20 Best Western Movies Made by Disney


The tales of the Wild West have long been a source of inspiration for cinema. Something about the untamed frontier, the vast open landscape, and the endless possibilities bring a promise of adventure and a spirit of exploration. The reality of life in the West was tougher, which is why the tales of the American frontier are so riveting.




It comes as no surprise that Hollywood has exploited the genre to no end. The West has provided filmmakers with the perfect backdrop for stories laced with action, drama, romance, and humor. Among those who have shaped our understanding and imagination of life in the Old West are the creative minds and brilliant actors at Disney.

Disney has found a way to take universal themes of the human experience and infuse them with enough heart, humor, and spectacle that the resulting Western movie can be enjoyed by younger and older audiences alike. Even as technology advanced, Disney was devoted to crafting takes of the wilderness with authenticity and maintaining the gritty arcs one would expect from the genre. Spanning decades, this list is a celebration of 20 of Disney’s finest contributions to the genre.



20 Treasure of Matecumbe (1976)

An exhilarating adventure Western film directed by Vincent McEveety, Treasure of Matecumbe takes you to the humble abode of young Davie Burnie, who lives with his aunts in post-Civil War Kentucky. When word arrives that Davie’s father has left him a map that leads to a buried treasure on the Florida isle of Matecumbe, he’s compelled to embark on a quest. His father’s enemy is hot on his hills and so is the threat of a hurricane, but Davie goes on.

An Imaginative Western

McEveety films Treasure of Matecumbe on location, bringing the gorgeous natural backdrops of Danville, Sacramento River, and Disney’s own Golden Oak Ranch in California to the screen with scenic correctness. It fires the imagination with stunning action sequences and just the right note of levity. Johnny Doran is brilliant as Davie because he adds emotion and humor to the whimsical and nostalgic saga. Overall, as critics say, the movie is made up of “includes murder, mystery and an exciting journey.” Stream on Disney+.


19 Tonka (1958)

Adapted from David Appel’s book Comanche: Story of America’s Most Heroic Horse, Tonka tells the tale of the Great Sioux War of 1876 and a wild colt who switches between owners but serves as an important element to the time. Tonka is a trained stallion captured by White Bull, a young Sioux. Despite promising to lend the horse to his abusive cousin, White Bull lets Tonka escape. A U.S. Cavalry captain named Keogh bound for the Battle of the Little Bighorn finds Tonka and rides him, and the horse emerges as the only survivor.


Authentic Coming-of-Age Story

Pairing a spirited horse with various riders as they face life and its hardships, Tonka is a heartwarming movie that tugs at your emotions. As a Western, it also salutes the spirit of the Wild West with breathtaking visuals and true-to-time details. Sal Mineo, Britt Lomond, and Philip Carey lend their rugged charm and bring to life characters that offer a deeper glimpse into the Indian nation. That said, Tonka is a beautiful coming-of-age story. Rent on Apple TV.

Related: The 10 Most Rewatchable Western Movies

18 Miracle of the White Stallions (1963)

Starring Robert Taylor, Lilli Palmer, and Eddie Albert, Miracle of the White Stallions tells a tale of human resilience and freedom. Set in Vienna during World War II, the movie takes place in the Spanish Riding School, where purebred white show horses that hold much importance in history stay in sanctuary. But as Europe begins to crumble under the effects of war, Austrian Col. Alois Podhajsky tries to rescue his beloved Lipizzaner horses.


A Real-Life Tale About Courage

Not only does Miracle of the White Stallions feature the graceful stallions in all their glory, but it also celebrates them as a Viennese symbol with great amount of beauty and thrills. Taylor and Palmer give nuanced performances as protectors who face danger, obstacles, and harsh winter, and risk everything to save the magnificent Lipizzaner horses. The epic vistas paired with the struggles faced by the horses are portrayed realistically and with rousing impact.

