The difficulty in selecting the 10 best Western movie stars is that there have been so many superb actors who primarily portrayed Western characters. The Western was one of the dominant film genres of the twentieth century, particularly the first half of the century. Although its popularity has waned in recent decades, Western stars have been huge money makers for the Hollywood studios from the silent era onward.
John Wayne. An indisputable choice. Wayne is not only the best Western movie star ever, he is arguably the biggest movie star in history.
Tom Mix. Although most of his work was done in silent films, Mix was the first movie superstar, and was paid an enormous salary. He established the form of the Western movie for decades to come by making Westerns more flamboyant and action oriented.
Roy Rogers. For people who did not see his movies during his heyday, it is difficult to comprehend just how big a star Roy Rogers was during the 1940's and 1950's. He was known as the “King of the Cowboys” and was also one of the singing cowboys that were prominent in Western movies at that time. His movies were very popular with children, and Rogers was one of the top box office draws of his era.
Clint Eastwood. Eastwood's Westerns changed the genre. Previously, Western movie stars were clean cut, wore pressed clothing without a speck of dirt, and were morally pure. Eastwood's characters were usually scruffy, unshaven, and dirty. With regard to morality, his heroes were little different from the villains he faced.
Gary Cooper. Cooper did it all. He starred in comedies, dramas, biographies, adventures, war movies, and Westerns. He was not a prolific actor in Westerns, but the quality of his films, many of them timeless classics, make him one of the best Western movie stars in film history.
Randolph Scott. Scott was a huge Western star of the 1940's and 1950's whose acting is still underrated today. Many of his finest movies were made after he was 58-years-old. Scott also became one of the wealthiest actors in Hollywood.
Gene Autry. Autry was the first “Singing Cowboy.” His caree mirrors that of Roy Rogers in many ways. Autry did mostly B pictures, and was one of the top money making Western stars in film history. Autry's film and recording careers, along with his wise investments, made him extremely wealthy.
Hoot Gibson. Almost forgotten today, Gibson was one of the few actors to transition from a successful silent film career to become an enormously popular Western movie star during the sound era. Gibson was also a real life cowboy and a skilled stuntman.
William S. Hart. Hart was not the first Western movie star, but he was the first really big Western movie star. He popularized the genre and established the Western as a reliably profitable staple of the smaller studios. Hart's career was entirely in silent films.
William Boyd. Boyd played Hopalong Cassidy in a series of very lucrative films. Boyd was one of the few “good guy” Western stars to dress in black.