The 6 Best Westerns on Netflix

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The 6 Best Westerns on Netflix

Netflix’s selection of streaming Westerns used to include many of the classics that appear on our list of the 100 best Westerns of all time. Now, we can only recommend six of their paltry 21 total films categorized as Westerns, including two Netflix originals. If you’re looking for good-guy sheriffs, outlaw villains and stand-offs at high noon, you should enjoy all six of the films below.

Here are the six best Westerns on Netflix:

1. The Outlaw Josey Wales

outlaw-josey-wales-poster.jpg Year: 1976
Director: Clint Eastwood
Stars: Clint Eastwood, Chief Dan George, Sandra Locke, Bill McKinney, John Vernon
Rating: PG
Runtime: 135 minutes

Watch on Netflix

If you’re in the mood for a superb classic western—looking for a satisfying combo of the morbid whimsy found in Leone’s work and the wholesome, adventure-heavy John Ford style—then The Outlaw Josey Wales should deliver on this compromise. Eastwood sensed the popularity of the traditional western was on its way out when Josey Wales went into production, so he composed a fitting Swan Song for the genre. It’s a messy proposition, but what we get is an epic genre exercise that seldom loses our attention, mostly due to the intense narrative focus Eastwood carried over from his work with Don Siegel. Eastwood is predictably badass in the title role, but the MVP of the picture is his no-nonsense sidekick played by the illustrious Chief Dan George. (For more of George’s natural charisma, check out Little Big Man.) —Oktay Ege Kozak


2. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

ballad-buster-scruggs-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2018
Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen
Stars: Tim Blake Nelson, Bill Heck, James Franco, Liam Neeson, Zoe Kazan, Tom Waits, Tyne Daly, Brendan Gleeson
Rating: R
Runtime: 132 minutes

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As much an anthology of post-bellum adventure stories as it is a retrospective of the many kinds of films the Coen brothers have made—not to mention a scathing bit of fantasy curbed against the stories we’ve used to water down the tragedy of our country’s growth—The Ballad of Buster Scruggs tells six tales of greed, murder, mercy and the harsh mistress of blind chance, the only through line being the bleakness of the horizon America trampled to stake its imperial claim. A musty traveling showman (Liam Neeson) weighs the burden of his limbless performer (Harry Melling) against each night’s measly cash-out; a lone prospector (Tom Waits) patiently divines the vein of gold he refers to respectfully as “Mr. Pocket”; a cocky outlaw (James Franco) swings between the two sides of fate, his whole life leading to a semi-decent punchline; a disparate collection of travelers argue about the vicissitudes of faith while a bounty hunted corpse sits atop their carriage, all five heading towards some ambiguous symbolism; and the titular mellifluous gunslinger finally meets his match, making for one of the strangest sights the Coens have ever conjured. With the downhome nihilism of No Country for Old Men and Fargo, the mythological whimsy of O Brother, Where Art Thou?, the back-breaking metaphysical weight of A Serious Man or the cutting capers of Raising Arizona, the whole of The Ballad of Buster Scruggs—shot as a series of awe-inspiring vistas by DP Bruno Delbonnel punctuated by the porous mugs of the pioneers who populate them—sings to an unparalleled canon of genres and tones. That its centerpiece is a sweet romance, between a quiet young woman (Zoe Kazan) and a noble cowboy (Bill Heck) leading her wagon train along the Oregon Trail, proves that the Coens still have beautiful surprises in store more than three decades deep into their career-long odyssey of American life. —Dom Sinacola


3. Django Unchained

django-unchained-poster.jpg Year: 2013
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Stars: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson
Rating: R
Runtime: 165 minutes

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The best thing about Quentin Tarantino is also the worst thing about Quentin Tarantino—he believes, wholeheartedly, in whatever he’s doing. Most of the time, what he’s doing consists of overly referential homage mashups with dialogue that would give most screenwriters carpal tunnel. The old video store clerk is sublime at saying important things through mediums that don’t usually convey them—Kung Fu films, revenge fantasies and spaghetti Westerns, for starters. He is an artist dressed as a Philistine, splattering the screen with cartoonish violence when what he’s really blowing is our minds. Although Tarantino’s effort here isn’t his best, it is his most ambitious, and for someone capable of so much, that means quite a lot.—Tyler Chase


