These are the Top 20 Best Westerns I’ve ever seen. I’m going to kick off the list with a hidden gem, of sorts:
20) High Plains Drifter (1973, Eastwood)
Unlike John Wayne, Clint Eastwood wasn’t afraid to play a straight up villain more than once or twice. Even though he was always the protagonist and the main character, Eastwood’s characters were men who didn’t typical do the right thing, and were more accurate in terms of the people who populated the west in general.
With High Plains Drifter, Eastwood crafted a dark, at times rather bleak, and nasty movie that is highly unromantic and perverts the western mythology that Peckinpah, Leone, and Ford bought into and presented on-screen. This is fascinating since the movie does not have a single likable character at all, giving us people who are either cowards, ruthless gunslingers, murders, or general scum of the earth.
What truly stands out for me here is the painting of the town red, with Eastwood’s nameless brutal avenger accurately renaming the town “Hell.” Which is a rather unsubtle statement, and a commentary on the bloody nature of the west before it was actually settled. Eastwood does not flinch from showing brutal violence on-screen, or even giving us a satisfying ending: by the final shot, the only one who has achieved their goal and aim has been Eastwood himself. The town is left in shambles, and even though peace has been restored it is a shaky, unstable calm that promises nothing good for the future.