We are halfway through our countdown to the American Film Institute's salute to their 10 Top 10, which brings us to that purely American creation (that is, until Sergio Leone got hold of it): the western. A genre filled with iconic imagery, from the lone cowboy perched atop his horse to the climatic gunfight in the middle of a dusty town, a classic oater depicts "the spirit, the struggle and the demise of the new frontier".
Topping the list of westerns previously honored by the AFI in their annual lists is High Noon. The thinly veiled allegorical look at Hollywood's reaction to McCarthyism has been included on six prior lists, followed closely (with five mentions each) by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Shane. However, a strong contender for the top spot here is The Searchers, which may only have two previous listings, but it made an impressive leap from #96 to #12 on last year's 10th anniversary revisit to the top 100 movies.
The Wild Bunch, which redefined onscreen violence as well as the western genre itself, placed three times previously, and should place high this time around as well. Other possibilities from past lists include Best Picture Oscar winners Dances With Wolves and Unforgiven (both with two listings) and single-placers ranging from comedies (Blazing Saddles, Cat Ballou) to John Wayne headliners (Stagecoach, True Grit) to some questionable "westerns" (Giant, The Last Picture Show), plus The Magnificent Seven, a remake of a Far Eastern "western", The Seven Samurai.
Ranging from 1924 (The Iron Horse) to 1996 (Lone Star), other contenders among the fifty nominees (see the comments section below for the full list) include more John Ford epics (My Darling Clementine, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon), Clint Eastwood non-spaghetti westerns (High Plains Drifter, The Outlaw Josey Wales) and other favorites such as How the West Was Won, The Ox-Bow Incident, Red River and even Joan Crawford's lone contribution to the genre, Johnny Guitar.
The final top ten will be revealed in a CBS three-hour television event on June 17.