The 50 greatest westerns

We count down the greatest westerns of all time


The Good, The Bad and the Ugly (1966)

Dir Sergio Leone (Clint Eastwood, Eli Wallach, Lee Van Cleef)

AAAaaaAAAaaaAAAAAA! Wow wow wow…

We think of the western as the most unreconstructed of genres: manly men doing manly things. But looking through this list, it’s amazing how many different ‘uses’ the genre has: a political tool, a mode of social protest and, of course, a way to explore and explain differing concepts of masculinity. In fact, it’s surprising how few of them are purely, single-mindedly dedicated to just telling a damn good yarn. Luckily, we’ve got ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’ for that. This is one of the absolute peaks of pure narrative cinema: a story which spans many months, hundreds of miles and armies of extras, all of it dedicated to keeping an audience engrossed. Sure, there’s meaning here if you want it (War is absurd! People are assholes!) but this is a movie which works so astonishingly well on the surface that digging any deeper doesn’t just feel pointless, but ever so slightly wrong.

And it’s one of those surprisingly rare movies which seem overfamiliar until you rewatch it. You’re always knocked back by how much there is to rediscover: everyone remembers the big set pieces – Tuco’s ‘hanging’, the cigars in the desert, the dusty uniforms, the prison-camp beatings, the battle at the bridge, the final showdown, the entire score – but there’s so much more to the movie than that. Remember the exploding hotel room, or the fight on the train, or Tuco in the caves, or the heartbreaking monastery sequence? This is not so much a movie, more an entire world which Leone is just hiring out to us for three hours at a time. TH