Advertisement

32 must-see Western movies for Red Dead Redemption fans

 A Fistful of Dollars.
A Fistful of Dollars.

Several years after Rockstar Games revolutionized video games with the Grand Theft Auto series – a franchise immersed in contemporary, urban crime – the studio applied its unique craftsmanship for open-world immersion to a completely different era: the American Old West.

Thus birthed the Red Dead Redemption series, beginning with 2004’s Red Dead Revolver and continuing through the sequels Red Dead Redemption (2010), Red Dead Redemption 2 (2018), and Red Dead Online (2019). Not unlike Grand Theft Auto, the Red Dead games allow players to explore an intricately-detailed sandbox mimicking the sights and sounds of the American frontier. Only the skyscrapers, sports cars, and machine guns of GTA are traded in for saloons, steeds, and revolvers, but the blistering action and high-stakes drama are all the same.

For Red Dead fans looking to keep up those gunslinger vibes, you’re in luck. Because there are a million different Western movies that satisfy anyone’s taste for yeehaw mayhem. But listing a million movies is daunting, so below, we have just 32 must-see Western movies for die-hard Red Dead fans.

32. Unforgiven (1992)

Unforgiven
Unforgiven

Conceived by producer, director, and star Clint Eastwood as his last true Western epic, Unforgiven tells of an aged outlaw (played by Eastwood) who is forced into one last job hunting down a rogue cowboy. Not only is the film a classic in its own right, but its function as Eastwood’s final statement on the very genre he helped revitalize imbues Unforgiven with a renegade spirit, revealing that the American West we mythologize isn’t all black and white.

31. The Gunfighter (1950)

The Gunfighter
The Gunfighter

Audiences may know Gregory Peck best as the noble attorney Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, or perhaps Audrey Hepburn’s brief boyfriend in the rom-com classic Roman Holiday. But in Henry King’s The Gunfighter, released in 1950, Peck strapped on spurs holstered revolvers to play Jimmy Ringo, a famous gunslinger who wishes to retire from his violent lifestyle and be with his estranged wife and son. The problem is that every other cowboy wants to kill him to claim his title. Released at the apex of Westerns being the premier genre for populist cinema, Peck rules the screen with swagger never seen before, and has informed so many others who’ve come after.

30. Silverado (1985)

Silverado
Silverado

Helmed by Lawrence Kasdan, among the few in Hollywood to help redefine escapist cinema in the 1980s (through hits like Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Empire Strikes Back), Silverado follows four outlaw strangers who encounter a town’s corrupt sheriff and fight against him to become unlikely heroes. Kevin Kline, Danny Glover, Scott Glenn, and Kevin Costner star in Kasdan’s sophomore feature that pays tribute to studio-made Westerns of yesteryear, championing that heroes still walk, or ride, among us.

29. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

In this star-studded revisionist history epic (based on the 1983 novel by Ron Hansen), the final days of famed American outlaw Jesse James are recounted in gorgeous and heart-shattering fashion by director Andrew Dominik. Brad Pitt, as the famous Jesse James, takes in aspiring outlaw Robert Ford (Casey Affleck), unaware Ford will eventually be the one to put a bullet in his back. While Dominik’s picture isn’t a Western where guns are blazing, its dramatic exploration of fame and its creeping darkness make it a must-watch for Red Dead Redemption fans.

28. Desperado (1995)

Desperado
Desperado

While Robert Rodriguez’s cult hit Desperado takes place in modern times, that doesn’t stop it from being one of the greatest action Westerns ever made. In fact, its breakneck action – profoundly influenced by the likes of John Woo – makes it very fitting for those familiar with the rapid tempos of Red Dead’s shooting mechanics. The second in Rodriguez’s Mexico trilogy, the movie follows the feared gunslinger El Mariachi (Antonio Banderas) who seeks revenge against the wealthy drug lord who murdered his lover. Desperado, which also stars Salma Hayek in her star-making performance, is easily the best in the series, its barrage of bullets ensuring no one can be bored when the Mariachi starts playing.

