Western is a genre of various arts which tell stories set primarily in the latter half of the 19th century in the American Old West, often centering on the life of a nomadic cowboy or gunfighter armed with a revolver and a rifle who rides a horse. Cowboys and gunslingers typically wear Stetson hats, neckerchief bandannas, vests, spurs, cowboy boots and buckskins (alternatively dusters). Recurring characters include the aforementioned cowboys, Native Americans, bandits, lawmen, bounty hunters, outlaws, gamblers, soldiers (especially mounted cavalry, such as buffalo soldiers), and settlers (farmers, ranchers, and townsfolk). The ambience is usually punctuated with a Western music score, including American and Mexican folk music such as country, Native American music, New Mexico music, and rancheras.
Westerns often stress the harshness of the wilderness and frequently set the action in an arid, desolate landscape of deserts and mountains. Often, the vast landscape plays an important role, presenting a "...mythic vision of the plains and deserts of the American West". Specific settings include ranches, small frontier towns, saloons, railways and isolated military forts of the Wild West.
Common plots include:
Many Westerns use a stock plot of depicting a crime, then showing the pursuit of the wrongdoer, ending in revenge and retribution, which is often dispensed through a shootout or quick-draw duel.
The Western was the most popular Hollywood genre from the early 20th century to the 1960s. Western films first became well-attended in the 1930s. John Ford's landmark Western adventure Stagecoach became one of the biggest hits in 1939 and it made John Wayne a mainstream screen star. Westerns were very popular throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Many of the most acclaimed Westerns were released during this time, including High Noon (1952), Shane (1953), The Searchers (1956), and The Wild Bunch (1969). Classic Westerns such as these have been the inspiration for various films about Western-type characters in contemporary settings, such as Junior Bonner (1972), set in the 1970s, and The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005), set in the 21st century.
The Western genre sometimes portrays the conquest of the wilderness and the subordination of nature in the name of civilization or the confiscation of the territorial rights of the original, Native American, inhabitants of the frontier. The Western depicts a society organized around codes of honor and personal, direct or private justice–"frontier justice"–dispensed by gunfights. These honor codes are often played out through depictions of feuds or individuals seeking personal revenge or retribution against someone who has wronged them (e.g., True Grit has revenge and retribution as its main themes). This Western depiction of personal justice contrasts sharply with justice systems organized around rationalistic, abstract law that exist in cities, in which social order is maintained predominately through relatively impersonal institutions such as courtrooms. The popular perception of the Western is a story that centers on the life of a semi-nomadic wanderer, usually a cowboy or a gunfighter. A showdown or duel at high noon featuring two or more gunfighters is a stereotypical scene in the popular conception of Westerns.
In some ways, such protagonists may be considered the literary descendants of the knight errant which stood at the center of earlier extensive genres such as the Arthurian Romances. Like the cowboy or gunfighter of the Western, the knight errant of the earlier European tales and poetry was wandering from place to place on his horse, fighting villains of various kinds and bound to no fixed social structures but only to his own innate code of honor. And like knights errant, the heroes of Westerns frequently rescue damsels in distress. Similarly, the wandering protagonists of Westerns share many characteristics with the ronin in modern Japanese culture.
The Western typically takes these elements and uses them to tell simple morality tales, although some notable examples (e.g. the later Westerns of John Ford or Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven, about an old hired killer) are more morally ambiguous. Westerns often stress the harshness and isolation of the wilderness and frequently set the action in an arid, desolate landscape. Western films generally have specific settings such as isolated ranches, Native American villages, or small frontier towns with a saloon. Oftentimes, these settings appear deserted and without much structure. Apart from the wilderness, it is usually the saloon that emphasizes that this is the Wild West: it is the place to go for music (raucous piano playing), women (often prostitutes), gambling (draw poker or five card stud), drinking (beer or whiskey), brawling and shooting. In some Westerns, where civilization has arrived, the town has a church, a general store, a bank and a school; in others, where frontier rules still hold sway, it is, as Sergio Leone said, "where life has no value".
The American Film Institute defines Western films as those "set in the American West that [embody] the spirit, the struggle and the demise of the new frontier." The term Western, used to describe a narrative film genre, appears to have originated with a July 1912 article in Motion Picture World magazine. Most of the characteristics of Western films were part of 19th-century popular Western fiction and were firmly in place before film became a popular art form. Western films commonly feature protagonists such as cowboys, gunslingers, and bounty hunters, who are often depicted as semi-nomadic wanderers who wear Stetson hats, bandannas, spurs, and buckskins, use revolvers or rifles as everyday tools of survival–and as a means to settle disputes using "frontier justice". Protagonists ride between dusty towns and cattle ranches on their trusty steeds.
Western films were enormously popular in the silent film era (1894-1927). With the advent of sound in 1927-28, the major Hollywood studios rapidly abandoned Westerns, leaving the genre to smaller studios and producers. These smaller organizations churned out countless low-budget features and serials in the 1930s. By the late 1930s, the Western film was widely regarded as a "pulp" genre in Hollywood, but its popularity was dramatically revived in 1939 by major studio productions such as Dodge City starring Errol Flynn, Jesse James with Tyrone Power, Union Pacific with Joel McCrea, Destry Rides Again featuring James Stewart and Marlene Dietrich, and the release of John Ford's landmark Western adventure Stagecoach, which became one of the biggest hits of the year. Released through United Artists, Stagecoach made John Wayne a mainstream screen star in the wake of a decade of headlining B westerns. Wayne had been introduced to the screen ten years earlier as the leading man in director Raoul Walsh's widescreen The Big Trail, which failed at the box office, due in part to exhibitors' inability to switch over to widescreen during the Depression. After the Western's renewed commercial successes in the late 1930s, the popularity of the Western continued to rise until its peak in the 1950s, when the number of Western films produced outnumbered all other genres combined.
