Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Best Western Movies On Netflix, According To Critics

The Western film genre has been around since the start of the moviemaking industry, beginning with the 1903 silent film The Great Train Robbery. Generally set at the end of the 1800s and early 1900s in the western US, these stories focus on antiheroes, cowboys and gunslingers with a mission to complete and justice to be served. The genre has only grown over the decades, with well-known actors like John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, and Gary Cooper making a name for themselves through these roles. Many people will likely recognize classic Western titles like Stagecoach, Once Upon a Time in the West, and The Unforgiven, ranging from the 1930s to the 1990s.

As the world hit the turn of the century, it seemed like the Western genre would be left behind as a part of film history, but in the last ten years or so, it's been making a big comeback. Thanks to creators like Quentin Tarantino and the Coen Brothers, Westerns are returning in full force, evolving to become something familiar yet entirely modern. When looking for a Western to watch, Netflix is obviously a great place to go. The streamer has a huge database of films, and while their Western section is a bit lacking these days, the Westerns they do have are definitely worth checking out.

Not sure where to start? Here are the five best Westerns on Netflix right now.

In a Valley of Violence

In 2016, after starring in several well-received horror films like Sinister and The Purge, actor Ethan Hawke teamed up with Blumhouse Productions once again for the studio's first Western, In a Valley of Violence. Directed by Ti West, another horror genre mainstay, the film focuses on Hawke's character Paul, a ex-soldier and drifter who goes on the warpath for revenge after experiencing a violent attack by a local deputy. The film also stars John Travolta, Taissa Farmiga, Karen Gillen, and James Ransone as Deputy Gilly Martin, the man who sparks Paul's need for vengeance. Interestingly, In a Valley of Violence's initial premise actually has quite a few similarities with John Wick, but you'll have to watch to understand why.

The film's strength is the fact that it doesn't take itself too seriously, evident in its absurdist style of humor. Critics gave the film relatively positive reviews, praising the performances and how the movie embraces classic Western tropes to create a self-aware yet entertaining adventure. Sheila O'Malley of RogerEbert.com said that Travolta "gives one of his funniest performances in recent memory. [...] Something happens when Travolta gets engaged with material and given circumstances. It's movie magic, plain and simple." As for the rest of the film, it may be predictable, but it's a fun, violent story that gets by with great acting and unique humor.

Dances With Wolves

In his directorial debut, Kevin Costner stars in the 1990 film Dances with Wolves, about 1st Lieutenant John J. Dunbar, a Union Army soldier who mans and rebuilds a deserted fort. There he encounters his Sioux neighbors, the Lakota tribe, and gets to know their people, language, and culture. Graham Greene plays the tribe's medicine man, Kicking Bird, while Mary McDonnell plays Stands with a Fist, his adopted daughter who develops a close relationship with Dunbar.

The film won 7 Academy Awards including Best Director and Best Picture, and Dances with Wolves has had a lasting impact on film and the portrayal of Native Americans. Because of this, "the Sioux nation, a group seldom thrilled with its portrayal on-screen, has adopted Costner as an honorary member," as reported by Entertainment Weekly after the film's release. Dances with Wolves stars many Native Americans who had little acting experience before this project, and most of the film is spoken in Lakota dialect with subtitles. It's clear that Costner made a huge effort to honor these communities and portray them as accurately as possible. While some people still criticize the film for the "white savior" elements, it's offset by the rich Sioux characters and story.

Critics loved the film, with Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune describing it as "a big picture in love with our landscape as much as with the Sioux Indians who inhabit it." If you've been a fan of Western films for a while or are just venturing into the genre, Dances with Wolves is a great place to start.

Django Unchained

Now into the more modern Westerns, Quentin Tarantino's 2012 feature Django Unchained stars Jamie Foxx as Django, a slave freed by Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) to help him track down three outlaws. Django desperately wants to rescue his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), who is now a slave under Calvin J. Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), a cruel man who forces slaves to fight to the death. Together, Django and Schultz travel to his estate with a plan, but it quickly goes awry, resulting in a violent climax.

Critics generally loved Tarantino's revisionist Western. Rotten Tomatoes' Critics Consensus labeled the film an "incendiary masterpiece," in line with its 87% rating. The film won two Academy Awards, and was at the top of many Top 10 lists that year. A review by Reel Talk Online declared that "the film not only entertains but allows audiences to experience a wide range of emotions as any good film should, while it simultaneously opens wounds and sparks a conversation." While Django Unchained received a mainly positive response, it did earn some backlash for its extreme use of the n-word and the claim that Tarantino participates in blaxploitation, with both Roxane Gay and Spike Lee speaking out against it (via Buzzfeed and The Independent).

Tarantino is known for his violent, in-your-face style, and Django Unchained brings that to the Western genre for the first time. You can check it out on Netflix now.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

The 2018 film The Ballad of Buster Scruggs comes from another auteur filmmaker — actually, two — as the Coen Brothers' 18th feature. While the duo has taken on the Western genre before with No Country for Old Men and True Grit, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is something entirely unique. The film is a black comedy anthology, featuring six stories that take place in the American West. The first story, which inspires the title, follows Tim Blake Nelson as Buster Scruggs, a sharpshooting singing cowboy who happily accepts any challenge that comes his way. Scruggs meets his match when a young singing cowboy comes to town and challenges him to a duel.

The other shorts star James Franco, Liam Neeson, Zoe Kazan, Tom Waits, and Tyne Daly, covering various adventures of trouble, dark humor, and death. If you are familiar with the Coen Brothers and their style of filmmaking, then you know what to expect here. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is a Netflix Original and received a 89% Certified Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Rolling Stone commended the film, explaining that "the Coens know how to suck you in before they suck you under. And the gallows humor of their fatalistic Ballad allows the filmmakers to do what they do best: laugh in the face of death."

If you're looking for a unique and morbidly humorous take on American Old West, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is it.

There Will Be Blood

While some might argue that There Will Be Blood isn't technically a Western because it has no gunslinging and cowboy face offs, if there should ever be an exception, this is it.  Paul Thomas Anderson directs the 2007 film loosely based on Upton Sinclair's novel Oil!. Daniel Day-Lewis stars as Daniel Plainview, a brutal yet charming prospector on a rampage for wealth during the California oil boom of the late 1800s. Plainview has all the characteristics of a classic Western antihero like Clint Eastwood's "Man With No Name," someone with his own secret motives and morals who is willing to commit violent acts to achieve his goals.

There Will Be Blood has a 91% on Rotten Tomatoes and is broadly viewed as a masterpiece. Peter Sciretta of Slash Film's claimed that "There Will Be Blood is like no other film you have ever seen." He also noted, "while There Will Be Blood is not technically a western, my good friend and fellow critic Mel Valentin assured me that for all this was a western without the traditional cowboy characters," and Valentin is right. The Western genre isn't all cowboys and shoot-outs. It's about the American West and the rise of capitalism and industrialism, as men strive for power and identity in a rapidly shifting world. 

There Will Be Blood perfectly evokes the spirit of this period in America's history, presenting a violent story of greed and hatred. The film won two Academy Awards, and is still touted as one of the best films of the 21st century. There Will Be Blood is a must-watch for any and all movie lovers.