The era of the Western will never be what it was 50 years ago. It’s a hard genre to crack in this day and age. A lot of the newer generation of filmmakers don’t turn to films like that, either for personal reasons or just because their ideals don’t align with the genre. However, some of the best characters in the history of cinema came from Westerns.
It’s a genre of films that gave us some of the best ‘tough guys’ to ever grace the big screen. And with that came great one-liners and monologues that have still stood the test of time. Here are the 10 best movie quotes in Westerns.
Updated Jan. 7, 2024: This article has been updated with additional content and features.
10 High Plains Drifter (1973)
“Well, right now I don’t feel too agreeable.”
High Plains Drifter is Clint Eastwood’s second film that he directed. The film is loaded with exciting moments and great tough guy talk that only Clint can deliver. The line, “well, right now I don’t feel too agreeable,” isn’t necessarily the most standout line of the whole film. But it encapsulates Clint’s no-name character really well as a drifter, one who is quick with a pistol and also has his own secret agenda.
In a way, it ties into the atmosphere of High Plains Drifter as a whole. The film is notable for feeling a little “off” when compared to other revisionist Westerns at the time, and though it wears the veneer of a typical Clint Eastwood venture, the eccentricities found throughout are too numerous to be accidental. It’s surreal, it’s possibly supernatural, and its true intentions are hidden under the grit of the desert sands.
9 The Wild Bunch (1969)
“We’re gonna give ’em war.”
“We’re gonna give ’em war” is one of the best delivered lines in The Wild Bunch. When uttered by Pike Bishop (William Holden), you sense the bunch getting into rally mode as they take on the opposition led by Deke Thornton (Robert Ryan).
The film is a classic ensemble Western directed by Sam Peckinpah, a great team-up movie about a bunch of outlaws who plan to do one more robbery before the gang’s leader, Bishop, retires. When the heist is revealed to be a setup, the gang goes on the run in Mexico. This particular line is a terrific encapsulation of what The Wild Bunch is ultimately all about. It’s a film that is loaded with gunfights, camaraderie, and, as a plus, one of the best opening credit sequences of all time.
8 The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966)
“When you have to shoot, shoot, don’t talk.”
“When you have to shoot, shoot, don’t talk,” is arguably one of the most cathartic lines you’ll hear in film history. In fact, you’ll often hear it repeated in your head whenever some villain starts monologuing instead of delivering the killing blow. This line was apparently improvised by actor Eli Wallach, who plays Tuco (the Ugly) in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. It caught the cast and crew off guard, leaving them in stitches during the initial shoot.
In the scene, Tuco is taking a bath when a man busts in, holding him at gunpoint. The man had been in pursuit of him for months, giving him a long speech about his hunt to capture him. Like most well-adjusted people would, Tuco lifts his gun up from underwater and shoots him dead, followed by this iconic line.
7 Big Jake (1971)
“You’re short on ears and long on mouth.”
“You’re short on ears and long on mouth.” John Wayne is known for many tough guy quotes similar to this one. Even in the twilight of his career, he’s still capable of convincingly delivering lines like this in Big Jake. In the film, Wayne plays Jacob McCandles, the head of the McCandle clan, who returns to his estranged family to lead the search for his kidnapped grandson. Jake brings his two sons along with him to deliver the ransom to the kidnappers. The line is delivered to one of his sons in a very witty and grouchy manner.
John Wayne may not be everyone’s cup of tea nowadays, especially now that classic westerns are more accessible than ever. However, this underrated John Wayne Western does introduce some unique ideas to the genre. Being set in the 1900s, the incorporation of automobiles gives Big Jake some extra novelty, and an additional dose of violence and grit feels in line with the advent of revisionist Westerns throughout this period.
6 Lonesome Dove (1989)
“It ain’t dying I’m talking about, it’s living.”
Lonesome Dove ran for four episodes in February 1989 as a TV miniseries. “It ain’t dying I’m talking about, it’s living,” is a line that encapsulates this dramatic miniseries in a nutshell and is delivered by Academy Award winner Robert Duvall. In it, Duvall stars alongside Tommy Lee Jones as former Texas Rangers who renew their worn-down spirits on a cattle drive from Texas to Montana. The miniseries was based on the Larry McMurtry novel of the same name, and saw a sequel in the form of Return to Lonesome Dove in 1993.
Duvall delivers this iconic line, which perfectly describes the ideology of getting older in the wild west. It’s a simple but effective line, showing that Duvall isn’t necessarily concerned about his pending death, but about living the life he can while he has it. Knowing how fraught with danger the life of a Texas Ranger is, you can’t blame him for having this particular outlook.
5 The Hateful Eight (2015)
“We’re in the West, the West is where you make your luck.”
