The Dollars Trilogy (1964 - 1966)

In the 60s and 70s, Italian filmmakers found success making violent, expressionistic versions of American genre films. The so-called "Spaghetti Westerns" were the most successful, and these were the most famous.

Clint Eastwood - then a struggling TV actor who was almost cast as Two-Face on the Adam West Batman - took a paid vacation to make an Italian western about a mysterious Man With No Name for director Sergio Leone. The three films that resulted - A Fistful of Dollars, For A Few Dollars More, and The Good, The Bad & The Ugly made him a superstar. These are the films that most influenced Red Dead's look and feel, though hardcore Western fans will argue forever over whether this or The Wild Bunch were the real birth of the Modern Western.

The Wild Bunch (1969)

...And then everything changed.

Sam Peckinpah made a lot of Westerns, all of them worth a look, but this is the Big One. Easily the darkest, bleakest and most violent Western ever made at the time, its level of bloodshed is still controversial - it changed all action films, not only Westerns.

The story follows a group of aging outlaws in 1913, who're looking for one last score as the West they'd known is wiped away by modernity. Eventually, they're caught between a Mexican gang and a posse of lawmen, and it can only end one way. The climactic shootout is, without exaggeration, the Rosetta Stone of every action movie anyone has made since.

High Plains Drifter (1973)

I'm supposed to say that The Outlaw Josey Wales is the better post-Dollars Eastwood Western, but I still like this combination cowboy/horror drama - his first Western as director - better.

A corrupt small town stood by and let their good Sherriff be murdered by bandits, but now the bandits won't leave. A violent, possibly deranged drifter (Eastwood) offers to take the bandits out, but inflicts brutality and humiliation (up to and including rape) on the townspeople as a sort of payment. As the film goes on, the almost superhuman Stranger turns the region into a literal hell for bandits and complicit townspeople alike - and some of the dead Sherriff's acquaintances seem to find he looks ... familiar.

Tombstone (1993)

The later 70s and 80s were the nadir of American Westerns, as the genre was cannibalized by modern variations - mainly cop movies, almost all of which are just modernized cowboy flicks.

But in the mid-90s, there was a brief mini-revival, and this modern classic was part of it. Kurt Russell stars (and purportedly was the film's real director) as Wyatt Earp in a dramatization of the infamous shootout at the OK Corral, alongside Val Kilmer as Doc Holiday. The film has its problems - most of them caused by having to compete for resources and release times with Kevin Costner's Wyatt Earp movie, but when it works it works.

Unforgiven (1992)

Clint Eastwood returns to his roots for what some consider a funeral for the Hollywood Western. He and Morgan Freeman play aging gunslingers hired back into service, only to find themselves on the wrong end of another ex-heavy (Gene Hackman) who's now a brutal Sherriff. It's a small, simple story, but one that cuts deep into the ugliest and meanest aspects the genre itself.

Bob Chipman is a film critic and independent filmmaker. If you've heard of him before, you have officially been spending way too much time on the internet.

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