The age of streaming giants may mean we’re lucky enough to be living in a golden age of film and TV, but it can also get pretty costly to keep up with them all. For lovers of the Western genre, the likes of Netflix, Max, Hulu, and all the others, do have a great selection of Westerns to watch — the caveat, of course, being that you have to be a paid subscriber to enjoy them.
Fortunately, as a great alternative to streaming platforms, YouTube offers a great range of free movies to watch. While the downside is that you may have to sit through a few ads, and the selection isn’t as expansive as Netflix’s, for example, there’s still plenty on offer from the tech giant. For some reason, YouTube doesn’t widely market this niche service of theirs, and it’s not easy to even find everything they have available, since there’s no way to filter by genre. However, it’s an open secret that you can watch free movies and series on YouTube.
A number of films can be found via YouTube’s official library, while some YouTube channels like Grjngo also offer fully licensed Western movies to watch as well. With plenty of great classic films from the genre available, here’s a list of great full-length Western films you can watch for free on YouTube.
Updated Feb. 4, 2024: This article has been updated with even more information about the best Western films you can watch for free on YouTube, as well as convenient features.
11 McLintock! (1963)
A very enjoyable classic Western comedy, McLintock! starred the great John Wayne, a legendary actor famous for his roles in many iconic Westerns. As a great novelty, it also starred one of Wayne’s sons, Patrick Wayne, in addition to the likes of Maureen O’Hara and Stefanie Powers. Wayne plays G.W. McLintock in the film, an aging rancher whose wife abandoned him for a life of being a socialite. He also has a daughter away at college and, despite being self-made and wealthy, tries to live a quiet life. However, his land is often coveted by various groups of people, which leads to him having to deal with a host of personal and professional problems because of it.
A Classic John Wayne Western
If you’ve seen one John Wayne Western, it’s no stretch to suggest that you’ve seen them all. While McLintock! does foray into some familiar territory, the emphasis on comedic elements over outright drama makes McLintock! stand out as one of Wayne’s most memorable forays into the frontier. It almost borders on slapstick at points, but the chemistry shared between the expansive cast on-screen along with a marvelous performance from Maureen O’Hara provides a delicate balance.
10 From Hell to Texas (1958)
From Hell to Texas sees a ruthless cattle baron named Hunter Boyd send his men out to capture a ranch hand named Tod, whom he believes murdered his son. Tod is mercilessly pursued, and despite protesting his innocence, is tracked down and gravely injured. After collapsing near a river, Tod is taken in by a kind rancher and his daughter, Juanita, who takes a liking to him. After providing him with food and shelter, the men pursuing Tod soon bring trouble to their home. Tod, facing a choice to keep running, decides to fight the men instead.
From Hell to Texas Deserves More Acclaim
Though not as acclaimed as other Westerns of its time, From Hell to Texas was still a solid film. This one starred Don Murray and Diane Varsi as Tod and Juanita, respectively, with the former giving a compelling performance prior to his roles in films like Kid Rodelo and The Plainsman. Famously, Dennis Hopper would appear in From Hell to Texas in one of the earliest roles in his filmography, as he played the role of Tom Boyd. Like other Westerns directed by Henry Hathaway, you can expect a well-rounded encapsulation of the genre with all boxes checked.
9 Yuma (1971)
A TV film that was once featured as ABC’s Movie of the Week, Yuma was no less enjoyable despite its smaller budget. It featured Dave Harmon as Clint Walker, a former U.S. Army lieutenant. Walker is sent to the town of Yuma as its new U..S Marshal after his wife was sexually assaulted, and she and his son were murdered. Baying for revenge, Walker’s only lead on the perpetrators is that they were wearing army uniforms. After entering the town, he’s soon thrust into tussles with the local drunks and criminals. Walker quickly realizes that, despite having a wealth of experience, he’s going to have his hands full.
Yuma Was Directed by Ted Post
Considering that Ted Post of Hang ’em High and Magnum Force fame directed this made-for-television Western, you can expect a level of craft that surpasses the expectations that come with such a distinction. Clint Walker (Cheyenne) does a fine job in playing the stoic Dave Harmon, balancing ruthlessness with compassion as any rugged Marshal should. It’s a modest Western that deserves your attention, if you’ve already breezed through all the classics of the genre.
