It’s been a good half-century since the heyday of the Hollywood western, but the genre has seen a surprise resurgence in the past 20 years, as directors of all kinds have begun to put their unique spins on the horse opera — like this month’s Netflix release The Harder They Fall, a bold new revenge western about a Black outlaw (Jonathan Majors) who assembles a posse to take down the man (Idris Elba) who killed his parents. With a hip-hop-tinged soundtrack and an ensemble cast that includes Oscar winner Regina King (50) and Delroy Lindo (68), this swaggering shoot-’em-up promises to breathe new life into the genre. But how will it rank among some of the best westerns of the past two decades? Here, our picks for the top 10 cowboy films released since the year 2000, from quirky cartoons and comedies to revisionist revenge tales and remakes that pay homage to a century of westerns past.
10: News of the World (2020)
The plot: It took Tom Hanks 40 years to star in his first western, and this film by director Paul Greengrass, 66, perfectly utilizes his everyman persona. Civil War veteran Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Hanks, 65) makes a living by traveling around the West and reading newspapers to townsfolk. One day he stumbles on a young settler girl (newcomer Helena Zengel) who is wearing Native American garb and speaking Kiowa, and he grudgingly agrees to help return her to her surviving family.
The best part: Composer James Newton Howard, 70, earned his ninth Oscar nomination for his mournful, string-heavy original score.
9: Rango (2011)
The plot: Pirates of the Caribbean director Gore Verbinski, 57, helmed this oddball computer-animated film about a Hawaiian-shirt-wearing pet chameleon (Johnny Depp, 58) who gets lost in the Nevada desert and finds himself as the unwitting new sheriff in a town called Dirt. Once there, he helps his fellow animals contend with outlaws, bank robbers and a water shortage. Rango is one of only six non-Disney/non-Pixar movies to win best animated feature at the Oscars.
The best part: Keep an eye out for fun visual references to western tropes and characters, such as the Spirit of the West (voiced by Timothy Olyphant, 53), who is clearly inspired by Clint Eastwood, 91.
8: The Sisters Brothers (2018)
The plot: Despite its all-star cast, chances are you haven’t heard of this western crime drama by French director Jacques Audiard, 69. Very few people went to see it — which is a shame, because it’s weird and witty in ways that few westerns allow themselves to be. Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly (56) star as the titular hitmen, who are hired to hunt down Hermann Kermit Warm (Riz Ahmed), a chemist who may have figured out a way to extract gold from rivers. Jake Gyllenhaal plays a private detective with shifting allegiances.
The best part: Beyond the core four actors, the ensemble includes such standouts as Carol Kane, 69, as the Sisters brothers’ mother, and Rutger Hauer (in one of his final film roles) as the wealthy businessman who sends them out on their mission.
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