The 20 Best Spaghetti Westerns Ever Made

20
Duck, You Sucker (1971)
Duck, You Sucker, Rod Steiger, James Coburn
United Artists via Everett Collection
Sergio Leone’s last official Spaghetti Western (he lent an uncredited directorial assist on a couple later films like the superior ‘My Name Is Nobody’) is a bloated, 157-minute mess, punctuated by two or three great scenes. In 1913, an exiled Irish revolutionary (James Coburn) shares his knowledge of explosives with a Mexican revolutionary (a horribly miscast Rod Steiger) whom he befriends/bullies as they fight the proto-fascist Mexican government and its complacent bourgeois supporters.
19
Navajo Joe (1966)
Navajo Joe, Nicoletta Machiavelli, Burt Reynolds
United Artists via Everett Collection
Burt Reynolds had played a half-breed for years on ‘Gunsmoke,’ so director Sergio Corbucci’s idea to cast him as the title character of ‘Navajo Joe’ wasn’t nearly as crazy in 1966 as it might now seem. A solid, if thoroughly depressing revenge film, ‘Navajo Joe’ is probably best known by film buffs today for the section of Ennio Morricone’s operatic score Quentin Tarantino lifted for “Bill’s Exit Music” at the end of ‘Kill Bill Vol. 2’.
18
Death Rides a Horse (1967)
Death Rides a Horse, John Phillip Law, Carla Cassola
United Artists via Everett Collection
Spaghetti legend Lee Van Cleef called ‘Death Rides a Horse’ his favorite film. John Philip Law (dreadful) sets out to track down and kill the five bandits who killed his family before his eyes when he was a boy. Along the way, he teams up with Van Cleef, who…well, we’d better not say any more. A powerful indictment of revenge’s corrosive effect on the soul.
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17
The Price of Power (1969)
The Price of Power, Giuliano Gemma
Patry Film
A beloved President and his First Lady visit a hostile Dallas. They ride in an open-top procession. Shots ring out. The President is dead. Except that it’s not JFK. The year is 1882, and the fallen president is James Garfield (Van Johnson), the victim of a byzantine conspiracy against his administration. Of course, director Tonino Valerii almost completely fictionalized the circumstances of Garfield’s real-life assassination so that the film could be a commentary on Kennedy’s murder.
16
Sabata (1969)
Sabata, Lee Van Cleef, Jacqueline Alexandre
United Artists via Everett Collection
An often neglected subgenre is the Spaghetti comedy, and ‘Sabata’ is one of the best. Lee Van Cleef’s titular Man in Black (the archetypal gunslinger he almost always plays) gets caught up in a comically inept casino heist, involving acrobats, trick guns, and a powder-faced, smoking-jacketed boss who reads books with titles like ‘Inequality is the Foundation of Society.’
15
Minnesota Clay (1964)
Minnesota Clay, Cameron Mitchell, Fernando Sancho
Franco London Films
Spaghetti god Sergio Corbucci’s first good Western is a powerful story of redemption and generational reconciliation about a middle-aged convict (Cameron Mitchell) who escapes from a prison camp stone-quarry to find the baddies who framed him and reconcile with his daughter. Problem is, he’s quickly going blind! With ‘Minnesota Clay,’ Corbucci quickly established the template he would often follow: a troubled gunslinger with a physical handicap seeks revenge against those who did him wrong.
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14
A Fistful of Dollars (1964)
A Fistful of Dollars, Clint Eastwood
United Artists via Everett Collection
As not only the most successful of the early Italian-produced Westerns but a landmark example of a new international cinema, ‘A Fistful of Dollars’ is one of the most influential movies of all time. Clint Eastwood, already famous in the States for playing Rowdy Yates on ‘Rawhide,’ accepted Sergio Leone’s offer to come to Almeria, Spain (the place where most Spaghetti Westerns would end up being shot) and take the role of a quiet, clench-jawed ‘slinger with no name who stumbles into a hellhole.
13
Django Kill...If You Live, Shoot! (1967)
Django Kill...If You Live, Shoot!, Tomas Milian, Django Kill
Indipendenti Regionali via Everett Collection
A loose adaptation of ‘The Odyssey’ and an even looser sequel to ‘Django,’ Giulio Questi’s ‘Django, Kill!’ is a surrealist, Dali-esque journey through a nightmarish Old West, punctuated by stunningly bizarre outbursts of violence.
12
Tepepa (1969)
Tepepa, Tomas Milian
Paradise Film Exchange
One of the very best Tortilla Westerns (the Spaghetti sub-genre that focuses on stories set during the Mexican Revolution, also known as “Zapata Westerns”), 'Tepepa' tells the story of a peasant revolutionary (Tomás Milián) whose egalitarian ideology is undermined by his appalling misogyny. His ideas are worth implementing, if not by him. Come for Orson Welles as a magnificently bloated villain with a Fu Manchu beard, stay for some pretty thought-provoking ideas.
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11
Django (1966)
Django, Franco Nero
Euro International Film via Everett Collection
The most influential non-Leone Spaghetti Western ever made, 'Django' stars Franco Nero as a former Union soldier who drags a coffin behind him into the muddy waste of a border town populated by Mexican bandits, racist Confederates still fighting the Civil War, and mud-wrestling prostitutes. In short, a Hieronymous Bosch-like hell.
