Ten Must-Watch Western Movies

There’s no better way to get in the mood for a Kay El Bar Guest Ranch vacation than by kickin’ off your boots and watching a western. There are countless great movies to choose from. Here are some of our favorites.

The Searchers

Greatest Western ever made

While “greatest” is a matter of opinion, The Searchers (1956) is Kay El Bar owner Joe Beattie’s top pick, and also scored the #1 spot for the American Film Institute list of Top 10 Western films. The Rotten Tomatoes Critics ranked The Searchers #4 of the 75 best western movies and wrote “If John Ford is the greatest Western director, The Searchers is arguable his greatest film. Shot in Arizona, the Searchers is an epic John Wayne Western that introduces dark ambivalence to the genre that remains fashionable today.”

High Noon


You must have seen this classic with Gary Cooper in his Oscar-winning performance. Ranked #2 on both the American Film Institute Top Western list and the Rotten Tomatoes 75 Best Westerns, High Noon broke many of the traditions of prior westerns as a conflicted U.S. Marshal (Cooper) has one last showdown while his bride, played by Grace Kelly, gives him an ultimatum: She is leaving on the noon train, with or without him.

True Grit

(Original in 1969 with John Wayne in an Oscar-winning performance as U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn. Remade in 2010 starring Jeff Bridges.)

“Feisty 14-year-old farm girl Mattie Ross hires Cogburn, a boozy, trigger-happy lawman after an outlaw murders her father. The bickering duo are accompanied on their quest by a Texas Ranger. As they embark on a dangerous adventure, each character has his or her grit tested in different ways.” (Wikipedia). Kay El Bar owner Joe Beattie prefers the original (of course) but some of us like the remake even better. Watch both and decide which version you prefer.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly


Many consider this Clint Eastwood classic the greatest western ever made. Directed by spaghetti western maestro Sergio Leone, you’ll instantly recognize the memorable musical score.

Dances With Wolves


This movie was passion project of Kevin Costner, who developed it and starred in it.  This film is significant in many ways.   It is the top grossing western movie of all times ($184M), it won seven Academy Awards including Best Picture, and it is credited with revitalizing the western movie genre. The movie runs three hours long, and much of the dialog is spoken in the Lakota language with English subtitles.

The movie tells the story of a Union Army lieutenant who travels to the American frontier to find a military post, and of his changing relationship with, and growing respect for, the Lakota Indians.

Open Range


Thirteen years after Dances with Wolves, Kevin Costner directed and starred in Open Range, which was also a critical and box office success. He cast Robert Duvall in the lead role of Boss Spearman and gave him top billing.

A former gunslinger is forced to take up arms again when he and his cattle crew are threatened by a corrupt lawman. The plot explores the concept of the evolution of violence in the West, and the fundamental Western notion that violence is sometimes necessary.  



Tombstone is based on events in Tombstone, Arizona, including the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral and the Earp Vendetta Ride, during the 1880s. It depicts a number of western outlaws and lawmen, such as Wyatt Earp, William Brocius, Johnny Ringo, and Doc Holliday.   

The Cowboys


John Wayne plays a rancher forced to hire inexperienced school boys as cowhands in order to get his herd to market on time after his ranch hands abandon him to join the gold rush. As the boys experience danger along the trail Wayne, playing his frequent father like role, teaches the boys how to become men. Teary ending.



Alan Ladd is a weary gunfighter who tries to settle down with a homestead family but is forced to act when ranchers attempt to push the family out.  This tale of good vs. evil transcends the Western genre.

City Slickers


This is definitely not your straight-ahead western, but it is reader nominated as a western comedy. Billy Crystal is hilarious as a "city slicker" who with two buddies decides to spend two weeks on a cattle drive to confront their mid-life crisis. Jack Palance won as Oscar for Best Supporting Actor as cowboy Curly, who teaches them a life lesson or two in the open air of the west.

Lonesome Dove

(1989) 4-part television miniseries.

Ok, this is not a movie, but Lonesome Dove is a personal choice of Kay El Bar staff. At the time this series was filmed, the western genre was considered dead. However, by the show's end, it had a huge viewership and went on to earn many industry awards. If you haven’t seen it, you’re in for a treat. And for you readers, the 1985 book by Larry McMurtry on which the TV series was based won the 1986 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and is a terrific read.