Best 1940s Western Movies: Our List 55+

Best 1940s Western Movies

Best 1940s Western Movies. Although the classic Western movie era spanned from 1920 to 1960 the first Western was a short 10-minute film that was made in 1903. The debut of Stagecoach in 1939 marked the beginning of Westerns as we know them today. John Wayne was cast in his first role. The genre would be defined over the next 10 years by Westerns, which would also inspire many future Western films and TV series. The Western was the foundation of the Hollywood industry. It is the most important genre in Hollywood, according to The New York Times.

Stacker compiled IMDb data for all feature-length Westerns that were released between 1940-1949 and ranked them according the user rating.

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While any Western fan is familiar with the films of the 1940s, there were many that stood out. Continue reading to find out the top Western films of the 1940s. Which of your favorite Western films made it to the list?

55. Whispering Smith (1948)

Best 1940s Western Movies

Alan Ladd plays the role of Luke Smith, a railroad detective on a mission against a group of train robbers. Paramount Pictures owned the lot that was used to build the site for the railhead town. This same set was later used for “Bonanza”, and other movies. IMDb says that there was even a track that allowed real locomotives to pull into town.

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54. Texas (1941)

Best 1940s Western Movies

Two Civil War veterans are on their way to Texas to start a new life. They witness a stagecoach robbery. They decide to rob the robbers, and are forced to part ways for their safety. They are now on opposite sides of the law when they reunite, many years later. According to IMDb George Marshall, the director preferred that each actor do his stunts.

53. Arizona (1940)

Best 1940s Western Movies

It’s the 1860s in Tucson, and a pioneer woman works her way up to the top of freight and cattle trading. She also battles corrupt locals and Native Americans. According to William Holden: A Biography, the film’s majority was shot in Tucson’s desert. Cast and crew had to endure extreme conditions. It was often shot on days when the temperature was 130 degrees.

52. Ramrod (1947)

Best 1940s Western Movies

Connie Dickason inherits the ranch of her late husband, and is determined to defeat Frank Ivey, the corrupt and violent “boss”. IMDb says that Joel McCrea and Veronica Lake were not friends behind the scenes. This was actually their first film together since 1941. McCrea turned down a 1942 film to avoid working with her.

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51. Ride ‘Em Cowboy (1942)

Best 1940s Western Movies

Abbott and Costello are a comedy duo who play two peanut vendors at a rodeo and get in trouble with their boss. They board a train heading west to get jobs as cowboys at a ranch. The film contains many Hollywood inside jokes. For instance, “Gower Gulch” is a reference the Hollywood area where low-budget films can be made.

50. Western Union (1941)

Best 1940s Western Movies

Reformed outlaw attempts to make his life right by wiring the Great Plains to telegraph service during the 1860s. However, a series conflicts develop between him and his former gang as well as with the Native Americans on whose land the team is wired. Although several movie houses were interested, Fox was the only one to offer $25,000 for “Western Union”.

49. The Spoilers (1942)

Best 1940s Western Movies

Two miners fight to protect their gold claim from a corrupt commissioner during Alaska’s 1898 gold rush. This was the fourth screen adaptation of Rex Reach’s 1906 novel. Marlene Dietrich was the star of the film, who rose to fame in the 1930s but lost her stardom by the 1940s due to her German heritage. Universal Studios made it a point of Americanizing her image.

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48. The Wistful Widow of Wagon Gap (1947)

Best 1940s Western Movies

Lou Costello stars as Bud Abbott and Wagon Gap is Montana’s main character in another Western. Our heroes are wrongfully convicted for the murder that occurred while they were in town. Based on Montana’s real law at the time, the story was inspired by that man who murders another man is responsible for supporting his victim’s family.

