Westerns might not be among the most popular movies today, but quotes from the genre’s best films continue to resonate in pop culture. Whether it’s from one of the classic and most influential Westerns of the distant past or a modern work of revisionist cinema or parody, these movies have given the world many iconic lines of dialogue. Some of these lines might not even be realized as originating from a Western.
Plenty of the best Western movie quotes come from the best John Wayne movies while a couple of quotes each represent two major Clint Eastwood films. Eastwood’s The Outlaw Josey Wales, in particular, is such a quotable movie that a list of the greatest dialogue in Westerns could be at least half-filled with its brilliant one-liners. Of course, there needs to be variety on any list, and also, there are a lot of great Westerns that don’t star John Wayne or Clint Eastwood worthy of such a spotlight.
30 “We Deal In Lead, Friend” (The Magnificent Seven)
In this 1960 Western remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, the titular group has assembled and finally come into contact with the villainous Calvera (Eli Wallach) and his bandits. He asks the seven hired heroes for other solutions to his need to feed his men during the winter. Yul Brynner’s Chris tells him they aren’t in the business of solving problems, to which Steve McQueen’s Vin adds that they “deal in lead,” meaning they can do their job to fill him with bullets, rather than helpful tips, or he can leave.
29 “Deliver My Soul From The Sword. My Darling From The Power Of The Dog.” (The Power Of The Dog)
One of the few Western movies nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars, The Power of the Dog is an adaptation of Thomas Savage’s novel of the same name. The film and the book both end with this same line. While it’s a quotation from the Bible, the meaning of the psalm for The Power of the Dog‘s title and its use of the verse goes further, summing up the story at hand and referring to its characters in the end.
28 “I Won’t Be Wronged, I Won’t Be Insulted, And I Won’t Be Laid A Hand On. I Don’t Do These Things To Other People, And I Require The Same From Them.” (The Shootist)
In John Wayne’s final film, The Shooter, he plays aging sheriff-turned-gunfighter J.B. Brooks. With this line, he gives his version of the golden rule. He won’t do these things unto others as he expects them not to do unto him.
27 “The Only Time Black Folks Are Safe Is When White Folks Is Disarmed.” (The Hateful Eight)
As period-set films specifically focused on a certain era and a certain place, Westerns don’t always speak to the time in which they’re made. Even Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight lacks a lot of particularly contemporary themes. However, this line said by Samuel L. Jackson’s Major Marquis Warren stood out in the 2015 Western as being politically relevant in the midst of the Black Lives Matter movement and protests around the U.S. at that time. It may not have been intended to be so charged, though. Tarantino surely meant for it to be a timeless statement.
26 “I Haven’t Lost My Temper In 40 Years, But Pilgrim, You Caused A Lot Of Trouble This Morning, Might Have Got Somebody Killed” (McLintock!)
John Wayne is famous for calling people “pilgrim,” as any impersonation of the actor is incomplete without that term. Yet he only says the word in two movies, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, where he uses it a number of times, and McLintock!, which came out a year later, where he only says it one time, in this quote. Wayne’s title character says the line after he’s had enough of trying to be calm and respectful. His follow-up of “the hell I won’t!” when he changes his mind about not being violent with this “pilgrim” is also a great line.
25 “Time Just Gets Away From Us.” (True Grit 2010)
This perfect final line in the Coen brothers’ remake of True Grit comes from the original novel by Charles Portis, and it was absent from the 1969 film version. Using a framing device where a character reflects on the main story, set in the Old West of the 1880s, from the 20th century is more fitting with later Westerns, though. But the reason it works so well to close out this movie is Elizabeth Marvel’s line-reading in the narration as the older Maddie.
24 “One Hell Of A Time To Tell Me” (Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid)
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is not like most Westerns. It’s lighter, has an odd-fitting song in the middle of it, and one of its real-life main characters is an outlaw who has never shot anyone before. Butch tells Sundance that fact near the end of the film just before they run out into a substantial gunfight. Sundance can’t help but let out a flabbergasted quip.
23 “When You Have To Shoot, Shoot, Don’t Talk” (The Good, The Bad And The Ugly)
So many movie villains would do well to heed this advice from Eli Wallach’s Tuco, which is one of the best quotes from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. At one point during Sergio Leone’s classic Spaghetti Western, the character is in the bath when a foe approaches and explains what he’s doing there and how he’s finally going to kill Tuco. But while the would-be killer is still blabbing, Tuco fires his gun from beneath his bubbles and finishes the guy off with a one-line offering a too-late tip.
22 “Shane! Shane! Come Back!” (Shane)
The final line from the great George Stevens movie Shane is “Bye, Shane,” but it’s faint enough that most viewers remember this shouted line just before it as being the last words of young Joey (Brandon deWilde) and the film. The boy desperately, heartbreakingly calls for the titular hero to turn around and stay with him and his mom, but like many Western protagonists, Shane is forever a wanderer.
