It’s been the better part of a century since Westerns were the most popular genre in Hollywood. And yet, like a grizzled old gunslinger nursing dreams of revenge, the Western has proven to be a true survivor. Every decade has brought new variations on these tales of wilderness pioneers, frontier towns and heroic horseman (alongside the straightforward genre films that never went away). The latest spin on the Western is co-screenwriter and director Jeymes Samuel’s hotly anticipated The Harder They Fall, featuring a historically based, all-Black outlaw gang and a fierce cast that includes Oscar winner Regina King, Oscar nominees Idris Elba and Lakeith Stanfield, plus Zazie Beetz and Jonathan Majors.
With The Harder They Fall now available on the streaming service, you may be jonesing to also do a deep dive into the platform’s other Western options. Here are the 15 best Westerns on Netflix, from celebrated Oscar nominees to little-seen independent cowboy dramas.
Best Westerns on Netflix
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
Writer-directors Joel and Ethan Coen walk a sublime line between comedy and tragedy in this anthology Western. Six short films include the surreal musical of the title (starring Tim Blake Nelson), an unlikely romance on the Oregon trail and an ominous stagecoach journey with a satisfying twist.
The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)
In his first truly great film as a director, Clint Eastwood turns a classic revenge thriller into a deeper, trickier story about the value of compassion and the inevitable futility of violence. Building on the lone-wolf cowboy characters that made him a star, Eastwood plays a Civil War-era farmer who becomes a guerilla soldier to avenge the murder of his family.
Marketed to children but better appreciated by their pop culture-savvy parents, Gore Verbinski’s animated comedy is an offbeat delight. Johnny Depp (riffing on his Hunter S. Thompson impression from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) voices a pet chameleon who gets lost in the desert, triggering an existential crisis–and throwing him into a movie plot straight out of a classic Western. Fans of the genre will guffaw at references ranging from Sergio Leone to Don Knotts.
Django Unchained (2012)
Equally influenced by the Spaghetti Westerns of the 1960s and the blaxploitation films of the 1970s, Quentin Tarantino’s ultra-controversial Best Picture nominee is a violent, gleefully anachronistic thrill ride. Jamie Foxx stars as the title character, a former enslaved man who teams up with a German bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz) to avenge the kidnapping of his wife (Kerry Washington) and free her from a ruthless plantation owner (Leonardo DiCaprio).
Dances With Wolves (1990)
One could question, with good reason, whether Kevin Costner was the correct person to write and direct a film about Native Americans during the Civil War, or why a film about the Sioux tribe centers a white hero (Costner) and love interest (Mary McDonnell). Those issues acknowledged, Dances with Wolves remains a sweeping, emotionally resonant drama with stellar performances (by McDonnell, Graham Greene and Rodney A. Grant in particular) and one of only four Westerns to win the Academy Award for Best Picture.
Concrete Cowboy (2021)
Inspired by the little-known, century-long culture of Black horseback riding in inner city Philadelphia, Ricky Staub’s neo-Western tells the unforgettable story of a father (the always stellar Idris Elba) who tries to reconnect with his estranged teenage son (Caleb McLaughlin of Stranger Things) by bringing him into the urban riding community.
The Beguiled (2017)
Many a classic Western is set during the Civil War. Sofia Coppola’s underrated drama moves the camera away from the soldiers and onto the abandoned women who must protect their own frontier – in this case, a Southern girls’ school where the teachers (Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst) and students (including Elle Fanning) find their isolated world turned upside down by the appearance of a wounded soldier (Colin Farrell).
The Wind (2019)
“Prairie madness,” an epidemic of mental illness among the original Western settlers, is the inspiration for Emma Tammi’s atmospheric, female-centric horror film. Caitlin Gerard (American Crime) and Julia Goldani Telles (The Affair) play frontier women on the New Mexico plains, where the constant howl of the wind disguises something even more sinister.
In a Valley of Violence (2016)
Don’t get too attached to the dog in Ti West’s lean, darkly funny genre piece. Ethan Hawke (born to play a cowboy) stars as a gunman trying to escape his violent past, who instead gets caught up in a bloody showdown in a one-horse town.
The Long Riders (1980)
A gritty outlaw story that meanders its way between intense shoot-outs, Walter Hill’s film casts four sets of real-life brothers (James and Stacy Keach; Dennis and Randy Quaid; Christopher and Nicholas Guest; and David, Keith and Robert Carradine) as the historical brothers of the notorious Jesse James gang.
There Will Be Blood (2007)
Named the best film of the 21st century by The Guardian, Paul Thomas Anderson’s breathtaking frontier epic, about a ruthless oil man (Daniel Day-Lewis) and the young preacher who tries to save his soul (Paul Dano), shows the influence of classic Western tragedies like The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and Giant.
An elderly, soft-spoken law officer (a wonderful Bill Pullman) must step into a hero’s cowboy boots when his longtime partner is killed. As Lefty tries to track down the murderer, writer-director Jared Moshe throws him a twist: he’s being accused of committing the crime himself.
Free State of Jones (2016)
Based on an astonishing true story, Gary Ross’s drama follows a disillusioned Confederate soldier (Matthew McConaughey) who stages a revolution in cooperation with a group of runaway slaves (led by Mahershala Ali), declaring the land they occupy an independent state. The ambitious film is largely set in the 1860s but follows the repercussions of these events through the 1940s.
A sleeper hit for Netflix, Justin Lee’s engaging throwback Western takes us for a ride alongside a Pinkerton detective (Kevin Makely) hired by one of the first African-American senators to track down aging Confederate war criminals. Each “chapter” of the film chronicles a different encounter, with an excellent ensemble that includes Mira Sorvino and country singer Trace Adkins.
Hold the Dark (2018)
A haunting neo-Western from low-budget thriller master Jeremy Saulnier, Hold the Dark takes viewers to a remote Alaskan village, where an animal expert (Jeffrey Wright) has been summoned to track a child-stealing wolf. The longer he stays in town, the deeper and more violent its mysteries become.