The Western was once one of the most popular genres in cinema, with the 1930s to 1960s often referred to as the genre’s golden age. However, over time, the popularity of the genre began to fade. This could be due to a number of reasons, but despite reports of the genre dying, it never really went away. Revisionist westerns like The Wild Band and Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns helped keep the genre alive by offering a bloodier, less heroic take on the cowboy archetype.
The genre experienced something of a renaissance in the 1990s with unforgiven and dance with wolves each winning the Best Picture Oscar, but once again the genre fell out of favor with audiences. While Hollywood may not be making as many Westerns as it once was, since the start of 2010 there have been a number of great additions to the genre. These films vary in tone and subject matter, but all play into the convention of a Western. The nine films on this list have garnered 37 Oscar nominations and four wins between them. These are the nine best westerns made since 2010.
9 The brothers sisters
The brothers sisters‘ gives audiences a good hint at the kind of quirky funny story they’re getting into. Brothers Eli and Charlie Sister (John C. Reiley and Joaquin Phoenix) are two gunslingers and assassins who are sent after a gold digger (Riz Ahmed) who finds himself teamed up with a private detective (Jake Gyllenhaal). The film was released in 2018 and was a box office disappointment, but it received positive reviews from critics with lots of praise for the two leads and their comedic dynamics. The brothers sisters both play with convention while being straightforward and comical, but the film never undermines itself. It’s a strange outlier in the career of Palme d’Or-winning director Jaques Audiard.
The 2011 animated film rango is a computer-animated western comedy that features Johnny Depp as the voice of the titular chameleon who ends up becoming the sheriff of a town full of animals called Dirt. The film was directed by Gore Verbinski following the success of his Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy and was Industrial Light and Magic’s first fully animated film, and won Best Animated Feature at the 84th Academy Awards. rango is a great entry point for kids, but also a simple western that includes talking animals.
7 The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
The Coen Brothers’ dissection of American culture resulted in a film career that subverted different genres, particularly Westerns. In 2018, the duo released The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, a western anthology film with an all-star cast that is headlined by Tim Blake Nelson as the titular Buster Scruggs. All six stories contain a great blend of the Coens’ signature dark humor and deliver all the absurdist humor and heart you’ve come to expect from comedies from the directing duo. The film was nominated for three Academy Awards at the 91st Academy Awards, including Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Costume Design and Best Original Song for “When a Cowboy Trades Spurs for Wings.”
Loganwhich marked Hugh Jackman’s final appearance after 17 years of playing Wolverine throughout the x-men movies, saw the titular hero try to protect a young girl named Laura. Director James Mangold drew heavily on classic and modern westerns, especially the film Shanewhich is referenced throughout Logan, including the final quote from the film. The film was a box office hit and was one of the few superhero films to earn an Oscar nomination outside of effects (Best Adapted Screenplay at the 90th Academy Awards).
Superhero movies are often compared to westerns, and while the validity of this comparison is often up for debate in the individual comparison depending on the movie, Logan is arguably the closest superhero movie to the genre. It’s fitting for a character like Wolverine to have his latest adventure told in the style of an old gunslinger brought in to do one last job.
5 The Cavalier
In her second feature, director Chloe Zhao The Cavalier tells the story of Brady Blackburn (Brady Jandreau), a young cowboy who was a rising rodeo star before he suffered a brain-damaging riding accident and became seizure-prone and must discover a new purpose while trying to help take care of his family. The film’s use of real people, as opposed to actors, contributes to the film’s authentic Midwestern vibe, as well as the beautiful vistas that capture the scope of a classic western. The film was a critical sensation, as it topped many of the year’s Top 10 lists (including Barack Obama’s) and helped prove Zhao’s references to Kevin Feige, leading her to achieve Eternals.
4 Against all odds
Against all odds follows two brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) who commit a series of bank robberies to save their family ranch, while being chased by a Texas Ranger (Jeff Bridges). The film received critical acclaim upon release, both for revitalizing the Western genre and showing how convention can still work in a modern world.
The film was nominated for four Academy Awards at the 89th Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor, Best Original Screenplay and Best Film Editing. While his script for Sicario was released as a movie the previous year, it was Against all odds which really launched Taylor Sheridan’s career where he helped shape the modern western, with movies like Wind River and TV series like Yellowstone and 1883.
3 The power of the dog
One of the last westerns is also one of the best. 2021 the power of the dog, directed by Jane Campion, is a Western psychological drama that sees Philip Burbank (Benedict Cumberbatch) as a cruel ranch hand who comes into conflict with his brother George (Jesse Plemmons) and George’s new wife Rose (Kirsten Dunst), and takes a special interest in his adult son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee). The film examines the masculinity associated with Western gender as well as resentment, sexuality and power. The well reviewed The power of the dog was nominated for 12 Oscars at the most recent ceremony and won Campion as Best Director.
2 The real courage
The Coen brothers kicked off the 2010s with The real courage, an adaptation of the classic 1968 novel of the same name that was previously made into a film in 1969, notable for winning legendary actor John Wayne his only Oscar. The film follows farm girl Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld, in her breakout role), who hires drunken lawman Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to hunt down the outlaw who killed her father, and the duo embark on a journey with lawman Labeouf (Matt Damon).
The real courage was a smash hit when it hit theaters, grossing $171 million domestically and $252 million worldwide to become the Coen Brothers’ highest-grossing film. The holiday season release benefited not only from the awards season buzz, but also from adult audiences looking for something to hang out at the multiplex for. The real courage was nominated for 10 Oscars at the 83rd Academy Awards and helped launch a new decade of westerns.
1 Django Unchained
Quentin Tarantino’s seventh film, Django Unchained is a revisionist revenge story done in the style of classic spaghetti westerns. Set in the Antebellum South, the story follows a black slave named Django (Jamie Foxx) who trains with Dr. King Schultz, a German bounty hunter who helps him go on a quest to free his wife (Kerry Washington ) of a ruthless southern plantation. owner Calvin Candy (Leonardo DiCaprio).
Django Unchained grossed $162 million domestically when it was released during the holiday season of 2012, and worldwide it grossed $425 million, making it the highest-grossing film of Tarantino’s career. The film was nominated for five Oscars at the 85th Academy Awards and won two, Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor for Christoph Waltz. While Tarantino offers plenty of over-the-top action to have a thrilling time, the director is also wisely careful not to trivialize or shine a light on the truly gruesome nature of slavery, often dropping the music to let his sheer horror play for the viewers. In a career that spans several memorable films, Django Unchained is one of the best of the western genre of the last decade.
The Best Spaghetti Westerns, Ranked