Western films often depict conflicts with Native Americans. While early Eurocentric Westerns frequently portray the "Injuns" as dishonorable villains, the later and more culturally neutral Westerns gave Native Americans a more sympathetic treatment. Other recurring themes of Westerns include Western treks (e.g. The Big Trail) or perilous journeys (e.g. Stagecoach) or groups of bandits terrorising small towns such as in The Magnificent Seven. Or revisionist westerns like I Walk the Line (1970) depict sheriffs dueling.
Early Westerns were mostly filmed in the studio, just like other early Hollywood films, but when location shooting became more common from the 1930s, producers of Westerns used desolate corners of Arizona, California, Colorado, Kansas, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, or Wyoming. These settings gave filmmakers the ability to depict vast plains, looming mountains and epic canyons. Productions were also filmed on location at movie ranches.
Often, the vast landscape becomes more than a vivid backdrop; it becomes a character in the film. After the early 1950s, various wide screen formats such as Cinemascope (1953) and VistaVision used the expanded width of the screen to display spectacular Western landscapes. John Ford's use of Monument Valley as an expressive landscape in his films from Stagecoach (1939) to Cheyenne Autumn (1965) "present us with a mythic vision of the plains and deserts of the American West, embodied most memorably in Monument Valley, with its buttes and mesas that tower above the men on horseback, whether they be settlers, soldiers, or Native Americans".
Gruber said that good writers used dialogue and plot development to develop these basic plots into believable stories. Other subgenres include:
The Great Train Robbery (1903), Edwin S. Porter's film starring Broncho Billy Anderson, is often cited as the first Western, though George N. Fenin and William K. Everson point out that the "Edison company had played with Western material for several years prior to The Great Train Robbery. " Nonetheless, they concur that Porter's film "set the pattern—of crime, pursuit, and retribution—for the Western film as a genre." The film's popularity opened the door for Anderson to become the screen's first cowboy star; he made several hundred Western film shorts. So popular was the genre that he soon faced competition from Tom Mix and William S. Hart.
The Golden Age of the Western is epitomized by the work of several directors, most prominent among them, John Ford (My Darling Clementine, The Horse Soldiers, The Searchers). Others include: Howard Hawks (Red River, Rio Bravo), Anthony Mann (Man of the West, The Man from Laramie), Budd Boetticher (Seven Men from Now), Delmer Daves (The Hanging Tree, 3:10 to Yuma), John Sturges (The Magnificent Seven, Last Train from Gun Hill), and Robert Aldrich (Vera Cruz, Ulzana's Raid).
Film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum refers to a makeshift 1960s and 1970s genre called the Acid Western, associated with Dennis Hopper, Jim McBride, and Rudy Wurlitzer, as well as films like Monte Hellman's The Shooting (1966), Alejandro Jodorowsky's bizarre experimental film El Topo (The Mole) (1970), and Robert Downey Sr.'s Greaser's Palace (1972). The 1970 film El Topo is an allegorical cult Western and underground film about the eponymous character, a violent black-clad gunfighter, and his quest for enlightenment. The film is filled with bizarre characters and occurrences, use of maimed and dwarf performers, and heavy doses of Christian symbolism and Eastern philosophy. Some Spaghetti Westerns also crossed over into the Acid Western genre, such as Enzo G. Castellari's mystical Keoma (1976), a Western reworking of Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal (1957).
More recent Acid Westerns include Alex Cox's film Walker (1987) and Jim Jarmusch's film Dead Man (1995). Rosenbaum describes the Acid Western as "formulating a chilling, savage frontier poetry to justify its hallucinated agenda"; ultimately, he says, the Acid Western expresses a counterculture sensibility to critique and replace capitalism with alternative forms of exchange.
Charro Westerns, often featuring musical stars as well as action, have been a standard feature of Mexican cinema since the 1930s. In the 1930s and 1940s, these were typically films about horsemen in rural Mexican society, displaying a set of cultural concerns very different from the Hollywood meta-narrative, but the overlap between 'charro' movies and westerns became more apparent in the 1950s and 1960s.
This subgenre is imitative in style in order to mock, comment on, or trivialize the Western genre's established traits, subjects, auteurs' styles, or some other target by means of humorous, satiric, or ironic imitation or parody. A prime example of Comedy Western includes The Paleface (1948), which makes a satirical effort to "send-up Owen Wister's novel The Virginian and all the cliches of the Western from the fearless hero to the final shootout on main street. The result was The Paleface (1948) which features a cowardly hero known as "Painless" Peter Potter (Bob Hope), an inept dentist who often entertains the notion that he's a crack sharpshooter and accomplished Indian fighter".
Also known as Neo-Westerns, these films have contemporary U.S. settings, and they utilize Old West themes and motifs (a rebellious anti-hero, open plains and desert landscapes, and gunfights). For the most part, they still take place in the American West and reveal the progression of the Old West mentality into the late 20th and early 21st centuries. This subgenre often features Old West-type characters struggling with displacement in a "civilized" world that rejects their outdated brand of justice.
