Western movies are essentially tales about the good guys versus the bad guys; that’s why any Western movie cannot be a considered a good Western movie without a villain. There have been a lot of villains who have intimidated and captured the attention of the viewers over the centuries.
Many of the villains have stayed in our minds – whether some of us like it or not. In many cases, audiences even tend to favor villains over the protagonists.
Here are some of the best bandits, rustlers, and outlaws that have left a great mark on the Western movie history:
1) Angel Eyes (The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly)
While Clint Eastwood and Elli Wallach were outstanding in The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, it was Lee Van Cleef who brought up the levels of evil with his character Angel Eyes, also known as “The Bad.”
A mercenary, Angel Eyes is after a cache of gold. During the tense early scenes of the movie, he kills two guys who both paid him to kill the other – it just that he fulfills the contract. Soon, he finds himself in a gold rush with “The Good” and “The Bad,” whom he doesn’t like. It was Eastwood who coined the name “Angel Eyes” because of Van Cleef’s cat-like eyes. He was also an impressive marksman.
2) Frank (Once Upon a Time in the West)
While Henry Fonda was known for playing the good guys in a lot of movies, he surprised a lot of viewers by playing the bad guy in Once Upon a Time in the West, one of the greatest spaghetti Westerns of all time. And what’s more impressive is that he was more than convincing in playing a villain. In the movie, he plays Frank, the hired gunman to a crippled railroad tycoon named Morton.
Frank has to be the most ruthless characters ever to grace the Western movie scene. He terrorizes a lot of people in the film before dying in the hands of Harmonica (Charles Bronson).
3) Little Bill Dagget (Unforgiven)
Gene Hackman plays Little Bill Dagget in Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven, a sheriff you don’t want in your town. He is essentially the one who starts a series of tragic events in the film. When two men brutally beat and disfigure a prostitute, his idea of punishment is for them to give the owner of a brothel some horses as compensation. Hackman’s role won him an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
4) Valance (The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance)
Lee Marvin plays the gangster Valance in one of the classic Western films, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. While Marvin’s acting is a bit exaggerated, that’s what exactly makes him so great. For him, what Valance wants, Valance gets, even if it means killing anyone who stands in his way.
In the movie’s first scenes, Valance brutally beats Senator Ransom Stoddard (James Stewart) when he arrives on the town to bury his friend. The scenes will give you an idea about Valance’s character will be like in the rest of the film, and for sure, Valance lives up to it until the end.
5) Jessica Drummond (Forty Guns)
The singing narrator says, “They call her the woman with a whip.” And soon, we see Jessica Drummond (Barbara Stanwyck) cheating, killing, and maiming every guy she meets. That is, until Griff Bonnell (Barry Sullivan), a reformed gunslinger, comes to seduce her – then shoots her.
Jessica Drummond is one of Stanwyck’s best “bad girl” roles, alongside her other characters in The Violent Men and The Maverick Queen.
6) Calvera (The Magnificent Seven)
While Eli Wallach was entertaining as the villain in The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, he was slightly outshined by Lee Van Cleef, who portrayed the ruthless Angel Eyes.
In the original version of The Magnificent Seven, Wallach plays Calvera, a ruthless leader of a gang of bandits. Calvera was so bad that he even steals food from the poor village people so that he can keep them for himself and his henchmen. Why? Because he knows that winter is coming, and food will be hard to come by.
7) Old Man Clanton (My Darling Clementine)
Three-time Oscar-winning character actor Walter Brennan was known as John Wayne’s lovably toothless sidekick in films such as Rio Bravo and Red River. But in the movie, he made a more-than-convincing turn as the cold and mean Clanton patriarch in John Ford’s My Darling Clementine. In one of the scenes in the film, he shoots Virgil Earp in the back.
8) Jack Wilson (Shane)
Actor Jack Palance was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role as the villain Jack Wilson in Shane. He portrays as a henchman for a cattle ranch tycoon Rufus Ryker. When a smart gunslinger named Shane comes to town, Ryker hires Wilson to make sure Shane is dealt with. Jack Wilson is a kind of villain that you’d like to hate, but you can’t help but be drawn by his smoothness – he speaks with calmness even when he is about to kill someone.
9) Cicero Grimes (Hombre)
Richard Boone plays the role of the evil Cicero Grimes in Hombre. He and his gang rob a stagecoach to get the money that one of the occupants is carrying. He is also a tough villain. In one of the scenes where he gets thirsty while walking in the desert, he chooses to drink whiskey instead of water.
10) Johnny Ringo (Tombstone)
In Tombstone, Johnny Ringo (Michael Biehn) leads a gang of bandits called “The Cowboys.” But he is no ordinary outlaw. Johnny Ringo is a well-educated man who speaks English, Spanish, and even Latin, a dead language. The moment he meets the film’s hero Holliday, the hatred between the two men quickly develops. And this hatred culminates in a final battle, which is a sheer joy to watch.