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Best Western movies from the last decade

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Soapbox Films

Best western movies from the last decade

While today’s cinema landscape may seem saturated with superhero flicks and biopics, the Western remains one of the most prolific film genres. Early on in the genre the plotlines, themes, and motifs were somewhat formulaic. But modern Westerns have reinvented or expanded on the usual tropes. Using thoughtful cinematography, stylistic special effects, and nuanced screenwriting, today’s Westerns have carved out a new, innovative space within the genre.

Many contemporary Western films take a deep look into the genre’s human elements. With films displaying the life in the West from a woman’s perspective (Emma Tammi’s “The Wind”), or even from real bronco riders’ experiences (Chloé Zhao’s “The Rider”), contemporary filmmakers are broadening what we once thought were the staples of a Western movie.

In recognition of some of the best contemporary Western films, Stacker compiled data on all Western films from the 2010s and ranked them according to their Metascores (out of 100). Ties were broken by Letterboxd user ratings (out of five). The data was compiled in November 2019. To qualify, the film had to be listed as a "Western" on two or more of the major databases (IMDb, Metacritic, Wikipedia, Letterboxd, Rotten Tomatoes), released in the United States theatrically or on streaming services between Jan. 1, 2010, and today, and have at least four reviews from critics at significant publications.

At Stacker, we recognize that genre is meant to help describe and communicate the tone and style of a film, not to be a limiting factor on what films can and cannot be. There are no hard and fast rules that define Westerns, and we agree that more open interpretations of what fits into certain genres are the best way to develop a pool of films that represent all possible expressions of a particular genre. Every film below has been considered according to the cinematic history and development of Westerns.

Click through to see if your favorite Western from this decade made the list.

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Blumhouse Productions

#25. In a Valley of Violence (2016)

- Director: Ti West
- Metascore: 64
- Letterboxd user rating: 3.09
- IMDb user rating: 6.0
- Runtime: 104 min

“In a Valley of Violence” is director Ti West’s homage to the Western genre, and stars Ethan Hawke, John Travolta, and Taissa Farmiga. This film was quite different from West’s supernatural films like “The Innkeepers” and “Trigger Man,” and contains some signature elements of a Western, including a mysterious drifter, a bar brawl, and a ragtag entourage. In his homage to the genre, West skirts the line of making fun of it, as well as paying it respect.

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Ripple World Pictures

#24. Never Grow Old (2019)

- Director: Ivan Kavanagh
- Metascore: 65
- Letterboxd user rating: 3.15
- IMDb user rating: 5.8
- Runtime: 100 min

Starring Emile Hirsch and John Cusack, Ivan Kavanagh’s “Never Grow Old” is a classic Western film in its bones, telling the story of an outlaw taking over a dusty frontier town. Kavanagh’s film takes on the standard Western storyline, but gives it a dark and muddy aesthetic that he uses to keep the audience unsettled. However, this twist on the usual Western had mixed reviews, with Frank Scheck of The Hollywood Reporter applauding how the genre was handled expertly, while Glenn Kenny at rogerebert.com felt the effect was unnecessary.

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Grisbi Productions

#23. Hostiles (2017)

- Director: Scott Cooper
- Metascore: 65
- Letterboxd user rating: 3.44
- IMDb user rating: 7.2
- Runtime: 134 min

Scott Cooper’s “Hostiles” takes the audience on a tour through the landscape of New Mexico to Montana, with heavy nods to John Wayne’s “The Searchers.” Adapted from an unpublished manuscript by screenwriter Donald E. Stewart, the film contains the usual suspects of a Western—horses, guns, and 10-gallon hats—but also explores the role of paradoxes crucial to the genre. Starring Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, and Wes Studi, this film is a brutal depiction of a journey through the West in the 1890s.

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Soapbox Films

#22. The Wind (2018)

- Director: Emma Tammi
- Metascore: 66
- Letterboxd user rating: 2.98
- IMDb user rating: 5.5
- Runtime: 86 min

Westerns don’t often center around the perspective of a female lead, but in Emma Tammi’s “The Wind,” the filmmaker takes on feminism in the West in her horror-Western. The film tells the tale of the biting isolation that wives of cowboys feel in their claustrophobic domestic lives. Tammi’s feature film debut takes the usual Western and turns the plot on its head while keeping many of the elements of the genre, such as the setting and lifestyle.