10
Kill and Pray (Requiescant), 1967
Kill and Pray, Lou Castel, Requiescant
Castoro/Tefi Film via Everett Collection
A little boy is the lone survivor of a family of Mexican peasants gunned down in cold blood by a racist Confederate landowner. That kid is taken in by an itinerant preacher and his wife, is renamed Requiescant, and grows up having blocked the memory of his childhood trauma. When his adopted sister goes missing, however, Requiescant (Lou Castel) goes on a journey across the southwest to rescue her…only to find she’s been taken captive by the same Confederate who murdered his biological family!
9
The Ruthless Four (1968)
The Ruthless Four, Van Heflin, Gilbert Roland
Goldstone Film Enterprises via Everett Collection
A kind of ‘Treasure of the Sierra Madre’ in reverse, Giorgio Capitani’s film has gold miner Van Heflin hit paydirt at the very beginning. Then, to his misfortune, Heflin hires three scoundrels (George Hilton, an always-great Gilbert Roland, and Klaus Kinski, totally deranged) to help transport the bullion back to civilization. As you can imagine, betrayal and backstabbing ensues.
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8
My Name Is Nobody (1973)
My Name Is Nobody, Terence Hill
Universal Pictures via Everett Collection
A comedy Western par excellence, Henry Fonda returns to Leoneland after his legendary villain Frank in ‘Once Upon a Time in the West.’ This time he’s decidedly more benign, as an aging gunfighter who just wants to be left alone but is dogged at every turn by young upstarts trying to test themselves against his superior skill. One of those challengers is Nobody (Terence Hill), a possibly deranged young man who’s determined to see Fonda’s gunfighter die in a blaze of glory against the Wild Bunch.
7
Compañeros (1970)
Compañeros
Tritone Cinematografica
One of the best action comedies you’ll ever see, Sergio Corbucci’s ‘Compañeros’ teamed genre heavyweights Franco Nero, as a natty Swedish arms dealer, and Tomás Milián, as a scruffy revolutionary leader, against a weed-smoking, one-handed Jack Palance who’s really, really obsessed with a falcon named Marshall.
6
For a Few Dollars More (1965)
For a Few Dollars More, Clint Eastwood
United Artists via Everett Collection
It’s hard to think of a more satisfying classical, three-act structure for any Spaghetti Western than that of the second installment of Sergio Leone’s “Man With No Name” Trilogy. This time Clint Eastwood is joined by Lee Van Cleef, in the first of his great Man in Black roles, to track down an animalistic, dope-fueled bandit named El Indio (the great Gian Maria Volanté). The Swiss watch-like plotting carries over to the soundtrack by Ennio Morricone, who even includes the music-box tinkly chimes.
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5
A Bullet for the General (1966)
A Bullet for the General, Klaus Kinski
AVCO Embassy Pictures via Everett Collection
The very best Tortilla Western, Damiano Damiani’s politically-charged Mexican Revolution epic follows a standard Zapata film formula: a Mexican bandit turned revolutionary (Gian Maria Volonté) pairs with an Anglo interloper (Lou Castel) who has a mysterious agenda. But in the hands of screenwriter Fernando Solinas (‘The Battle of Algiers’), this formula is turned into an allegory for ‘60s Third World insurgencies and the neo-imperialist forces pitted against them.
4
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966)
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, Clint Eastwood
United Artists via Everett Collection
A sprawling picaresque of the Civil War Era West, the conclusion of Leone’s “Man With No Name” Trilogy only has a true analogue in literature: ‘Don Quixote.’ Three magnificent rogues—The Good (Clint Eastwood), who’s anything but; The Bad (Lee Van Cleef at his squinty-eyed best) who is exactly that, and The Ugly (Eli Wallach), shaggy-dogged and scratchy—take separate paths across the American Southwest in search of a cache of Confederate gold.
3
The Big Gundown (1966)
The Big Gundown, Lee Van Cleef, Tomas Milian
Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection
Bounty hunter Lee Van Cleef tracks a bandit (Tomás Milián) accused of rape and murder across Texas and Mexico, until he begins to doubt that his quarry is guilty. Director Sergio Sollima crafted an allegory for American interventionism in Latin America, an interventionism that ends up harming the average working man on both sides of the Rio Grande.
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2
The Great Silence (1968)
The Great Silence, Jean-Louis Trintignant
20th Century Fox Italia via Everett Collection
Sergio Corbucci ups the ante of the taciturn gunslinger trope, and makes his hero (Jean-Louis Trintagnant, currently breaking hearts in ‘Amour’) totally mute. “Silence” seeks the paper-pushing bureaucrat who cut his throat as a kid (hence, his inability to speak). That bureaucrat has since begun a genocidal anti-Mormon campaign in the snow-covered mountains of Utah. Silence teams up with an African-American woman (Vonetta McGee) whose husband has been murdered.
1
Once Upon a Time In the West (1968)
Once Upon a Time In the West, Henry Fonda, Claudia Cardinale
Paramount Pictures via Everett Collection
Sergio Leone completed his rewrite of the Old West with his follow-up to the “Man With No Name” Trilogy. This time, he took his production out of Almeria, Spain and shot in Monument Valley, Utah—John Ford country. But its psychological terrain is every bit as compelling as the landscapes. Leone’s film stars Charles Bronson as a harmonica-playing force-to-be-reckoned-with gunning for the railroad enforcer (Henry Fonda) who killed his brother and threatens a widow (Claudia Cardinale).

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