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50 best Western TV shows of all time

  • 50 best Western TV shows of all time

    If there's one genre that is quintessentially American, it's the great Western. Visions of swinging saloon doors, tumbleweeds, spurs, and dusty hats fill the frames, accompanied by a soundtrack of single twangy notes and gunfire. The Western is a genre of fiction that takes place, typically, in the latter half of the 19th century in the "Old West," where most states were still territories and lawlessness was baked right in.

    Stacker compiled data from IMDb, as of May 2020, on all Western TV series and ranked them according to IMDb user scores, ties broken by votes. To qualify, the series, miniseries, or limited series had to have at least 500 IMDb user votes.

    Americans are drawn to the romanticism of the Old West—with wide-open spaces offering a sense of anonymous freedom, and the overarching themes of "men will be men" and "justice will be served." The genre started around the 1930s and skyrocketed to popularity through the 1960s. From these films and TV shows were born icons of the Western, like John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, and Gary Cooper, among others.

    Westerns were the most popular TV genre throughout the 1950s and 1960s, with classics like “Gunsmoke,” “The Lone Ranger,” and “Cheyenne.” Westerns faded from the spotlight during most of the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, but the genre has been resurrected in recent history, with newcomers like “Deadwood,” “Longmire,” and “Yellowstone.” Hundreds of Western episodes have aired over the past 80-plus years, some series running for more than a decade, while others rode into the sunset after just a few episodes.

    Whether you’re a gunslinging Western aficionado, or just cutting your teeth, there are dozens upon dozens of television Westerns to choose from. Are you ready to discover the 50 best western TV shows of all time? Read on to discover these iconic small-screen classics. How many have you heard of?

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  • #50. Son of the Morning Star (1991)

    - IMDb user rating: 7.4
    - Votes: 847
    - Starring: Gary Cole, Rosanna Arquette, Stanley Anderson, Edward Blatchford

    This four-hour miniseries followed the history of General George Armstrong Custer and his experiences with the Sioux and Cheyenne warriors at the Little Bighorn. Custer's reputation was the stuff of legend, even in his own time, and he has been portrayed in films throughout the decades as a hero against the inappropriately-deemed "savage" Native Americans. "Son of the Morning Star" was one of the first productions to depict both sides of the story fairly, wrote Kenneth R. Clark in the Chicago Tribune—so much so that Native Americans gave this series their seal of approval, which was a first for Hollywood.

  • #49. Rough Riders (1997)

    - IMDb user rating: 7.4
    - Votes: 1,779
    - Starring: Tom Berenger, Sam Elliott, Gary Busey, Brad Johnson

    The “Rough Riders” TV miniseries chronicled Theodore Roosevelt and the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry (the Rough Riders) and their part in the Spanish-American War. Director John Milius used the backdrop of the Battle of San Juan Hill to tell a familiar story—albeit a tad long-winded, according to Chris Kaltenbach of the Baltimore Sun—about the evolution of man in war, marked by the evolution of Roosevelt himself from immature glory-seeker to military and political icon.

  • #48. Wagon Train (1957–1965)

    - IMDb user rating: 7.4
    - Votes: 2,256
    - Starring: Frank McGrath, Terry Wilson, Robert Horton, John McIntire

    If you were an Oregon Trail kid, chances are “Wagon Train” would have been right up your alley, as well. The long-running Western TV series followed a wagon train heading west in the years following the Civil War. Each episode shifted focus to a different member of the wagon train, and along the way they battled the elements, Native Americans, and the human condition. The year Wagon Train debuted, five other Westerns ranked among the top 10. By 1961, it was the #1 show.

  • #47. Klondike (2014)

    - IMDb user rating: 7.4
    - Votes: 5,740
    - Starring: Abbie Cornish, Marton Csokas, Ian Hart, Greg Lawson

    An impressive cast and sizable production value (it was Discovery Channel's first scripted miniseries) told the story of adventurers headed to the Yukon in the late 19th century during the Gold Rush. The series used sweeping, dramatic landscape shots and top-quality storytelling to convey the Klondike Gold Rush, which was defined by deathly weather conditions, nefarious characters, and an inhospitable environment.

