Secret caches of gold, coffins ominously dragged across the landscape, cemetery and churchyard shootouts, sliced ears, baroque flashbacks, poor souls buried up to their necks in sand. All of these Grand Guignol augurs can only mean one thing. You’ve entered Spaghetti Western country! From about 1964 until 1970, with a few later exceptions, some of Italy’s most profitable film exports—not to mention daring, creative, and politically charged—were Westerns. Directors like the Three Sergios (Sergio Leone, Sergio Corbucci, and Sergio Sollima) made these low-budget oaters in Almeria, Spain, a perfectly dusty stand-in for the American Southwest and Mexico, and recruited B-movie actors or rising stars from Hollywood to play in them. Many of these films exist in multiple versions, recut to fit the sensibilities and language barriers of the different countries where they would be shown. In fact, you could argue that the Italian Western, with its roots in the American Western, not to mention Japanese samurai films and even the early James Bond flicks, were the first truly international movies. They were geared as much for non-Italian viewing as they were the home audience—though they were certain popular there. Sergio Leone’s second Western, For a Few Dollars More, became the highest grossing movie in Italian history upon its release in 1965. Outside of Italy, these films were quickly known as Spaghetti Westerns, though there are some regional variations. In Japan, Italian-produced Westerns are known as Macaroni Westerns. These films certainly broke new ground in the depiction of violence onscreen, but they were also unique for how personal and political they could be, often touching upon leftist or revolutionary currents in Italian society that were easier to express in the Old West than in movies set in the present day.
Quentin Tarantino‘s latest movie, Django Unchained, is an homage to the Spaghetti Western, and, like its Italian forebears, touches upon sensitive topics of race and class, marrying a personal vision to a political undercurrent worthy of many of the films he admires. In honor of Django Unchained, we at Hollywood.com have put together our own ranked list of the 20 Best Spaghetti Westerns ever made. Click on the following link to check them out. And feel free to suggest other films we left out in the comments below.
Follow Christian Blauvelt on Twitter @Ctblauvelt
[Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures]