Ten Best Modern Westerns
“You’d be William Munny out of Missouri. Killer of women and children.”
“That’s right. I’ve killed women and children. I’ve killed just about everything that walks or crawled at one time or another. Oh, and I killed the Western.”
When William Munny rode out of Big Whisky he left more than the corpses of Little Bill and his men behind him. The Western as we all knew it was as good as dead. Released in 1992, Unforgiven was Eastwood’s near flawless and unapologetic take on the genre that helped make his career. The film took a long hard look at violence and the real world consequences it brings after the camera cuts away. Cowboys and gunslingers had always been mythologized in American movies from their earliest beginnings. It’s no coincidence that 1903’s The Great Train Robbery, widely considered one of the world’s first modern movies, centered on short tempered rowdy cowboys with a penchant for shooting first and asking questions later.
After Unforgiven rode through theaters what else was there to say? Many critics declared the Western, long on life support at the time, officially dead. And they appeared to be right as what was once a Hollywood staple soon became an endangered species. Only a small dose of Westerns have trickled out in the years since as the genre tried to regain it’s footing to varying degrees of failure. Jonah Hex anyone?
But, like William Munny, you can’t keep a no good son of a bitch down and Westerns have started to crawl their way back into theaters and find success. In truth these films have never gone away and they never will because Westerns are as American as apple pie. They define our culture and are an integral part of our society because they remind Americans of how we like to see ourselves. Rough, independent, and wild. The best Westerns from the past (The Searchers, High Noon) were never about history so much as they were statements about the present day. Because of this Westerns will always be timeless.
Unforgiven did however draw a line in the sand when it came to genre. Hell, it is the line. Going forward people will look back and pass judgement on all the Westerns made before Eastwood’s swan song and everything that’s followed since. And despite many critics dire warning’s the Western never went away. As a matter of fact some of the genre’s best offerings have come out only recently and stand as excellent movies in their own right.