Back in the day, Western movies were the superhero movies of the era, when the likes of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood roamed free and killed anybody who got in their way—not quite so literally, of course.
But as cowboy movies became passé, so too did the Western movie genre as a whole. They were so popular for such a long time that when Westerns fell from favor, they didn’t return for a long time.
Sure, there were a few here and there—Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven being the best of the post-Western era—but overall they were outlawed. At least until the 21st century and its prevalence of genre-blending, which has increasingly brought Western movies back into view.
With cowboys again on the rise, I thought it’d be a great time to take a peek at the best and coolest movie cowboys in cinema history.
7. The Weird (The Good, The Bad and The Weird)
Kim Jee-woon’s The Good, The Bad and The Weird is a direct result of—and takes heavy influences from—the iconography of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. This South Korean film follows a similar plot to the original, but with its own unique style and panache that make it unmissable.
Song Kang-ho’s character, The Weird, is one of the most compelling and bohemian cowboys in cinema history. He can retrofit any scenario to his advantage and is a faster shot than anybody else around. Coupled with his wild antics, The Weird is easily one of the best movie cowboys.
6. William Munny (Unforgiven)
Clint Eastwood’s revival Western movie paid homage to the work he did with Sergio Leone on the Dollars trilogy, all while telling its own story. Unforgiven finds a retired former bandit, who raises his family on a pig farm while repenting for his many sins.
William Munny doesn’t look like a character who would be iconic, at least at the start of the film. But as the unrelenting Unforgiven pushes forward, Munny shows his true colors.
After finding out that his friend Ned has been killed, Munny walks into the saloon and kills everybody in it, avenging his friend—and showing off his brutal skillset one last time.
5. Rooster Cogburn (True Grit)
Portrayed by both John Wayne and Jeff Bridges, Rooster Cogburn is one of the best-known cowboys in existence. In True Grit, Cogburn is a US Marshal who accepts a bounty from a young woman named Mattie who’s looking for revenge against those who killed her father.
Cogburn leads the trio—which also consists of LeBoeuf, a Texas Ranger—and along the way guns down three of his enemies single-handed while riding his horse. He then rescues Mattie and saves her life after she’s bitten by a snake.
Both iterations of Rooster Cogburn are fun to watch, but John Wayne’s portrayal is certainly the more iconic.
4. Shane (Shane)
As Western movies go, Shane is one of the most heartbreaking pictures of them all. It tells the story of a man named Shane, who turns up at a lowly ranch one day and ends up working for the family that lives there.
However, after bonding with the family, the trouble from the local town brings Shane’s past back to him in a stunning ending.
As Shane rides into town to deal with the men responsible for the violence, he stands in the saloon and uses his skill on the draw to gun them all down. He then rides off knowing that he can’t change his nature, all while the little boy Joey shouts after him.
3. Chris Adams (The Magnificent Seven)
Few films are as overtly cool as The Magnificent Seven. Based on Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, the Western remake sees several cowboys enlisted to help defend a town against invading bandits.
Chris Adams is the strong leader of the team, the experienced gunslinger who recruits the rest of the gang to help the lowly villagers. Played by Yul Brynner, Adams has a thoughtful, practical attitude and displays excellent leadership of the eponymous seven.
A version of Adams is seen in the remake of the original film, this time portrayed by Denzel Washington, who is equally as cool as Brynner’s character (though less known since the remake isn’t as iconic).
2. Ethan Edwards (The Searchers)
The Searchers is one of the best films ever made and features a prime John Wayne as its main character, Ethan Edwards.
The story follows Edwards’ arrival home some years after the War has ended. What he’s done in the time between is a mystery, and all we know is that he shows up with plenty of money.
Soon after he gets home, the Natives arrive and kill several family members, as well as taking Debbie and Lucy (Ethan’s young nieces) hostage. Ethan and his nephew Martin search for the girls for years, finding Lucy dead along the way.
Edwards is a vengeful, hate-filled character who appears beyond redemption. However, he slowly changes his old ways as the years go by—and when they find Debbie, he puts aside his hatred of the Natives and takes her home in one of cinema’s most iconic endings.
1. Blondie (The Good, The Bad and The Ugly)
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is a movie that many believe to be the best Western movie ever made (perhaps tied with The Searchers). Sergio Leone’s masterpiece has inspired countless films and helped make icons of its actors, none more so than Clint Eastwood.
When Blondie and Tuco each learn two vital facts about the location of buried gold, they must put aside their hatred of one another and work together to go across the warring US to find it.
The Man With No Name is referred to by many names throughout the Dollars trilogy, but it’s as “Blondie” that he cements his reputation as the best and coolest cowboy of them all.
Eastwood’s Blondie is calm, collected, and can’t be out-drawn by anybody. Simply put, he’s the fastest gun in the West.