Looking to watch cowboy movies featuring cattle drives? From authentic Westerns to cowboy comedies, American Cowboy ranks the five greatest cattle drive movies.
1. Lonesome Dove (1989–1990)
Though technically a TV mini-series, there was no way we were going to leave Lonesome Dove off this list. The Western epic follows the Hat Creek outfit—led by ex-Texas Rangers Woodrow Call and Augustus McCrae—on one last great adventure, driving cattle from Texas to Montana. The story of friendship, values, and a fading way of life was a favorite with audiences and critics; the series won seven Emmys and breathed new life into the Western genre.
2. The Cowboys (1972)
When his crew abandons him for the gold fields, rancher Wil Andersen (John Wayne), is forced to take on a group of young boys to drive his herd to market. Under Andersen’s guidance, the motley group of youngsters learns what it means to do a man’s job, especially once confronted with the cattle thieves that have been trailing them. This coming-of-age story is wonderfully scripted, the cinematography is stunning, and Wayne gives one of the best performances of his career.
3. Red River (1948)
John Wayne plays the tyrannical Thomas Dunson, who will complete his cattle drive whatever the cost, even if it means killing his adopted son, played by Montgomery Clift. The Indian attacks, gunfights, stampedes, and frontier vistas make Red River a great Western. The deft portrayals of complicated characters with challenging relationships make it a great movie.
4. The Culpepper Cattle Company (1972)
This often-overlooked Western follows greenhorn Ben Mockridge (Gary Grimes) on his first cattle drive, led by tough trailboss Frank Culpepper (Billy Green Bush). It’s an unflinching portrait of how bleak life could be in the West—the film is gritty, violent, and rough, with blurry boundaries between the white hats and bad guys.
5. City Slickers (1991)
Mitch (Billy Crystal) and his friends are having a mid-life crisis. They decide the best antidote is to go on a Wild West cattle drive adventure under the guidance of cowboy Curly (Jack Palance). Outlandish hijinks and mishaps ensue in this Western comedy that is equal parts hilarious, thoughtful, and inspiring.