  • #46. Little House on the Prairie (1974–1983)

    - IMDb user rating: 7.4
    - Votes: 15,842
    - Starring: Melissa Gilbert, Michael Landon, Karen Grassle, Rachel Lindsay Greenbush

    One of the best coming-of-age book series of all time, “Little House on the Prairie” captured the attention of generations of women readers across the country. It was made into a TV film before evolving into the long-running television series, according to Mentalfloss. Set in the village of Walnut Grove, Minnesota, during the second half of the 19th century, the heartwarming series followed the coming of age of second daughter Laura Ingalls.

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  • #45. Wynonna Earp (2016–present)

    - IMDb user rating: 7.4
    - Votes: 16,341
    - Starring: Melanie Scrofano, Tim Rozon, Dominique Provost-Chalkley, Katherine Barrell

    Not your ordinary Western, “Wynonna Earp” is definitely a story for the 21st century. Following the adventures of Wynonna Earp, the fictional great-great-granddaughter of Wyatt Earp, the series weaves in both supernatural, suspense, and sci-fi themes that make it a kitschy, comedic horror the modern audiences crave. In the show, Earp returns to her birthplace, Purgatory, which is near the Canadian Rockies, where her mission is to fight reincarnated outlaws that her great-great grandfather had sent to their graves.

  • #44. The Son (2017–2019)

    - IMDb user rating: 7.5
    - Votes: 4,932
    - Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Jacob Lofland, Henry Garrett, Paola Nuñez

    AMC's dramatic Western, “The Son,” followed the story of one family across two different periods in life. At the center of it was Eli McCullough, who once was a Comanche prisoner, and grew up to be a powerful Texas ranger seeking wealth in oil. According to Jen Chaney's review on Vulture.com, it was "a handsomely shot, well-acted, and respectable piece of work." But, she added, it lacked enough depth or insight to make it one of the television greats, especially for a network like AMC that has titles like “Breaking Bad” and “Mad Men” on its roster.

  • #43. The Ranch (2016–2020)

    - IMDb user rating: 7.5
    - Votes: 31,844
    - Starring: Ashton Kutcher, Sam Elliott, Grady Lee Richmond, Elisha Cuthbert

    Ashton Kutcher's Netflix series was Western cowboy comedy, with a few surprising threads of serious drama. The series followed the story of Colt, a washed-up football star who returns to his hometown in Colorado, where he lived with his father and brother. According to James Poneiwozik in the New York Times, it wa certainly a prodigal son story, and an interesting mishmash of styles, from the multi-camera production and live studio audience to the more-serious story lines that dealt with very real and relatable family dynamics.

  • #42. Death Valley Days (1952–1970)

    - IMDb user rating: 7.6
    - Votes: 638
    - Starring: Stanley Andrews, Robert Taylor, Ronald Reagan, Dale Robertson

    The second-longest-running Western series (it ran for 18 years), “Death Valley Days” was a narrated story told by the Old Ranger, regaling the audience with the tale of America's movement West and the settling of the great frontier. Ronald Reagan had a stint as the Old Ranger for a time, and starred in a 1965 episode, as well. According to Medium's Jeremy Roberts, many analysts say that this series helped Reagan secure his political career as governor of California.

  • #41. The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp (1955–1961)

    - IMDb user rating: 7.6
    - Votes: 677
    - Starring: Hugh O'Brian, Jimmy Noel, Ethan Laidlaw, Bill Coontz

    “The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp” was a television series credited with reviving the story of one of the now-iconic personalities of cowboy culture, according to Courtney Campbell in Wide Open Country. Airing in 1955, premiering just four days before "Gunsmoke," it is the very first television Western that was written for adults. For six seasons, the 30-minute program told the story of Wyatt's adult life, from his role of town marshal in Kansas to the final episodes based in Tombstone, Arizona Territory.

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