47. Lust for Gold (1949)

Lust for Gold

Many people tried and failed to find the Lost Dutchman Mine. One fortune seeker might have found the code that will take him to the treasure. The majority of the film is told in flashback. Many of the action scenes that were shot for the movie ended in stock footage in future Columbia Pictures productions. The footage was found in an episode “Captain Midnight”

46. I Shot Jesse James (1949)

Best 1940s Western Movies

The film follows the trail of Bob Ford, who murdered Jesse James. Ford was James’ best friend and he shot him in order to get a pardon which allowed him marry his girlfriend. Sam Fuller directed the film for the first time. He said that he wanted this film to be his directorial debut because he didn’t want to put Jesse James in the spotlight.

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45. Virginia City (1940)

Virginia City

Union Officer escapes Confederate prison to make his way to Virginia City in Nevada. The prison commander has a $5million gold shipment. He tries to save the Confederacy.Although it was not a direct sequel to “Dodge City,” it was a continuation of the film.

44. The Desperadoes (1943)

The Desperadoes

An outlaw is seen in town with plans to rob a bank.Problem is, the bank has been robbed. This Western classic hits all the right notes. From the sheriff to the pretty gal to the barroom brawls to a few bouncing tumbleweeds, it’s all familiar. Columbia Pictures’ first Technicolor film, “The Desperadoes”, was released in Technicolor.

43. Saratoga Trunk (1945)

Saratoga Trunk

Ingrid Bergman and Gary Cooper star in “Saratoga Trunk”, a film based on the novel of the same title. It tells the story of a gambler and his mistress in Texas. They attempt to escape a society that has relegated them to the sidelines because of the bad reputations of their parents. Flora Robson was a white woman who was chosen to play the role of a woman-of-color, even though blackface was still considered offensive.

42. North West Mounted Police (1940)

North West Mounted Police

Gary Cooper portrays a Texas Ranger sent to Canada in late 19th-century to find an outlaw. He meets a nurse along the way, which causes problems for both her and the man she loves. According to IMDb budget constraints meant that this movie was not filmed on soundstages, but it was shot in Saskatchewan.

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41. Along Came Jones (1945)

Along Came Jones

This Western comedy is based on the novel “Useless Cowboy.” It tells the story about two men who accidentally stumble into a small town and become outlaws. Gary Cooper, a Western legend, starred in the movie. According to AFI Catalog this was Cooper’s first film as an independent producer.

40. The Fighting Kentuckian (1949)

The Fighting Kentuckian

John Green returns from the War of 1812 where he meets and falls in love with a French exile. His land is now in danger. The movie also stars John Wayne and Oliver Hardy (of Laurel & Hardy). This is the first film in which Hardy acted without his comedy partner.

39. Honky Tonk (1941)

Honky Tonk

Clark Gable plays a smooth-talking crook who arrives in Yellow Creek in the Wild West to become its corrupt boss. Clark Gable and Lana Turner would appear in this film for the first time. They would then go on to star in three more.

38. Silver River (1948)

Silver River

A Civil War soldier makes a town safe and then takes the equipment to make a new job in the Wild West. He meets many characters along the way, including one who ends up in Silver City. Although it was ranked among the top Westerns of the decade upon its debut, critics were not impressed. The New York Times even said it wasn’t entertaining.

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37. Station West (1948)

Station West

Two U.S. cavalrymen die while transporting a shipment of gold. An investigator is assigned to investigate and find the killers. Jane Greer stars alongside Dick Powell, who, according IMDb was offered the role after Marlene Dietrich declined it.

36. The Man From Colorado (1948)

Best 1940s Western Movies

Glen Ford plays the role of a Union officer who develops a taste for blood during Civil War. He returns home after the war with his best friend only to find that one of them doesn’t quite fit in with civilians. The Toronto Film Society says that this is one of the 1940s Westerns which depicted the most disturbing aspects of life.

35. The Return of Frank James (1940)

The Return of Frank James

The sequel to 1939’s film “Jesse James”, “The Return of Frank James” is the story of Frank James who is trying to revenge his brother’s murder by Ford brothers. Although the film studio bought the rights to the lives of the James brothers, some facts were altered. Frank wasn’t responsible for the deaths of Frank and Frank, as Frank died before Frank surrendered.