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EuropaCorp

#21. The Homesman (2014)

- Director: Tommy Lee Jones
- Metascore: 68
- Letterboxd user rating: 3.31
- IMDb user rating: 6.6
- Runtime: 122 min

Directed by and starring Tommy Lee Jones alongside Hilary Swank, 2014’s “The Homesman” is a story of survival while traveling across the frontier a decade before the Civil War. Based on Glendon Swarthout’s novel of the same name, this story also offers a feminist critique of the Western genre. Jones uses unusual rhythms and jarring events to evoke the West’s unpredictable, brutal, and beautiful nature.

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Visiona Romantica

#20. The Hateful Eight (2015)

- Director: Quentin Tarantino
- Metascore: 68
- Letterboxd user rating: 3.83
- IMDb user rating: 7.8
- Runtime: 168 min

Quentin Tarantino takes his signature style to the Western with his 2015 film “The Hateful Eight.” The film includes the usual elements of the genre—outlaws, a serendipitously assembled ragtag team, and of course, a Western landscape. But as with any Tarantino film, it’s his stylistic direction that is the modern differentiator between this film and classics in the genre. Tarantino’s cinematic foreplay toggles between tropes of the spaghetti Western and gut-wrenching violent sprees.

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See-Saw Films

#19. Slow West (2015)

- Director: John Maclean
- Metascore: 72
- Letterboxd user rating: 3.53
- IMDb user rating: 6.9
- Runtime: 84 min

This A24 frontier tale directed by John Maclean and starring Michael Fassbender and Kodi Smit-McPhee, follows a 16 year old’s quest for love and the people he encounters along the way who become his traveling companions. “Slow West” shows the juxtaposition of the beautiful majesty of the West and the ruthless savagery of the outlaws and adventurers who live there.

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Caliber Media Company

#18. Bone Tomahawk (2015)

- Director: S. Craig Zahler
- Metascore: 72
- Letterboxd user rating: 3.64
- IMDb user rating: 7.1
- Runtime: 132 min

S. Craig Zahler’s film “Bone Tomahawk” tackles the genre mash-up of a horror-Western, with no shortage of gore. Though the violence is prominent, the film thrives in its character development. Starring Kurt Russell as the town sheriff deployed with his posse to save the town’s doctor from cannibalistic natives, the film contains standard elements of a Western, but stands out because of its nuanced direction.

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Sailor Bear

#17. Ain't Them Bodies Saints (2013)

- Director: David Lowery
- Metascore: 74
- Letterboxd user rating: 3.28
- IMDb user rating: 6.4
- Runtime: 96 min

David Lowery’s 2013 film “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” skirts the line of being classified as a Western; instead of horses and wagons, viewers see cars possibly from the 1960s or 1970s. However, the core of the movie remains within the genre, taking on themes of violence, sacrifice, and Western archetypes. Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara star as young lovers and soon-to-be parents who are desperate for money. Their situation leads them into shootouts, prison time, and encounters with unsavory characters.

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Automatik

#16. Little Woods (2018)

- Director: Nia DaCosta
- Metascore: 74
- Letterboxd user rating: 3.44
- IMDb user rating: 6.1
- Runtime: 105 min

Starring Tessa Thompson and Lily James, Nia DaCosta’s 2018 debut film “Little Woods” tells the story of two sisters facing challenges in North Dakota. Set in modern times, the two struggle to maintain ownership of their home and resort to peddling prescription pills. While on its face the film seems to be unconventional for the genre, the moral and financial sacrifices of the film’s leading ladies align with the struggles often depicted in a Western.

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One World Films

#15. Far from Men (2014)

- Director: David Oelhoffen
- Metascore: 74
- Letterboxd user rating: 3.53
- IMDb user rating: 7.2
- Runtime: 101 min

Set in Algeria, David Oelhoffen’s 2014 film “Far from Men” stars Viggo Mortensen as a colonial school teacher in 1954 charged with transporting an Arab farmer who is accused of killing his cousin to trial. Mortensen’s character teaches French geography to Algerian children during the year that the country’s National Liberation Front began its bloody uprising. Though the setting is in Africa and not the American frontier, the themes and elements of the plot remain consistent with the Western genre, right down to a visit to the frontier brothel.