8 Death Rides a Horse (1967)
A gritty film by Italian director Giulio Petroni, Death Rides a Horse is a classical revenge Western. It tells the story of a young boy named Bill, who witnesses his father, mother, and younger sister being brutalized before being killed by a ruthless gang of men. Bill bides his time for 15 years, learning to become an expert gunman in that time. After memorizing the specific traits of each man who slaughtered his family, he returns to exact revenge on each of them.
Death Rides a Horse Trades Drama for Realism
The film garnered praise for its realism among most Spaghetti Westerns of the time that were considered more gimmicky. John Phillip Law and Lee Van Cleef both shine in their respective roles as Bill and Ryan, respectively, with the score by Ennio Morricone giving it some appropriate atmosphere when compared to its contemporaries. Mario Brega even plays a smaller role here as Paco, only a few years removed from his reoccurring appearances in the beloved Dollars Trilogy. This Western deserves your attention if you want to see Lee Van Cleef in his most intimidating performance yet, or simply want a gritty revenge film.
7 Something Big (1971)
Another great Western comedy, Something Big was a film led by the legendary Dean Martin. A very cheeky film, it showcased all the comedic talents of Martin as he played an aging bandit named Joe Baker. Joe is awaiting the arrival of his fiancée, the beautiful Dover McBride. Determined to complete one last score, but wanting this one to be “something big,” Joe has his work cut out for him, since his own associates could be a handful. On the other hand, he also has to be careful since a hot-headed colonel is determined to take him down, while he also awaits the arrival of his wife before retirement. With time against him, Joe and his gang race to execute his last big heist.
Something Big Is Aptly Named
Featuring a race against time and a particularly large gatling gun, Something Big is a surprisingly comedic effort from the same director of McLintock!, Andrew V. McLaglen. It’s easy to tell that Dean Martin is having a blast anytime he’s on-screen, and though it may draw some polarized contemporary responses, it’s more than entertaining based on its own merits. Just be aware that it’s an inherently silly Western compared to some of the other films here.
5 Western Movies That Made 1969 a Really Special Year for the Genre
Perhaps the greatest year for the genre, 1969 saw the release of some true western masterpieces. Let’s look back on five that stood out.
6 Ride Lonesome (1959)
A great film that was categorized by its CinemaScope widescreen production and lush color, Ride Lonesome tells a gritty tale of a bounty hunter named Ben Brigade. Brigade gets swept up in defending a settlement that he and his prisoner take shelter in while he’s transporting the man to Santa Cruz. As things play out, it soon emerges that Brigade has a hidden agenda. After helping the residents at the settlement, a widow decides to accompany Brigade on his journey. Along the way, he commissions two outlaws to help him, unaware that the men are also hiding a secret of their own.
Ride Lonesome Has Incredible Characters
With one of the slimmest runtimes in this collection, Ride Lonesome manages to cram in some incredible character interactions and chemistry in as little as 73 minutes. Instead of highlighting the grandiose nature of its setting, Ride Lonesome opts to trade that for terrific writing and arguably some of the best pacing in the genre. Director Budd Boetticher brought the best out of this impressive cast, which features the likes of Randolph Scott, Karen Steele, Pernell Roberts, and, of course, Lee Van Cleef.
5 Day of Anger (1967)
Speaking of Lee Van Cleef, this film by director Tonino Valerii has Cleef starring alongside Giuliano Gemma. Day of Anger features Cleef playing a composed gunman by the name of Frank Talby, who rides into the town of Clifton one fateful day. Upon meeting Scott (Gemma), a lowly street sweeper looked down upon by his peers, Talby opts to take Scott in as his protégé after shooting one of his bullies in cold blood. Unfortunately, this newfound life of shootouts and equestrianism comes with some moral boundaries that Scott refuses to cross, eventually putting the two men at odds with each other.
Day of Anger Is a Classic Spaghetti Western
Even if Day of Anger can’t top the numerous films in the Dollars Trilogy, that’s not to suggest that it doesn’t reach a similar level of quality. Fascinatingly, Cleef is the star performer here, playing off of Giuliano Gemma in a way that’s utterly captivating to watch. It’s an impressive feat of storytelling, and when combined with a score by Riz Ortolani that mimics the qualities of Ennio Morricone’s famed compositions, you end up with one of the most underrated Westerns of the late 1960s.