Examples include John Sturges's Bad Day at Black Rock (1955); Lonely Are the Brave, screenplay by Dalton Trumbo (1962), Hud, starring Paul Newman (1963); The Getaway (1972); Junior Bonner (1972); Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974); Hearts of the West starring Jeff Bridges (1975); Alan J. Pakula's Comes a Horseman (1978); J. W. Coop, directed/co-written by and starring Cliff Robertson; Robert Rodríguez's El Mariachi (1992) and Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003); John Sayles's Lone Star (1996); Tommy Lee Jones's The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005); Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain (2005); Wim Wenders's Don't Come Knocking (2005); Joel and Ethan Coen's No Country for Old Men (2007); the television shows Justified (2010–2015) and Longmire (2012-2017); Hell or High Water (2016) and Wind River (2017), both written by Taylor Sheridan; and the superhero film Logan (2017). Call of Juarez: The Cartel is an example of a Neo-Western video game. Likewise, the television series Breaking Bad, which takes place in modern times, features many examples of Western archetypes. According to creator Vince Gilligan, "After the first Breaking Bad episode, it started to dawn on me that we could be making a contemporary western. So you see scenes that are like gunfighters squaring off, like Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef—we have Walt and others like that."
The precursor to these was the radio series Tales of the Texas Rangers (1950–1952), with Joel McCrea, a contemporary detective drama set in Texas, featuring many of the characteristics of traditional Westerns.
The 1971 film Zachariah starring John Rubinstein, Don Johnson and Pat Quinn was billed as the "first electric Western." The film featured multiple performing rock bands in an otherwise American West setting.
Zachariah featured appearances and music supplied by rock groups from the 1970s, including the James Gang and Country Joe and the Fish as "The Cracker Band." Fiddler Doug Kershaw had a musical cameo as does Elvin Jones as a gunslinging drummer named Job Cain.
The epic western is a subgenre of the western that emphasizes the story of the American Old West on a grand scale. Many epic westerns are commonly set during a turbulent time, especially a war, as in Sergio Leone's The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966), set during the American Civil War, or Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch (1969), set during the Mexican Revolution. One of the grandest films in this genre is Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), which shows many operatic conflicts centered on control of a town while utilizing wide scale shots on Monument Valley locations against a broad running time. Other notable examples include The Iron Horse (1924), Duel in the Sun (1946), The Searchers (1956), Giant (1956), The Big Country (1958), Cimarron (1960), How the West Was Won (1962), Duck, You Sucker! (1971), Heaven's Gate (1980), Dances with Wolves (1990), The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007), Django Unchained (2012) and The Revenant (2015).
Euro Westerns are Western genre films made in Western Europe. The term can sometimes, but not necessarily, include the Spaghetti Western subgenre (see below). One example of a Euro Western is the Anglo-Spanish film The Savage Guns (1961). Several Euro-Western films, nicknamed Sauerkraut Westerns because they were made in Germany and shot in Yugoslavia, were derived from stories by novelist Karl May and were film adaptations of May's work. In the 2010s some new euro-westerns emerged like Kristian Levring's The Salvation, Martin Koolhoven's Brimstone and Andreas Prochaska's The Dark Valley.
Fantasy Westerns mixed in fantasy settings and themes, and may include fantasy mythology as background. Some famous examples are Stephen King's The Stand and The Dark Tower series of novels, the Vertigo comics series Preacher, and Keiichi Sigsawa's light novel series, Kino's Journey, illustrated by Kouhaku Kuroboshi.
A developing subgenre, with roots in films such as Curse of the Undead (1959) and Billy the Kid vs. Dracula (1966), which depicts the legendary outlaw Billy the Kid fighting against the notorious vampire. Another example is The Ghoul Goes West, an unproduced Ed Wood film to star Bela Lugosi as Dracula in the Old West. Recent examples include the films Near Dark (1987) directed by Kathryn Bigelow which tells the story about a human falling in love with a vampire, From Dusk till Dawn (1996) by Robert Rodriguez deals with outlaws battling vampires across the border, Vampires (1998) by John Carpenter tells about a group of vampires and vampire hunters looking for an ancient relic in the west, Ravenous (1999), which deals with cannibalism at a remote US army outpost; The Burrowers (2008), about a band of trackers who are stalked by the titular creatures; and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012). Undead Nightmare (2010), an expansion to Red Dead Redemption (2010) is an example of a video game in this genre, telling the tale of a zombie outbreak in the Old West. Bone Tomahawk (2016) one of the most recent entries in the genre received wide critical acclaim for its chilling tale of cannibalism but, like many other movies in the genre, it wasn't a commercial success.
The first Western films made in India - Mosagaalaku Mosagaadu (1970), made in Telugu, Mappusakshi (Malayalam), Ganga (1972), and Jakkamma (Tamil) - were based on Classic Westerns. Thazhvaram (1990), the Malayalam film directed by Bharathan and written by noted writer M. T. Vasudevan Nair, is perhaps the most resemblant of the Spaghetti Westerns in terms of production and cinematic techniques. Earlier Spaghetti Westerns laid the groundwork for such films as Adima Changala (1971) starring Prem Nazir, a hugely popular "zapata Spaghetti Western film in Malayalam, and Sholay (1975) Khote Sikkay (1973) and Thai Meethu Sathiyam (1978) are notable Curry Westerns. Kodama Simham (1990), a Telugu action film starring Chiranjeevi and Mohan Babu was one more addition to the Indo Western genre and fared well at the box office. It was also the first South Indian movie to be dubbed in English as Hunters of the Indian Treasure
Takkari Donga (2002), starring Telugu Maheshbabu, was applauded by critics but an average runner at box office. Quick Gun Murugun (2009), an Indian comedy film which spoofs Indian Western movies, is based on a character created for television promos at the time of the launch of the music network Channel [V] in 1994, which had cult following. Irumbukkottai Murattu Singam (2010), a Western adventure comedy film, based on cowboy movies and paying homages to the John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, and Jaishankar, was made in Tamil.
