Riding to The West: The Charm of Western top 10 Documentaries

June 5, 2023

"Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway” - John Wayne, Western actor.


This sentiment encapsulates the enduring allure of the Western genre, a cinematic landscape filled with cowboys, horses, and the untamed wilderness of the Wild West. These narratives, steeped in grit and resilience, continue to captivate audiences, offering a window into a bygone era that still resonates today.

The Western genre has evolved significantly since its inception. From the silent films of the early 20th century to the spaghetti westerns of the 1960s, and the revisionist narratives of the modern era, these stories have continually reinvented themselves. Today, they serve not only as thrilling tales of adventure but also as complex explorations of morality, identity, and the human spirit.


From Spurs to Silver Screens: The Evolution of the Cowboy Narrative

a old cowboy with a hat


One of the most compelling aspects of the Western genre is its portrayal of the cowboy. This figure, often depicted as a rugged individualist, embodies a unique blend of toughness and tenderness. From riding horses across sprawling landscapes to engaging in high-stakes showdowns, the cowboy is a symbol of resilience and determination.

The Western genre also delves into the complex relationship between settlers and Native Americans. While early films often perpetuated stereotypes, contemporary narratives strive to present a more nuanced perspective, acknowledging the rich cultures of Native American tribes and the injustices they endured.

Acclaimed director Martin Scorsese is set to revisit the Western genre in his upcoming film, featuring long-time collaborator Leonardo DiCaprio. Known for their dynamic partnership in films like "The Wolf of Wall Street" and "The Departed," Scorsese and DiCaprio are expected to bring a fresh perspective to the Western narrative. While details about the plot remain under wraps, the film is anticipated to delve into the complexities of the American frontier, showcasing Scorsese's signature storytelling style and DiCaprio's nuanced performance.

In a surprising turn, renowned Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar is also venturing into the Western genre with his first Hollywood film. Almodóvar, celebrated for his vibrant and emotionally rich films, is expected to infuse the Western narrative with his unique cinematic voice. While Almodóvar's foray into the Western genre marks a departure from his usual themes, fans and critics alike are eagerly awaiting to see how he will reinterpret this classic American narrative through his distinct lens.


Here are the Top Ten lesser-known but impactful Western Documentaries that explore these themes:




two cowboys are riding horses in front of a waterfall

This riveting documentary follows four friends as they embark on an ambitious journey to ride wild mustangs from Mexico to Canada through the wildest terrain of the American West. It's a testament to friendship, adventure, and the unbreakable bond between humans and horses.


The American West

a man in a black cowboy hat holding money

This docuseries delves into the violent world of the Wild West, exploring the stories of iconic figures like Jesse James, Billy the Kid, and Wyatt Earp. It offers a gritty, realistic portrayal of life in the American frontier, revealing the harsh realities behind the legends.


In Mansourah, You Separated Us

an old man rides a donkey through the desert

During the Algerian War, over two million people were displaced by the French Army. "In Mansourah, You Separated Us" is a poignant documentary that uncovers this hidden historical memory. Returning to his native village of Mansourah, Malek and his daughter, Dorothée-Myriam, explore the profound impact of this displacement on rural Algeria.


The West

a man is on the back of a horse in an open field

Directed by Ken Burns, this comprehensive documentary series explores the historical events that shaped the American West. From the Gold Rush to the Indian Wars, it provides a nuanced perspective on the complex history of the Western frontier.


Barre's Silence

two black bulls fighting

This Documentary captures the emotional journey of a remote Iranian village as they rally behind their local pride, 'Barre' the fighting bull. The stakes are high, not just in terms of money wagered, but the honor of the village. As Barre's owner serves a jail term, his son-in-law steps in to care for the bull, while the villagers grapple with the impact of Barre's defeat.

American Nomads

three men and two women are sitting near one another

This captivating documentary delves into the lives of modern-day cowboys in the United States. The film follows these rugged individuals as they navigate the vast landscapes of the American West, herding cattle and maintaining the traditions of a bygone era. Despite the hardships and solitude, these cowboys embody a spirit of independence and a deep connection to the land. Through stunning cinematography and intimate interviews, "American Nomads" offers a unique glimpse into the enduring legacy of the cowboy lifestyle.



a cowboy ridding a whitehorse

This is a whimsical documentary that follows the filmmaker's journey into the heart of ancient Thrace. Triggered by a party at a fancy hotel, the filmmaker embarks on a quest to rediscover his roots, delving into a past so deep that it seems almost forgotten.


Cowboys: A Documentary Portrait

4 cowboys posing in front to the camera

Told in the cinematic tradition of classic westerns, this documentary offers an authentic and intimate portrait of life as a cowboy. It features modern working cowboys on some of America's largest and most remote cattle ranches, capturing their daily struggles and triumphs.


Considering the ends

A woman shaving a sheep

This thought-provoking documentary explores the controversial issue of livestock slaughter, brought to the forefront by disturbing footage from within slaughterhouses. The film challenges viewers to confront the ethical implications of consuming animal products, offering a fresh perspective on this contentious issue.


His Name is Midnight

a young cowboy

Is an inspiring documentary that chronicles the journey of a racehorse who goes from glory to abandonment, and back to grace. Set against the stunning backdrop of the Badlands National Park in Lakota, United States, this 29-minute film delves into the traditional American cowboy lifestyle, showcasing a heartwarming story of the enduring bond between man and horse.


The Western genre, with its tales of cowboys, horses, and the Wild West, continues to captivate audiences with its timeless themes of resilience, morality, and the human spirit. As we ride into the sunset with these narratives, we are reminded of our own capacity for courage, transformation, and the pursuit of justice. After all, as John Wayne once said, "Tomorrow is the most important thing in life. Comes into us at midnight very clean. It's perfect when it arrives and it puts itself in our hands. It hopes we've learned something from yesterday.


Watch more great documentaries on Guidedoc

Join GuideDoc