17 Westward Ho, the Wagons! (1956)


Directed by William Beaudine, this Disney western is based on Mary Jane Carr’s novel Children of the Covered Wagon. Set in 1846, it follows an experienced James Stephen, who is familiar with the Oregon Trail and now seeks to lead a group of adventure seeking families on their travels. Facing occasional raids from hostile Pawnees, they somehow make it to Fort Laramie, where John Grayson rises as the real leader.

Proves That Kids Can Conquer Anything

Westward Ho, the Wagons! captures the spirit of pioneering kids. Fess Parker, George Reeves, and Kathleen Crowley lend their immeasurable talents and open the frontier to the imagination of the viewers. Their lively and humor-laced performances do little to ease the tension, but it remains forever inspiring. As a Disney live-action film, Westward Ho, the Wagons! tries to shine the spotlight on kids, and fair enough, because they end up playing an important part. Rent on Apple TV.

16 John Carter (2012)


Blending elements of science fiction and action into a classic Western adventure, John Carter follows the titular character, a former American Civil War Confederate Army captain who finds himself mysteriously transported to a dying planet called Barsoom. Known to Carter as Mars, the planet is currently experiencing a bloody power struggle for dominance. The war veteran, who discovers he has supernatural abilities, not only gets caught in the misfire but also becomes responsible for ensuring peace.

Epic Cross-Planet Action Adventure

John Carter is based on a series of books written by Edgar Rice Burroughs, who had a thrilling vision for the planet of Barsoom. While the movie does absolute justice in bringing the frontier, the battles, and the arenas to life on a global scale, praise goes to Taylor Kitsch’s leading, who is as charming as he is cheesy. Under Andrew Stanton’s direction, the movie delivers non-stop entertainment and spectacular thrills. Stream on Disney+.


15 The Light in the Forest (1958)

Another phenomenal Walt Disney Productions western drama, The Light in the Forest takes place during the French and Indian War, when a young white boy finds himself in the land of Native Americans. They name him Trueson, and he grows up to be a dedicated teenager, but following a peace treaty, he is forced to return to the 18th-century civilization of his own people. For someone who has only ever known home as rural Pennsylvania, John grapples with his identity and learns more about culture and conflict.


Simple and Outdoorsy

In classic Disney fashion, The Light in the Forest is a movie that is “wholesome, in a nice, simple, outdoor way, and the scenery is pretty in color,” which is enough to entertain both children and adults. Sensitively handling its themes of identity and belonging, the narrative is anchored by performances from James MacArthur and Fess Parker. Filmed on location, the movie transports us to the frontier and proves how the Western genre is the perfect vehicle for understanding social and cultural divides.

14 Johnny Tremain (1957)

Clocking at an hour and 20 minutes is Robert Stevenson’s low-budget Western drama. The movie is based on Esther Forbes’ acclaimed novel of the same name, and it follows the apprentice silversmith undergoing a tragic accident and losing his hand. Struggling with his disability, Johnny finds purpose as an aide for the Sons of Liberty, who task him with delivering secret messages. The job requires Johnny to use his intellect instead of skills, and soon, he becomes integral to the American Revolution.


A Historical Masterpiece

Taking place in 18th-century Boston, Johnny Tremain tells the story of one man’s courage and how he changed the course of history. It captures the heart and spirit of independence through the eyes of a determined hero, who is played by Hal Stalmaster. Luana Patten, Jeff York, and Sebastian Cabot. The period-accurate detail brings a pivotal time in history to rich life. But most importantly, the historical masterpiece proves that when duty calls, even the most ordinary souls can become extraordinary. Rent on Apple TV.

Related: 9 Western Movies With 100% on Rotten Tomatoes

13 Savage Sam (1963)


Following the success of Robert Stevenson’s Old Yeller, Disney went on to make another delightful and silly live-action film as a sequel. Centered around Old Yeller’s son, Savage Sam, the movie follows 18-year-old Travis Coates and his 12-year-old brother, Arliss, left in charge of their family farm and ailing grandmother. Savage Sam is a constant tracking companion to Arliss. But when a scheming tribe of Apaches manage to hold the boys and the neighbor’s daughter captive, it is up to Savage Sam to rescue them.