While many of these mash-ups (e.g., Billy Jack (1971) and its sequel The Trial of Billy Jack (1974)) are cheap exploitation films, others are more serious dramas such as the Kung Fu TV series, which ran from 1972 to 1975. Comedy examples include the Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson collaboration Shanghai Noon (2000). Further sub-divisions of this subgenre include Ninja Westerns and Samurai Westerns (incorporating samurai cinema themes), such as Red Sun (1971) with Charles Bronson and Toshiro Mifune.
The Meat pie Western (also Kangaroo Western)(a slang term which plays on the Italo-western moniker "Spaghetti Western") is an American Western-style movie or TV series set in Australia, especially the Australian Outback or the Australian Bush. Films such as Rangle River (1936), Kangaroo (1952), the television series Whiplash (1961), Mad Dog Morgan (1976), The Man from Snowy River (1982), Five Mile Creek (1983–85), Quigley Down Under (1991), and The Proposition (2005) are all representative of the genre. The term is used to differentiate more Americanized Australian films from those with a more historical basis, such as those about bushrangers.
The Northern genre is a subgenre of Westerns taking place in Alaska or Western Canada. Examples include several versions of the Rex Beach novel, The Spoilers (including 1930's The Spoilers, with Gary Cooper, and 1942's The Spoilers, with Marlene Dietrich, Randolph Scott and Wayne); The Far Country (1954) with James Stewart; North to Alaska (1960) with Wayne; Death Hunt (1981) with Charles Bronson; and The Grey Fox (1983) with Richard Farnsworth.
Osterns, also known as "Red Western"s, are produced in Eastern Europe. They were popular in Communist Eastern European countries and were a particular favorite of Joseph Stalin, and usually portrayed the American Indians sympathetically, as oppressed people fighting for their rights, in contrast to American Westerns of the time, which frequently portrayed the Indians as villains. Osterns frequently featured Gypsies or Turkic people in the role of the Indians, due to the shortage of authentic Indians in Eastern Europe.
Gojko Mitić portrayed righteous, kind-hearted, and charming Indian chiefs (e.g., in Die Söhne der großen Bärin (1966) directed by Josef Mach). He became honorary chief of the Sioux tribe, when he visited the United States in the 1990s and the television crew accompanying him showed the tribe one of his films. American actor and singer Dean Reed, an expatriate who lived in East Germany, also starred in several Ostern films.
The most rare of the Western subgenres, pornographic Westerns use the Old West as a background for stories primarily focused on erotica. The three major examples of the porn Western film are Russ Meyer's nudie-cutie Wild Gals of the Naked West (1962), and the hardcore A Dirty Western (1975) and Sweet Savage (1979). Sweet Savage starred Aldo Ray, a veteran actor who had appeared in traditional Westerns, in a non-sex role. Among videogames, Custer's Revenge (1982) is an infamous example, considered to be one of the worst video games of all time.
After the early 1960s, many American filmmakers began to question and change many traditional elements of Westerns, and to make Revisionist Westerns that encouraged audiences to question the simple hero-versus-villain dualism and the morality of using violence to test one's character or to prove oneself right. This is shown in Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch (1969). One major revision was the increasingly positive representation of Native Americans, who had been treated as "savages" in earlier films. Examples of such revisionist Westerns include Ride the High Country (1962), Richard Harris' A Man Called Horse (1970), Little Big Man (1970), Soldier Blue (1970), Man in the Wilderness (1971), The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976), Dances with Wolves (1990) and Dead Man (1995). A few earlier Revisionist Westerns gave women more powerful roles, such as Westward the Women (1951) starring Robert Taylor. Another earlier work encompassed all these features, The Last Wagon (1956). In it, Richard Widmark played a white man raised by Comanches and persecuted by whites, with Felicia Farr and Susan Kohner playing young women forced into leadership roles.
The science fiction Western places science fiction elements within a traditional Western setting. Examples include Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter (1965),The Valley of Gwangi (1969) featuring cowboys and dinosaurs. John Jakes's "Six Gun Planet" takes place on a future planet colonized by people consciously seeking to recreate the Old West (with cowboys riding robot horses...) . The movie Westworld (1973) and its sequel Futureworld (1976), Back to the Future Part III (1990), Wild Wild West (1999), Cowboys & Aliens (2011), and the TV series Westworld (2016, based on the movie). Fallout: New Vegas (2010) is an example of a video game that follows this format, with futuristic technology and genetic mutations placed among the western themes and desert sprawl of the Mojave Wasteland.
The Space Western or Space Frontier is a subgenre of science fiction which uses the themes and tropes of Westerns within science fiction stories. Subtle influences may include exploration of new, lawless frontiers, while more overt influences may feature literal cowboys in outer space who use ray guns and ride robotic horses. Examples include the American television series BraveStarr (which aired original episodes from September 1987 to February 1988) and Firefly (created by Joss Whedon in 2002), and the films Battle Beyond the Stars (1980), which is a remake of The Magnificent Seven; Outland (1981), which is a remake of High Noon; and Serenity (2005, based on the Firefly TV series). The classic western genre has also been a major influence on science fiction films such as the original Star Wars movie of 1977. Famously Gene Roddenberry pitched the concept of the TV show Star Trek as a Wagon Train to the stars.
During the 1960s and 1970s, a revival of the Western emerged in Italy with the "Spaghetti Westerns" also known as "Italo-Westerns". The most famous of them is The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966). Many of these films are low-budget affairs, shot in locations (for example, the Spanish desert region of Almería) chosen for their inexpensive crew and production costs as well as their similarity to landscapes of the Southwestern United States. Spaghetti Westerns were characterized by the presence of more action and violence than the Hollywood Westerns. Also, the protagonists usually acted out of more selfish motives (money or revenge being the most common) than in the classical westerns. Some Spaghetti Westerns demythologized the American Western tradition, and some films from the genre are considered revisionist Westerns.