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Paramount Pictures

#14. Rango (2011)

- Director: Gore Verbinski
- Metascore: 75
- Letterboxd user rating: 3.37
- IMDb user rating: 7.2
- Runtime: 107 min

Who says an animated film about a chameleon can’t be a Western? Don’t let Gore Verbinski’s comic Western fool you—this film has real chops and won an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film in 2012. Not only does it have a star-studded cast, including Johnny Depp and Isla Fisher, the film remains thoroughly a Western, containing many of the genre’s staple elements: a new man arriving in town, confrontation of a local villain, and a test, ultimately won, of heroism.

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Arts+Labor

#13. The Retrieval (2013)

- Director: Chris Eska
- Metascore: 75
- Letterboxd user rating: 3.40
- IMDb user rating: 6.6
- Runtime: 92 min

Set in 1864, a year before the Civil War ends, Chris Eska’s “The Retrieval” depicts how a young boy profits from seeking black fugitives for his bounty-hunter boss. He and his boss set out on a quest through a warring nation, getting swept up into moral and literal battles along the way. The film embodies the scrappiness of survival and moral compromise that is key to the Western genre, ensnaring the audience in the film’s surprising paradoxes.

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Regency Enterprises

#12. The Revenant (2015)

- Director: Alejandro G. Iñárritu
- Metascore: 76
- Letterboxd user rating: 3.82
- IMDb user rating: 8.0
- Runtime: 156 min

Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s 2015 film “The Revenant” stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Hugh Glass, a member of a gang of hunters and fur trappers living off the land. After being mauled by a grizzly bear, DiCaprio’s character is left for dead and must use grit and determination to survive in the harsh, snowy terrain. This man vs. nature story has all the hallmarks of a Western, including a quest for revenge; a long, arduous journey through a wild terrain; and heaps of grit.

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4L

#11. Jauja (2014)

- Director: Lisandro Alonso
- Metascore: 77
- Letterboxd user rating: 3.54
- IMDb user rating: 6.4
- Runtime: 109 min

Lisandro Alonso’s trippy Western “Jauja” is set on the coast of Patagonia in 1882 during the “Conquest of the Desert,” a violent campaign that sought to rid the jungle of its indigenous inhabitants for European colonialism. Starring Viggo Mortensen, his character and his daughter journey from Denmark to settle in this unknown and wild land. While there are a lot of heavy elements at play in this film, the mysterious land remains the star.

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Why Not Productions

#10. The Sisters Brothers (2018)

- Director: Jacques Audiard
- Metascore: 78
- Letterboxd user rating: 3.52
- IMDb user rating: 7.0
- Runtime: 122 min

French director Jacques Audiard’s English-language debut feature “The Sisters Brothers” is set in 1851 in the Oregon Territory. The film remains true to the Western archetype and follows stars Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly as the Sisters brothers who hunt down enemies for their kingpin boss. Filled with twists and turns, gunfights, and camaraderie, this Western is a fun tale that stays within the boundaries of the genre.

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Annapurna Pictures

#9. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)

- Directors: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
- Metascore: 79
- Letterboxd user rating: 3.64
- IMDb user rating: 7.3
- Runtime: 133 min

The six Western vignettes by the Coen brothers are all set in the “Old West” and center around the theme of death. The Coens have no qualms about using classic Western tropes throughout the stories, including Western wear, Native Americans, wagon trains, bar brawls, and shootouts. Throughout these tales, the brothers tackle romance, heroism, comedy, and loss, ranging from profound stories to absurd plotlines.

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Superlative Films

#7. Lucky (2017) (tie)

- Director: John Carroll Lynch
- Metascore: 80
- Letterboxd user rating: 3.74
- IMDb user rating: 7.3
- Runtime: 88 min

John Carroll Lynch’s meandering first film focuses on the bleak routines of Lucky, a grumpy old man who wanders through an arid town day after day, showing signs of age over time. When Lucky takes a fall, his mortality and loneliness come into focus. He finds himself in a bar and meets a number of people who expand his world and wash away his loneliness. Though a subtle take on the Western, this film asks the same questions about mortality and the will to survive.

