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Are you feeling lucky?
To this day, it’s hard to say whether the gangster movie or the Western is the quintessential American genre. Both tend to be encapsulations of everything this country has to offer, the good the bad, and the ugly (yes, pun intended). Both also include plenty of titles that are available to stream right now. So hitch up your wagon and get your six-shooter ready. These are the best Westerns on Netflix, partner.
The best Westerns on Netflix: Movies
Clint Eastwood’s 1992 masterpiece about a legendary gunslinger who comes out of retirement is also his best film. It won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Supporting Actor, which went to Gene Hackman for his fearsome portrayal of Little Bill Daggett. The greatest western of the modern era and an essential American film about violence and redemption, Unforgiven is a must-see for Eastwood aficionados and agnostics alike.
2) The Hateful Eight
Long, bloody, and shamelessly self-indulgent, The Hateful Eight is peak Tarantino. The story centers on two bounty hunters and a prisoner who take shelter one night with a group of five other suspicious characters in a Wyoming haberdashery to escape a blizzard. Pasts are explored, secrets are unveiled, and soon bodies start to drop. Tarantino’s mix of provocation and exploitation doesn’t work as well here as it does in some of his other films, and the three-hour runtime makes it a tough sit, even if you saw the roadshow version that contained an intermission. But the movie looks fantastic, shot on 70mm by cinematographer Robert Richardson, and it features a career-high performance from Jennifer Jason Leigh as notorious criminal Daisy Domergue. But the best part of The Hateful Eight is its score, for which composer Ennio Morricone won a much-overdue Oscar.
3) Blazing Saddles
It’s often said that Mel Brooks’ searing 1974 satire couldn’t get made today. But would you really want it to be? Part of the charm of Blazing Saddles is that it feels at once dated and timeless. It’s both a product of 1974 and an enduring send-up of the way race is portrayed in cinema. With the help of talent including stars Gene Wilder and Cleavon Little, writer Richard Pryor, and many, many more, Mel Brooks crafted his masterpiece with this bawdy, ludicrous, razor-sharp critique of the American western.
4) Dead Man’s Burden
Dead Man’s Burden takes place on the post-Civil War, New Mexico frontier. The film follows a struggling family that comes into conflict with a mining company that wants to buy their land. Director Jared Moshe followed it up with 2017’s The Ballad of Lefty Brown, quickly establishing himself as an authority in the sub-genre of indie Westerns.
5) The Salvation
It’s always interesting to see what Westerns made outside of the U.S. look like. It’s such an American genre, to see how other countries play with it, comment on it, and make it their own is a testament to the power of cinema in the world. Then again, that’s not exactly what’s going on in The Salvation. Instead, this is a Western that takes place in America, but from an outsider’s perspective. Starring Mads Mikkelsen (Hannibal, Doctor Strange) as a European settler out to avenge the death of his family, the film was made by Danish director, Kristian Levring. While it’s a classic Western story, the fact that Mikkelsen’s character is a stranger in a strange land does add another layer to it. Look out for the marvelous Eva Green and Jeffrey Dean Morgan in supporting roles, too.
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6) The Homesman
Although no one thinks of Tommy Lee Jones as a director over an actor, he’s made four feature films, three of which are Westerns. His most recent, The Homesman, is about a former schoolteacher (Hilary Swank) who enlists the help of a drifter (Jones) in escorting three mad-women (Miranda Otto, Grace Gummer, Sonja Richter) eastward via covered wagon. The Homesman offers both the personification of an old-school Hollywood Western and stealth commentary on the genre’s ingrained sexism. The film was nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2014 (Jones’ second to compete in the festival) and has a great supporting cast, including William Fichtner, John Lithgow, Tim Blake Nelson, Jesse Plemons, James Spader, Hailee Steinfeld, and Meryl Streep. That’s the best part about actors turned directors—they can always enlist their colleagues to work for them.