The Western films directed by Sergio Leone were felt by some to have a different tone than the Hollywood Westerns. Veteran American actors Charles Bronson, Lee Van Cleef and Clint Eastwood became famous by starring in Spaghetti Westerns, although the films also provided a showcase for other noted actors such as James Coburn, Henry Fonda, Rod Steiger, Klaus Kinski, and Jason Robards. Eastwood, previously the lead in the television series Rawhide, unexpectedly found himself catapulted into the forefront of the film industry by Leone's A Fistful of Dollars.
The Weird Western subgenre blends elements of a classic Western with other elements. The Wild Wild West television series, television movies, and 1999 film adaptation blend the Western with steampunk. The Jonah Hex franchise also blends the Western with superhero elements. The film Western Religion (2015), by writer and director James O'Brien, introduces the devil into a traditional wild west setting. Old Man Logan (2008-2009) graphic novel combines the elements of superhero and post-apocalyptic fiction with western.
In the 1960s academic and critical attention to cinema as a legitimate art form emerged. With the increased attention, film theory was developed to attempt to understand the significance of film. From this environment emerged (in conjunction with the literary movement) an enclave of critical studies called genre studies. This was primarily a semantic and structuralist approach to understanding how similar films convey meaning.
One of the results of genre studies is that some have argued that "Westerns" need not take place in the American West or even in the 19th century, as the codes can be found in other types of films. For example, a very typical Western plot is that an eastern lawman heads west, where he matches wits and trades bullets with a gang of outlaws and thugs, and is aided by a local lawman who is well-meaning but largely ineffective until a critical moment when he redeems himself by saving the hero's life. This description can be used to describe any number of Westerns, but also other films such as Die Hard (itself a loose reworking of High Noon) and Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai, which are frequently cited examples of films that do not take place in the American West but have many themes and characteristics common to Westerns. Likewise, films set in the American Old West may not necessarily be considered "Westerns."
Being period drama pieces, both the Western and samurai genre influenced each other in style and themes throughout the years. The Magnificent Seven was a remake of Akira Kurosawa's film The Seven Samurai, and A Fistful of Dollars was a remake of Kurosawa's Yojimbo, which itself was inspired by Red Harvest, an American detective novel by Dashiell Hammett. Kurosawa was influenced by American Westerns and was a fan of the genre, most especially John Ford.
Despite the Cold War, the Western was a strong influence on Eastern Bloc cinema, which had its own take on the genre, the so-called "Red Western" or "Ostern". Generally these took two forms: either straight Westerns shot in the Eastern Bloc, or action films involving the Russian Revolution and civil war and the Basmachi rebellion.
An offshoot of the Western genre is the "post-apocalyptic" Western, in which a future society, struggling to rebuild after a major catastrophe, is portrayed in a manner very similar to the 19th-century frontier. Examples include The Postman and the Mad Max series, and the computer game series Fallout. Many elements of space travel series and films borrow extensively from the conventions of the Western genre. This is particularly the case in the space Western subgenre of science fiction. Peter Hyams' Outland transferred the plot of High Noon to Io, moon of Jupiter. Gene Roddenberry, the creator of the Star Trek series, pitched his show as "Wagon Train to the stars" early on, but admitted later that this was more about getting it produced in a time that loved Western-themed TV series than about its actual content. The Book of Eli depicts the post apocalypse as a Western with large knives.
More recently, the space opera series Firefly used an explicitly Western theme for its portrayal of frontier worlds. Anime shows like Cowboy Bebop, Trigun and Outlaw Star have been similar mixes of science fiction and Western elements. The science fiction Western can be seen as a subgenre of either Westerns or science fiction. Elements of Western films can be found also in some films belonging essentially to other genres. For example, Kelly's Heroes is a war film, but action and characters are Western-like. The British film Zulu set during the Anglo-Zulu War has sometimes been compared to a Western, even though it is set in South Africa.
The character played by Humphrey Bogart in film noir films such as Casablanca and To Have and Have Not—an individual bound only by his own private code of honor—has a lot in common with the classic Western hero. In turn, the Western, has also explored noir elements, as with the films Pursued and Sugar Creek.
In many of Robert A. Heinlein's books, the settlement of other planets is depicted in ways explicitly modeled on American settlement of the West. For example, in his Tunnel in the Sky settlers set out to the planet "New Canaan", via an interstellar teleporter portal across the galaxy, in Conestoga wagons, their captain sporting mustaches and a little goatee and riding a Palomino horse—with Heinlein explaining that the colonists would need to survive on their own for some years, so horses are more practical than machines.
Stephen King's The Dark Tower is a series of seven books that meshes themes of Westerns, high fantasy, science fiction and horror. The protagonist Roland Deschain is a gunslinger whose image and personality are largely inspired by the "Man with No Name" from Sergio Leone's films. In addition, the superhero fantasy genre has been described as having been derived from the cowboy hero, only powered up to omnipotence in a primarily urban setting. The Western genre has been parodied on a number of occasions, famous examples being Support Your Local Sheriff!, Cat Ballou, Mel Brooks's Blazing Saddles, and Rustler's Rhapsody.
George Lucas's Star Wars films use many elements of a Western, and Lucas has said he intended for Star Wars to revitalize cinematic mythology, a part the Western once held. The Jedi, who take their name from Jidaigeki, are modeled after samurai, showing the influence of Kurosawa. The character Han Solo dressed like an archetypal gunslinger, and the Mos Eisley cantina is much like an Old West saloon.