27. Sukiyaki Western Django (2007)

Sukiyaki Western Django
Sukiyaki Western Django

In 2007, renowned grindhouse auteur Takashii Miike paid tribute to his love for spaghetti Westerns with Sukiyaki Western Django, an over-the-top English-language gunslinger picture with an almost all-Japanese cast. (The exception being Quentin Tarantino, who has a cameo in the movie.) Set in the distant future, two warring clans seeking buried treasure in a remote frontier town fight for the services of a stranger (played by Hideaki Itō) whose mastery with guns is unparalleled. Sukiyaki Western Django is like watching a super violent comic book in motion, and it’s a cult Western no genre fans should resist.

24. Westworld (1973)

Westworld
Westworld

The direct inspiration for the hit HBO series, this sci-fi movie from author Michael Crichton (also behind Jurassic Park) takes place in a cutting-edge theme park where super realistic androids bring to life an immersive simulacrum of the American Old West. Yul Brynner stars as the park’s de facto mascot, the Gunslinger, an android designed to antagonize park guests – which gets complicated when the Gunslinger, and other androids, begin rebelling against their programming. Although Westworld predates the Red Dead video games by decades, the fact that it’s about an immersive sandbox themed after the Old West essentially makes it a movie about playing Red Dead Redemption for real.

23. Wyatt Earp (1994)

Wyatt Earp
Wyatt Earp

Lawrence Kasdan’s Wyatt Earp was unpopular upon its release in 1994; it was placed on several different worst-of-the-year lists by outlets like Rolling Stone and the San Diego Union-Tribune. Even the late, great film critic Roger Ebert panned it as a worse version of Tombstone (released mere months prior) that’s been “pumped full of hot air.” But if Red Dead Redemption fans are simply looking to get a fix for a polished Western, Wyatt Earp does the job, with Kevin Costner in his prime playing the real-life folk figure and surrounded by equally formidable stars like Gene Hackman, Dennis Quaid, Linden Ashby, Michael Madsen, and Isabelle Rossellini.

22. El Topo (1970)

El Topo
El Topo

This ain’t your granddaddy's cowboy movies. A psychedelic odyssey by iconoclast filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky, this 1970 masterpiece takes the conventions of cinematic Westerns and flips them upside down to transform an endless desert into a wasteland of humanity. Jodoworsky himself stars as “El Topo,” a nomadic gunslinger in black who travels the land to achieve spiritual enlightenment. Outlandish characters and surrealist imagery make El Topo an unusual Western profoundly informed by late ‘60s counterculture, with Jodorowsky unleashing his provocative visions against sand-blasted emptiness.

21. The Dark Tower (2017)

The Dark Tower
The Dark Tower

Let’s put all the cards on the table: The Dark Tower, directed by Nikolaj Arcel and co-starring Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey, failed to live up to expectations set by the original book series from Stephen King. The Dark Tower is simply not a good movie, disappointingly so. But that doesn’t stop the action from being fun when taken by themselves, and Idris Elba is more than up to the task of carrying its story in his masculine portrayal of Roland Deschain. The Red Dead games have sometimes flirted with fantastical elements in the past, such as the Undead Nightmare DLC, which makes The Dark Tower at least serviceable in scratching that rare itch where gunslingers need to shoot at something scarier than other outlaws.

20. Let the Bullets Fly (2010)

Let the Bullets Fly
Let the Bullets Fly

A Chinese hit blockbuster written, directed, and starring Jiang Wen, this action-comedy takes place in the early 1920s with a bandit (Jiang Wen) stealing the identity of a prominent governor, which creates chaos for a frontier town in the process. True to its name, Let the Bullets Fly is a riotous popcorn flick with an almost rhythmic onslaught of bullets that’s only interrupted by high-flying wuxia action. It is never not exciting to see Westerns imagined by filmmakers outside the U.S., and Let the Bullets Fly shows that China’s best filmmakers have an authoritative grip.

19. Bone Tomahawk (2015)

Bone Tomahawk
Bone Tomahawk

Written and directed by S. Craig Zahler in his filmmaking debut, Bone Tomahawk stars Kurt Russell as a sheriff who leads a group to rescue kidnapped townsfolk held hostage by a clan of cannibalistic Native Americans. Though Bone Tomahawk plays with tired, antiquated tropes about indigenous evils, under Zahler’s tight direction, Bone Tomahawk is a rare but sublime breed of Western and horror that provides something different for audiences of either genre. Russell is especially great here, along with a cast that includes Patrick Wilson, David Arquette, and Matthew Fox.

