Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Western Movie Gunfights

Perhaps the biggest embellishment that Western movies and television shows make in regards to historical fact is the gunfight because in reality, they were few and far between. But it did not begin with Hollywood. This kind of rewriting history first began with the dime novels of the era and even newspapers would enhance the few events that actually did occur.

The gunfight at the OK Corral has been reenacted in countless movies over the years in many different ways. Historians still debate about what exactly took place that day and what actually happened will probably never be known.

Regardless, a gunfight has pretty much come to define each Western movie and there have been a lot of them over the years. There's certainly quite a few to chose from and it's difficult to narrow it down, much less put them in any particular order.

Among my favorites are the meadow scene in John Wayne's TRUE GRIT and I'm partial to JOSEY WALES, but I think that the scene at the end of OPEN RANGE has to be among the very best.

What do you consider the best Western movie gunfight?

Matthew Pizzolato's short stories have been published online and in print. He is a member of Western Fictioneers and his work can be found in the Wolf Creek series as well as his own publications, THE WANTED MAN, OUTLAW and TWO OF A KIND. 

He is the Editor-in-Chief of The Western Online, a magazine dedicated to everything Western. He can be contacted through Twitter @mattpizzolato or via his website: 


  1. Matthew,

    There seem to be not so many recorded gun fights. But I am willing to bet in real life in the Wild WEST there were an awful lot of ambushes and killings. All those Civil War Veterans traveling west certainly knew how to use a weapon and money and possessions were scarce.

    JOSEY WALES I first saw near the University of Michigan in 1975. I wasn't sure I was going to graduate from Grad School and I was running out of steam. I saw that movie and it reinvigorated me. And, I did graduate.

    Thanks for this article.

  2. Matthew,

    I won't go so far as to claim it's the *best* movie gunfight scene, but it's certainly my favorite: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

    Tom Doniphan's *shot in the dark* had such far-reaching consequences.

  3. "Open Range" was a good one, but I also agree with Kaye, "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" is a great story. Doris

  4. Oh yes, I agree. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance--the one gunshot that changed so much. Great article, Matt! My dad always loved the one at the end of True Grit..."Fill your hand you son of a bitch!" LOL

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  6. I have to agree with you about the gunfight at the end of Open Range being one of the best, and the confusion and disorder to the entire conflict was probably a little more realistic than the standard Hollywood version where two combatants square off. I'm also fond of the latest True Grit, especially Cogburn's on-the-witness-stand re-telling of bringing in a family of robbers. .

  7. I'll have to watch Open Range again--it's one of my favorites. I have to say there's nothing quite like watching Rooster Cogburn hold the reins in his teeth and charge straight at 'em, both barrels a'blazin'.

  8. The meadow scene in True Grit is my favourite.