Meanwhile, films such as The Big Lebowski, which plucked actor Sam Elliott out of the Old West and into a Los Angeles bowling alley, and Midnight Cowboy, about a Southern-boy-turned-gigolo in New York (who disappoints a client when he doesn't measure up to Gary Cooper), transplanted Western themes into modern settings for both purposes of parody and homage.
Western fiction is a genre of literature set in the American Old West, most commonly between the years of 1860 and 1900. The first critically recognized Western was The Virginian (1902) by Owen Wister."Classic Wild West Literature". Other well-known writers of Western fiction include Zane Grey, from the early 1900s, Ernest Haycox, Luke Short, and Louis L'Amour, from the mid 20th century. Many writers better known in other genres, such as Leigh Brackett, Elmore Leonard, and Larry McMurtry, have also written Western novels. The genre's popularity peaked in the 1960s, due in part to the shuttering of many pulp magazines, the popularity of televised Westerns, and the rise of the spy novel. Readership began to drop off in the mid- to late 1970s and reached a new low in the 2000s. Most bookstores, outside of a few Western states, now only carry a small number of Western novels and short story collections.
Television Westerns are a subgenre of the Western. When television became popular in the late 1940s and 1950s, TV Westerns quickly became an audience favorite. Beginning with re-broadcasts of existing films, a number of movie cowboys had their own TV shows. As demand for the Western increased, new stories and stars were introduced. A number of long-running TV Westerns became classics in their own right, such as: The Lone Ranger (1949-1957), The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp (1955-1961), Gunsmoke (1955-1975), Maverick (1957-1962), Have Gun – Will Travel (1957-1963), Wagon Train (1957-1965), Sugarfoot (1957-1961), The Rifleman (1958-1963), Rawhide (1959-1966), Bonanza (1959-1973), The Virginian (1962-1971), and The Big Valley (1965-1969). The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp was the first Western television series written for adults, premiering four days before Gunsmoke on September 6, 1955.
The peak year for television Westerns was 1959, with 26 such shows airing during primetime. At least six of them were connected in some extent to Wyatt Earp: The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, Tombstone Territory, Broken Arrow, Johnny Ringo, and Gunsmoke. Increasing costs of American television production weeded out most action half hour series in the early 1960s, and their replacement by hour-long television shows, increasingly in color. Traditional Westerns died out in the late 1960s as a result of network changes in demographic targeting along with pressure from parental television groups. Future entries in the genre would incorporate elements from other genera, such as crime drama and mystery whodunit elements. Western shows from the 1970s included Hec Ramsey, Kung Fu, Little House on the Prairie, and McCloud. In the 1990s and 2000s, hour-long Westerns and slickly packaged made-for-TV movie Westerns were introduced, such as: Lonesome Dove (1989) and Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. As well, new elements were once again added to the Western formula, such as the Western-science fiction show Firefly, created by Joss Whedon in 2002. Deadwood was a critically acclaimed Western series which aired on HBO from 2004 through 2006.
A number of visual artists focused their work on representations of the American Old West. American West-oriented art is sometimes referred to as "Western Art" by Americans. This relatively new category of art includes paintings, sculptures, and sometimes Native American crafts. Initially, subjects included exploration of the Western states and cowboy themes. Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russell are two artists who captured the "Wild West" on canvas. Some art museums, such as the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Wyoming and the Autry National Center in Los Angeles, feature American Western Art.
The popularity of Westerns extends beyond films, literature, television, and visual art to include numerous other media forms.
With anime and manga, the genre tends towards the Science fiction Western [e.g., Cowboy Bebop (1998 anime), Trigun (1995-2007 manga), and Outlaw Star (1996-1999 manga)]. Although contemporary Westerns also appear, such as Kōya no Shōnen Isamu, a 1971 shōnen manga about a boy with a Japanese father and a Native American mother, or El Cazador de la Bruja, a 2007 anime television series set in modern-day Mexico. Part 7 of the manga series JoJo's Bizarre Adventure is based in the American Western setting. The story follows racers in a transcontinental horse race, the "Steel Ball Run" race.
Western comics have included serious entries (such as the classic comics of the late 1940s and early 1950s (such as Kid Colt, Outlaw, Rawhide Kid, and Red Ryder), cartoons, and parodies (such as Cocco Bill and Lucky Luke). In the 1990s and 2000s, Western comics leaned toward the Weird West subgenre, usually involving supernatural monsters, or Christian iconography as in Preacher. However, more traditional Western comics are found throughout this period (e.g., Jonah Hex and Loveless).
Western arcade games, computer games, role-playing games, and video games are often either straightforward Westerns or Western Horror hybrids. Some Western themed-computer games include The Oregon Trail (1971), Mad Dog McCree (1990), Sunset Riders (1991), Outlaws (1997), Red Dead Revolver (2004), Gun (2005), Call of Juarez (2007), Red Dead Redemption (2010), and Red Dead Redemption 2 (2018). Other video games adapt the Science fiction Western or Weird West subgenres such as Fallout (1997), Gunman Chronicles (2000), Darkwatch (2005), the Borderlands series (first released in 2009), Fallout: New Vegas (2010), and Hard West (2015).
Western radio dramas were very popular from the 1930s to the 1960s. Some popular shows include The Lone Ranger (first broadcast in 1933), The Cisco Kid (first broadcast in 1942), Dr. Sixgun (first broadcast in 1954), Have Gun–Will Travel (first broadcast in 1958), and Gunsmoke (first broadcast in 1952).