18. High Noon (1952)

High Noon
High Noon

From director Fred Zimmerman is this timeless Western about selfless sacrifice and bravery against overwhelming odds. On his wedding day, a newly-retired marshal (played by Gary Cooper) is put to the test when a gang of vengeful outlaws, fresh from prison sentencing, make their way back to town. Played out in real time from beginning to end, High Noon is a towering classic of the Western genre, and ideal for Red Dead Redemption fans who know what it’s like to stand against the inevitability of a boss battle – or in this case, a shootout.

17. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

A seminal feature in the canon of both Westerns and “buddy” duo movies, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid stars Paul Newman and Robert Redford playing real-life outlaws Butch Cassidy (Newman) and Harry Longabagh (Redford) in their desperate escape to Bolivia after a string of train robberies put law enforcement hot on their trails. (Katharine Ross also memorably stars as Longabagh’s lover, Etta.) Not only are Redford and Newman an immortal onscreen pair, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid are emblematic of late-’60s Hollywood at its best, its story of tight-knit outlaws resonant for anyone, especially those who’ve spent time in Red Dead Online.

16. Blazing Saddles (1974)

Blazing Saddles
Blazing Saddles

Directed by comedy maestro Mel Brooks, this postmodern Western farce follows Bart (Cleavon Little), a Black railroad worker whose appointment as sheriff to a small town infuriates its residents until they learn that Bart, and his drunk gunslinger best friend (Gene Wilder), are their only hope to save them from demolition. More than just an outlandish parody of Western media and illustrative of Brooks’ distinct comic stylings, Blazing Saddles maintains uncomfortable relevance today, as a prescient satire on racism, how the real ones deserving of laughter are the buffoons who still believe in it.

15. High Plains Drifter (1973)

High Plains Drifter
High Plains Drifter

In his second feature as a director, Clint Eastwood saddles up once more as a mysterious gunslinger figure – an archetype he made famous through his collaborations with Sergio Leone – for what may or may not be a spooky ghost story. In High Plains Drifter, Eastwood plays a nameless stranger who wanders into a mining town whose residents refuse to acknowledge a dark secret. Though the townsfolk initially distrust him, they quickly rely on him to protect their town from dangerous outlaws who are coming back for revenge. We’ll refrain from spoiling the twist ending, just know that High Plains Drifter is up there with movies that have more going on beneath the surface.

14. No Country for Old Men (2007)

No Country for Old Men
No Country for Old Men

A true 21st century classic by the Coen Brothers, No Country for Old Men burrows deep into the dirt and grime of Western filmmaking traditions to uncover something awfully real. Set in 1980, hunter Llewyn Moss (Josh Brolin) stumbles across a fresh crime scene including a large sum of money in a briefcase. Seizing the opportunity to keep the money for himself, he ends up attracting the wrath of an unstoppable hitman, Anton Chigurh, played by Javier Bardem in one of the most unforgettable performances of his career. A dark neo-Western, the movie’s primary undercurrent is that the old ways of good and evil are extinct, and that the brave new world we find ourselves in is stronger than we can ever be. Red Dead Redemption explores similar ideas, using the familiar settings of the Old West and following a hero who traverses its slow-burn transformation into modernity.

13. Stagecoach (1939)

Stagecoach
Stagecoach

An irreplaceable piece of American cinema, John Ford’s Stagecoach is arguably the prototypical Western epic, one of Hollywood’s first true blockbusters and foundational for the whole genre. In Stagecoach, a group of strangers riding aboard a commercial horse-drawn stagecoach endure the dangers of traversing Apache territory. While Ford’s film is unfortunately too drenched in outdated Native American stereotypes as uncivilized savages – and surely, the movie’s monumental success undoubtedly popularized the trope of "cowboys versus Indians" – Ford’s remarkable sense of action and pacing still holds up to modern standards. Do not be surprised to learn if the developers at Rockstar studied Stagecoach for Red Dead’s mission designs.

12. The Harder They Fall (2021)

The Harder They Fall
The Harder They Fall

A most exciting action Western with modern flair, The Harder They Fall stars an all-Black principal cast playing real, often overlooked Black figures from American folk history who partake in a speculative fictional story that asks the simple question: “What if they all knew each other?” Directed by Jeymes Samuel in his feature debut, the movie follows slick gunslinger Nat Love (Jonathan Majors) who seeks vengeance for the murder of his family by outlaw gang leader Rufus Buck (Idris Elba). Rounding out the cast are Zazie Beetz, Regina King, Delroy Lindo, Lakeith Stanfield, RJ Cyler, and more, all of whom crank up the volume on this thumping neo-Western with a killer soundtrack.

11. Tombstone (1993)

Tombstone
Tombstone

A major part of an all-too-brief revival of Westerns in the 1990s, Tombstone from George P. Cosmatos depicts several real-life events that mythologize the Old West as we know it today, including the O.K. Corral and the Earp Vendetta Ride. Kurt Russell, Val Kilmer, Sam Elliot, Bill Paxton, Powers Boothe, Michael Biehn, and Dana Delany all star in Cosmatos’ hit movie, which follows the likes of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday who roamed frontier Arizona in the 1880s. Tombstone is simply a polished piece of studio filmmaking that makes the most of its incredible collection of talent to make the Old West feel alive again.

10. Millionaires’ Express (1986)

Millionaires Express
Millionaires Express

Directed by and starring Hong Kong action legend Sammo Hung, Millionaires’ Express (once released as Shanghai Express for a U.S. DVD release) follows a reformed criminal (Hung) who hopes to make amends with his fellow townsfolk by robbing the rich passengers of a new luxury express train. A spectacular collision of east and west, Millionaires’ Express is hilarious as it is high-energy, with Hung at the top of his game who pummels Western movie conventions with an iron fist. Its stacked cast includes then-newcomer Cynthia Rothrock, the American-born martial arts movie heroine who briefly ruled Hong Kong in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.

9. Deadwood: The Movie (2019)

Deadwood: The Movie
Deadwood: The Movie

While it’s a prerequisite to watch every episode of HBO’s acclaimed Western drama Deadwood, it’s all worth it. Not only is Deadwood a spectacular piece of television, but the one-off sequel movie Deadwood: The Movie (released in 2019) is also a sublime work that can fool one into believing that Westerns are far from over. Series stars Timothy Olyphant, Ian McShane, Molly Parker, and more reunite for this bit of closure to Deadwood’s epic story, which is set against South Dakota’s official recognition into statehood in 1889. If you love Red Dead Redemption, do yourself a favor: Put down the controller and binge Deadwood, and then cap it off with Deadwood: The Movie. You won’t regret it.

8. The Searchers (1956)

The Searchers
The Searchers

John Ford’s The Searchers is a titan in the Western movie canon, a legacy piece for both its director and its singular star, John Wayne. The legendary actor stars in The Searchers as Ethan Edwards, a Civil War vet who spends his twilight years looking high and low for his lost niece (portrayed as an adult by Natalie Wood) who is kidnapped by Native Americans. While contemporary reviews aren’t too kind to The Searchers – due to its unflattering portrayal of Native Americans as savages and sex deviants – The Searchers still enjoys prominence as one of the finest films ever made, being frequently ranked in lists curating the greatest American movies of all time. The reverence for the movie almost belies the darkness in its heart, with Wayne’s character searching not just for his niece, but any sense of justice in an increasingly monstrous world.

7. The Wild Bunch (1969)

The Wild Bunch
The Wild Bunch

One of the final hurrahs for Western movies as Hollywood’s dominant story genre, Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch tells of aging outlaws in the U.S.-Mexico border who struggle to adapt to the 20th century (not unlike the story of the Red Dead games). Living up to the sentiment of “going out with a bang,” Peckinpah revolutionized action filmmaking by introducing techniques like quick cuts, rapid editing, and slow-motion visuals to put what is essentially the final stamp on Westerns in the American imagination. To be clear: It’s not that Hollywood stopped making Westerns after The Wild Bunch. But after the dust cleared on Peckinpah’s movie, it was clear that it was the end of an era.

