10 Famous Actors Who Played Jesse James In Westerns


  • Jesse James has been a prominent figure in American Westerns, providing a wealth of stories for adaptation.
  • Various actors, such as Tyrone Power and Brad Pitt, have portrayed Jesse James in highly entertaining and memorable performances.
  • The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford offers an accurate portrayal of the legendary outlaw, with Brad Pitt delivering a standout performance.



Jesse James has appeared in many Westerns, but a few have featured a famed star in the role. Jesse James is one of the most famous outlaws in American history. It should be no surprise then that he has appeared extensively throughout a genre that is distinctly American – the Western. The genre has been a staple of American cinema, inspiring some of the greatest movies of all time, and Jesse James has provided a wealth of stories for them to adapt.

Jesse James and his brother Frank were infamous outlaws throughout the American South following the American Civil War. The James brothers, along with the Younger brothers, formed the James-Younger gang and enacted a crime spree, robbing bank and holding up trains. Jesse James has been the most remembered of the gang, entering American pop culture as an antihero – with his life and eventual assassination memorialized in folk music and literature. He’s also the star character of some of the best Western movies of all time, and has been played by a number of true greats.

Related: The 25 Best Westerns on Netflix

10 Jesse James Jr.

Jesse James Under The Black Flag (1921)

Jesse James Under the black flag 1921 poster cropped

Jesse James’ son was one of the first people to portray him in a motion picture. Jesse James Jr. was not a professional actor, yet played his father in two movies. Jesse James Under the Black Flag depicted James joining the Quantrill Raiders – pro-Confederate guerrillas who fought against Union sympathizers. James Jr. also starred in Jesse James as the Outlaw, depicting his father’s later criminal career. Both movies are sadly lost but were re-edited as a single movie in 1930, with narration and sound effects added in place of intertitles. This rendition is also named Jesse James Under the Black Flag.

9 Tyrone Power

Jesse James (1939)

Tyrone Power as Jesse James getting married to Zee in 1939's Jesse James

Jesse James was a loose adaptation of James’ life starring Tyrone Power. It also starred Henry Fonda as Frank James and John Carradine as Bob Ford. Jesse James was notoriously historically inaccurate and in many ways contributed to the Robin Hood characterization that James enjoys in American culture. Jesse James depicted the James brothers as they seek revenge on railroad authorities for evicting them from their family farm. Jesse James was a highly entertaining Western with a sublime performance from Power that contributed to the Jesse James mythology. Power subsequently starred in a slew of movies, including 1957’s Witness for the Prosecution.

8 George Reeves

The Kansan (1943)

George Reeves as Jesse James pointing a gun with his gang in The Kansan

The Kansan was a 1943 Western directed by George Archainbaud. It depicted a Civil War veteran (Richard Dix) who in the opening scenes thwarts the Jesse James gang as they attempt to rob a bank. Jesse James was played by George Reeves, who would subsequently star as Superman in the television series Adventures of Superman (1952-1958). Reeves’ Superman was one of the most iconic renditions of the beloved DC superhero, and Reeves’ image even appeared as a cameo in The Flash. George Reeves has therefore played two of the biggest figures in American popular culture from two very different eras of modern America.

7 Robert Wagner

The True Story Of Jesse James (1957)

Robert Wagner as Jesse James standing outside a window in the true story of jesse james

Robert Wagner starred in The True Story Of Jesse James, an adaptation of 1939’s Jesse James. The True Story of Jesse James loosely followed the last 18 years of Jesse James’ life. The trailer asserted that the narrative was “stripped of all fiction” but it still presented James as a hero. Nevertheless, Wagner deftly delivered this hero with the grit and charm that defined the Westerns of this era. Though The True Story of Jesse James was a misnomer, it was still a beautiful movie and an impressive Western. Wagner became a prolific actor, most recognizable for playing Number Two in the Austin Powers movies.

6 John Lupton

Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter (1966)

Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter Poster cropped

John Lupton is best known as a co-star in ABC’s Western series Broken Arrow (1956-1958). He appeared in many more movies, including the 1966 horror Western, Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter. Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter made no attempts to accurately portray James’ life, fully adapting him as a character from folklore. It depicted James encountering the descendant of Dr. Frankenstein, who subsequently put the brain of a monster into one of James’ sidekicks. It was certainly a silly movie, but it was still tremendously entertaining.

5 Robert Duvall

The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid (1972)

Robert Duvall as Jesse James looking bemused in The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid

Acting legend Robert Duvall is celebrated for many of his performances, including Apocalypse Now, The Godfather, and To Kill A Mocking Bird. However, Duvall also starred in one of the most thrilling adaptations of Jesse James’ life. The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid depicted Jesse James and Cole Younger forming the James-Younger gang to rob a bank in Northfield, Minnesota. Much like in real life, the gang’s plan soon went awry, resulting in the death and imprisonment of several gang members. Nevertheless, this bungled robbery instigated the gang’s infamous crime spree.

4 Kris Kristofferson

The Last Days Of Frank And Jesse James (1986)

Kris Kristofferson as Jesse James looking concerned in The Last Days Of Frank And Jesse JamesĀ 

Country music star Kris Kristofferson has made several acting appearances throughout his career, including Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, Stagecoach, and the Blade trilogy. In 1986, Kristofferson starred as Jesse James in The Last Days of Frank and Jesse James. It also starred two of Kristofferson’s fellow members of the country music supergroup, The Highwaymen: Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson. This is particularly appropriate considering James is best memorialized by the famed American folk song, “Jesse James.” The trio delivered very compelling performances, with Kristofferson demonstrating why he is so respected in cinema and music.

3 Rob Lowe

Frank And Jesse (1994)

Frank and Jesse focused primarily on the folklore surrounding the James brothers more than actual history, but it was a highly entertaining movie with sterling central performances. Rob Lowe starred as Jesse James with Bill Paxton as Frank James. Frank and Jesse was a wildly fun movie that made no excuses for presenting a fully mythologized rendition of the brothers. The pair were depicted as driven to their lives of crime by revenge, which Lowe and Paxton delivered to perfection. Lowe was already a celebrated performer at this juncture, having appeared in St. Elmo’s Fire, Oxford Blues, and the all-star classic The Outsiders.

2 Colin Farrell

American Outlaws (2001)

Colin Farrell is one of the most respected and beloved actors in Hollywood, lauded for his appearances in The Banshees of Inisherin, In Bruges, and The Batman, to name but a few. Farrell embodied Jesse James in the 2001 movie American Outlaws, which adapted the James-Younger gang’s early years. American Outlaws featured an all-star cast, including Kathy Bates, Timothy Dalton, and Terry O’Quin. The movie largely sanitized the true history of Jesse James for a teenage audience, though it delivers this in a highly entertaining fashion. Farrell was a particular highlight, throwing himself into many action scenes and embodying a more family-friendly rendition of Jesse James.

1 Brad Pitt

The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford (2007)

The Hollywood legend Brad Pitt starred in the most accurate portrayal of Jesse James, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. In part, the movie tackled the phenomenon of criminals becoming legends in modern American history, evaluating the link between crime and celebrity. Pitt’s performance was particularly noteworthy, as was Casey Affleck’s portrayal of Robert Ford. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford primarily focused on the events that led to the titular killing but went to great lengths to create a viscerally real depiction of the era. While Brad Pitt proffers one of the greatest depictions of Jesse James in cinematic history.

#Famous #Actors #Played #Jesse #James #Westerns

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