10 Essential Spaghetti Westerns

In case the title didn’t give it away, Giulio Questi’s 1967 spaghetti western Django Kill… If You Live, Shoot! is one of the most eccentric entries in the Italian subgenre that populated the cinematic landscape during the 1960s and ’70s. The surreal cult film — about a Mexican outlaw who rises from the grave to exact vengeance on a band of thieves that cheated him out of his loot — is now available on Blu-ray.

Multicultural productions, unforgettable scores, brutal gunplay, and cynical, vengeful antiheroes punctuated the Italo-westerns, creating a unique visual style with darker themes that made the Hollywood epics look like G-rated movies. The Italians drew inspiration from a culturally diverse palette of sources, including classical literature and Catholicism, resulting in unique operatic reimaginings — several of which we’ve highlighted below. Dig into a few essential spaghetti westerns that helped shape the subgenre — extra heavy on the red sauce. Leave your favorites in the comments below.

A Fistful of Dollars

Sergio Leone’s groundbreaking 1964 film helped define the subgenre — a story that was intended to be a low-budget take on the American western classics that filmmakers like John Ford and Howard Hawks made famous. The former sword and sandal screenwriter based his tale on Akira Kuroswawa’s Yojimbo, setting a meticulous and boldly artistic tone for the rest of his “Dollars Trilogy.” Leone’s extreme close-ups, Renaissance-style cinematography, and Ennio Morricone’s superb score are impressive standouts. The grimace of then unknown TV actor Clint Eastwood, who became the iconic “Man with No Name,” established the subgenre’s use of questionable heroes — unconventional and unpredictable characters that lived by their own moral codes.