34. Rachel and the Stranger (1948)

Rachel and the Stranger

An indentured servant is brought in by a widower farmer to become his wife. This is not a good idea, as an old friend of the farmer appears. Robert Mitchum was arrested shortly after the film was finished. This led to RKO rushing the release of the film in an effort to capitalize on Mitchum’s name.

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33. Unconquered (1947)

Unconquered

A frontiersman and felon team up to save Fort Pitt from Seneca Native Americans in the aftermath of the French and Indian War. They also fight other villains. This film was Cecil B. DeMille’s most expensive. According to “American Indian Image Makers of Hollywood”, the budget was approximately $4 million. $1 million went to salaries for actors.

32. Tall in the Saddle (1944)

Tall in the Saddle

To start a new job, a ranch hand arrives in town only to discover that his employer has been killed and that the locals aren’t thrilled to have him. John Wayne and George Hayes were long-time acquaintances on and off the screen. This was their last film pairing.

31. Boom Town (1940)

Best 1940s Western Movies

Over the course of twenty-two decades, two friends transform from wild men into oil tycoons. They fall in love with each other during this period. Clark Gable stars as the lead in the film. Classic Movie Hub reports that he was thrilled to play the role, considering the fact that his father is an oil rigger from Oklahoma.

30. Northwest Passage (1940)

Northwest Passage

Rogers’ Rangers is a team of two friends who join forces with Rogers’ Rangers in the French and Indian War. The film tells the story about the raid on Fort St. Francis, and the events that followed. The “human chain” scene, where actors cross a river in danger, was especially challenging because they did all the stunts themselves. It was shot at Idaho’s Payette Lake, but it had to be finished in the studio as it was too dangerous.

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29. The Harvey Girls (1946)

The Harvey Girls

Judy Garland plays Susan Bradley. She is traveling west on a train and is promised a mail-order marriage. She meets a group of women traveling to open Harvey House restaurants. Although originally Bradley was intended for Lana Turner’s role, Garland was eventually chosen. Clark Gable, Gene Kelly and Gene Kelly were also considered.

28. 3 Godfathers (1948)

3 Godfathers

Three bank robbers are on the loose and find the infant of a deceased woman. They risk their lives to bring the baby back to civilization. This movie is a remake John Ford’s silent film “Marked Men” (1919). It was directed by Ford’s friend Harry Carey. Carey died in 1947.

27. Colorado Territory (1949)

Colorado Territory

Best 1940s Western Movies is about a Colorado Territory outlaw who escapes jail to pull off another heist. He meets Julie Ann along the way and wonders if this bandit lifestyle is what he wants. The film bears a striking resemblance with “High Sierra,” a film that was released eight years ago. This film did well at the box-office.

26. Pursued (1947)

Pursued

After his family’s murder, a boy is adopted by a nearby family. He falls for his adopted sister while living with the family. However, his uncle and brother want him to die. Although it received mixed reviews, Variety was impressed by its psychological elements and strong direction. The cast also provided beautiful shots of New Mexico.

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25. The Yearling (1946)

The Yearling

An American Civil War veteran lives in Florida on a farm with his wife and the only survivor son, Jody. His mother is not supportive of the bond between their son and the orphaned baby fawn. Filmed in Ocala National forest, the movie is a true story. The forest actually has a Yearling Trail that allows visitors to discover the area that inspired the 1938 novel “The Yearling”.

24. They Died with Their Boots On (1941)

Best 1940s Western Movies

This film, loosely, follows George Armstrong Custer’s life from his arrival at West Point until his death at Battle of the Little Bighorn. The movie is a blurred film. To fill in the Native American background, the director used hundreds of Filipino extras. Close-ups were only done with 16 Sioux real-life people.