4. The Hateful Eight

16.jpg Year: 2015
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Stars: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Demián Bichir, Bruce Dern, Michael Madsen, Channing Tatum
Rating: R
Runtime: 167 minutes

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The Hateful Eight is a sprawling film with an intimate core and too much necessary material to trim. There’s a pomp and grandiosity to the weight of the film, and to Quentin Tarantino’s ambition in making it his way, that’s hard not to admire. More so than most marquee movies and tentpoles claiming to be “epic,” The Hateful Eight actually lives up to the word. With this whodunit—or who’s-gonna-doit—Tarantino is chiefly interested in the exchanging of barbs and threats more than he is in action. Make no mistake, The Hateful Eight is insanely violent, but it’s fixated around violent talk and violent reverie before physical violence. Tarantino may lay his timely allegory on thick, but The Hateful Eight bears it out in subtle ways, too: With distrust as the film’s prevailing manner, the notion that you cannot truly know the people with whom you’re having dinner takes on increased gravity and meaning, particularly in the climactic showdown, when all is revealed and we see the film’s various humans for who they truly are. Frontier justice does quench our thirst, but the themes of social justice that drive the film are more satiating by far. It all adds up to a towering work, as profound as it is profane. —Andy Crump


5. Dances With Wolves

dances-with-wolves.jpg Year: 1990
Director: Kevin Costner
Stars: Kevin Costner, Mary McDonnell, Rodney Grant
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 181 minutes

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Overlooking the fact that this is the story of a white male savior, Kevin Costner’s directorial debut was something of a milestone in Hollywood’s historically terrible depiction of “cowboys and Indians.” Kevin Costner plays Lt. John Dunbar, a Civil War hero serving in an isolated outpost in Sioux territory. When he returns a young woman to her tribe—again, an adopted white woman, Stands With Fist—his presence there is finally accepted, and he learns the Lakota language and customs. With the U.S. army pressing upon all Native Americans in the late 1800s, Dunbar’s loyalties become clouded. The film was beautifully shot by Dean Semler and dominated the Oscars with seven awards, including Best Picture. Costner’s passion for the project showed when he put $3 million of his own money towards finishing production when the shoot ran over its $15 million budget. It paid off when the film went on to gross $424 million globally. And while there were plenty of critics about the authenticity of a film starring only one native Lakota speaker, Costner was adopted as an honorary member of the Sioux Nation. —Josh Jackson


6. The Harder They Fall

the-harder-they-fall-poster.jpg Year: 2021
Director: Jeymes Samuel
Stars: Idris Elba, Jonathan Majors, Lakeith Stanfield, Zazie Beetz, Regina King, Delroy Lindo, RJ Cyler
Rating: R
Runtime: 139 minutes

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The importance of Black folks to the “taming” of the West is a central thrust to The Harder They Fall, both as a motivation for first-time feature director Jeymes Samuel, who grew up watching Westerns and wanted to see one starring Black people, and for the plot. The actors, visual style and musical choices elevate an imperfect script with memorable if not completely unique dialogue and scenes. The cast and performances are remarkable and it’s an aesthetically striking film with great set, sound and costume design. Real-life historical figures are treated like folk heroes, for better and for worse. The Harder They Fall has its problems, but it’s a testament to the idea that there are still interesting things to be done in familiar genres, like inserting color aesthetically and demographically. It’s worth watching at least once for the spectacle of the vibrant colors and great performances, and to be introduced to real historical characters, even if audiences must look far from the film to figure out what they were actually like. It does a great job reinserting Black people into the story of the U.S. western expansion, but it’s a qualified success because the film ignores the people the U.S. was stolen from, in places and among people where they could still be found. —Kevin Fox, Jr.