A Side-Splitting Sequel to a Disney Classic

The sequel charmed all the audiences with its hilarious and touching animal antics. Tommy Kirk and Kevin Corcoran brought an endearing spirit as the young Coates living large in their parents’ absence. Under the direction of Norman Tokar, the beautiful and panoramic visuals of the 1870s prairies are dazzling. Moreover, the poignant message that friendship often comes in the form of a furry companion, resonates loudly. Rent on Apple TV.


12 The Castaway Cowboy (1974)

The Castaway Cowboy is pretty much what the title suggests. Directed by Vincent McEveety, the movie centers around a Texas cowboy named Lincoln Costain, who is “shanghaied” in San Francisco. Washing ashore on a remote Hawaiian island and struggling to survive alone, he befriends a widow, Henrietta MacAvoy, and her son. He helps the duo build a cattle ranch and make a living, but outside forces threaten their prosperity.

Captures the Splendor of the Wild West

Taking the idea of colonial encroachment and its effect on ordinary people and giving it a thoughtful Disney twist, The Castaway Cowboy envisions itself as a fish-out-of-water comedy. It envelops the Wild West’s natural splendor and finds solace within its iconic cinematography.


James Garner delivers a complex hero learning what it means to live in adversity, while Vera Miles plays the widow with subtle grit. Robert Culp brings the villainous banker to life. Overall, the movie succeeds because it does not try to be unnecessarily provocative, just promising and poignant. Stream on Disney+.

11 Return to Snowy River (1988)

A sequel to the 1982 Australian drama film of the same name, Return to Snowy River (also known as The Man from Snowy River II) is a family Western that follows Jim Craig, who comes of age on his family’s rugged frontier homestead and shows as much bravery and courage as the mustangs in the film. Years after a dangerous ride, he returns home to spend time with his girl, Jessica Harrison. However, when Craig learns that Alistair Patton, the son of a banker, is trying to woo her, they get into a duel.


A Western with a Swelling Score

The romantic Western swept audiences away with its extraordinary narrative. Set against the backdrop of majestic Australian vistas, it was also a box office success. Some aspects of the movie that make it brilliant are breathtaking visuals, skilled portrayal of horsemanship, and a richly-written love story. Return to Snowy River also won the APRA Award for Best Original Music Score, the credit of which goes to Bruce Rowland. Rent on Apple TV.

10 Hot Lead and Cold Feet (1978)


Produced originally under the title, Welcome to Bloodshy, this hilarious Western comedy is truly one of a kind. It stars Jim Dale in a double role, where he plays twin brothers Eli and Wild Billy Bloodshy. Sons of a wealthy businessman named Jasper Bloodshy, the brothers are soon pitted against one another when he dies and matters of inheritance erupt uproariously. What follows is a madcap adventure as they race for the frontier fortune.

Delivers Candid and Slapstick Humor

Hot Lead and Cold Feet delivers silly slapstick fun. So if you are ever in the mood to just surrender yourself to a Disney romp, this is the movie. Dale anchors the narrative perfectly as the hopeless brothers with a heart of gold and youthful spirit. Don Knotts plays the sheriff and Jack Elam stars as a notorious former outlaw, providing plenty of laughter. Overall, with plenty of humor and incredible performances, Hot Lead and Cold Feet is an entertaining Western. Rent on Apple TV.

9 The Sign of Zorro (1958)


Transporting you to early 1880s Spanish California, this action-infused Western is edited from Disney’s highly acclaimed eight-episode series. It follows Don Diego, a playboy by day, who returns to his hometown in Los Angeles to learn that the town has fallen under the tyrannical rule of a new Commandant named Capitán Monastario. Determined to fight him, Don takes the identity of a fearless masked vigilante known only as Zorro, and uses his clever tricks and lightning-fast blade, eventually ending his rule.

A Masked Vigilante’s Epic Adventure

The Sign of Zorro takes you to a riveting world of secret identities and forbidden romance. Guy Williams exudes the kind of charm that only a caped crusader would possess. And his skill with fencing is truly breathtaking. Under the masterful direction of Norman Foster and Lewis R. Foster, the movie recreates colonial missions and the fight against it. Also very funny and memorable in places, the movie proves that Westerns are a stage for championing wits and heart. Stream on Disney+.


Related: 15 Western Movies That Flawlessly Combine Genres

8 Scandalous John (1971)

Directed by Robert Butler, Scandalous John centers around 79-year-old John McCanless, a crotchety and aging rancher with a wild imagination. Leading himself to believe that he is the legendary Don Quixote, John embarks on several misadventures where he battles thieves and cutthroats. During one fateful confrontation, he even makes an enemy out of an industrialist. All this while, he is accompanied by his faithful Mexican squire named Paco.


A Rare and Whimsical Western

Rarely do we see absurdism in a genre ripe with violence and grit. And yet, Scandalous John subverts genre conventions by taking a plucky underdog and seeing him overcome the most ridiculous odds. Brian Keith and Alfonso Arau bring boundless charm to their characters and prove that courage has no size, age, language, or limitations. Also worth praising is how the movie captures the untamed frontier to soften the blow of its bittersweet ending. Rent on Apple TV.

7 The Lone Ranger (2013)

The Lone Ranger is a modern reboot of a beloved television series. In it, we see a Native American warrior named Tonto recounting his adventures of the 1860s, when John Reid, a lawyer, was working with his brother to capture an outlaw, Butch Cavendish. However, Cavendish was cunning, and he ambushed the two, killed his other pursuers, and left John for dead. Tonto found John wounded and battered and saved his life. Taking on a masked identity, the duo became a legendary team that eventually took down Cavendish.


Revitalizes a Beloved Character

Starring Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer, The Lone Ranger provided a much-needed silver screen escapism for audiences worldwide. Depp dazzled as the gritty and nuanced Tonto to match Hammer’s noble Ranger. The action scenes were truly visceral and breathless, with the profoundly glorious cinematography adding to the narrative’s beauty. A benchmark in Disney’s library of Westerns, the movie succeeds in reimagining a timeless tale. Stream on Disney+.

6 The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again (1979)


A short-running Western comedy, The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again is the sequel to the iconic 1975 movie. We follow the bumbling duo of bandits Amos and Theodore as they end up getting embroiled in a crime they did not commit. Desperate to clear their name and help find the real culprits, the big-hearted misfits stumble upon a military base, where Capt. Phillips is chasing a lead. All this time, they have a Marshal following them.

Heartwarming Sequel with New Hijinks

As the old saying goes, there is always a huge pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, this ambitious sequel delivers laughs-a-plenty throughout only to reveal the lasting message that compassion and loyalty win against all.

While Don Knotts and Tim Conway reprise their roles as the outlaws, the movie recaptures the funny charm of the original in a way that feels familiar and fresh at the same time. Additionally, it delivers new hijinks and hilarious mix-ups. Stream on Disney+.

5 The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin (1967)


Promising more than just a swashbuckling adventure, this Western comedy fashions a simple yet delightful narrative. After 14-year-old Jack Flagg is orphaned, he seeks a short way to becoming rich. He hitchhikes on a ship traveling from Boston to San Francisco during the California Gold Rush with the titular protective butler, a cunning Judge Griffins, and an author. From clever disguises to prizefighting matches, Bullwhip does everything in his power to protect Jack and bring him home.

Cements the Genre’s Legacy

With The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin, director James Neilson stages the greatest and most hilarious spectacle the frontier has ever seen.

Roddy McDowall unleashes limitless gags through his unmatched performance, while Bryan Russell, Karl Malden, and Richard Haydn steal scenes with their distinguished spark. Apart from the colorful visuals and grand depiction of life, the movie also generates humor with its surprising escapades. Stream on Disney+.