23. The Westerner (1940)

The Westerner

The Westerner recounts Vinegaroon in Texas, where Judge Roy Bean runs it. Cole Harden is convicted for horse theft and the corrupt judge becomes friends with him. Harden, who is a conman himself, ends up talking his own way out of a hanging. Gary Cooper didn’t want to be in the film because he thought that staring alongside Walter Brennan would make him look less important. It was actually the first of five pairings for the pair, with the last being “Task Force” (1949).

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22. Red River (1948)

Red River

“Red River” is about Tom Dunston, a rancher driving 10,000 cattle more than 1,000 miles to the market. His dictatorial leadership skills lead to a rebellion in his party, which is led by his adopted child. John Ford cast John Wayne in complex roles in his films after seeing him perform in “Red River.” Ford had never seen Wayne’s talents before “Red River”.

21. Go West (1940)

Best 1940s Western Movies

Confidence man S. Quentin Quale is heading west to seek his fortune, but is short ten dollars for a train ticket. In the railroad station, he encounters brothers Joseph and Rusty Panello and attempts to swindle their money, but the two are also con men and manage to swindle Quale’s money, instead.

The Panellos are friends with an old prospector named Dan Wilson whose near worthless property, Dead Man’s Gulch, has no gold. The Panello’s loan Wilson their last ten dollars for a grubstake and he insists on giving them the deed to the Gulch as collateral.

Unbeknownst to Wilson, Terry Turner, the son of his longtime rival and beau to his granddaughter Eve, has travelled to New York in order to persuade the Railroad to purchase Dead Man’s Gulch from Dan Wilson. Terry convinces the railway officials that the gulch is the only practical route through the mountains to the west.

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The railroad agrees to buy the property thus making the deed holder rich. After Quale attempts to swindle the Panellos out of the deed, crooked railroad executive John Beecher and shady saloon owner “Red” Baxter manage to steal the deed from Quale; Quale and the Panello brothers help Terry and Eve retrieve the deed and deliver it to the railroad officials in New York.

20. Angel and the Badman (1947)

Angel and the Badman

Wounded and on the run, notorious gunman Quirt Evans gallops onto a farm owned by Quaker Thomas Worth and his family and collapses. When Quirt urgently insists upon sending a telegram, Thomas and his daughter Penelope drive him into town in their wagon.

After wiring a claim to the land recorder’s office, Quirt passes out, and Penny cradles him. Ignoring the doctor’s advice to rid themselves of the gunman, the compassionate Worth family tends to the delirious Quirt, and Penny becomes intrigued by his ravings about past loves.

19. Santa Fe Trail (1940)

Santa Fe Trail

Best 1940s Western Movies. At West Point Military Academy in 1854, cadet Carl Rader (Van Heflin), an agent of John Brown, is dishonorably discharged for instigating a brawl among the cadets after distributing anti-slavery pamphlets which his classmates disapprove of due to the controversial nature of the pamphlets (some believed the issue of slavery to be one that would inevitably resolve itself) and the U.S. Army’s position against the pursuit of ideological causes while serving.

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Following the brawl, Rader’s classmates Jeb Stuart (Errol Flynn) and George Custer (Ronald Reagan) become second lieutenants and are posted to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas Territory, the most dangerous duty in the Army an assignment they relish. On the way to Kansas, Custer and Stuart meet Cyrus K. Holliday, in charge of building the railroad to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and his daughter Kit (Olivia de Havilland), with whom both officers fall in love.

18. Canyon Passage (1946)

Canyon Passage

In 1856, ambitious freight company and store owner Logan Stuart agrees to escort Lucy Overmire home to the settlement of Jacksonville, Oregon, along with his latest shipment. Lucy is engaged to Logan’s best friend, George Camrose.

The night before they depart, however, Logan has to defend himself from a sneak attack in his hotel room; though it is too dark to be sure, he believes his assailant is Honey Bragg. Later, he explains to Lucy that he once saw Bragg leaving the vicinity of two murdered miners.

