The Best 1950s Movies, Ranked

ytsfreeSeptember 12, 2022

For many moviegoers, westerns are the ultimate genre. In addition to the time and setting, there are several factors that comprise a traditional classic western movie. For example, there is often a notorious gun-slinging outlaw, epic bar fights in salons, pretty women clad in scandalized attire, dashing heroes waiting to save the day, and famous lines still quoted today.

Western films were very popular in the 40s, 50s, 60s, and even parts of the 70s thanks to Hollywood icons like John Wayne and Clint Eastwood. The 1950s were a wonderful time for the western, with widescreen, brightly colored masterpieces like Rio Bravo, Johnny Guitar, and Calamity Jane gracing the screen. However, while the golden age of Hollywood westerns has passed, this movie genre seems to be making a comeback with recent films such as Django Unchained, True Grit, and The Power of the Dog. While we wait to see what the future of Hollywood westerns will look like, audiences still look back on and rewatch the classics from many years ago. There is a timelessness and magic that many of these western films have, so without further ado, giddy up and enjoy the best westerns from the 1950s.


8 Oklahoma

“Oklahoma, where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain.” This list wouldn’t be complete without Oklahoma, the 1955 musical western romance by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. Join sweet-talking cowboy Curly McLain (Gordon MacRae) as he tries to wrangle the girl of his dreams, Laurey Williams (Shirley Jones) but experiences a whole lot of mischief before he can tie the knot with her. Oklahoma is a beloved musical full of boot-tapping favorites like “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin,” “The Surrey with the Fringe on Top,” and “People Will Say We’re in Love.”

Related: Westerns: The Best 1960s Movies, Ranked

7 Man of the West

As its name implies, Man of the West is about Link Jones (Gary Cooper), a man of the west who suddenly finds himself mixed up in a heap of trouble. As is typical with most heroes in westerns, Link has a troubled outlaw past and is trying to turn his life around. However, such a task is easier said than done. No western would be complete without fights and conflicts and this film does not disappoint as it features plenty of gun-slinging action as well as memorable performances from its leads.

6 The Naked Spur

The Naked Spur features a cast of characters willing to do anything for the right price and to get what they want. This western is a complex psychological cat-and-mouse game starring James Stewart as Howard Kemp, a man tracking killer Ben Vandergroat (Robert Ryan) with the hopes of claiming a $5,000 bounty. The Naked Spur features one of Stewart’s best characters, showcasing his dark and tortured side, and is rounded out with stellar performances by Janet Leigh, Robert Ryan, Millard Mitchell, and Ralph Meeker. Director Anthony Mann and Stewart made three masterful westerns in the 50s, but this may be their best.

5 The Gunfighter

Gregory Peck stars as notorious gunfighter Jimmy Ringo, who is a “man who had gone too far, stopped too late, and denied love too long.” Ringo has a wife, Peggy, whom he hasn’t seen in eight years as well as a son he never met. However, his time draws to a close, because in the wild wild west, every gunman seeks fame and fortune and wants to be “the man who shot Ringo,” the worst of the worst. However, such a title means that its bearer becomes the new target of every gunman alive. The Gunfighter is a different kind of western, with almost film noir characters and dialogue, and a very different, darker atmosphere (and performance from Peck).

4 High Noon

All former marshal Will Kane (Gary Cooper) wants to do is put the past behind him and enjoy married life with his new bride, Amy (a perfect Grace Kelly). However, his past career comes to haunt him when local criminal Frank Miller is set free and makes it his mission to hunt down Will for putting him behind bars. Rightly one of the most famous westerns of all time, High Noon features an Oscar-winning performance from Cooper as a man fighting against all the odds when the townsfolk refuse to help him. For Will Kane, he stands alone, and his choices are clear: either kill or be killed.

3 The Big Country

The Big Country is appropriately epic, visually stunning, and features a star-studded cast that includes Gregory Peck, Jean Simmons, Burl Ives, Chuck Connors, and Charles Bickford. The story of rival clans is as old as time and a reliable western narrative devise, and is used masterfully here. The Big Country follows New Englander James McKay (Gregory Peck) who travels to the old west and finds himself trapped amid a feud between two families who continue to argue over a valuable piece of land. Besides containing all the tropes of a classic western, this film goes deep into the topics of hatred and violence, which never solves anything and only ends in more violence.

2 Shane

When quiet and mysterious Shane (Alan Ladd) comes to town, he immediately catches the eyes of the townsfolk. However, not all his newfound attention is good and as is a common trope with westerns, enemies are formed, and fights soon break out. Shane has been hailed by many as one of the most beautiful and emotionally resonant western films ever made, and it’s easy to see why. At its core, Shane is the classic tale of good guy versus bad guy. However, the overall story is more complex than that and explores themes of violence and the effects that it has on people.

1 The Searchers

In The Searchers, Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) returns to Texas after fighting in the Civil War on the side of the Confederacy. However, soon after Ethan arrives home, family relatives are killed or abducted by Comanches. This leads Ethan on a quest to find and save the remaining members of his family. However, he gives in to rage and anger, which soon blinds him to the things that really matter. One of the best John Ford films, this 1956 epic explores several themes such as love, redemption, obsession, and violence. It features a strong performance from John Wayne as a relentless adventurer hellbent on revenge.


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