During the golden era of Western films, several big names were born. The likes of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood became masters of the big screen, each with their own idea of what a Western should be.
That golden era of Western films came to an end in the late 1960s and the market for such movies has dwindled for over 40 years. Few movie studios have been willing to make them since, with only a handful here and there—like Clint Eastwood's award-winning Unforgiven.
But recently, we've seen neo-Western movies begin creeping back into the culture. While these aren't exactly the same as before—with horses and cowboys still largely ousted—you can clearly see influences and homages to the Westerns of old, and they're fun again.
The traditional Western has been adapted and mixed with thrillers and drama, creating a whole new blended genre: the modern Western. Here are some of the best modern Western movies of recent years, starting with the turn of the millenium.
9. News of the World (2020)
Paul Greengrass' News of the World follows Tom Hanks as Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd in the post-Civil War era, escorting a stranded girl name Johanna home in the aftermath of a bloody ambush.
The film is a refreshing take on the Western genre, with a few stray bullets here and there. However, the film's primary focus is on Kidd's relationship with Johanna as they endure their journey.
Hanks brings his usual assured quality to proceedings, as does Paul Greengrass, yet it's young Helena Zengel who's the star of the movie, bringing Johanna across with a maturity beyond her years.
8. 3:10 to Yuma (2007)
Remaking an old Western can be a tricky affair, and success often requires involvement from at least three great actors. James Mangold knew this and cast Russell Crowe, Christian Bale, and Ben Foster.
3:10 to Yuma tells the tale of Ben Wade, an outlaw who's captured and sentenced to be taken to Yuma prison. The only problem? His gang isn't far behind. Which is why a one-legged rancher undertakes the task of joining the lawmen to get him to the train.
This remake is arguably better than the 1957 original as it pairs a talented cast with a very astute director in James Mangold, who makes the film a tense homage to all the best classic Westerns.
7. Hostiles (2017)
Christian Bale stars in Hostiles alongside Rosamund Pike and Wes Studi, which follows a dying Comanche War Chief (who's taken back to his native land) and the Native-hating Captain Blocker (who leads the party in delivering him there).
Along the way, the party run into Rosalee, a woman who has recently lost her husband and three children to the Indian raids.
Beautifully directed by Scott Cooper, Hostiles is an underrated picture that isn't obsessed with the fighting between Natives and Colonists. Rather, it focuses on the weariness of war and those who fight it.
6. Hell or High Water (2016)
A neo-Western movie that follows the desperation of two brothers who become bank robbers to help their dying mother, Hell or High Water is a tense tale that keeps audiences gripped throughout.
The movie feels like a classic Western in every way apart from its modern setting, replete with trucks replacing horses and high-powered weapons replacing old-school revolvers.
Starring Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine, and Ben Foster, Hell or High Water was acclaimed upon release and garnered multiple awards for its performances and screenplay, including Oscar nominations for Best Supporting Actor (Jeff Bridges), Best Original Screenplay (Taylor Sheridan), Best Film Editing, and Best Picture.
5. The Good, The Bad, The Weird (2008)
A South Korean Western set in the 1930s may not sound like a recipe for cinematic success, but Kim Jee-woon's The Good, The Bad, The Weird is a tasty recipe unlike any other.
Yes, the film broadly follows a similar premise to Sergio Leone's classic The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, but it does it in such a unique and stylish manner that it stands apart as an excellent film on its own.
Song Kang-ho's performance is one of his most erratic and best as he gives the picture an edge that keeps seats tingling with excitement. In the end, Kim Jee-woon's film is a wild ride that's so bombastic that it redefined what a modern Western could be.
4. Logan (2017)
Hugh Jackman's final performance as Wolverine ended up unlike any superhero movie that had ever seen the light of day.
Logan is a Western movie in spirit, telling the story of Logan's last ride before his passing, akin to every classic tale about a gunslinger who's getting too old for the world he's living in.
Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, and James Mangold bring their assured brilliance, with Jackman delivering a career-best performance, while Dafne Keen steals every scene as Wolverine's daughter, Laura.
James Mangold's direction is masterful, taking what he learned in his previous Western film (3:10 to Yuma) and shifting it to show Logan's last days. It's a trick that worked beautifully, with Logan becoming the first superhero movie to be Oscar-nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay.
3. No Country for Old Men (2007)
No Country for Old Men is a tough film to sum up without getting lost in the meaning of the film's final sequences—and that final scene with Tommy Lee Jones.
Still, here's what can be said about No Country for Old Men: it's a towering 21st century Western epic with a supreme cast and masterful direction that's as good as any movie since the turn of the millennium.
The film showcases the story of Llewelyn Moss, a hunter who finds a bag full of money that was left behind at a gang deal gone bad—and becomes embroiled in a hunt for that stash of cash.
Josh Brolin's Moss is slowly tracked down by Javier Bardem's Chigurh, and both men suffer the consequences of that money.
2. There Will Be Blood (2007)
Released the same year as No Country for Old Men, Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood is arguably the best film of this century.
Daniel Day Lewis as Daniel Plainview becomes one of cinema's greatest villains in this neo-Western epic of an oil prospector who becomes obsessed with money and building his fortune.
The movie is a masterpiece of modern filmmaking. Alongside No Country for Old Men, the two films represented a large shift in what Westerns were to contemporary cinema.
1. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Is Mad Max: Fury Road really a Western movie? Well, looking at the film's atmosphere and themes, it appears to be: the tale of a lone gunslinger, tormented by the past, entangled in a chase across a bleak desert.
While There Will Be Blood and No Country for Old Men are prime examples of thought-provoking and cerebral films, Mad Max: Fury Road drives a different path—yet ends up at the same place.
Max's dystopian journey with Furiosa and the wives while being hunted by Immortan Joe and his band of war boys is the best of modern cinema. It's a tense experience that never relents up to its final scenes.
Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron's performances are stunning, and George Miller's direction and writing go far beyond the usual action movie tropes and cliches. In the process, Mad Max: Fury Road becomes a story about feminism, survival, and what it means to live.