21 “Well, It’s Not How You’re Buried. It’s How You’re Remembered.” (The Cowboys)
Westerns are all about myths and legends, the stories told about gunslingers that keep their memory alive forever. This line in 1972’s The Cowboys, which is one of John Wayne’s best movie quotes, comes in response to a statement about a less-than-worthy burial, and it’s a line that means even more at the end of the film when Wil is dead and his exact grave location is unknown.
20 “I Hear Patience Is A Virtue, But I’ve Never Been Able To Wait And See If That’s True.” (The Harder They Fall)
Sure, this line could have been in any movie of any genre, but Westerns are full of reckless characters of the sort who aren’t patient, and they’re also full of great jokey one-liners. Also, the line is said early in The Harder They Fall by RJ Cyler’s Jim Beckwourth, and it’s some good ironic foreshadowing given how he dies later in the film.
19 “You Brought Two Too Many.” (Once Upon A Time In The West)
Action heroes get all the credit for having cool one-liners before and after killing someone, but Westerns have some of the best quotes of this kind. Take this line from Charles Bronson’s “Harmonica” at the start of Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West. He appears before three men with three horses. He asks if they brought one for him. They say they must be one horse shy and laugh. “Harmonica,” a total boss, replies that they brought two too many because he only needs the one after he shoots them all dead.
18 “What The Hell Are You Worried About? This Is 1874. You’ll Be Able To Sue Her.” (Blazing Saddles)
Mel Brooks’s 1974 Western comedy Blazing Saddles is packed with hilarious lines, many of which aren’t suitable for sharing without tons of context and others that haven’t aged so well. Beyond all the innuendo and politically incorrect witticisms, though, is this smart bit that plays with meta-text. Harvey Korman plays a character called Hedley Lamarr, a play on the name of actress Hedy Lamarr. When another character accidentally calls him Hedy Lamarr, Hedley becomes agitated. But he’s reminded that the setting of this film is 100 years earlier, which is 40 years before the actress was born, so it’s not a problem.
17 “My Mistake. Four Coffins.” (A Fistful Of Dollars)
Similar to the mathematical quote from the beginning of Once Upon a Time in the West, Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars also starts off with a bit involving numbers. Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name enters a town and means to kill three men who insulted him. He tells the undertaker to prepare three coffins. But during the shootout, he murders a fourth foe. As he walks back past the undertaker, he apologizes for placing the wrong order, essentially delivering a punchline.
16 “You’re Short On Ears And Long On Mouth!” (Big Jake)
Said by John Wayne’s titular character in the 1971 Western Big Jake, this quote is a colorful way of telling someone they talk a lot and don’t listen enough. In the movie, Jake says it to his son Michael after being insulted for having abandoned his family.
15 “Dyin’ Ain’t Much Of A Living, Boy.” (The Outlaw Josey Wales)
The best Western movie quotes tend to have multiple layers and/or involve terrific wordplay, and there’s no better example of the latter than this line from 1973’s The Outlaw Josey Wales. Clint Eastwood’s title character says it in response to a bounty hunter who explains that he needs to do something to make a living. For Josey Wales, a wanted man aiming to elude any bounty hunters, that’s a profession that will get you killed. Therefore, to him, a bounty hunter’s job is dying, so his living is dying, which is an oxymoron.
14 “I Know Enough About Men To Steer Clear Of Them.” (Rooster Cogburn)
Westerns aren’t often known for their women characters, and this quote from Katharine Hepburn’s Eula Goodnight in the True Grit sequel Rooster Cogburn is a perfectly good excuse. John Wayne’s title character expresses to Miss Eula that she doesn’t know much about men, to which she replies with this line. Perhaps that would go for steering clear of the male-dominated genre as well.
13 “No Man Can Walk Out Of His Own Story” (Rango)
This line spoken by the Eastwood-inspired Spirit of the West (uncannily voiced by Timothy Olyphant) in the Oscar-winning animated feature Rango is pretty obvious on one level. Everybody is the main character of their own story, and there’s no escaping that. It’s also a quote about destiny and about responsibility.
12 “You’re A Daisy If You Do” (Tombstone)
Just about all of Doc Holliday’s quotes in Tombstone belong on a t-shirt. Most of his lines have double meanings or are up for interpretation. He says this one to McLaury (Robert John Burke), who claims to have him, as in he’s going to shoot him. Doc says he’s a daisy if he does, meaning McLaury is amazing if he can manage it. There’s also a reading of it meaning he’ll be pushing up daisies if he does, but that’s less direct. The real Doc Holliday was actually quoted in an 1881 newspaper account of the events of the famed gunfight at the O.K. Corral.
11 “I’ve Never Seen A Woman Who Was More A Man. She Thinks Like One, Acts Like One. It Sometimes Makes Me Feel Like I’m Not” (Johnny Guitar)
Sometimes labeled a “lesbian Western” ahead of its time, Nicholas Ray’s 1954 film Johnny Guitar was certainly progressive for its subversion of gender roles. While Sterling Hayden has the title role, the movie is mainly memorable for the women characters played by Joan Crawford and Mercedes McCambridge. This quote is said early into the film to describe Crawford’s Vienna, a tough saloon owner.