Cowboy movies are a classic (and often problematic) genre in Hollywood history. When it comes to tales of pastoral mystique, violence, and grit, few settings rival the Wild West. For years, there’s been a pretty decent selection of westerns on Netflix, though many rotate in and out semi-regularly. Right now it’s a little light, but there’s still some pretty good options. Here are some of the best westerns on Netflix right now.
The best western’s on Netflix
1. The Salvation
Following Denmark’s loss to Germany in the second Schleswig war, Danish brothers Jon (Mads Mikkelson) and Peter (Mikael Petersbrandt) move to the American West to start a new life. After 10 years on the frontier, Jon’s wife and young son come out to join him, but are killed by outlaws Paul and Lester (Michael Raymond-James and Sean Cameron Michael) fresh out of prison. Jon hunts them down and gets revenge, only to provoke Paul’s kingpin brother.
The Salvation offers a Danish perspective on the American west. Directed by Kristian Levring, this film strikes compelling balance between the typical bleakness you’d find in Scandinavian dramas and the bright and bombastic action of classic cowboy films.
The year is 1892, and after decades of brutal fighting, Captain Joseph Blocker (Christian Bale) is given his final assignment: escort the Cheyenne war chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) and his family back to their home in Montana. Hostiles is a story about the horrors and trauma of war, experienced by the colonized and colonizer.
Not all westerns are lighthearted tales of train robberies and lone gunmen with hearts of gold. This is tense and gritty, and nobody is having a very good time. You’ll love it — it’s one of the best westerns on Netflix.
3. Hell or High Water
If you’re looking for a more modern take on good old fashioned banditry, Hell or High Water is probably your best bet. Toby Howard (Chris Pine) and his brother Tanner (Ben Foster) are on the verge of losing their ranch. With mortgage debt mounting, what’s to be done? Easy: Rob a bank.
The heists go well at first, but eventually things break bad, and the brothers have to go on the run, pursued by Texas Rangers (played by Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham).
This is a great caper flick — check it out.
4. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs brings six short tales of a whimsical wild west to Netflix. The Cohen Brothers’ newest work is feature length, but takes a more anthology-style structure. Heck, Buster Scruggs (Tim Blake Nelson) himself is only in the film for maybe 20 minutes. The different stories have their own particular strengths, but they all feature the Cohen Brother’s characteristic tone and dialogue. It’s casual, quick, and very clever, plus it’s got a wicked sense of humor.
This is a great option for someone with a shorter attention span, or if you just want something built with bathroom breaks in mind.
5. The Hateful Eight
Quentin Tarantino’s eighth film brings us back to the Old West, but it’s very different to Django Unchained. Rather than a sweeping pastoral journey across the American countryside, The Hateful Eight confines its characters to a single room for almost the entire film. In it, eight seeming strangers from all walks of life are stuck in a Montana trading post waiting out a blizzard.
This being a Quentin Tarantino film, everything escalates rather quickly. It’s crass, humorous, and eventually, brutally violent. It also has some of the most striking cinematography Tarantino’s done so far, with long static shots and wide panoramas. Seriously, sometimes this feels like a stage play, in the best way.
6. Buffalo Boys
This one’s a little different. Buffalo Boys is an Indonesian action film about two brothers who flee 19th Century Java after their father, the Sultan of Java, is killed by Dutch Soldiers. The boys go with their uncle to the American West, and they grow up working on building the railroads and learning the cowboy life. Once they become adults, the brothers decide it’s time to go home and get revenge for their father’s death.
Buffalo Boys is damn fun. It feels like an Indonesian take on The Magnificent Seven, only with goofier action.
7. Hell on Wheels
Our last entry isn’t a movie at all, but rather a five-season TV show from AMC. Hell on Wheels follows the plight of former confederate soldier Cullen Bohannon (Anson Mount) as he becomes the foreman of the under-construction Union Pacific Railroad, as it makes its way across the United States. Bohannon is searching for the Union soldiers that killed his family in the Civil War, and on his quest he has to help manage the progress of the railroad and keep the peace in Hell on Wheels, the traveling settlement where workers live.
Hell on Wheels features a number of fascinating characters, in addition to Bohannon. No one is as they seem in a town like this, and the show relishes the chance to explore that.
Those are our picks for the best westerns on Netflix. If you’re in the mood for something else, there’s new content on the service basically every week.
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