7) The Killer
An original Western movie on Netflix, this well-executed Brazilian shoot-em-up flick cuts no corners in telling its serpentine story and spares no gory details. Branded as O Matador outside of the United States, the film stars Portuguese actor Diogo Morgado as Cabeleira, a manchild assassin searching for his adopted father through the lawless badlands of Pernambuco. —Kahron Spearman
8) Cold Mountain
Cold Mountain, Anthony Minghella’s adaptation of Charles Frazier’s acclaimed book, follows a Confederate soldier trying to make his way home in the last days of the Civil War. The movie comes with a great soundtrack courtesy of T Bone Burnett of O Brother, Where Art Thou? fame, which includes songs from Elvis Costello, Sting, Alison Krauss, and Jack White, who appears in the film. The ensemble is also very good, including Renée Zellweger, who won an Oscar for best supporting actress. Her thick, abrasive accent might be a little over the top, and she doesn’t do anything quite as showstopping as what she pulls off in Chicago, but her tough-as-nails performance as Ruby Thewes is one of the more memorable parts of the movie. Like most movies about this time period, the film fails to truly reckon with the legacy of the Civil War, but grading on a curve, it’s still an above-average piece of Oscar bait and one of the best Westerns on Netflix.
9) Casa de mi Padre
The Western-comedy is a rich subgenre within the Western genre as a whole. Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles, for instance, is one of the best American comedies of all time. There haven’t been a lot of offerings in this tradition lately, and the ones we have gotten (The Ridiculous 6, A Million Ways to Die in the West) have been less than stellar. That’s what makes Will Ferrell’s Casa de mi Padre, from 2012, such a memorable outlier. As much a send-up of/tribute to telenovela cliches as Western ones, this story of a rancher (Ferrell) who goes up against a drug lord is told entirely in Spanish, with English subtitles. In a brilliant bit of casting, the film co-stars Y Tu Mamá También’s Diego Luna and Gael García Bernal, and was co-written and directed by Andrew Steele and Matt Piedmont, who’ve made a career of dissecting genre tropes on the IFC shows The Spoils of Babylon, The Spoils Before Dying, and the Lifetime original movie A Deadly Adoption.
The best Westerns on Netflix: TV shows
Scott Frank’s Western series Godless has a lot working in its favor. The cast, led by Jack O’Connell and Jeff Daniels, is strong, the writing is observant and smart. The show looks great and has a nice score to boot. But for only having seven episodes, the show sometimes struggles to justify its runtime. Still, there is enough here to make it a worthwhile watch. —Eddie Strait
Of all the shows to be saved by the streaming era, I don’t think anyone expected Netflix would pick up A&E’s Longmire when the network canceled it after its third season. Netflix clearly saw something in this show about a widowed sheriff (Robert Taylor) in Absaroka County, Wyoming, however, because not only did they save it, they renewed for an additional three seasons. Co-starring Battlestar Galactica’s Katee Sackhoff and Lou Diamond Phillips, the series may not be for those who aren’t hardcore fans of Westerns, but if you’re looking for a modern take on the genre’s archetypes, Longmire is a good place to start.
3) Hell on Wheels
While no one was looking, AMC quietly put out one of the best TV Westerns of the past 10 years. With Breaking Bad about to wrap up, Mad Men slated to come back the following year, and The Walking Dead having just premiered, the network was still in the midst of its creative renaissance when this show arrived in 2011. Since then, the quality of the premium cable channel’s programming has waned, with Hell on Wheels, like a lot of their recent series, largely going unnoticed. It’s a darn shame, though, since this drama about the building of the transcontinental railroad is big, bold, and totally badass.
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4) Hatfields & McCoys
Whether you’re intimately or only vaguely familiar with the story of America’s most famous rival families, most people have at least heard of the Hatfields and McCoys. The History Channel undertook one of its biggest original programming ventures ever in 2012 with this scripted drama. The miniseries led by Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton earned record ratings for the network and won five Emmys and a Golden Globe.
This one is kind of a cheat since it has all the hallmarks of the Western genre but doesn’t even take place in the United States. Instead, this Canadian acquisition from Netflix looks at the Hudson Bay Company’s fur-trading empire in the 18th century. Jason Momoa, Mr. Khal Drogo himself, stars as a part-Native American, part-Irish outlaw determined to fracture the company’s dominance.
Looking for something more specific? Here are our Netflix guides for the best war movies, documentaries, anime, indie flicks, true crime, food shows, rom-coms, LGBT movies, alien movies, gangster movies, film noir, and movies based on true stories streaming right now. There are also sad movies guaranteed to make you cry, weird movies to melt your brain, old movies when you need something classic, and standup specials when you really need to laugh. Or check out Flixable, a search engine for Netflix.
Editor’s note: This article is regularly updated for relevance.
Chris Osterndorf is an entertainment reporter and movie critic based in Los Angeles. He holds a degree in cinema from Chicago’s DePaul University. His work has appeared on the Daily Dot, Mic, the Script Lab, Salon, the Week, xoJane, and more.