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Top 10 Western Movie Heroes

VO: Matthew Wende WRITTEN BY: George Pacheco

Script written by George Pacheco

These are the coolest customers to ever set foot in the frontier. From Josey Wales, to Annie Oakley, to Shane, these folks are the best of the West on the big screen. WatchMojo counts down the top Western movie heroes.

Special thanks to our user jack2244 for suggesting this idea! Check out the voting page at https://www.WatchMojo.comsuggest/Top+10+Western+Movie+Heroes


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Script written by George Pacheco

Top 10 Western Movie Heroes

These characters put the “wild” in “Wild West.” Welcome to, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Western Movie Heroes.

For this list, we’re looking at the most memorable heroes and heroines from the genre of western cinema. Given that we may be discussing some major plot points in these films, a spoiler alert just might be in order!

#10: Josey Wales

“The Outlaw Josey Wales” (1976)
The phrase, “action, not words,” is a good way to describe the first western hero on our list, Josey Wales. This Missouri farmer turned Confederate soldier loses his family to a group of bloodthirsty outlaws, a tragedy that leaves him with emotional and physical scars. Loss seems to follow Wales, however, as the guerilla band with which he’s riding also suffers huge casualties as the result of a Union Army ambush. In the end, only two things matter to Josey Wales: revenge and a fresh start, with this character nearly risking it all in pursuit of both during his long journey.

#9: Annie Oakley

“Annie Get Your Gun” (1950)
A classic real-life Wild West icon, Annie Oakley is the Old West sharpshooter who served as one of the earliest examples of a capable female character in a predominantly male-centered genre. And as such a fascinating and pioneering character, she’s been re-interpreted multiple times, from television, to stage, to screen. This musical Technicolor comedy from 1950 depicts Annie as a spunky gal who can shoot, yell and sing with the best of ‘em. Of course, when an unlikely love develops between Oakley and her professional rival Frank Butler, that’s when things get interesting.

#8: Shane

“Shane” (1953)
Many western heroes might be burdened by a mysterious past, but Alan Ladd’s portrayal of Shane, from the eponymously titled 1953 film, just may be one of best early examples of this cinematic archetype. Shane is unlike future western outlaws in that he’s hesitant to use his formidable gun skills, preferring instead to solve problems with words or, if need be, his fists. In Shane’s words, “a gun is as good or as bad as the man using it,” although this hero is finally put to the test when he’s put against overwhelming odds at this film’s climax, leading to what is truly an unforgettable ending for the ages.

#7: Ethan Edwards

“The Searchers” (1956)
The dynamic duo of actor John Wayne and director John Ford brought about a number of outstanding westerns over the years, but it’s story of Ethan Edwards in Ford’s 1956 masterpiece, “The Searchers,” that might stand as one of their highest achievements. This is thanks largely in part to Edwards’ place as one of Ford’s most intriguing characters, a Civil War veteran who’s led into an obsessive search for his kidnapped niece. Edwards’ journey is one of self-discovery and redemption, as Ford crafts a character who’s emotionally complex, layered, and fractured; and one that we have absolutely no problem following from the very moment Wayne appears on screen.

#6: Will Kane

“High Noon” (1952)
Just about anyone can relate to the conflict faced by Town Marshall Will Kane in 1952’s “High Noon,” feeling fear and helplessness against possibly insurmountable odds. This is thanks to a released criminal by the name of Frank Miller, who’s determined to have his revenge against the officer who put him in prison. Kane tries in vain to assemble a posse from the townsfolk he’s sworn to protect, but no one’s brave enough to stand by his side. It’s a remarkable commentary about humanity’s weakness in the face of danger, and how only one man is, as the film’s poster exclaims, “too proud to run.”

#5: Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid

“Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” (1969)
The Wild West hero was undergoing a change in the late ‘60s. Italy’s spaghetti western renaissance was in full bloom, while films like “The Wild Bunch” were boldly confronting audiences with deliberate, slow motion violence. Butch and Sundance are significantly more lighthearted in tone, but no less striking for the time, representing the rise of protagonists who are clearly motivated by ends like greed and fame. Based on real-life cowboys, this portrait of the charismatic outlaw was in tune with the counterculture of the time. Meanwhile Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’s final escape attempt serves to mirror the era’s captivation with tragic, guns blazing last hurrahs.

#4: Chris Adams

“The Magnificent Seven” (1960)
“The Magnificent Seven” may be a reimagining of director Akira Kurosawa’s feudal epic, “Seven Samurai,” but it’s one of the rare remakes that stands on its own merit, with an enduring legacy all its own. Much of the film’s success is thanks to its brilliant casting of The Seven, particularly Yul Brynner as leader Chris Adams. Brynner is stoic and lawful with a clear moral compass, even if he realizes all too well how the curtain is destined to fall upon the Wild West and its gunslingers. Case in point: Adams courageously driving The Seven against a local raider who continually loots a small Mexican town. He may wear a black hat, but Chris Adams remains a classic western hero.

#3: ‘Harmonica’

“Once Upon a Time in the West” (1968)
The motivation of vengeance is one that’s driven a number of western heroes over the years, but perhaps none has represented this idea more poetically than the tragic figure known as Harmonica. This quiet and brooding character was portrayed with heavy intensity by noted “tough guy” actor Charles Bronson in director Sergio Leone’s epic, “Once Upon a Time in the West,” as a deadly gunfighter with a clear plan in mind to avenge his brother’s death. Harmonica’s mission is given further weight by Ennio Morricone’s mournful, captivating theme for the character, a dark piece of music that perfectly mirrors Bronson’s ice-cold glare and deadly gun fighting skill.

#2: Rooster Cogburn

“True Grit” (1969 / 2010)
The Wild West is often known for its square-jawed, classically handsome characters. “True Grit’s” Reuben J. Cogburn – aka as Rooster – is a drastic, almost humorous contrast to that idea. Loud, inebriated, and irascible, Cogburn is a Civil War veteran and U.S. Marshal who claims sixty confirmed kills... all in self-defense, of course. Rooster is called to a more noble cause when he’s enlisted to help a determined little girl by the name of Mattie Ross track down the outlaw that murdered her father. The curmudgeonly Cogburn gradually begins to care about both his mission and his companion, even going so far as risk everything to save Ross from a potentially deadly snakebite.

Before we reveal our top western hero, here are a few honorable mentions!
- Wyatt Earp
“Tombstone” (1993)

- Ellen / ‘The Lady’
“The Quick and the Dead” (1995)

- Pike Bishop
“The Wild Bunch” (1969)

#1: The Man with No Name

“Dollars Trilogy” (1964-66)
Whether you know him as “Blondie,” “Manco,” or “Joe,” there’s no arguing that Clint Eastwood redefined the western hero with his groundbreaking work in Sergio Leone’s “Dollars Trilogy.” Eastwood’s squinty-eyed, morally ambiguous anti-hero pushed the limits of cinematic violence, with Leone’s films, “A Fistful of Dollars,” “For a Few Dollars More,” and “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly,” reflecting the complex themes and tones that encompassed Italy’s spaghetti western cinema. This was in stark contrast to the “white hat” and “black hat” ideals of early American westerns, and thanks largely to their unnamed protagonist, they managed to shock, excite, and enthrall audiences around the world.

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