Despite Logan’s unwillingness to accuse Bragg (since he did not actually witness the crime), Bragg apparently wants to take no chances.

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17. The Outlaw (1943)

The Outlaw

Best 1940s Western Movies. Sheriff Pat Garrett welcomes his old friend Doc Holliday to Lincoln, New Mexico. Doc is looking for his stolen horse and finds it held by Billy the Kid. Despite this, the two gunfighters take a liking to each other, much to Garrett’s disgust. Doc still tries to steal his horse back late that night, but Billy is waiting for him outside the barn.

After that, Billy decides to sleep in the barn, and shots are fired at him. He overpowers his ambusher, who turns out to be Rio McDonald, Doc’s love-interest. She is out to avenge her dead brother. It is implied that the Kid rapes Rio after ripping off her dress.

16. San Antonio (1945)

San Antonio

Rustlers are running rampant in Texas, but at least one rancher, Charlie Bell, isn’t pulling up stakes yet, particularly with the news that old friend Clay Hardin is en route from Mexico back home to San Antonio.

Clay claims to have proof, documented in a book, that Roy Stuart is responsible for the rustling. Clay arrives in town by stagecoach, as does Jeanne Starr, who is taking a job as a singer in Stuart’s saloon.

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Lured backstage by Jeanne, suspicious that she could be in cahoots with her boss, Clay leaves the book in Charlie’s care. But a partner of Stuart’s, a man named Legare, wants the book for his own reasons, so he steals it and shoots Charlie.

15. In Old Oklahoma/War of the Wildcats (1943)

In Old Oklahoma

Best 1940s Western Movies. Eastern school teacher Catherine Allen becomes notorious in 1906 when it is learned that she has authored a romance novel. She decides to move west and begin a new life. On the train, oil man Jim Gardner makes a pass at her. Catherine asks a cowboy, Dan Somers, to sit nearby as a safety measure.

Both are on their way to Oklahoma, with stagecoach driver Despirit Dean tagging along with his friend Dan.
Many people in Sapulpa are upset with Jim’s business tactics. A farmer feels he was paid too little for his property after Jim discovers oil there. Jim is furious when Dan strongly discourages Chief Big Tree from selling Indian land at too low an offer.

14. Black Eagle (1948)

Best 1940s Western Movies

Jason Bond hops a ride on a freight-train car, containing a saddled horse, Black Eagle, and some rifles. When the boxcar is placed on a railway siding in a Texas town, Jason meets Ginny Long, the sister of the horse-owner who is missing and has been murdered.

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The rifles are for a group of horse-ranchers, led by Bengy Laughton, who are being swindled by Frank Hayden. The latter forces Bond to go to work for him by framing him for the murder. When one of Hayden’s men, Si, tries to kill Bond, the horse recognizes him as the real murderer and pushes him off a cliff.

13. A Lady Takes a Chance (1943)

A Lady Takes a Chance

Three of her suitors protest when Molly J. Truesdale, on a whim, boards a bus in New York City to find out what life in the American West is like. Molly goes to a rodeo, where a bucking bronco tosses rider Duke Hudkins right into her lap. Duke buys her a beer afterward and then Molly brings him luck while gambling, but his partner Waco warns her that Duke is not the right guy for her.

In a campfire, more worried about his horse than about her, Duke discovers his horse Sammy’s blanket has been borrowed by Molly and is furious with her when Sammy catches cold. Giving up, Molly goes home to New York and her waiting suitors, who are astounded when a tall cowboy suddenly shows up and carries Molly away.

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12. Bugs Bunny Rides Again (1948)

Bugs Bunny Rides Again

A western showdown of Bugs Bunny versus Yosemite Sam.