4 Santa Fe Passage (1954)
While not as famous as other classic Westerns from the period, Santa Fe Passage portrayed the tricky relations that stemmed from the conflicts between residents of frontier towns and Native American tribes. It starred John Payne as Kirby Randolph, an experienced scout who becomes heavily bigoted after his alliance with a local chief is broken, leading to the massacre of his men. After being commissioned to transport a couple and their cargo of guns and ammo through Native American territories, Randolph isn’t happy when a Native American woman is one of the passengers on the wagon train. But, he puts aside his bigotry as he becomes attracted to a young passenger named Aurelie. They encounter many dangers and Kirby ably protects everyone, while the film continually plays up the tension between his bravery and hateful attitude in a manner that made the film ahead of its time.
Santa Fe Passage Subverted Expectations
Director William Witney, who would cut his teeth on the Western genre with his work on The Lone Ranger among a prolific series of other projects, presents an intriguing premise carried by the performances of John Payne, Faith Domergue, and Slim Pickens. It’s a film whose presentation could use a little more grittiness, but its intriguing premise delivers a surprising subversion of typical Western tropes. This would be done a full year before The Searchers would attempt something similar in 1956.
3 Buffalo Bill (1944)
A classic interpretation of a famous gunslinger, Buffalo Bill tells the tale of the eponymous icon. A fictionalized account of his life, it depicts Bill as a hunter and scout, rescuing a senator’s daughter who later becomes his loving wife. While Bill is friendly and far more tolerant of the native Cheyenne people, when government policies lead to their attacks and exploitation, he’s forced to fight against the tribes he once befriended. His exploits earn him a legendary reputation that he later uses to start a traveling show. However, his fame as a performer is threatened when he later speaks out against the unfair treatment of Native Americans.
Buffalo Bill Is a Rare Western Biopic
In what can be considered as one of the earliest Western biopics, Joel McCrea does his best in depicting the famed Western legend on the silver screen. Maureen O’Hara elevates the material here in a way that’s welcome, and though some of the production’s technical qualities are more than a little questionable, the film as a whole feels like a stepping stone towards the eventual revisionist Westerns that would come to life in the 1970s. While it may not be wholly accurate to Bill’s life, you may find that its depictions of Native Americans were somewhat progressive for the time.
10 Great Westerns That Mix Other Genres
These western movies take everything we love about the genre and fuse it with storytelling elements from other genres.
2 One-Eyed Jacks (1961)
Starring one of the all-time legends of cinema, the 1961 Western One-Eyed Jacks saw the legendary Marlon Brando as its lead. The actor also showcased his plethora of talents as he took the helm as the film’s director too. A classic tale of revenge replete with sharp dialogue, Brando played a bandit named Rio, who pulls off a bank heist in Mexico with his two partners. However, one of them, Dad Longworth, betrays his partners and makes off with the loot. Rio winds up in prison and languishes there for many years as he plots his revenge.
The Only Film Marlon Brando Directed
While not a commercial hit, the film came to be retroactively respected and was selected for preservation by the Library of Congress. The last film to be released in VistaVision, as well as one of the few Westerns to take place on a sandy shore instead of a sandy plain, One-Eyed Jacks amounted to a highly entertaining film despite its numerous production troubles. Marlon Brando shines as always, and when paired with the likes of Pina Pellicer and Karl Malden, the result is an influential Western that’s well-worth your time. The film would even secure an Academy Award nomination for Best Cinematography.
1 The Lone Ranger (1956)
One of the many renditions to feature this classic character, the 1956 film adaptation of The Lone Ranger saw Clayton Moore in the lead. Based on the very popular TV series of the same name, the film was the first of two features made as follow-ups to the show. Though cliché laden, the films proved as popular as their TV counterparts.
The film depicts a tale where the Ranger is commissioned by a governor to investigate supposed raids by a local Native American tribe. He soon learns that the tribe is trying to protect their lands, which contain large silver deposits, from being plundered by wealthy landowners. Uncovering the identities of the real raiders, the Ranger averts a calamitous conflict in a classic tale that highlights the bigotry and exploitation of native peoples of the time.
The Lone Ranger Is Iconic
Anyone with even the faintest knowledge of the Western genre knows all about The Lone Ranger, with the accompanying film adaptation giving its source material some higher stakes. Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels recapture their chemistry from the series in a feature-length setting, and with Stuart Heisler directing, the two are given ample material to work with in a Technicolor world. For any fan of the original series, The Lone Ranger is worth a watch.
The Western genre is an incredibly storied one, with some of its best and brightest films first premiering throughout the 1970s. To see our picks for the best Westerns of the ’70s, check out our video below: