• Joseph Morganti

Top 5 Western Screenplays Ever Written

There is nothing better than a good old-fashioned western. Filled with action, dialogue, and timepieces that feel so unfamiliar, practically everyone can get some enjoyment from a western. As for writing a western, there are plenty of western screenplays to analyze and help you with your writing.


With this in mind, below will highlight five of the best western screenplays ever written. Keep in mind, there are plenty of great westerns worthy of getting on this list. Regardless, these are five of the best options to consider, especially since it’s widespread for these five picks to be on a list of this magnitude.

Still from 'The Good, The Bad and the Ugly'. Photo credit: FilmAffinity


5. True Grit (2010)


Logline: A stubborn teenager enlists the help of a tough U.S. Marshal to track down her father's murderer.


When you have the Coen brothers working together on a film, you know it will be a good one. True Grit is an adaptation of Charles Portis' 1968 novel of the same name. It features Jeff Bridges as Deputy U.S. Marshal Reuben J. "Rooster" Cogburn and Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross.


The film likewise stars Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, and Barry Pepper. The 1969 film featured John Wayne, Kim Darby, and Glen Campbell. It’s a must-watch as far as westerns go, primarily because of how masterful the Coens are at crafting a script.


4. Django Unchained (2012)


Logline: With the help of a German bounty hunter, a formerly enslaved person sets out to rescue his wife from a brutal plantation owner in Mississippi.


As far as revisionist westerns are concerned, Django Unchained is arguably the best. A revisionist western is a sub-genre of the Western genre for those who don't know. The revisionist style undermines the legend and sentiment of the conventional through character development and authenticity.


It introduces a less oversimplified perspective on life in the "Old West". While the traditional Western example exemplifies the difference between good and evil, the revisionist Western doesn't. Nevertheless, Django Unchained fulfills the idea of a revisionist western and more.


3. The Great Silence (1968)


Logline: A mute gunfighter defends a young widow and a group of outlaws against a gang of bounty killers in the winter of 1898, and a grim, tense struggle unfolds.


The Great Silence is a 1968 revisionist Spaghetti Western movie by Sergio Corbucci. An Italian-French co-creation, the film stars Jean-Louis Trintignant, Klaus Kinski, Vonetta McGee, Frank Wolff, Luigi Pistilli, Mario Brega, Marisa Merlini, and Carlo D'Angelo in supporting jobs.


Today, The Great Silence is widely regarded by fans and critics of Spaghetti Westerns as one of the most renowned films of the genre. It’s a must-watch, mainly since it’s a foreign film and differs from the typical western of that era.


2. Unforgiven (1992)


Logline: Retired Old West gunslinger William Munny reluctantly takes on one last job with the help of his old partner Ned Logan and a young man, The "Schofield Kid."


If Clint Eastwood is known for one thing, it’s for the sheer number of Westerns he starred in throughout the 20th century. The Unforgiven is a 1992 American Revisionist Western movie featuring Clint Eastwood and directed by David Webb Peoples.


The film recounts the account of William Munny, a maturing fugitive and executioner who takes on another work years after he had gone farming. The film co-stars Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman, and Richard Harris. It’s one of the best westerns there are and came out when the genre wasn’t as prevalent.


1. The Good, The Bad And The Ugly (1966)


Logline: A bounty hunting scam joins two men in an uneasy alliance against a third in a race to find a fortune in gold buried in a remote cemetery.


Everyone knows about The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly when it comes to Westerns. Released in 1966, this legendary spaghetti Western movie from Sergio Leone features Clint Eastwood as "the Good," Lee Van Cleef as "the Bad," and Eli Wallach as "the Ugly."


Its screenplay was composed by Age and Scarpelli, Luciano Vincenzoni, and Leone. Besides its writing, the film is a perfect example of long shots, close-up cinematography, distinctive use of violence, stress, and stylized gunfights. It’s a must-watch.


What Makes a Great Western Script?


Now that you know about five of the best western screenplays ever written, you might be wondering what makes a great western. Truthfully, there are a few points tied to a good western. The first and most important comes down to characterization. Realize your central cowboy is more than just a gunslinger. There needs to be a deeper level than the cowboy trope.


Besides characterization, research and utilizing the conflict of range enhance the story in every way. Research can help you paint the story's setting in a lot better. Meanwhile, conflict is what drives every story, particularly with westerns. If you don’t know what to do conflict-wise, you don’t have a great western.