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They’re No John Waynes, That’s for Sure – The Top Ten Least Convincing Cowboys

Authenticity is the name of the game in the Western. When you’re staring into the other gunslinger’s cold dead eyes at high noon, you want to project an attitude of steely resolve, and a devil-may-care willingness to die. Obviously, not every actor has what it takes. While some can easily fill those boots, some actors just aren’t very convincing as cowboys. Here are some of the worst offenders.

10. Leonardo DiCaprio in The Quick and the Dead (1995)
Anyone who saw Leo in This Boy’s Life
knew that he was a gifted performer. Yet — and this is weird to say
— even in his best roles, he’s still frequently miscast. Howard Hughes
in The Aviator? A Southie in The Departed? Irish hoodlum in Gangs of New York? DiCaprio’s genius is that he’s able to inhabit all those disparate roles. But even if he hits the target as a cocky gunfighter in The Quick and the Dead, he’s still way off the mark.

9. Alan Rickman in Quigley Down Under (1990)

OK, Rickman’s supposed to
be an inept cowboy here, but he’s so good at it he deserves to squeak
onto the list in ninth place. Here he plays a sadistic Australian
rancher who idolizes the West, so, naturally he enlists an epitome of
American masculinity to teach him the cowboy ways: Tom Selleck. Ah, but
Rickman makes a poor comparison to the mustached one! Rickman is
wonderfully hapless in the role, and part the incongruity comes from
seeing Die Hard’s Hans in spurs, on horseback. 

8. Kevin Costner in Dances With Wolves (1990)
Costner couldn’t figure out how to keep a consistent English accent in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves,
it’s not surprising that his accent is the least authentic part of this
three-hour epic. Yes, the movie’s good. But Costner doesn’t seem
like he could last a day out in the frontier — let alone the few
months Lt. John Dunbar is supposed to have spent out there. More
likely, he’d be just a set of wolf-gnawed jawbones sitting alongside
those two shiny Oscar statuettes.

7. Will Smith in Wild, Wild West (1999)
Will Smith plays Will Smith, as played by Will Smith in Men in Black.
This movie has bigger problems than the usually-charismatic actor’s
performance — clunky screenplay, overzealous direction, a giant
mechanical spider — but the actor is certainly of them. Smith doesn’t make
any sense in the role as a crack federal agent. If Bel Air was a
culture shock for the Fresh Prince, he seems even more of a fish out of
water in the frontier. He would have landed higher on the list if not

6. Alain Delon in Red Sun (1971)
Delon has a certain je ne sais quoi as an anti-hero in icy French crime films such as Le Cercle Rouge. Soleil Rouge (the
Western’s French title), less so. Am I simply prejudiced against a
French actor playing the role? But the movie does have fun with the
oddness — making Delon a gunslinger fashion-snob who insists on having his
handkerchief tied just so around his neck.

5. Mario Van Peebles in Posse (1993)
it was burden of both of both acting and directing. But, heck, even
rappers Tone Loc and Big Daddy Kane seem more convincing than our
fifth-place actor Van Peebles! As outlaw Jesse Lee, he affects a grizzled
anti-hero in the Eastwoodian vein — and he’s got the stare, but
there’s nothing behind it. Maybe it’s a lack of experience? Remember,
Eastwood had a couple hundred episodes of Rawhide under his belt before he became the Man With No Name.

4. Drew Barrymore in Bad Girls (1994)
Drew Barrymore in Boys on the Side, I get. Ditto a foxy crimefighter in Charlie’s Angels.
But Drew Barrymore a woman on the frontier? Not so much. One can’t help
but burst out laughing when she says, with utterly no conviction, “I
don’t let my friends get hung.” And sitting around a campfire, roasting
a rabbit… please! It’s best to keep her corralled in romantic
comedies; hopefully this fourth-place ranking will help keep things in
their place.

3. James Cagney in The Oklahoma Kid (1939)
seems more at home flipping a quarter on a street corner than saving
the day in this, his first Western. The irony is that Cagney actually was an
accomplished horse rider and Western enthusiast! He was anxious to sink
his teeth into the part, but that didn’t stop fellow gangster actor
Humphrey Bogart from poking fun at his ten-gallon hat. Of course, he
wasn’t quite as bad as…

2. Christopher Walken in Heaven’s Gate (1980)
general, Walken’s great. But something doesn’t sit right with him in
Western garb. On the other hand, there’s a lot of things about Walken
don’t add up. For instance, his off-kilter delivery doesn’t necessary
suggest someone
ready to break out into dance. Yet (believe it!) Walken is a
professionally trained dancer capable of flexing his
form at will, as ably demonstrated in Pennies From Heaven and the music video for Fatboy Slim’s “Weapon of Choice.” You’ll watch that instead of Heaven’s Gate if you have any sense.

1. Marlon Brando in Missouri Breaks (1976)
Are you kidding? Brando would have broken the horse’s back! In Missouri Breaks,
the portly actor seems to have stumbled onto a Western set, where he
amuses himself (and annoys co-star Jack Nicholson) by throwing a wrench
into the works. Part of the movie’s oddball charm is that Brando is
woefully miscast and throughout the movie — dressing like an old lady,
speaking in a Scottish brogue — he demonstrates exactly why.


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