6. 3:10 to Yuma (1957)

3:10 to Yuma
3:10 to Yuma

Delmer Daves’ 1957 Western classic 3:10 to Yuma is simply another must-see for anyone trying to familiarize themselves with what informed the conception of the Red Dead series. Set in 1880s Arizona, struggling rancher Dan (Van Heflin) takes on a risky job of escorting infamous outlaw Ben Wade (Glenn Ford) to justice. While it’s more or less a movie designed around an escort mission, 3:10 to Yuma is a powerful picture about trust, obligation, and justice, and how all those things can sometimes end up in a tense standoff.

5. True Grit (2010)

True Grit
True Grit

One of the rare modern remakes that outdo the original, the Coen Brothers’ version of True Grit soars in its execution masterfully balancing humor and drama. Hailee Steinfeld stars as Mattie, a farm girl who hires a boozy lawman (Jeff Bridges) to pursue the outlaw who killed her father. Along the way, they’re joined by a Texas Ranger (Matt Damon) who is tracking down the same outlaw for a different crime. True Grit attracted a load of Oscar nominations (it won none, however), and rightfully so. It’s a modern classic that shows exactly what the heroes and villains of these stories were really made of.

4. Shane (1953)

Shane
Shane

“Come back, Shane!” With those words, it wasn’t just a little boy crying out for the man he grew to idolize, but all of moviegoers yearning to have heroes once more. In George Stevens’ renowned classic, a skilled gunfighter named Shane (Alan Ladd) takes up residence in the home of a Wyoming rancher and his family. Though Shane is simply looking for peace and quiet, he is thrust back into his old ways of violence to protect his new family. Besides its gorgeous cinematography, Shane is a major influence over other movies, including the 2017 Marvel hit Logan.

3. The Hateful Eight (2015)

The Hateful Eight
The Hateful Eight

In the early 2010s, Quentin Tarantino immersed his artistry into Westerns, a genre that fundamentally shaped his imagination and taste. In 2012 he delivered his riveting revenge picture Django Unchained, a tremendous work in its own right. But in 2015, Tarantino did the impossible: he made an even better movie. The Hateful Eight, a star-studded thriller confined to a snowbound cabin in Wyoming, is a pulse-pounding picture about identity and truth as currency, with a collection of outlaws and lawmen who are forced to share the same space until they turn that space into a killing zone. The Hateful Eight is Tarantino firing on all of his cylinders, every single one, and it still feels as fresh and arresting as the day it came out.

2. The Dollars Trilogy (1964-1966)

A Fistful of Dollars
A Fistful of Dollars

There are few who are synonymous with Westerns like Clint Eastwood. But the sole reason why he’s such a formative figure is because of his collaborations with Italian director Sergio Leone. Between 1964 and 1966, Eastwood and Leone revitalized, reimagined, and rebooted the Western genre in their “Dollars Trilogy,” a trio of semi-connected films – A Fistful of Dollars (1964), For a Few Dollars More (1965), and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966) – that feature Eastwood’s most famous character, alternatively known as Blondie or the Man with No Name. Whatever you call him, Eastwood’s character is so foundational to the Western genre that it’s impossible to imagine it all without him. Without Eastwood, you don’t get characters like Star Wars’ Din Djarin, or The Dark Tower’s Roland Deschain. You certainly don’t get Red Dead characters like John Marston and Arthur Morgan.

1. The Magnificent Seven (1960)

The Magnificent Seven
The Magnificent Seven

Hailed as one of the greatest gunslinger pictures ever made and for good reason, John Sturges’ The Magnificent Seven cemented the Western genre as a stage for heroism in its tale about mercenaries hired by a desperate village to protect them from bandits. Though it’s conceptually a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s own, equally seminal masterpiece Seven Samurai, The Magnificent Seven is still an achievement of American filmmaking. It is proof that you can dress up stories in any kind of flavor, and they will still hit if the skill and execution are on point. A lesser 2016 remake starring Chris Pratt and Denzel Washington is worth checking out just to satisfy any stray sense of curiosity, but know that it’s the 1960 original that forever defined Westerns to be as familiar as they are today, with Red Dead Redemption proof of its legacy.