The Western genre has produced some of the greatest ensemble casts in cinema history, with star-studded lineups featuring screen icons like John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, and Charles Bronson.
Filmmakers have often teamed up famous actors who were capable of leading their own movies, creating captivating cinematic dynamics onscreen.
Movies like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid , The Magnificent Seven , and The Hateful Eight showcase the power of ensembles by bringing together multiple renowned actors to create memorable performances.
SCREENRANT VIDEO OF THE DAY
Since the western was Hollywood’s favorite genre for most of the 20th century, there are a ton of classic westerns with star-studded ensemble casts full of screen legends. The western genre launched the careers of screen legends like John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, and Charles Bronson, and once those careers had been launched, the studios had fun teaming them up in star-studded ensemble casts. Some of the greatest westerns ever made have taken three or four actors who were famous enough to lead their own movie, like an Eastwood or a Bronson, and put them on-screen together with a captivating cinematic dynamic.
Paul Newman and Robert Redford made an A-list pairing for the ages as the titular duo in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. John Wayne teamed up with Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson to fend off a notorious gang in Rio Bravo. The titular bands of gunfighters in The Wild Bunch and The Magnificent Seven are jam-packed with renowned movie stars. Quentin Tarantino brought together an octet of screen icons to play the eponymous ensemble in The Hateful Eight. From Bad Day at Black Rock to How the West Was Won, the western genre has given way to some of the greatest ensemble casts in cinema history.
10. The Hateful Eight
Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Bruce Dern
Quentin Tarantino didn’t want any A-listers who were going to hog the spotlight when he assembled the titular ensemble for The Hateful Eight. Led by a fierce Samuel L. Jackson performance, The Hateful Eight cast is a healthy mix of Tarantino regulars like Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, and Kurt Russell, fan-favorite supporting players who needed a bigger movie role, like Walton Goggins and Demián Bichir, and forgotten stars who needed a much-deserved comeback, like Bruce Dern and Jennifer Jason Leigh. The latter scored a hard-earned Oscar nod for her uncompromising, darkly hilarious portrayal of a wanted killer.
9. The Wild Bunch
William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Ryan
Sam Peckinpah completely reinvented the western genre with a gritty, violent, morally gray depiction of the Old West in his grimy, game-changing masterpiece The Wild Bunch. Peckinpah made the protagonists gun-toting outlaws, and cast revered Hollywood legends to play them. With William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Ryan, Edmond O’Brien, and Ben Johnson in the ensemble, The Wild Bunch has no dead weight in its cast.
8. True Grit
Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin
When the Coen brothers remade the John Wayne vehicle True Grit, they refocused the narrative on the novel’s original protagonist, Mattie Ross, a teenage girl seeking retribution for her father’s murder. This role made Hailee Steinfeld one of the youngest ever Oscar nominees, and she fully deserved that nomination. At just 13 years old, Steinfeld held her own opposite three of Hollywood’s most prolific stars: Jeff Bridges, taking on Wayne’s role as Rooster Cogburn with a lot more nuance, Matt Damon, and Josh Brolin.
7. Rio Bravo
John Wayne, Angie Dickinson, Dean Martin
There isn’t much of a plot in Rio Bravo – it’s more of a hangout movie as a small-town sheriff and his ragtag team wait for their prisoner’s gang to arrive – so the focus is squarely on the characters, and Howard Hawks assembled a cast of icons to bring those characters to life. John Wayne leads the ensemble as the sheriff alongside Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson as his makeshift deputies. The bonds they form along the way are as captivating as any shootout. Rio Bravo is a rare western whose female lead, Angie Dickinson’s Feathers, has real personality and agency.
6. Bad Day At Black Rock
Spencer Tracy, Anne Francis, Walter Brennan, Ernest Borgnine
Spencer Tracy arrives in a mysterious town where the locals treat him with hostility in Bad Day at Black Rock. All these locals are played by screen legends on par with Tracy: Robert Ryan, Anne Francis, Walter Brennan, Ernest Borgnine, Lee Marvin. The real star of Bad Day at Black Rock is cinematographer William C. Mellor’s stunning desert vistas, but the actors make sure the melodramatic mystery surrounding Komoko’s disappearance is consistently engaging.
5. Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid
Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Katharine Ross
Paul Newman and Robert Redford were arguably the two biggest stars in Hollywood when they joined forces to play the eponymous duo in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Newman and Redford shared such electric on-screen chemistry that they later reteamed to star in The Sting. Katharine Ross gives a stellar supporting turn as their companion, Etta Place, and such icons as Cloris Leachman, Kenneth Mars, and an early-career Sam Elliott appear as minor characters.
4. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
John Wayne, James Stewart, Vera Miles, Lee Marvin
John Wayne and James Stewart often had the spotlight all to themselves, and they were at the height of their popularity when John Ford cast them to share the screen in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Stewart plays a U.S. Senator who gets beaten and robbed by Valance, and Wayne plays the noble gunslinger who saves him and helps him exact revenge. Psycho’s Vera Miles gives a compassionate turn as the romantic interest caught in a love triangle between the two, and the legendary Lee Marvin gives an unforgettable performance as the titular villain.
Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman
Clint Eastwood gave the western genre the perfect bittersweet swansong with Unforgiven, the tale of a notorious killer reluctantly agreeing to avenge a mutilated sex worker. Eastwood gives a gritty, powerful performance as William Munny opposite Morgan Freeman as his partner-in-crime Ned Logan and Gene Hackman as crooked lawman “Little Bill” Daggett. Eastwood and Freeman are a pairing for the ages, and Hackman gave the western genre one of its most hateable villains.
2. The Magnificent Seven
Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, James Coburn
John Sturges brought the timeless, action-packed story of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai into a western setting in The Magnificent Seven, and it gave him an excuse to assemble seven A-list stars to help protect a defenseless town from an impending attack by bandits. This ensemble includes massive stars like Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn, and James Coburn, as well as lesser-known, equally great actors like Brad Dexter and the “German James Dean,” Horst Buchholz. These seven iconic actors brought some Hollywood glamor to the classic Kurosawa story.
1. How The West Was Won
Henry Fonda, Gregory Peck, John Wayne, James Stewart
Henry Hathaway, John Ford, and George Marshall teamed up to create the definitive western epic with How the West Was Won, chronicling the entire history of the Old West in five chapters. Each of these five chapters has its own star-studded ensemble cast, featuring such hall-of-famers as Gregory Peck, James Stewart, Debbie Reynolds, and Harry Dean Stanton. This movie’s cast is a who’s-who of western movie icons: Henry Fonda, John Wayne, Eli Wallach, Lee J. Cobb, Andy Devine, Russ Tamblyn, Lee Van Cleef, and Raymond Massey as Abraham Lincoln. This cast couldn’t possibly be more stacked.