I love Westerns. They're such great stories full of symbolism and pathos, often with great performances and compelling characters facing life and death situations. Westerns explore what it means to face your fears, to carve out a life among the harsh wilderness -- to be an American. Cowboys, one of the most enduring and recognized symbols of America, are a part of our history and who we are as a nation.
I remember the first time I watched a Western. My father was a huge John Wayne fan (still is) and when I was pretty young, he took me to see "The Duke" in the movie The Shootist. Even as a young man I reacted to the story about the last days of a gunfighter who knows he's about to die from cancer but wants to go out on his feet, fighting, instead of on his back. After watching the movie, I was hooked. Of course, my experience was made even more special by the fact that The Shootist was John Wayne's last film. How fitting that it should be a Western.
From then on, I watched as many Westerns as I could. Over the years as I grew older, I came to appreciate Westerns not just for their stories, but because of what the stories, characters and situations represent. Over time, I made a list of the Westerns that typify the Western -- those films that would serve as an excellent introduction for anyone wishing to explore this genre. In truth, I could populate this list with films mostly from the same director -- John Ford. His westerns are among the best and most widely acclaimed of all time.
He's an icon of the genre whose best work featured the stalwart and similarly iconic John Wayne. But to be fair, there are many other Westerns that have come out in the history of Hollywood that deserve your attention. Even if you don't love the genre, these films are still an entertaining mix of action, suspense, drama, and romance. They also happen to have compelling characters, horses, fist fights and even the occasional gun fight. And yes, stuff even blows up once in awhile too.
So, settle in at the saloon, pour yourself a shot of rye, and let's take a look at some great Westerns.