What is a Western? We all know the obvious ones, from Siergo Leone's Dollars Trilogy and Clint Eastwod's Unforgiven, but what actually constitutes a Western? Well, for one thing, they're usually set in the mid-to-late 19th century and focus on a number of key themes: there's a lone, nomadic gunslinger with a hidden past; a violent bad guy with whom the protagonist shares a history; a lawman or two intent on catching said bad guy (and maybe even the protagonist); and a murder or an ill-fated duel.
These are the things you picture - the films made famous in the fifties, sixties and seventies made by John Wayne, John Ford and Eastwood. But Westerns aren't bound solely to this format. Some take the themes, shake 'em up slightly, and plonk the action somewhere wholly unexpected, like a different country, an entirely different planet or, more commonly, a different era.
The films on this list are all Westerns. Many incorporate a wide range of genres and themes, but all carry the fundamentals of the Western genre, be it the characters, the plot, the setting, even the clothes. So strap in and hold on tight as we take a ride across the frontier of the very best non-Western Westerns.
Spoilers follow for each entry.
10. 7 Women
When talking about Westerns, John Ford is bound to come up. He gave us Stagecoach, The Searchers and The Man who Shot Liberty Valance, but one of his most overlooked and impressive pictures is that of 1966's 7 Women. The film was the last the great director ever completed before he passed away, and in it he managed to incorporate all we know and love about the Western genre and turn it on its head.
Set in 1935, the film follows a doctor (Anne Bancroft) as she ventures to a mission in the remote rural plains of China. Hoping to help the women stationed there, who have been abandoned by the authorities, Bancroft comes face to face with prejudice, politics, violence and death, and must aid the mission as it comes under attack from a Mongolian bandit clan.
It's a Western away from America, and yet the whole thing sort of fits. Populating the proceedings with a predominately female cast in a genre which typically sees men take the lead, Ford packed into the film a wide range of social commentary - including discussions into religious intolerance - and some truly compelling performances.
It's got gunfights, it's got the outcast, and it's got the feel of a small film subtly looking at the big picture; the ways of society, the roles of women, and the changing landscape of a country still growing. And it's one hell of a footnote in an illustrious, unforgettable career.