The Searchers is one of the greatest Westerns ever made : It would hardly be a list of must-see Westerns if John Wayne didn’t show up, and The Searchers is regarded as one of his best. Some might have issues with the film’s attitude towards race relations, as Wayne’s character, Ethan, is both the protagonist of the film and an unapologetic racist.
However, the protagonist doesn’t always mean “good guy,” and Ethan takes on a whole new meaning if you look at him more as a Captain Ahab figure who you’re supposed to root against.The Searchers is about a man’s quest for revenge , as members of Ethan’s family are murdered, and others captured, by a Comanche leader.
Ethan and a group of men go looking (or, if you like, “searching”) for the captured girls, and the film makes a major point to focus on Ethan’s thirst for vengeance at any cost, rather than an actual desire to do the right thing. This shows most clearly when he eventually finds his niece, Debbie, who decides she’d prefer to remain with her captors rather than return with her uncle. In retaliation, Ethan attempts to kill her.
If the goal of a Western is to provide a look at the war going on inside the human psyche, few films do it as well as The Searchers. The movie has also derived everyone from George Lucas to Martin Scorsese, who lovingly stole the movie’s plot when making Taxi Driver.
Stagecoach is an old-timey classic of the genre : Released in 1939 — one of the greatest years in movie history — Stagecoach is over 80 years old, and it may seem a little simple compared to a lot of other must-see Westerns. While this is the case, it’s also a great way to see the roots of the genre and how it’s evolved over the decades. It’s also one of John Wayne’s best roles, and we’d be remiss to not include it here.
At its core, Stagecoach is a simple story of a group of very different people forced to share space and trust in one another. Almost every character in the film is an archetype — the prostitute with a heart of gold, the reformed outlaw, the drunken doctor, etc. What makes Stagecoach work well is how it throws these archetypes together in different situations and combinations. It isn’t an overly action-packed film. It’s more of a character drama that weaves a tale about the mythology of the Old West, punctuated here and there by wild chases and a few good shootouts. So if you want to start with a classic Western to see where the genre comes from, Stagecoach is a great way to do it.