- Foreign Westerns often include political themes, addressing humanitarian issues and feminism, which goes against the grain of the genre.
- Many foreign Westerns have more violent and gruesome depictions of violence, reinforcing socio-economic commentary.
- Some of the most influential works in the Western genre come from Europe, Asia, Australia, and South America, transcending the United States.
Although there are many great Westerns made in America, there are also plenty of quality movies in the genre by foreign directors as well. Italy’s Spaghetti Westerns are the second most familiar works in the genre after American entries, and Australian Westerns are fairly well-known, but Westerns from Korea, Indonesia, Russia, Mexico, India, and Denmark tend to be overlooked. While most Westerns from parts of the world outside of America tend to contain similar iconography to their Hollywood counterparts, such as vast, dusty landscapes, six-shooters, and gruff drifter protagonists, the sensibilities and commentary from foreign Westerns tend to be atypical of the genre and specific to their country of origin.
Whereas most Westerns from the U.S. contain strong themes of America’s frontier period, foreign Westerns often includepolitical themes that address humanitarian issues, feminism, and even America’s treatment of its ethnic citizens. This firmly goes against the grain of what’s typically expected of the Western genre. Furthermore, many of the Westerns by foreign filmmakers tend to have more violent and gruesome depictions of violence, as such imagery further reinforces the socio-economic commentary found in many of the productions. Whether from Europe, Asia, Australia, or South America, some of the most influential works in the Western genre transcend the United States.
Though the Western genre is naturally affiliated with the American Southwest, there are a number of essential films of similar styles, yet set in diff
10 The Proposition (2005)
The Proposition sees a lawman give a ruthless outlaw a choice: he can help the law execute his notoriously wicked older brother, or he and his younger brother will face execution via hanging. The Proposition features the landscapes and shootouts commonly associated with the Western genre, but the way the shootouts are filmed sets the movie apart. A familiar trope of most Australian action projects is that their more thrilling sequences move as much as possible, a la the Mad Max franchise. In the case of The Proposition, the movie’s action scenes on trains help it lean heavily into its Australian sensibilities.
9 Django (1966)
Django follows a mysterious gunslinger and a mixed-race prostitute as the two navigate the trappings of a bloody war between the Ku Klux Klan and the Mexican Army in the Deep Antebellum South. Perpetually dragging a coffin with him, Django is notable for his solemn personality, skill with a wide assortment of guns, and his unwavering bravery in the face of defeat. Django is notable for its dialogue and stylistically shot violence that helps reinforce the film’s themes of survival. Additionally, Django‘s handling of sensitive subjects like racism and sexism was ahead of the film’s time, and it further went on to influence Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained.
Clint Eastwood was famous for popularizing the Spaghetti Western, but some of the best movies in the genre didn’t feature his Man With No Name.
8 El Topo (1970)
El Topo follows its mysterious titular gunslinger as he and his son journey through the vast and unrelentingly hot desert while on a quest for enlightenment. Throughout their odyssey, they encounter a series of bizarre characters who help El Topo accept some of his deepest traumas. Unlike most other Westerns, El Topo is more of an experience than it is a tale of revenge or justice, as its reliance on the surreal and absurd lends credence to it being more akin to a moving art piece than a Western movie. A slow-burn of a film, El Topo‘s greatest strength is its commitment to breaking the rules.
7 Tears Of The Black Tiger (2000)
Tears of the Black Tiger tells a story of forbidden love between a working-class man turned bandit named Dum and Rumpoey, the daughter of an upper-class politician. While the film follows a fairly standard storyline not atypical of an American Western, it sets itself apart through its use of loud, vibrant colors, elaborate set designs more fitting The Sound of Music, and grindhouse style violence and action that veers toward the cartoonish. As unorthodox as many of Tears of the Black Tiger‘s techniques are, they give the film an undeniably distinct feel that’s supported by its strong lead, Chartchai Ngamsan.
Furthermore, Tears of the Black Tiger incorporates some of the most creatively shot gunfights ever seen in a Western. Some of the most dramatic shootouts in Westerns have largely consisted of extreme close-ups of actors’ eyes and fairly tame amounts of gore. Tears of the Black Tiger employs those tactics and then adds a John Woo-esque finish that makes the shootouts violent and even funny. Despite the film’s relative obscurity and reliance on a cliché plot, Tears of the Black Tiger excels in being one of the most creative productions in the Western genre, and its clever filmmaking techniques make it unique.
6 The Salvation (2014)
The Salvation tells the story of an American settler named Jon, who, despite defending a town from a ruthless gang of bandits, is betrayed by them and forced to fend for himself when the surviving outlaws hunt him down. In addition to the film’s beautiful cinematography, The Salvation is notable for its bleak tone and lead performance from Danish actor Mads Mikkelson, which gives his otherwise ordinary protagonist an unexpected amount of depth and nuance. Furthermore, the film benefits from deeper analysis as its antagonist, played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan, is a ruthless killer who delights in his former reputation as a Native American killer.
Whereas many American Westerns are notorious for shying away from the severity of the nation’s pillaging of Native Americans, The Salvation doesn’t mince its themes that address these atrocities via the actions of its main villain. Furthermore, the village’s decision to abandon Jon, despite how much he helped them, lends itself to interpretations of how Americans who sympathized with the Native Americans were ultimately ostracized from their communities during the frontier. While it might not be the most famous Western, The Salvation works as a strong example of a well-crafted foreign Western with strong themes and quality filmmaking.
5 The Good The Bad The Weird (2008)
South Korean Western
The Good the Bad the Weird follows rival outlaws and their journey to locate a treasure map before either the Japanese army or a group of Chinese bandits does first. Featuring stunning visuals and creative action scenes, The Good the Bad the Weird‘s greatest strength is how it brilliantly blends its action and suspense with humor. Despite its homages to Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, the film’s off-kilter humor revolving around war and its effects on 1940s-period Asia helps it maintain its local sensibilities while being accessible to audiences worldwide and thus contributed to The Good the Bad the Weird being considered the first Kimchi Western.
4 Marlina The Murderer In Four Acts (2017)
Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts tells the story of the titular widow. She is living as peacefully as she can on the Indonesian island Sumba when she’s forced to kill a man named Markus in self-defense after he and his gang unsuccessfully try to rob her. While the plot isn’t particularly ground-breaking, the film’s venture into supernatural horror while still maintaining its Western themes helps distinguish it from many other films in the genre. Known as a Satay Western, Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts also adds many poignant themes of feminism that strongly resonated with Indonesian audiences during the time of its theatrical release.
While Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts boasts some gorgeously shot landscapes that support a riveting story, the film’s handling of violence is another aspect that deserves praise, as it reinforces its theme of a strong woman overcoming insurmountable odds in a way rarely seen for women in film. The film also includes well-shot scenes rife with enough tension to consistently force its audience to feel as anxious as Marlina when she’s forced to defend herself from her primarily male threats. Subversive and creative, Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts is a tense exploration of a woman scorned.
3 White Sun Of The Desert (1977)
White Sun of the Desert follows Fyodor Sukhov, a Red Army soldier tasked with escorting a Caspian Sea guerrilla leader’s harem of wives. The film is notable for its engaging plot, but its themes of family and returning to one’s home through great odds are what make White Sun of the Desert stand out. Fyodor is great because, even though he wants to return home to his wife after being honorably discharged, he accepts his suicide mission with stoicism as he understands its importance to Soviet-era Russia. As such, the film is required viewing for Russian astronauts before embarking on space travel as it’s an inspiring film.
2 Sholay (1975)
Sholay tells the story of Thakur Baldev Singh, a former police officer, as he joins forces with two infamous outlaws after a gang of ruthless bandits murders his family. Sholay boasts a mesmerizing soundtrack and riveting action scenes, but its homages to The Magnificent Seven while infusing the Indian milieu prominent in its time and creative cinematography contributed to its success. For all the film’s well-shot action, Sholay is fondly remembered for its uplifting social commentary that was meant to inspire Indian audiences during times of great uncertainty. Unappreciated in the ’70s, it is now seen as a strong example of how to properly handle social commentary.
1 The Good, The Bad And The Ugly (1966)
Sergio Leone’s The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is considered one of the most timeless Westerns, as it continues to entertain audiences and influence generations of filmmakers many decades after its initial release. The Good, The Bad and The Ugly follows a trio of men as they try to outsmart or kill each other while in search of a buried treasure. The film’s innovative use of camera angles, editing, and an inspired soundtrack by the late Italian composer Ennio Morricone have all contributed to the film’s legendary status. While not inventing the archetypes, the film’s three leads rewrote the book on what strong Western characters should be.
As such, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is the definitive Western, as virtually every aspect of the film has been replicated, ripped off, and otherwise referenced in media that transcends movies. The film’s climactic duel between The Man With No Name, Tuco, and Angel Eyes is also noteworthy as it is responsible for highlighting how effective clever filmmaking can be in favor of relying on overly choreographed shootouts and explosions. While Leone’s entire DollarsTrilogy is considered a masterpiece, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is seen as particularly effective because of its contributions to cinema and Westerns as a whole.