4 The Great Locomotive Chase (1956)

Based on the 1862 Great Locomotive Chase that took place during the American Civil War, this adventure Western follows Union spy James J. Andrews who is tasked with sabotaging the ‘The General,’ which is a Confederate train for the war effort. Along with other spies and volunteers, he tries to seize control of the engine, destroying the supply channels and railway lines on their way back to Union territory in Tennessee. What ensues is a real-life cross-country battle of wits.


Based on an Unforgettable True Story

Drawing inspiration from an event that changed the entire Civil War’s trajectory and still keeping it enthralling and witty is no easy feat. But under Francis D. Lyon’s careful and meticulous direction, The Great Locomotive Chase successfully transports the audiences to the pivotal era. Jeffrey Hunter and Fess Parker engage in a brilliant and epic game of cat and mouse as spy and conductor.

While highlighting history, the movie also shines a light on the fact that some tales of humanity shape history and touch the soul. Rent on Apple TV.

Related: Best Western Movie of Each Decade

3 The Apple Dumpling Gang (1975)


A Western made particularly for kids, The Apple Dumpling Gang is set in 1879 against the backdrop of the Wild West. In the movie, Bill Bixby plays Russell Donovan, an old gambler who surprisingly becomes responsible for taking care of three adorable orphans as well as the large fortune they inherited from their father. However, as his greed grows, the kids seek help from the lovable outlaw duo of Amos and Theodore, setting in motion a series of well-meaning disasters.

Beloved Disney Family Comedy

Adapted from the 1971 novel of the same name by Jack M. Bickham, who was inspired to name his work by his favorite dessert treat, The Apple Dumpling Gang is a fine example of nonsensical plots delivering heartfelt laughs.

It is directed by Norman Tokar and stars Don Knotts and Tim Conway as the bumbling outlaws. Most memorably, it portrays family as something bound by spirit, not blood. Critics call it “a pleasant and funny Disney family comedy.” Stream on Disney+.

2 Old Yeller (1957)

Old Yeller

Release Date
December 25, 1957

Director
Robert Stevenson

Cast
Dorothy McGuire , Fess Parker , Jeff York , Chuck Connors , Beverly Washburn , Tommy Kirk

Runtime
83


Genuinely moving and climactic, Old Yeller takes you to the heart of post-Civil War Texas, where the Coates family finds themselves bidding a bittersweet goodbye to patriarch Jim as he wishes to tend to cattle in Kansas. Left behind, the boys Travis and Arliss, experience love and loss when a stray dog, Old Yeller, enters their lives. Even though Travis is reluctant at first, he eases into the idea of adopting Old Yeller after he saves Arliss’ life. The dog, too, quickly proves his worth by protecting the family.

Tear-Jerking Story of Love and Loyalty

Despite starting off on an unassuming note, the narrative of Old Yeller crescendos to an emotional climax that leaves lingering lessons about bravery, devotion, and the cruel life on the frontier. The movie, thus, is not only a testament to the American West’s enduring spirit, but also a coming-of-age story of a boy facing unimaginable perils.


The direction is majestic; it captures the raw beauty of the landscape. And stars like Fess Parker, Tommy Kirk, and Spike, who plays Old Yeller, add emotion to the core of this heartbreaking film. Stream on Disney+.

1 Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier (1955)

A frequent collaborator with Walt Disney Productions during the 1950s, Fess Parker stars in Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier as the titular fighter and eventual congressman. The movie is a tapestry of adventure and folklore. It documents the exploits of the legendary Davy Crockett – beginning from his unforgettable role in the Creek Indian Wars, moving on to his service in Congress, and ending at his final heroic stand at the Alamo.


Chronicles an American Legend in Grand Fashion

This Disney classic earns the top spot on the list because of its commitment to storytelling and a standout ability to immortalize Crockett. Portrayed as an edited compilation of the beloved television miniseries, it depicts the Western frontier with jarring authenticity while also blending historical events into the mix.

The movie’s reception sparked a nationwide craze for the genre, which was fitting because the 1950s saw an excellent turn of events in Western cinema. Stream on Disney+.



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