I love westerns and since The Magnificent Seven remake is now in theaters, I thought this would be a great time to look back at the most popular westerns at the box office.
Rules are simple, to qualify for this top 10 a movie has to be labeled a western. Since we’ll be covering many decades, it’s only fair to go with adjusted for inflation numbers, and because we sadly can’t accurately adjust worldwide figures, US box office will once again have to do. I guess it’s only fitting since we are talking about westerns after all. Another thing, older titles like the 1960 The Magnificent Seven can’t be considered for this top 10 simply because I don’t have access to box office numbers for it. That unfortunately goes for many other old westerns, which is why you’ll see only titles released in the last 26 years in the top 10.
With that out of the way let’s move on to why you’re here, the top 10 highest grossing westerns of all time in the US, adjusted for ticket price inflation.
10. Tombstone (1993) – $117.4 million ($56.5M unadjusted)
This is one of my favorite westerns and it might very well also be the best Wyatt Earp movie. Now granted, I’m sure I haven’t seen every single one of them (I know I haven’t), but among the ones I have, Tombstone ranks the highest. Having watched it recently I can tell you it still holds up, which is not something I can say about many other movies from the early 90’s.
9. Rango (2011) – $135.7 million ($123.5M)
The only animation on this list, Rango was a very pleasant surprise back in 2011. Sadly it didn’t bring in nearly enough money to get a series started. For some reason westerns and Johnny Depp just don’t seem to mix well. Rango also has the top opening weekend ever for a western, $38.1 million.
8. Django Unchained (2012) – $177 million ($162.8M)
One of Quentin Tarantino’s best (which is saying something), Django Unchained was nominated for 5 Oscars in 2013 (including Best Picture) and left with 2, one for original screenplay (Quentin Tarantino) and one for Supporting Actor (Christoph Waltz). Aside from that Django Unchained is by far Tarantino’s highest grossing movie in the US, internationally and worldwide.
7. Back to the Future Part III (1990) – $179.6 million ($87.7M)
I’m a big fan of the Back to the Future trilogy and while Part III is considered to be the weakest installment, I’d still take the worst Back to the Future over most other movies. At a time when sequels were playing it very safe, Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale took a big risk and turned this 3rd part into a western instead of doing another Back to the Future Part II.
6. The Revenant (2015) – $185.3 million ($183.6M)
The Revenant was nominated for 12 Oscars earlier this year and won 3, including one for Leonardo DiCaprio, who finally received his due. Now The Revenant isn’t for everyone, but if you don’t have a problem with the sometimes very slow pacing of the film, this is one incredible journey and one of the most beautifully shot movies ever.
5. True Grit (2010) – $187.4 million ($171.2M)
Nominated for 10 Oscars in 2011, True Grit sadly left the awards ceremony empty-handed. Even so as you can clearly see True Grit made quite a bit of coin. This film’s success is probably what got the big studios back into westerns in the last few years, so thanks True Grit.
4. Wild Wild West (1999) – $194 million ($113.8M)
Will Smith was at the height of his popularity when this trainwreck came out, that’s my explanation for why Wild Wild West thing ranks so high on here.
3. Maverick (1994) – $210.6 million ($101.6M)
Haven’t seen Maverick in a long time, but I do remember liking it a lot. This was before Mel Gibson lost his mind, when him and Lethal Weapon director Richard Donner were trying new things. Yeah, I think I should see Maverick again at some point in the near future.
2. Unforgiven (1992) – $211.2 million ($101.2M)
The early 90’s were very good to westerns with 2 Best Picture wins in 3 years. First was Dances with Wolves, then Unforgiven in 1993 with 4 Oscars (including Best Director for Clint Eastwood and Supporting Actor for Gene Hackman). Besides those two movies only one other western took home Best Picture at the Oscars, Cimarron in 1931. We’re still waiting on that 4th Best Picture win for westerns (The Revenant almost got there).
1. Dances with Wolves (1990) – $378.4 million ($184.2M)
Winner of 7 Oscars including Best Picture in 1991 and still the highest grossing western of all time (adjusted for ticket price inflation or not), Dances with Wolves is in many ways responsible for the early 90’s western renaissance. This right here is absolutely one of the greats.
The new The Magnificent Seven will have to work pretty hard to crack this top 10. Based on its estimated opening weekend, $35 million, The Magnificent Seven could end its box office run as high as 10th place. Now I’ve yet to see The Magnificent Seven, but that’s something I’m planning to remedy sometime this week. If I’ll feel like I have things to say about the movie, then I might write something, but no promises.
What is your favorite western?