Samuel L. Jackson’s performance as Major Marquis Warren in Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight embodies the Wild West and the survivalist mode one must have during this period. It’s a bit of wisdom that Marquis shares with the others he is stranded with in a cabin during a snowstorm. Though he’s currently stuck with several other gun-toting strangers, they’re all there for their own reasons. There are so many loner characters in Westerns due to the fact that, in order to last long in a world with minimal rules, you must go at it alone.
It’s possible that this is referring to the multitude of reasons that brought people to the West as well, be it the California Gold Rush, the lofty promises associated with Westward Expansion, and so on. The idea of constant lawlessness over cooperation is more a product of the romanticized views of the west depicted by films like The Hateful Eight. That being said, The Hateful Eight was incredibly entertaining, so we’re not really complaining.
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4 The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)
“Are you gonna pull those pistols or whistle Dixie?”
Clint Eastwood appears multiple times on this list, as he is the definitive Western hero we all still admire to this day. In The Outlaw Josey Wales, Eastwood plays a confederate soldier named Josey Wales, whose wife and child are murdered by Union soldiers led by Captain Terrill (Bill McKinney). Wales eventually flees to Texas after gunning down McKinney’s men, and becomes close with a family down there. Unfortunately, his past eventually catches up to him.
The line of dialogue mentioned above is given during a standoff in the older western town. It’s one of the best put-up or shut-up lines in a Western, which Eastwood seemed to have a natural talent for delivering. After all, half a decade prior to The Outlaw Josey Wales, he would portray Harry Callahan in Dirty Harry, where he’d give the famous “do I feel lucky” speech.
3 Unforgiven (1992)
“….and I’m here to kill you.”
Unforgiven is not only a masterpiece of a Western film; it’s an overall classic film. It was the Best Picture winner at the Oscars that year, a rarity for the Western genre, while also taking home Best Director for Clint Eastwood and Best Supporting Actor for Gene Hackman. Some would even argue that it’s one of the last “true” Westerns. It tells the story of William Munny, an aging outlaw who takes on one last job after giving up his murderous lifestyle for a quiet life of farming.
Munny (Eastwood) enters the scene on a rainy night in a saloon with his rifle raised at Little Bill Daggett (Gene Hackman), giving him a speech that acknowledges the awful things he did as an outlaw years ago. But Munny was there for vengeance due to what had happened to his friend, Ned (Morgan Freeman), earlier in the film. It’s an incredible performance, and it’s no surprise that Eastwood thinks highly of Unforgiven when looking back on his previous films.
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2 Tombstone (1993)
“I’m your Huckleberry.”
- Release Date
- December 25, 1993
- George P. Cosmatos
Tombstone is also known as one of the last great Westerns ever made. A film with an ensemble cast featuring the likes of Kurt Russell, Val Kilmer, Michael Biehn, and Sam Elliott, Tombstone is an amalgamation of several historic events stitched together into a cohesive narrative. It primarily focuses on Wyatt Earp (Kurt Russell), who travels alongside his brothers, Morgan (Bill Paxton) and Virgil (Sam Elliott), as he’s forced to don his lawman badge once again. Though the film is loaded with other memorable quotes, we had to highlight this one in particular.
It’s Val Kilmer’s delivery of the simply said line, “I’m your Huckleberry,” that takes the cake. It’s a line that goes hand in hand with the character of Doc Holliday and his wit and sharp tongue. He utters it as he prepares for a duel against Johnny Ringo (Michael Biehn), before ultimately winning in dramatic fashion. Kilmer’s performance in Tombstone would go on to be one of his career-defining acting performances.
1 True Grit (1969)
“Fill your hands, you son of a b**ch.”
True Grit 1969
- Release Date
- June 11, 1969
- Henry Hathaway
In True Grit, 14-year-old Mattie Ross (Kim Darby) hires disheveled U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn (John Wayne) to track down the man who murdered her father. Soon after they go on the hunt, they are joined by a Texas Ranger by the name of La Boeuf (Glen Campbell), who inserts himself into their mission, as he is after the same man who is wanted for killing a Texas senator. The three clash over bringing the same man to justice as they soon venture into Indigenous territory. The film culminates in one of the most major moments in movie history.
Cogburn takes a stand against the gang of outlaws, all of them on horseback. He gives them an ultimatum; he shoots them now, or captures them and brings them in to be hung. In true outlaw fashion, they are defiant. “Fill your hands, you son of a b**ch!” is shouted by Rooster Cogburn, and a duel ensues. It’s a moment of great climactic cinema. Wayne’s mannerisms and how he reloads his shotgun during the shootout were later mimicked in Terminator 2: Judgment Day by Arnold Schwarzenegger. The role earned John Wayne an Oscar late in his career and life, and some argue it was his last truly great movie.
Tired of exchanging words? Are you the type to prefer exchanging bullets instead? If so, check out our video chronicling the best Western shootouts below.