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Paramount Pictures

#7. True Grit (2010) (tie)

- Directors: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
- Metascore: 80
- Letterboxd user rating: 3.74
- IMDb user rating: 7.6
- Runtime: 110 min

Another Coen brothers Western, this film rendition of Charles Portis’ novel “True Grit” stars Jeff Bridges and tells a tale of revenge in, well, grittier times. A 14-year-old girl (played by Hailee Steinfeld) hires an old man (played by Bridges) to hunt down her father’s killer, leading them both on a journey full of danger. While slightly different than the original film starring John Wayne, the film is a classic Western parable of juggling good and evil.

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Columbia Pictures

#6. Django Unchained (2012)

- Director: Quentin Tarantino
- Metascore: 81
- Letterboxd user rating: 4.08
- IMDb user rating: 8.4
- Runtime: 165 min

Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained” is a story of love, revenge, and an attempt at justice. Starring Jamie Foxx, the film is set in the pre-Civil War plantations of the South. Loosely based on the Django Westerns starring Franco Nero, this brutal film takes a comedic approach to a gruesome reality. While set in the Old South rather than the Wild West, this film’s bones are classically Western in theme and execution.

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HI Film Productions

#5. Aferim! (2015)

- Director: Radu Jude
- Metascore: 84
- Letterboxd user rating: 3.59
- IMDb user rating: 7.6
- Runtime: 108 min

Radu Jude’s film “Aferim!” (an Ottoman Turkish expression meaning “bravo!”) is a fugitive-hunting Western set in 19th-century Romania. When a gypsy slave runs away with a nobleman’s wife, a policeman is hired to chase him down. Shot in black and white, this Soviet era-style horse opera has all the makings of a classic Western.

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Evenstar Films

#4. Meek's Cutoff (2010)

- Director: Kelly Reichardt
- Metascore: 85
- Letterboxd user rating: 3.59
- IMDb user rating: 6.5
- Runtime: 104 min

Kelly Reichardt’s slow-burning Western follows a small group of settlers and their guide who have fallen on hard times during their journey through the Oregon Territory in 1845. Their resources are disappearing rapidly amid the tough environment. With a cast that includes Michelle Williams, Zoe Kazan, and Shirley Henderson, the film centers on the mythology of the West and the grim realities of getting there.

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Bunya Productions

#3. Sweet Country (2017)

- Director: Warwick Thornton
- Metascore: 87
- Letterboxd user rating: 3.59
- IMDb user rating: 6.9
- Runtime: 113 min

Australian director Warwick Thornton’s Western “Sweet Country” is set in the Northern Territory frontier of Australia in the 1920s. The story follows an old Aboriginal farmhand who goes on the run after he shoots a white man in self-defense and finds himself a hunted man. This classic fugitive-hunting Western plotline is highlighted by the acting of the nonprofessional Aboriginal actors and the beautiful landscape.

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Sidney Kimmel Entertainment

#2. Hell or High Water (2016)

- Director: David Mackenzie
- Metascore: 88
- Letterboxd user rating: 3.87
- IMDb user rating: 7.6
- Runtime: 102 min

Starring Jeff Bridges, David Mackenzie’s film “Hell or High Water” takes place in the desolate landscape of west Texas. This cops-and-robbers film follows a pair of thieving brothers who prey on banks in the early morning. When talk of their scheme starts trickling through town, a Texas Ranger is sent to chase after them. The movie interweaves classic Western tropes, including the setting and themes of moral ambiguity and redemption.

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Caviar

#1. The Rider (2017)

- Director: Chloé Zhao
- Metascore: 92
- Letterboxd user rating: 3.90
- IMDb user rating: 7.4
- Runtime: 104 min

The #1 Western film from the past decade is Chloé Zhao’s 2017 film “The Rider.” It tells the story of North Dakota’s bronco riders with a cast made up of actual riders playing themselves in this fictionalized documentary of sorts. Following the real risks that face riders and how they accept their mortality, the open-ended story asks the audience to ponder the significance of chasing your dream versus preserving your life.

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