Billy the Kid Versus Dracula is a 1966 American low-budget horror-Western film directed by William Beaudine. It was released theatrically as part of a double feature along with Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter. Both films were shot in eight days at Corriganville Movie Ranch and at Paramount Studios in mid-1965; both were the final feature films of director William Beaudine. The film revolves around Billy the Kid (played by stuntman Chuck Courtney) trying to save his fiancée from Dracula (John Carradine) (though the name "Dracula" is never mentioned in this film). The films were produced by television producer Carroll Case for Joseph E. Levine.Blazing Saddles
Blazing Saddles is a 1974 American satirical Western film directed by Mel Brooks. Starring Cleavon Little and Gene Wilder, the film was written by Brooks, Andrew Bergman, Richard Pryor, Norman Steinberg and Al Uger, and was based on Bergman's story and draft. The film received generally positive reviews from critics and audiences, was nominated for three Academy Awards and is ranked No. 6 on the American Film Institute's 100 Years...100 Laughs list.
Brooks appears in three supporting roles, Governor William J. Le Petomane, a Yiddish-speaking Indian chief and “a director” in line to help invade Rock Ridge (a nod to Hitchcock); he also dubs lines for one of Lili von Shtupp's backing troupe. The supporting cast includes Slim Pickens, Alex Karras and David Huddleston, as well as Brooks regulars Dom DeLuise, Madeline Kahn and Harvey Korman. Bandleader Count Basie has a cameo as himself.
The film satirizes the racism obscured by myth-making Hollywood accounts of the American West, with the hero being a black sheriff in an all-white town. The film is full of deliberate anachronisms, from the Count Basie Orchestra playing "April in Paris" in the Wild West, to Slim Pickens referring to the Wide World of Sports, to the German army of World War II.Bruce Dern
Bruce MacLeish Dern (born June 4, 1936) is an American actor, often playing supporting villainous characters of unstable nature. He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for Coming Home (1978) and the Academy Award for Best Actor for Nebraska (2013). His other film appearances include The Cowboys (1972), Black Sunday (1977), Monster (2003), and The Hateful Eight (2015).Dances with Wolves
Dances with Wolves is a 1990 American epic Western film starring, directed and produced by Kevin Costner. It is a film adaptation of the 1988 book of the same name by Michael Blake that tells the story of Union Army lieutenant John J. Dunbar (Costner) who travels to the American frontier to find a military post and of his dealings with a group of Lakota Indians.
Costner developed the film with an initial budget of $15 million. Dances with Wolves had high production values. Much of the dialogue is spoken in Lakota with English subtitles. It was shot from July to November 1989 in South Dakota and Wyoming, and translated by Albert White Hat, the chair of the Lakota Studies Department at Sinte Gleska University.
The film earned favorable reviews from critics and audiences, who praised Costner's directing, the performances, screenplay, and production values. The film was a massive box office hit, grossing $424.2 million worldwide, making it the fourth highest-grossing film of 1990, and is the highest-grossing film for Orion Pictures. The film was nominated for twelve Academy Awards at the 63rd Academy Awards and won seven including Best Picture, Best Director for Costner, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Film Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Original Score, and Best Sound Mixing. The film also won the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Drama.
The film is credited as a leading influence for the revitalization of the Western genre of filmmaking in Hollywood. In 2007, Dances with Wolves was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".Hopalong Cassidy
Hopalong Cassidy or Hop-along Cassidy is a fictional cowboy hero created in 1904 by the author Clarence E. Mulford, who wrote a series of popular short stories and many novels based on the character.
In his early writings, Mulford portrayed the character as rude, dangerous, and rough-talking. He had a wooden leg which caused him to walk with a little "hop", hence the nickname. From 1935, the character—as played by movie actor William Boyd in films adapted from Mulford's books—was transformed into a clean-cut, sarsaparilla-drinking hero. Sixty-six popular films appeared, only a few of which were loosely based on Mulford's stories.Rango (2011 film)
Rango is a 2011 American computer-animated Western action comedy film co-produced (with Graham King and John B. Carls) and directed by Gore Verbinski as his first animated film from a screenplay by John Logan. Starring the voices of Johnny Depp, Isla Fisher, Bill Nighy, Abigail Breslin, Alfred Molina, Harry Dean Stanton, Ray Winstone, Timothy Olyphant, Stephen Root and Ned Beatty, the film centers on Rango, a chameleon who accidentally ends up in the town of Dirt, an outpost that is in desperate need of a new sheriff. The film was produced by Nickelodeon Movies, Verbinski's Blind Wink Productions, King's GK Films and Industrial Light & Magic as its first animated film.Rango premiered at Westwood on February 14, 2011 and was released in the United States on March 4, 2011 by Paramount Pictures. The film was a critical and commercial success, grossing $245.7 million against a budget of $135 million. The film won the 2011 Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, making it the fifth non-Disney or Pixar film to ever win that award after Happy Feet (2006), Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005), Spirited Away (2002) and Shrek (2001).Revisionist Western
The Revisionist Western or Anti-Western is a subgenre of the Western film that traces its roots to the mid-1960s and early-1970s.
