The Greatest Silver Screen Outlaws

The best of the worst Western outlaws.
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Outlaw “Lucky” Ned Pepper, played by Robert Duvall in the original True Grit (1969)

Outlaw “Lucky” Ned Pepper, played by Robert Duvall in the original True Grit (1969)

1. Lonesome Dove’s Blue Duck, the leader of a ruthless band of criminals, is near evil incarnate. He steals women, shoots unarmed men, and kills children without remorse. In the TV miniseries (1989), actor Frederic Forrest plays the sociopathic bandit with a powerful edge—calculating and brutal. His reign of terror finally ends when he’s caught in New Mexico. Even in chains, he’s a dangerous murderer. When the eight-man posse arrives to take him to the gallows, Blue Duck grabs hold of a deputy and dives out the prison’s third-story window, killing them both.

2. Outlaw “Lucky” Ned Pepper, played by Robert Duvall in the original True Grit (1969), is known for delivering one of the best insults in Western cinema when he taunts John Wayne’s Rooster Cogburn with, “That’s bold talk for a one-eyed fat man!” in response to Cogburn’s threat of death by bullet or hanging. Cogburn’s rejoinder is equally notable: “Fill your hands, you son of a bitch!” he yells as he charges the Pepper’s gang with rifle and handgun blazing. Pepper gets Cogburn in a tight spot, but a long-range shot from Texas Ranger LaBoeuf puts the outlaw down—permanently.

3. Ben Wade—the notorious gang leader in 3:10 to Yuma (1957, 2007)—is a complicated character who is as charming and cultured as he is manipulative and deadly. While being escorted by rancher Dan Evans to the nearest depot to make the next train to Yuma Territorial Prison, Wade proves to be a killer, but not without his own moral code. In the final scene, the true complexity of his character is revealed: Wade has the opportunity to escape his captor and rejoin his gang, but he instead chooses to follow Evans to the waiting train, saving Evans’s life in the process. Ever the rogue, though, he says as the train speeds off to the calaboose, “It’s all right. I’ve broken out of Yuma before.”

4. After watching the murder of his wife and child at the hands of Union men, Missouri farmer Josey Wales, played perfectly by a steely-eyed Clint Eastwood in The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976), becomes a Confederate guerrilla fixated on avenging their deaths. While evading the bounty on his head and seeking out the men who ruined his life, he becomes part of the community of refugees and drifters in the unsettled post-war West.

5. The fictional Don Diego de la Vega, a Californio nobleman during the era of Mexican rule, has a secret identity: he moonlights as the dashing masked-outlaw-with-a-cause, Zorro. In the first Zorro movie, The Mark of Zorro (1920), Douglas Fairbanks plays the debonair bandit who defends the commoners against oppressive colonial rule. He simultaneously wins the love of his people and the heart of the beautiful Lolita Pulido.