Western movies currently on Netflix

Westerns were once the campfires and cold beans of Hollywood, seeing off every newcomer genre that swaggered into town. Early Hollywood and the Western genre were ready-made for each other. After all, the Golden Age of Tinseltown wasn’t long after the peak of the cowboy era.

That was good news for some legendary figures of the Wild West. Before his death in 1929 ⏤ 50 years after the gunfight at the O.K. Corral ⏤ Wyatt Earp served as a film consultant. The Western genre was attractively murky. Its broad canvas could just as easily sketch out the good, the bad, or the antihero, whether they’re ugly or not. 

Westerns also looked good on film, from their distinctive wooden salons to the giant vistas of the frontier. Even better, location shooting was just a hop from studio sets in California. The genre lost its edge when Hollywood shifted its attention to blockbusters in the 1970s. But some notable Oscar winners ended the Western’s lean spell in the early 1990s. This is one genre that wasn’t going to be run out of town. 

Fortunately for all of us, a good representation of the genre’s diversity is available on Netflix right now, including some bang up-to-date critical hits.

The Power of the Dog (2021)

This Netflix exclusive has earned an astonishing 12 nominations at the 2022 Academy Awards. Adapting Thomas Savage’s 1967 novel, Jane Campion crafted a timeless Western with the landscape of Montana breathtakingly subbed by New Zealand. Cattle herds and hides are present and correct, but the emphasis is on the psychological. The cast, led by a mesmerizing Benedict Cumberbatch, the direction, and Jonny Greenwood’s haunting score make for a rewarding watch.

Dances with Wolves (1990)

Kevin Costner’s ambitious directorial debut took us back to the American Civil War. Costner also took the lead as Union Lieutenant John Dunbar, who forged a bond with a Sioux tribe. The film’s ambition paid off when it became the first Western to win the Best Picture Oscar since Cimarron in 1931, helping to reassert the Wild West in the 1990s. It’s well worth a look if you have three hours to spare.

Justice (2017)

If you’re after gunslinging over deep meaning, this could be the movie for you. This revenge-soaked Western is set in 1868, where a corrupt governor and his band of outlaws hatch plans for a new civil war and only a justice-seeking U.S. Marshal can stop them.

The Long Riders (1980)

An adaptation of the legend of Jesse James, the idea for The Long Riders came from acting brothers James and Stacy Keach, who developed it as a play in the early 1970s.  If you’re looking for historical accuracy, you may want to catch the next wagon out of town, but it has “a real sense of character truth,” as director Walter Hill put it. One of over 30 films made of the James gang’s exploits and possibly the most violent.

The Hateful Eight (2015)

The eighth film Quentin Tarantino made contains a secret: It’s less a Western than a horror. The clue was in Western-legend Ennio Morricone’s masterful score, which picked up cues from his music for Exorcist II and The Thing. If you like your Westerns as menacing slow-burns, you might want to consider the extended edition that chops the film into a four-part mini-series. 

True Grit (2010)

The Coen Brothers had stepped around the genre for years with films like The Big Lebowski and No Country for Old Men, but their first true Western was an adaptation. Despite winning an impressive nothing from its 10 Oscar nominations, it remains the Coen’s highest-grossing film. It’s worth catching just to see Jeff Bridges filling John Wayne’s boots as Rooster Cogburn.

Geronimo (1993)

Wes Studi had memorably played menacing native Americans in movies like Dances with Wolves before he brought the legendary Apache leader Geronimo to the screen. With Walter Hill directing and John Milius scripting, it’s no surprise that there’s a focus on battles, and it takes quite a few liberties with the historical record. The focus falls more on Charles Gatewood, the U.S. soldier tasked with capturing the title character.

Django Unchained (2012)

Django Unchained was Quentin Tarantino’s first Western and one of his most grueling movies. The lengthy film signaled a new phase of Tarantino’s career after the corrected history of Inglourious Basterds. As its name suggests, it’s a callback to spaghetti Westerns, but Tarantino uses that as a lens to look at the horrors of history in pre-war America (the director referred to it as a “Southern”). Christoph Waltz picked up his second Oscar for his captivating turn. But it’s Jamie Foxx as the taciturn Django and Leonardo DiCaprio’s memeable villain Calvin Candie who steal the show.

Silverado (1985)

Another Western, another role for Kevin Costner. But playing one of the cowboys brought together by Scott Glenn’s drifter proved to be his breakthrough performance. Brought to the screen by Indiana Jones and Star Wars veteran Lawrence Kasdan, this New Mexico-shot movie was a rare thing, a well-received trip to the Wild West in the 1980s. It’s no mistake that retailers have occasionally bundled it up with the Magnificent Seven remake. 

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)

As it stands, this quirky Western anthology is the Coen brothers’ final film working together. A hefty cast list fills out its six chapters, each taken from Western shorts the brothers wrote over two decades. The tone may vary, but the Coens’ typical dark humor remains throughout. It doesn’t hit the heights of their other Westerns on this list, though.

The Killer (2017)

A dark Brazilian Western that happens to be the first Netflix original movie from that country, The Killer covers three decades in the early 20th century as a man raised away from civilization transforms into a killer in bandit country.

Dead Again in Tombstone (2017)

This horror Western is a sequel to, you guessed it, Dead in Tombstone. Danny Trejo plays Guerrero, the murdered gang leader who strikes a deal with the devil to return to Earth and avenge his death. The second time around, he took on the military to protect a sacred relic. Who can deny Trejo as a Western antihero?

The Ridiculous 6 (2015)

Okay, we’ll let Danny Trejo off his villainous turn in this terribly named Western satire. There have been some successful comedy Westerns, and then there’s The Ridiculous 6. This Adam Sandler flick may be best remembered for controversy over its treatment of Native Americans.

Wyatt Earp (1994)

Kevin Coster’s return to the genre following his Oscar-winning Dances with Wolves saw him take on the lead role as the legendary lawman. It’s unfortunate that it was released a year after the high profile Tombstone tackled the same story, and Wyatt Earp lost the shoot-out despite its fine cast. 

Sad Hill Unearthed (2016)

It may stretch the definition of this list, but this is a fine tribute to one of the greatest Westerns ever made. This Spanish documentary tracks the efforts of fans to reconstruct the cemetery that staged the finale showdown of Sergio Leone’s classic The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Montford: The Chickasaw Rancher (2021)

This is a biopic of Montford Thomas Johnson, the Chickasaw cattleman who built a ranching empire in central Oklahoma in the 19th century. Martin Sensmeier stepped into the title role after Antoine Fuqua’s The Magnificent Seven.

The Harder They Fall (2021)

The Power of the Dog overshadows it, but The Harder They Fall was the Netflix exclusive highlight of the genre in 2021. This energetic film’s principal cast is made up entirely of Black actors, all playing characters loosely based on real-life 19th century figures. 

Netflix also has a herd of films influenced by Westerns, even if they don’t strictly fit the genre. If you’ve exhausted the above and are itching for more, try these movies:

  • There Will Be Blood (2007)
  • Jonah Hex (2010)
  • Lawless (2012)
  • The Stolen (2016)
  • In a Valley of Violence (2016)
  • Mudbound (2017)
  • Damnation (2017)
  • Wind River (2017)
  • The Skin of the Wolf (2018)
  • Hold the Dark (2019)
  • The Highwaymen (2019)
  • The Stand at Paxton County (2020)
  • Concrete Cowboy (2021)
  • Space Sweepers (2021)

The Power of the Dog will hustle the competition at the 94th Academy Awards on March 27, 2022.