Have you ever seen “Tombstone,” that 1993, Kurt Russell-starring depiction of the events that led to the gunfight at the O.K. Corral? The movie, a box office smash, was the first of two films released within six months to introduce us to legendary marshal Wyatt Earp, his loyal brothers, and his sickly, but loyal, pal, Doc Holliday. It wasn’t taken seriously by critics, but I rewatched the western recently, and deem the general critical panning as unfair, especially considering that “Tombstone” is not only less boring but also more historically accurate than the Kevin Costner-starring “Wyatt Earp” that premiered six months later and that offered a different take on the events. And Russell, joined by a strong cast that included Val Kilmer (a scene-stealing Holliday), Sam Elliott, and Bill Paxton, turned out to be a natural for the genre.
After rediscovering “Tombstone” a few weeks ago, I followed up my recent viewing of that with one of “Bone Tomahawk,” a little-seen, 2015 indie that also starred Russell, and that combined the western and horror genres to gruesome and mostly good effect. While neither film was what one would consider high art, I enjoyed both of them more than Russell’s other 2015 western, the Quentin Tarantino-directed “The Hateful Eight.” And while the average film critic might cringe at that statement, I found Tarantino’s overlong oater to have better production values than story values.
As for Tarantino, he fared better in the genre with 2012’s “Django Unchained,” and I can’t help but think what a terrific film that would have been with better discipline and less of the director’s usual tendency for dialogue scenes to overstay their welcome. Do “Tombstone” or “Django Unchained” crack the genre’s top ten list? Not quite, though they might make the top 20. Before I talk about films 11-20, however, I must start with 1-10. Here, then, are my picks for the top ten screen westerns: