The spaghetti western is a sub-genre of western movies; the name comes from the fact that these films were mostly directed by Italian directors like Sergio Leone, Sergio Corbucci, and Lucio Fulci (among many others). The name was originally a condescending way to refer to the huge number of western movies coming out of Italy in the 1960s, but the term has since been accepted by Western movie fans and is no longer an insult.
A list of the most famous spaghetti westerns should give you some indication where the phrase "spaghetti western" comes from: Enzo Barboni, Sergio Corbucci, Lucio Fulci, and Ramon Torrado are just a few of the Italian names that pop up all over spaghetti westerns. Spaghetti westerns have been influential all over the world, with directors as diverse as Quentin Tarantino and Takeshi Miike exhibiting the obvious influence of spaghetti western movies.
Why did Italian directors make so many American western-style movies? These movies were cheap to produce, it was easy to find settings in Italy and Europe that closely resembled the American West, and there was a glut of Italian and Spanish actors who would work for little money.
Here is a list of what we consider the best spaghetti western movies of all time.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly - A hugely popular example of the genre and one of the best spaghetti westerns.
Many spaghetti western fans say that Sergio Leone's The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly takes top honors, while other fans point to Django as the pinnacle of the genre. Both movies are perfect examples of the spaghetti western genre. Made in 1966, during the golden age of spaghetti westerns, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is not just an awesome spaghetti western, it is an awesome movie. Every aspect of the film is great--good direction, stellar acting (including Clint Eastwood's best film work), engaging characters, a classic soundtrack, beautiful cinematography, you name it. Sergio Leone's classic spaghetti western is violent and funny, just this side of gory and also not quite a comedy.
Django - Another of the best spaghetti westerns. You can expect Django to become more popular because of Quentin Tarantino's new project.
Sergio Corbucci's Django is the too often overlooked classic of spaghetti westerns, the Italian-style Western that has had at least as much influence on filmmaking as The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Django is far more violent than anything Leone ever directed, a feature that is not common among other spaghetti westerns.
To give you an idea of how badass this movie is, the title character drags around a coffin with him everywhere he goes--a coffin that conceals a machine gun. At one point, Django employs this gatling gun to mow down 48 men in just a couple of minutes, outdoing most other movies' body counts in a single piece of action. A violent and atmospheric western classic, Django is arguably the most influential Italian movie ever made.
1964's A Fistful of Dollars tells the story of a mysterious and violent drifter who gets in the middle of a turf war between two rival gangs. In true spaghetti western style, the film's hero plays the Baxters and the Rojos off each other, taking money from both sides and convincing the two gangs to wipe each other out. One of the first spaghetti westerns to appear in the United States, A Fistful of Dollars is part of a trilogy of westerns that includes two other spaghetti classics, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly and A Few Dollars More. Clint Eastwood is stunning as "the Man with No Name," and American audiences responded with enthusiasm, paving the way for many more American premieres of spaghetti western films.
The trailer for one of the best spaghetti westerns ever, A Fistful of Dollars.
Enzo Barboni's spaghetti westerns are known for their humor, not always a big element in Italian-style western films. The opening scene of They Call Me Trinity sets the stage for the film--an atmospheric series of shots with at least one unforgettable moment. A scorpion stings the film's hero, and the character doesn't even flinch. The perfect way to establish "This guy's a badass" without a single line of dialogue. The formula presented here (bar fights and sight gags) would serve other Italian-style Western directors well, as this movie's use of humor was quickly imitated in dozens of spaghetti westerns that followed.
Released in 1969, Sabata mirrors many of the more successful elements of Django and other spaghetti westerns, and makes this list because of how well it recycles older Spaghetti Western cliches into a beautiful movie. Sabata is your typical man-of-few-words hired gun who shows up in a small town in Texas just in time to stop a bank robbery. Sabata's greatest enemy in this film is a twisted killer named Banjo who conceals a rifle in a banjo case. See the similarities to pretty much every other spaghetti western ever made? Lee Van Cleef stars as the title character, even though he was most often cast as a villain.
Performances from Henry Fonda, Jason Robards, Charles Bronson, and the direction of Sergio Leone make this 1968 epic a true classic of the spaghetti western genre. Considered one of the best Westerns ever made, Once Upon a Time in the West was a flop in the American box office, probably because of a fan reaction against the sheer number of Spaghetti Westerns then premiering stateside. One of the brilliant moves Leone made was to cast against type, with Henry Fonda in the villain role and Charles Bronson as the hero. Once Upon a Time in the West is a slower, more somber movie than any of Leone's others, allowing for some character development and an epic storyline.
A spaghetti western in a snowy landscape? The Great Silence makes its home in the snowy caps of mountainous Utah during the Great Blizzard of 1899. A major controversy erupted at this film's release--the original dark ending was seen as too dark for American audiences, and a false happy ending was added. In the original, the good guys are systematically gunned down by the villains. At this time, a hero's death at the end of a movie was unacceptable in Hollywood. Recent DVD releases of the movie have included the original ending.