This weekend, The Magnificent Seven will once again ride into town, as Antoine Fuqua’s remake of the old classic sees Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt and five friends saddle up to save the day (and the town) in the face of some old-school bad guys.
But is today’s moviegoing audience prepared to re-embrace the western as a legitimate movie genre when it doesn’t come from the Coens or Tarantino? After all, some are still recovering from Cowboys vs. Aliens. In an attempt to remind people what Westerns can do, I’d like to suggest a crash course in the following, each of which is available right now on Netflix. Happy trails, as they say.
RIVER OF NO RETURN (1954)
The result of what sounds like a Mad-Libs for movie nerds, this Otto Preminger western pairs Robert Mitchum and Marilyn Monroe as a widower and a singer forced together (alongside Mitchum’s character’s son) after an attack on the town they were in. As unlikely as it sounds, it’s based on classic Italian movie The Bicycle Thief. No, really.
NEVADA SMITH (1966)
The prequel to successful Alan Ladd vehicle The Carpetbaggers, this movie saw Steve McQueen take over the Ladd role, facing off against a trio of bad guys that includes Karl Malden and a very young Martin Landau. Also making a surprise appearance? Suzanne Pleshette, almost a decade before she got married to Bob Newhart and moved to Chicago.
TRUE GRIT (1969)
File under: “You like Westerns and you don’t know what True Grit is?” All you need to know is John Wayne plays aging-but-still-got-it U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn in it, and the cast also includes Dennis Hopper, Robert Duvall and Glen motherlovin’ Campbell. It’s every bit as good as you hope it is, and then some.
THE NEWTON BOYS (1998)
Even if you’re not into this true-life tale about a family of bank robbers who have grand schemes — and almost the skills to make ‘em pay off — then it’s at least worth checking out for the were-they-ever-that-young cast list, which includes Ethan Hawke, Matthew McConaughey and Vincent D'Onofrio.
THE MISSING (2003)
Tommy Lee Jones and Cate Blanchett lead the cast for this revisionist take on the genre, which makes up for what it lacks in subtlety — a father and daughter reconnect while working together to rescue the daughter’s own daughter from potential slavery—with great performances and some fine direction from Ron Howard.
THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE WEIRD (2008)
Let’s take a break from traditional Westerns for a second with this South Korean entry into the genre, loosely inspired (as the title might suggest) by The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. There is some furious action as well as the occasional nod to the source material, and that more or less makes up for the movie’s (many) shortcomings.
THE RETRIEVAL (2013)
This Civil War-era drama follows a young boy who works for a group of bounty hunters making a living by capturing and returning runaway slaves — hence the title — as he is sent on a mission essentially solo to return one particular slave. Things don’t go so well for him, but considering what he’s doing, you’ll find yourself wondering it you’re okay with that.
DJANGO UNCHAINED (2014)
Tarantino makes the Western everyone knew was inside him all along, giving the world not only a great role for Christoph Waltz, but also Leonardo DiCaprio at his most punchable, which really is saying something. The soundtrack is kind of incredible too, so… yeah. A good time will be had.
THE HOMESMAN (2014)
In case The Missing wasn’t enough, there’s even more Tommy Lee Jones in this one. In fact, he also produced and directed the tale, in which he plays a claim jumper tasked with returning immigrants back to their home. Hilary Swank, Meryl Streep and James Spader also make appropriately sincere, dramatic appearances.
JANE GOT A GUN (2016)
Offering a twist on all kinds of familiar tropes, Jane sees Natalie Portman forced to defend her family against some varmints because her husband is too injured to take on the traditional duties, and the result is something that feminists, Western fans and those who’ve longed to see Portman shoot a gun a lot in a 98 minute period will be thrilled by.