Friday, December 30, 2016

Western Movie Gunfights

The end of one year and the start of another usually signals awards season in the film industry. Long story short, it’s the time of year when the studios roll out their Oscar contenders. It’s also when most of the movies I don’t care about are released. I’ve never forgiven the Academy for their Smokey and the Bandit snub back in ’77, so I generally boycott the ceremony. But, that won’t stop me from handing out a few awards myself. So, let’s talk Western gunfights. It isn’t an Oscar or Golden Globe category, but it sure should be.
Best Gunfight In a Classic Western
This one, for me, goes hands down to Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. This film is one of my all-time favorites. The final battle between the Earp faction and the Clantons is one of the greatest gunfights ever filmed. True, it isn’t historically accurate in the least. But, it’s a darn good firefight. The climactic struggle is wonderfully filmed by my personal favorite director, John Sturges. It’s tense, action packed, and the perfect pay-off to a wonderful film. To see how the director’s perspective changed in ten years or so, watch Hour of the Gun. That version of the famous O.K. Corral fight is much different, but equally as effective.
Best Gunfight in a Modern Western
Open Range. Need I say more? Wonderfully choreographed and superbly filmed, the gunfight in Open Range is top notch. There’s only one gunfight in the whole movie, but it’s well worth the wait! Once the shooting starts, it goes on for about twenty minutes. That gunfight, and a whole host of other reasons, is why Open Range is on my top ten list of best movies ever made.
Most Realistic Gunfight
I’ll have to go with the final showdown in 2008’s Appaloosa. It’s quick. In fact, the first time I saw the film I was a bit disappointed. The shooting was over so fast. The whole movie just didn’t do a lot for me. The second time I saw it, I enjoyed it. Third time, I loved it. It’s now one of my favorite films.  But back to that gunfight…
I imagine that’s how Old West gunfights were (when they actually occurred): sudden and quick bursts of violence. Forget long, drawn-out fights with folks taking cover behind wagons or on top of buildings and all that. In Appaloosa, guns are drawn, used, and folks die. Plain and simple. Effective. One of the best.
Most Poignant Gunfight
Can a gunfight be poignant? I think so. And the award has to go to John Wayne’s final fight in The Shootist. Such a great movie, and such a great gunfight! It’s a film I enjoy more with each viewing. As far as the gunfight goes, it’s a bittersweet affair. We get to see some good cowboy action shooting as we say goodbye to a legend. If you haven’t seen the film, I highly recommend it. And if you’re one who believes John Wayne couldn’t act, watch The Shootist. In my opinion, his role in it was far more Oscar worthy than True Grit. But, that’s just my take, of course.
Honorable Mentions
My favorite film of all time, El Dorado, has some great gunfights (the scene where Wayne and company chase assailants into an old church and then finally into a saloon is probably my favorite sequence ever captured on film). The Professionals also contains some great scenes of western gunplay. Finally, the train shoot-out near the end of How the West Was Won is pretty amazing. I enjoy that whole film a great deal.
Biggest Let Down
I’m going to take some heat for this one. Don’t get me wrong, I love this movie. It’s a classic. It’s amazing. But the final gunfight in Shane was a bit disappointing to me. We  go the whole movie hearing hints of just how awesome Shane is with a gun. We also know Jack Palance has it coming. But the gunfight itself isn’t much. A couple of shots. A few seconds. It’s over pretty quickly. I suppose the film makes up for it with a great fistfight mid-way through. That being said, I still love Shane.
Please feel free to leave comments with your favorite western movie gunfights. I’d enjoy hearing from y’all!


  1. I loved the gunfight in OPEN RANGE for showing how awful and stupid a real protracted gunfight would have to be...more so than any film outside a wartime setting.

    Gene Hackman's two tributes to Leone, UNFORGIVEN and THE QUICK AND THE DEAD, are perhaps my improbable next suggestions in their playful approach to the artificiality that Leone piled onto what he watched as well...

  2. I always want to shout out the final showdown between Randolph Scott & Lee Marvin in Seven Men From Now. It's short and simple but so stylish it kind of stunned me when I first saw it.

    1. I love that film! Kind of flies under a lot of folks' radar.