I love Westerns. I grew up watching them, and have only come to appreciate them more with time. There are plenty of good ones, and even more bad ones. That being said, I wanted to outline some Westerns (and Neo-Westerns) that might appeal to the gun enthusiasts out there.
My list is obviously not going to be objective, as there is no way for it to be. However, I want to outline what I think makes a good "gun enthusiast" Western. For me, it's a combination of weapon variety, and weapon handling. Are the guns cool? Are the being used in a proper manner, or with good technique? That's what I'm looking for.
I also want to state that these are not necessarily my favorite Westerns as a whole. For me, 1966's The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly is my favorite Western of all time. However, it doesn't appear on this list. I do enjoy the following films quite a bit, but that doesn't mean that I think that they are the best in the genre. Well, some of them nearly are. Lets get into the list!
Note: I'll be linking each film's IMFDB page in the body of the subheading, so that you can check out the guns of the films.
Western Number 5: 3:10 To Yuma (2007)
2007's 3:10 To Yuma remake is an excellent film. Staring Christian Bale and Russell Crowe as our leads, this remake of the 1957 film ups the action, and the stakes. While not the most technically impressive Western, I chose it for the list due to one element: reloading. On a recent re-watch of the film, it struck me how they show our characters reloading their guns throughout the film. Bale uses a side by side 12 gauge through most of the film, so we see him cram shells a lot. Our main villain wields S&W Schofield Model 3s, and we see him reload quite often too.
On top of the attention to round count, we've got a wide selection of period correct guns in the film. Lots of revolvers, repeating rifles, and shotguns are used in the film. The sound design, and props are done wonderfully, with the guns having that signature black powder punch. While the film itself isn't among my top tier of Westerns, the guns included and their attention to detail are.
Favorite gun featured: Sawn Off Colt 1878 Double Barrel.
Western Number 4: Lone Wolf McQuade (1983)
1983's Lone Wolf McQuade might not be a film you'd think of for this list. An early Neo-Western, this movie features Chuck Norris as the titular character, fighting off against David Carradine. While Norris is generally not the best actor, this film has him doing a pretty great performance as a Texas Ranger, and his gunplay skills look awesome too. Throughout the film, our good and bad guys use an assortment of guns, all the while appearing bad ass. Norris sports a Smith Model 29, and a sawn off Browning Auto 5, which are highlights for me. With the film being contemporary to when it was made, we've also got M16s and MAC-10s galore, which get excellent screen time.
One of the neat scenes features Norris doing "dynamic" target practice on his property, using his Model 29. While absurd to imagine shooting a Model 29 one handed with hot ammo, Norris makes it look cool. The opening to the film, with Norris using a Steyr SSG 69 in the rocky desert, is also a massive highlight. Overall, I think that this is an underappreciated film, and would recommend giving it a watch.
Favorite guns featured: Sawn Off Browning Auto 5 & Smith & Wesson Model 29.
Western Number 3: For A Few Dollars More (1965)
Sergio Leone's 1965 film, For A Few Dollars More is the middle movie of his "Dollars" trilogy. While not as grandiose of a film as The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly, this film does the gunplay very, very well. Our two main characters use iconic guns throughout the runtime of the film. Clint Eastwoods' "Manco" uses long barrel Colt SAAs with snakes on his grips, while Lee Van Cleef's Mortimer uses an assortment of "Buntline Special" SAAs, fitted with shoulder stocks. Both of our bounty hunter leads have excellent gunplay throughout the course of the film, and Leone's signature style really makes it look good.
Highlight scenes for me are Mortimer's first bounty that he shoots, and the final showdown. In Mortimer's extended intro, he un-rolls a leather wrap from his horse, showing an arsenal that he carries around. He grabs a Buntline Special, fits it with a stock, and takes down his bounty. The final showdown is a draw-off between Mortimer and El Indio, our villain. Mortimer is without a gun, so Manco gives him his signature snake-gripped SAA, and the final showdown happens. While a lot of people sleep on this film, I'd highly recommend it. I'd skip over Fistful of Dollars, as it's just a blatant Yojimbo rip-off (albeit, a good one), and go right to this.
Favorite guns featured: Buntline Special Colt SAA, Manco's Snake Gripped SAA.
Western Number 2: The Wild Bunch (1969)
Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch is an extremely important film, as it showed how violent mainstream Hollywood films could get, and still be well received. I'd say that this may be the most violent film released at that point in history. Well, it leads to a masterpiece of a film. If you like Tarantino films or Red Dead Redemption 1 & 2, you can thank this film. The Wild Bunch follows a gang that botches their last robbery, and has to flee into Mexico to escape the law. While on the run, they are chased by not only the lawmen, but also a former member of the gang, who has been tasked with stopping them.
The Wild Bunch takes place during WW1, and features many guns that we wouldn't see in the traditional Western. Our gang uses Winchester 1897 pump shotguns, bolt action rifles, DA revolvers, SA revolvers, and Star Model Bs dressed up to look like 1911s. The idea of cowboys running around with turn of the century autoloaders has always given me a special feeling, and this movie checks the box on that. On top of the cool small arms, we've also got water cooled Browning machine guns galore, something that really ties the end of the movie together.
The Wild Bunch is an important film for changing the landscape of Hollywood, but it changed also competition. While not a Cowboy Action shooter, I know that "Wild Bunch" divisions are quite popular. Pump shotguns and 1911s seem like a great way to get into Cowboy Action Shooting. I'd heartily recommend this film, just be prepared to want a pile of cool old guns after your screening.
Favorite guns featured: Winchester 1897 Pump Shotgun, Browning M1917.
Western Number 1: The Professionals (1966)
The Professionals is a movie that I had only recently stumbled upon. During 2022, I watched many films with friends, and this one happened to catch our eye one evening. We streamed the film, and were all blown away by it. We've got a simple premise; 4 specialists are hired by a wealthy railroad owner to travel into revolution torn Mexico, and rescue his kidnapped wife. We've got Robert Ryan as Ehrengard, the horse breaker, Woody Strode as Jake, the tracker, Burt Lancaster as Dolworth, the dynamite expert, and Lee Marvin as Rico, our firearm specialist. This film takes a pretty big attention to detail for firearm handling, as many of the cast had been combat veterans during WW2. Lee Marvin himself made sure that the prop guns stayed clean, and that attention to detail carries over into the action.
We've got a ton of great action scenes in The Professionals. The opening is a montage of our characters doing their jobs, and looking great while doing so. Our first proper action scene is an ambush against bandits in Mexico, and oh boy. Rico slam-firing an 1897 pump, then transitioning to his Colt DA revolver is something that I didn't know I needed to see. In later action scenes, we've got knife fighting, dynamite being attached to arrows and launched, and rolling gunfights on minecarts. One of my favorite action scenes features Rico firing a Lewis Gun from a moving train. There's not much for me to say here, aside from encouraging you to see the film.
I think that the aforementioned The Wild Bunch is a better movie, but The Professionals came out before it, and feels like a bridge between old-school, and new-school Westerns. We've got a lot of violence and action, but there's still a happy ending.
Favorite guns featured: Winchester 1897 Pump Shotgun, Lewis Gun.
Conclusions on Westerns
There are so many Westerns out there, that I am bound to have missed on in this list. What are your favorites?
All images used from Wiki Commons/IMFDB. All rights to their respective owners.
The Way of the Gun counts as a western