11. Dark Command (1940)

Dark Command

Bob Seton, a Texan from Texas, arrives in Kansas just before the Civil War. He finds a town on the brink of deciding whether it will be pro or anti-slavery. Seton is left to defend the town and its pro Union residents after the town’s division. Raoul Walsh was Raoul’s second director. John Wayne was there for the second time. Walsh, then 23, gave Wayne his first lead role in “The Big Trail” in 1930.

10. My Little Chickadee (1940)

My Little Chickadee

Best 1940s Western Movies. Flower Belle Lee, who is being run out of town by a con artist, meets a woman and they pretend to be married to rebuild her reputation. They fly to Greasewood City, where they start a new series of deceptions. The mixed reception was due to the chemistry between Mae West (or lack thereof), and W.C. Fields. The New York Times described the effort as “greatly strained.”

9. The Paleface (1948)

The Paleface

Best 1940s Western Movies. Calamity Jane sets out to discover who is selling rifles for Native Americans. To keep her secret, she marries a cowardly and bumbling dentist. Although the story is fictional, the character of Painless Parker, a dentist who performed sideshows in the 1890s, could have inspired the character of the dentist.

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8. Duel in the Sun (1946)

Duel in the Sun

“Duel in the Sun,” a psychological Western film about a biracial woman, tells the story how she moves to live with her white relatives after her father’s hanging. The film had strong sexual undertones, which made it difficult to release. It was called “Lust in the Dust” and inspired the film “Lust in the Dust”, which was released in 1985.

7. She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949)

She Wore a Yellow Ribbon

Best 1940s Western Movies. Captain Nathan Brittles is nearing retirement but he makes one last patrol to protect himself from an attack by Native Americans. John Wayne wasn’t John Ford’s first choice for Captain Brittles. He was actually twenty years older than Wayne. After seeing Wayne’s performance, Ford decided to reconsider his decision.

6. Yellow Sky (1948)

Yellow Sky

Best 1940s Western Movies. A gang of robbers is on the loose and hiding in a ghost-town. They find a gun-wielding tomboy with a grandfather and a granddaughter. Death Valley National Monument was used for the exterior shots. A construction crew constructed a ghost town near Lone Pine in the desert of California.

5. The Mark of Zorro (1940)

The Mark of Zorro

A son of a California aristocrat returns home to find the territory is under the control of a dictator. To vengeance his family’s homeland, he takes on a disguised identity. The film “The Mark of Zorro” is a remake of the silent Best 1940s Western Movies of that name. It would be remade in the 1970s. The story was told in black-and white with sound and color.

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4. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

Best 1940s Western Movies

Best 1940s Western Movies. Walter Huston and Humphrey Bogart star in this classic Western about two Americans looking for work in Mexico.They talk a retired prospector into helping them mine gold in the Sierra Madre Mountains.

It is widely considered one of the most important Westerns ever made.It was nominated for four Academy Awards, and in 1990, it was selected for preservation in National Film Registry because of its “culturally, historically, and/or aesthetically significant”.

3. Fort Apache (1948)

Best 1940s Western Movies

Best 1940s Western Movies. A war veteran and his regimen find themselves under the command a younger lieutenant colonel in Fort Apache. Conflicts can arise when more experienced veterans discover that their new commander doesn’t respect the local tribe. It was a critical success and made it into the American Film Institute’s Top 10 List. Variety called the film masterful and used words such as “superb” or “tremendous.”

2. My Darling Clementine (1946)

My Darling Clementine

After their brother’s murder and the theft of their cattle, the Earp brothers set out on a revenge-seeking mission to take down Clanton families. True West Magazine reports that Wyatt Earp was an actor in Hollywood during the era when Westerns were being developed. John Ford was a prop assistant, and would listen to Earp recount stories about the O.K. fight.Corral.

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1. The Ox-Bow Incident (1942)

The Ox-Bow Incident

Three men are charged with killing a farmer. A local posse captures them and quickly divides over whether the men should be hanged. The film received high praises for its unfiltered depiction of hangings.Variety states that “hardly one gruesome detail was omitted”, but this is meant to be a compliment.

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