Cowboys & Aliens is a 2011 American science fiction Western film directed by Jon Favreau and starring Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, and Olivia Wilde. The film is based on the 2006 graphic novel of the same name created by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg. The main plot revolves around an amnesiac outlaw (Craig), a wealthy cattleman (Ford), and a mysterious traveler (Wilde) who must ally to save a group of townspeople abducted by aliens.
In 1873, Arizona Territory, an unnamed loner (Daniel Craig) wakes up in the desert injured, with no memory and with a strange metal object on his wrist. After killing three drifters who think he might be worth bounty money, he takes their clothes, weapons and a horse. He wanders into the small town of Absolution, where the local preacher, Meacham (Clancy Brown), treats his wound. After the stranger subdues Percy Dolarhyde (Paul Dano), a volatile drunk who has been terrorizing the town, Sheriff Taggart (Keith Carradine) recognizes the stranger as Jake Lonergan, a wanted outlaw, and attempts to arrest him. Jake beats up the posse sent to take him in and nearly escapes, but a mysterious woman named Ella Swenson (Olivia Wilde) knocks him out. Taggart prepares to transport both Jake and Percy to Santa Fe for trial.
Percy's father, Colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford), a wealthy and ruthless cattleman, arrives with his men and demands that Percy be released. He sees Jake and also demands he be released to him, since Jake was the one who stole Dolarhyde's gold. During the standoff, multiple alien craft begin attacking the town. Percy, the sheriff and many other townsfolk are grabbed by long, whip-like feelers hanging from the bottom of the alien ships and are abducted. Jake's shackle unfolds and becomes a weapon, shooting down one of the ships with a single shot, ending the attack.
Dolarhyde, Ella, and other townsfolk form a posse to track an injured alien that escaped from the downed ship. Jake, meanwhile, travels to an abandoned cabin, and in a flashback, recalls returning there with stolen gold, but just before a woman, Alice (Abigail Spencer), demands that he returns it, they are abducted by the aliens. His memories returning, Jake joins up with the posse. During the night, while they camp in an upside down paddle wheel steamboat, the alien they were tracking kills Meacham, who sacrifices himself to save Emmett (Noah Ringer), Taggart's grandson.
By the next morning, most of the posse has deserted, and the others are attacked by Jake's former gang. Jake, who stole the gang's loot after their last heist, attempts to retake control, but fails. As he and the others flee, the aliens begin attacking again and Ella is captured. Jake jumps aboard the ship and attacks the alien pilot, causing the ship to crash, but Ella is fatally wounded.
Shortly after the crash, however, the posse is captured by Chiricahua Apache Indians, who blame them for the alien attacks. As Ella's body is dumped on a fire by a Chiricahua warrior, she is fully resurrected. Ella reveals herself to be an alien who traveled to Earth to help resist the invaders after they destroyed her home world. The aliens, who are mining gold and abducting humans to conduct experiments to find their weaknesses, are far stronger and more durable than humans, and have superior weaponry. But they are not invulnerable. They can be stabbed and shot to death, and Jake's gauntlet weapon can kill them with a single blast.
Ella claims Jake holds the secret to the aliens' whereabouts and says they must stop them before they exterminate all life on the planet. After taking medicine offered by the Apaches, Jake recalls that Alice was euthanized after she was used in an alien experiment, but he escaped, inadvertently stealing a gauntlet-like alien weapon. He could also remember the location of the aliens' base of operations.
Armed with this knowledge, the group, now led by Dolarhyde, prepares to attack the aliens' grounded mother ship. Jake returns to his old gang and persuades them to join the fight. In a sneak attack, the humans breach the defenses of the spaceship by destroying the shuttle bay, forcing the aliens into a ground battle. Jake and Ella board the ship and free the captives, but Jake is captured. Dolarhyde rescues him and both men escape the ship after killing the alien responsible for Alice's death. As the remaining aliens are taking off in their damaged craft, Ella sacrifices herself, destroying the ship using Jake's gauntlet.
Jake's memory partially returns, and some abducted townsfolk begin to remember their past. Still a wanted man, Jake decides to leave; the sheriff and Dolarhyde say they will claim that he was killed in the invasion. The citizens intend to rebuild the town with the expectation that the newly discovered gold mine will soon bring many new settlers. Jake kindly rejects Dolarhyde's offer to help rebuild the town, and rides away.
- Daniel Craig as Jake Lonergan, an amnesiac outlaw
- Harrison Ford as Colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde, a powerful cattleman
- Olivia Wilde as Ella Swenson, a mysterious traveler who aides Lonergan
- Sam Rockwell as Doc, owner of Absolution's local saloon
- Paul Dano as Percy Dolarhyde, Woodrow's trouble-making son
- Clancy Brown as Meacham, Absolution's preacher and doctor
- Keith Carradine as Sheriff John Taggart, Absolution's sheriff
- Noah Ringer as Emmett Taggart, John Taggart's grandson
- Adam Beach as Nat Colorado, Dolarhyde's Native American right-hand man
- Abigail Spencer as Alice, Jake's lost love
- Ana de la Reguera as María, Absolution's saloon maid and Doc's wife
- Walton Goggins as Hunt, a bandit and friend of Lonergan
- Julio Cedillo as Bronc, a Mexican bandit
- David O'Hara as Pat Dolan, Lonergan's former gang-member
- Raoul Trujillo as Chiricahua Apache chief, Black Knife