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Best 11 Cowboy Characters in Film & TV History (2023)

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Many people are fascinated by the enchanting allure of America’s Wild West. Picture a time when cowboys on horseback roamed freely, living by their own unique principles. It was an era of uncharted territories and conflicts resolved through thrilling showdowns. It’s no wonder that Westerns have captivated audiences with their unforgettable characters. Let’s dive into the world of cowboys and explore some of the most remarkable figures ever brought to life on the silver and small screens.

One legendary cowboy is The Lone Ranger, accompanied by his faithful companion Tonto. These two uphold their own code of honor and tirelessly champion the cause of the underprivileged. Zorro also falls into this category, along with the enigmatic William Munny, especially in his later years. These cowboy icons often share the intriguing trait of being independent loners who fight for justice, sometimes bending the rules along the way. So tell me, which cowboy character from movies and TV shows captures your heart?

Now, let your imagination transport you to the Wild West, where you find yourself in a town overrun by miscreants and mischief-makers. If you had to choose one of these cowboys to protect your community, who would make you feel the safest? Instead of simply casting a vote, picture yourself as a daring cowboy, grabbing your trusty lasso and rallying behind the heroes you believe have what it takes to keep those ruffians at bay.

(Note: The text does not mention the “most divisive” section as requested.)

1. Doc Holliday

Doc Holliday
Val Kilmer’s performance as Doc Holliday in Tombstone is truly legendary. It has solidified the character as a fan favorite in the history of western films. This fearless gambler, armed with a sharp mind and deadly accuracy, became famous for his unwavering loyalty to his longtime friend, Wyatt Earp. Together, they took part in the iconic Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Holliday’s character is a captivating blend of charm, intellect, and fierceness. His complex nature and poignant story have undoubtedly made a lasting impact on the western genre.

Played By: Val Kilmer

2. Man with No Name

Man with No Name
Clint Eastwood’s portrayal of the Man with No Name in Sergio Leone’s Dollars Trilogy is simply awe-inspiring. This character is the epitome of a mysterious and captivating cowboy. He effortlessly navigates through the dry and barren landscape, captivating audiences with his ruthless tactics and unwavering resolve. The image of him flicking ashes from his cigar has become synonymous with the Spaghetti Western genre and an iconic symbol of the Old West.

Played By: Clint Eastwood
Movies: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, A Fistful of Dollars

3. Josey Wales

Josey Wales
Outlaw Josey Wales is an iconic Clint Eastwood character who’s hard to forget. He’s a classic cowboy fueled by revenge and haunted by tragedy. When Union soldiers brutally kill his family, this peaceful farmer turns into a ruthless and strategic murderer. He embarks on a mission through the lawless Wild West, determined to find justice. Despite his tough exterior, Josey Wales is adored by many because of his unwavering moral code and unbreakable loyalty to the people he meets along the way.

Played By: Clint Eastwood
The Outlaw Josey Wales

4. Wyatt Earp

Wyatt Earp
Wyatt Earp is a true legend of the American West. You’ve probably seen him portrayed in movies and TV shows by big-name actors like Kevin Costner and Kurt Russell. As a brave lawman in Dodge City and Tombstone, Earp represents the epitome of frontier justice. He fearlessly confronted outlaws, never backing down from a fight. The famous shootout at the O.K. Corral is what really made Earp a cowboy hero. He embodied the spirit of justice in a lawless land, leaving a lasting mark on the history of the Wild West.

Played By: Kurt Russell

5. Rooster Cogburn

Rooster Cogburn
Portrayed by John Wayne and later Jeff Bridges, Rooster Cogburn is a tough U.S. Marshal who loves whiskey and takes his duty seriously. With his rugged looks and straightforward attitude towards justice, Cogburn’s character strikes a chord with fans of westerns because he never gives up on bettering himself while striving for the greater good. This one-eyed lawman leaves a lasting impression that goes beyond time and generations.

Played By: John Wayne, Jeff Bridges
Movie: True Grit

6. William Munny

William Munny
Unforgiven’s main character, William Munny, is brilliantly portrayed by Clint Eastwood. He’s a retired gunslinger burdened by a troubling history, desperately seeking redemption. Despite his tough exterior, Munny reveals a surprising vulnerability that adds depth and makes him an unforgettable character. Through his internal battle, grappling with a savage and bloody world, Munny has become an iconic figure in the realm of western movies.

Played By: Clint Eastwood

7. Man in Black

Man in Black
The Man in Black, played by Ed Harris in Westworld, is a mysterious character on a relentless mission for power and knowledge. At first glance, he may seem like your typical bad guy, but his intricate motivations and troubled mind make him an intriguing presence in a genre that loves moral gray areas. He embodies the darker aspects of the Old West, delving into the depths of human wickedness.

Played By: Ed Harris, Jimmi Simpson, Zayd Kiszonak

8. Butch Cassidy

Butch Cassidy
The charismatic leader of the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang, Butch Cassidy, portrayed by Paul Newman in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, is a true legend in the American West. Teaming up with his faithful partner, the Sundance Kid, Cassidy fearlessly plunges into a world of train heists and relentless pursuits by law enforcement. His cleverness and boldness often make us cheer for these renegades. Cassidy is renowned for embodying a unique blend of lawlessness and heroism, captivating audiences and reshaping our perception of the cowboy archetype.

Played By: Paul Newman
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

9. The Sundance Kid

The Sundance Kid
Harry Longabaugh, also known as the Sundance Kid, is quite the infamous outlaw. You might recognize him as the character played by Robert Redford in the classic flick, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. This guy has got some serious talent when it comes to shooting and a sharp eye to boot.

But what really sets him apart is the incredible bond he shares with his partner in crime, Butch Cassidy. These two outlaws have become legendary in the world of western films. They’re like the dynamic duo of the Wild West, leaving a lasting impression on audiences everywhere.

What makes the Sundance Kid such a lovable character in this gritty genre is his charm, skill, and wicked sense of humor. It’s hard not to root for this guy when he’s cracking jokes and showing off his quick draw. He’s got that special something that captivates viewers and makes them want to see more.

Played By: Robert Redford
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

10. Tom Doniphon

Tom Doniphon
In “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” John Wayne’s character, Tom Doniphon, is a classic representation of the strong and silent cowboy archetype. He doesn’t seek fame or acknowledgment; instead, he prioritizes upholding justice. Doniphon is a rugged rancher with a kind heart, perfectly embodying the essence of the heroic figures from the Old West. He values honor and duty above all else, and it is his selfless deeds and quiet fortitude that eternally commemorate him as a symbol of the cowboy spirit.

Played By: John Wayne
Movie: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

11. Marshal Matt Dillon

Marshal Matt Dillon
Marshal Matt Dillon, played by James Arness, is widely recognized as the unwavering lawman on the hit show Gunsmoke. For two decades, Dillon’s commitment to enforcing justice, even in the midst of personal challenges, has made him a beloved character among fans. With a heart as vast as the Kansas sky, Marshal Dillon serves as a lasting symbol of the indomitable spirit and resilience of the Wild West’s heroes.

Played By: James Arness
Gunsmoke, Gunsmoke: Return to Dodge, Gunsmoke: The Last Apache

Michael Bennett
Michael Bennett
With over 5 years of experience, Michael Bennett is an experienced entertainment blogger recognized for straightforward reviews. His research expertise and thoughtfully crafted blog posts make him a source for readers seeking movie and tv show recommendations.


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