Top 5 Westerns With Great Performances From Military Veterans

February 5, 2022We Are The Mighty
Eastwood, mcqueen

Some of our favorite Westerns star our favorite military veteran actors. Composite by Coffee or Die Magazine.

From Clint Eastwood to Steve McQueen and other Hollywood icons, veterans have played many roles on-screen across the spectrum of cinema history. Westerns seem to fit naturally for a military veteran whether it be from their service or maybe part of their upbringing. Here are the top five veteran performances in westerns, some of which may be new to you.

1. Unforgiven with Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman and Morgan Freeman.

Eastwood’s seminal western is one of his greatest works, and stars three military veterans: Eastwood (Army), Hackman (Marines) and Freeman (Air Force). Unforgiven won multiple Oscars such as Best Picture, Best Director for Eastwood, Best Supporting Actor for Hackman and for Best Editing (Cox). Eastwood and Hackman both garnered a Golden Globe each as well — one for Best Director and one for Best Supporting Actor.

Eastwood is an Army veteran, having served in the early 1950s at Fort Ord in California. Hackman spent over four years in the Marine Corps during the late 40s to early 50s as a radio operator stationed in China, Japan and Hawaii. Freeman served in the Air Force from 1955-1959 as an Automatic Tracking Radar repairman.

Logline: Retired Old West gunslinger William Munny (Eastwood) reluctantly takes on one last job, with the help of his old partner Ned Logan (Freeman) and a young man, The “Schofield Kid.”

2. Once Upon a Time in the West starring Charles Bronson, Claudia Cardinale, Henry Fonda and Jason Robards.

Bronson, Cardinale, Fonda and Robards play wonderful parts rich with character and life. Fonda plays against type as the villain and is shockingly cold in his portrayal. Bronson is the harmonica playing protagonist. Robards is a wry gunslinger. The film is worth watching for Fonda alone.

Bronson, the original tough guy, served during World War II in the Army Air Corps as an aerial gunner in a B-29 squadron conducting missions in the Pacific. Fonda spent his service with the US Navy as a quartermaster and then in air combat intelligence during World War II. Robards served in World War II in the Pacific as a Radioman First Class.

Logline: A mysterious stranger (Bronson) with a harmonica joins forces with a notorious desperado (Robards) to protect a beautiful widow (Cardinale) from a ruthless assassin (Fonda) working for the railroad.

3. The Wild Bunch with William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Ben Johnson and Warren Oates.

It’s one of the grittiest, most violent and bleak westerns of its time directed by the quintessential tough guy director and Marine veteran Sam Peckinpaugh. The main characters are basically bad guys on the run, which was rare in the 1960s and prior for a western to focus on such unlikable yet likable leads at the time. Great slow-motion action effects during the gunfights too.

Holden served in World War II in the US Army Air Corps supporting training films while Ernest Borgnine was in the US Navy for 10 years from 1935 to 1945 earning the rank of Gunner’s Mate First Class and serving in World War II as well. Oates spent his time in the Marine Corps as an aircraft mechanic for two years from 1946 to 1948 and earned the rank of corporal.

Logline: An aging group of outlaws look for one last big score as the “traditional” American West is disappearing around them.

4. The Magnificent Seven starring Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Eli Wallach, Charles Bronson, James Coburn and Robert Vaughn.

A strong and unique cast of actors makes up the seven famous gunfighters going against superior numbers and the odds not being their favor with a large rival gang of bandits. Great shootouts, overall action, dialogue and acting. This is one of Sturges’s best and it put a lot of the cast on the map for future careers as leading men in Hollywood. Namely McQueen, Bronson, Coburn and Vaughn.

Military veterans in the cast include McQueen, a Marine that served in the late 40s and early 50s, Bronson a World War II Army Air Corps veteran, Coburn spent time in the Army in the early 50s, Wallach served in World War II as a medical administrator on both the enlisted and officer sides and Dexter served in the US Army Air Corps in World War II where he befriended Karl Malden.

Logline: Seven gunfighters are hired by Mexican peasants to liberate their village from oppressive bandits.

5. Night Passage with Audie Murphy and Jimmy Stewart.

Stewart and Murphy star in this classic noir-style western with Stewart having served as US Army Air Corps turned Air Force officer in World War II through the Vietnam War. As an Army soldier, Murphy earned every US military combat award for valor available for his service in World War II. He later served in the Texas National Guard and US Army reserves as an officer through the 1950s to late 1960s.

Logline: A fired railroad man (Stewart) is re-hired and trusted to carry a ten thousand dollar payroll in secret, even though he is suspected of being connected to outlaws (Murphy and Dan Duryea).

This article was originally published by We Are The Mighty. Read more by We Are The Mighty here

Read Next: John Wayne and ‘Sands of Iwo Jima’: 5 Things You Probably Didn’t Know

We Are The Mighty
We Are The Mighty

We Are The Mighty is a veteran-led digital publisher and Emmy-award-winning media agency servicing brands with video production, marketing, advertising, and consulting services to engage with the military community. In addition to our digital publisher, we also run the Military Influencer Conference, the largest in-person event servicing our military community. WATM is owned by Recurrent Ventures and is a GSA approved vendor.

More from Coffee or Die Magazine
BRCC Limited Edition Josh Raulerson Blackbeard Skull Shirt
From Naval Service to Creative Canvas: BRCC Veteran Artist Josh Raulerson

Coffee or Die sits down with one of the graphic designers behind Black Rifle Coffee's signature look and vibe.

Medal of Honor is held up.
Biden Will Award Medal of Honor to Army Helicopter Pilot Who Rescued Soldiers in Vietnam Firefight

Biden will award the Medal of Honor to a Vietnam War Army helicopter pilot who risked his life to save a reconnaissance team from almost certain death.

dear jack mandaville
Dear Jack: Which Historic Battle Would You Want To Witness?

Ever wonder how much Jack Mandaville would f*ck sh*t up if he went back in time? The American Revolution didn't even see him coming.

west point time capsule
West Point Time Capsule Yields Centuries-Old Coins

A nearly 200-year-old West Point time capsule that at first appeared to yield little more than dust contains hidden treasure, the US Military Academy said.

Ouija Board aircraft carrier
Low-Tech ‘Ouija Boards’ Have Helped Aircraft Carriers Operate for Decades

Since the 1920s, a low-tech tabletop replica of an aircraft carrier’s flight deck has been an essential tool in coordinating air operations.

Army vs. Navy mascot
The Navy Goat vs. the Army Mule: Mascot Origin Stories

For nearly as long as the Army-Navy football rivalry, the academies’ hoofed mascots have stared each other down from the sidelines. Here are their stories.

ukraine long-range weapon
Zelenskyy Says Ukraine Has Developed a Long-Range Weapon, a Day After Strike Deep Inside Russia

Zelenskyy said on his Telegram channel the weapon was produced by Ukraine’s Ministry of Strategic Industries but gave no other details.

  • About Us
  • Privacy Policy
  • Careers
Contact Us
Contact Us
© 2023 Coffee or Die Magazine. All Rights Reserved