioux tribe. Even today, Native American reservations suffer from higher rates of poverty, alcoholism, health problems, and crime, when compared to U.S. states. These modern problems were set in motion by the actions of the men who “claimed” the West.
Once Upon a Time in the West
Finishing off our list is another Sergio Leone classic, Once Upon a Time in the West. Another epic Spaghetti Western, it’s a must watch for your pre-Red Dead Redemption 2 binge. Although this isn’t one of Leone’s films featuring Clint Eastwood, it does feature Henry Fonda as the villain, going against the type of roles he typically portrayed. We hope our list will give you a moment’s pause when you begin your own western adventure and that you consider…”What would John Wayne do?”