Some post-World War II Western films began to question the ideals and style of the traditional Western. These films placed the context of the Native Americans and cowboys alike in a darker setting. They depicted a morally questionable world where the heroes and villains often times resembled each other more closely than had previously been shown. The concept of right and wrong became blurred in a world where actions could no longer be said to be good or bad. Whereas in a majority of the classical western films the ethics were clear and defined in 'black and white', the Revisionist film looked to paint a moral 'grey' area where people had to adapt in order to survive. This led to depictions of outlaws such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid where the heroes of the film are outlaw bank robbers.Scooby-Doo! Shaggy's Showdown
Scooby-Doo! Shaggy's Showdown is a 2017 direct-to-DVD animated comedy mystery film, and the twenty-eighth entry in the direct-to-video series of Scooby-Doo films. It was released digitally on January 31, 2017 and was released on DVD on February 14, 2017.The Comancheros (film)
The Comancheros is a 1961 Western Deluxe CinemaScope color film directed by Michael Curtiz, based on a 1952 novel of the same name by Paul Wellman, and starring John Wayne and Stuart Whitman. The supporting cast includes Ina Balin, Lee Marvin, Nehemiah Persoff, Bruce Cabot, Jack Elam, Patrick Wayne, and Edgar Buchanan. Also featured are Western-film veterans Bob Steele, Guinn "Big Boy" Williams, and Harry Carey, Jr. in uncredited supporting roles.
When illness prevented Curtiz (director of Casablanca and The Adventures of Robin Hood) from finishing the film, Wayne took over as director, though his role remained uncredited. Curtiz died shortly after the film was completed.The Revenant (2015 film)
The Revenant is a 2015 American semi-biographical epic western film directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu. The screenplay by Mark L. Smith and Iñárritu is based in part on Michael Punke's 2002 novel of the same name, describing frontiersman Hugh Glass's experiences in 1823. That novel is in turn based on the 1915 poem The Song of Hugh Glass. The film stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, and Will Poulter.
Development began in August 2001 when producer Akiva Goldsman purchased Punke's manuscript. Iñárritu signed on to direct in August 2011 and in April 2014, after several delays due to other projects, Iñárritu confirmed that he was beginning work on The Revenant and that DiCaprio would play the lead role. Principal photography began in October 2014. Location and crew concerns delayed the film from May to August 2015.
The Revenant premiered at the TCL Chinese Theatre on December 16, 2015, and had a limited release on December 25, expanding on January 8, 2016. The film received largely positive reviews, and praise for its performances (particularly from DiCaprio and Hardy), direction, and cinematography. It won three Golden Globe Awards and five BAFTA Awards. At the 88th Academy Awards, the film received 12 nominations, including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor for Hardy, with Iñárritu, DiCaprio, and Emmanuel Lubezki winning the awards for Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Cinematography, respectively. DiCaprio also won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama, Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role, BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role, and Critics' Choice Movie Award for Best Actor.The Rifleman
The Rifleman is an American Western television program starring Chuck Connors as rancher Lucas McCain and Johnny Crawford as his son Mark McCain. It was set in the 1870s and 1880s in the fictional town of North Fork, New Mexico Territory. The show was filmed in black and white, in half-hour episodes. The Rifleman aired on ABC from September 30, 1958, to April 8, 1963, as a production of Four Star Television. It was one of the first prime time series on US television to show a single parent raising a child.
The program was titled to reflect McCain's use of a Winchester Model 1892 rifle, customized to allow repeated firing by cycling its lever action. He demonstrated this technique in the opening credits of every episode, as well as a second modification that allowed him to cycle the action with one hand.The Sheriff's Baby
The Sheriff's Baby is a 1913 American silent Western film directed by D. W. Griffith.Three Friends (film)
Three Friends is a 1913 American silent film directed by D. W. Griffith and starring Blanche Sweet.Tombstone (film)
Tombstone is a 1993 American Western film directed by George P. Cosmatos, written by Kevin Jarre (who was also the original director, but was replaced early in production), and starring Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer, with Sam Elliott, Bill Paxton, Powers Boothe, Michael Biehn, and Dana Delany in supporting roles, as well as narration by Robert Mitchum.
The film is based on events in Tombstone, Arizona, including the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral and the Earp Vendetta Ride, during the 1880s. It depicts a number of Western outlaws and lawmen, such as Wyatt Earp, William Brocius, Johnny Ringo, and Doc Holliday.
Tombstone was released by Hollywood Pictures in theatrical wide release in the United States on December 25, 1993, grossing $56.5 million in domestic ticket sales. The film was a financial success, and for the Western genre, it ranks number 16 in the list of highest-grossing films since 1979. Critical reception was generally positive.True Grit (2010 film)
True Grit is a 2010 American Revisionist Western film directed, written, produced, and edited by the Coen brothers and executively produced by Steven Spielberg. It is the second adaptation of Charles Portis' 1968 novel of the same name, which was previously released in 1969 starring John Wayne and Glen Campbell. This version stars Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross and Jeff Bridges as Deputy U.S. Marshal Reuben J. "Rooster" Cogburn, along with Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, and Barry Pepper.
Feisty 14 year-old farm girl Mattie Ross (Steinfeld) hires Cogburn, a boozy, trigger-happy lawman (Bridges) after an outlaw named Tom Chaney (Brolin) murders her father. The bickering duo are accompanied on their quest by a Texas Ranger named LaBoeuf (Damon) who has been tracking Chaney for killing a State Senator. As they embark on a dangerous adventure, each character has his or her "grit" tested in different ways.
Filming began in March 2010, and the film was officially released in the U.S. on December 22, 2010 after advance screenings earlier that month. The film opened the 61st Berlin International Film Festival on February 10, 2011. It was well received by critics, garnering a 96% Rotten Tomatoes score. It was nominated for ten Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor in a Leading Role (Bridges), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Steinfeld), Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Sound Editing. However, it won none. The film was released on Blu-ray and DVD on June 7, 2011.Unforgiven
Unforgiven is a 1992 American revisionist Western film produced and directed by Clint Eastwood and written by David Webb Peoples. The film portrays William Munny, an aging outlaw and killer who takes on one more job years after he had turned to farming. The film stars Eastwood in the lead role, with Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman and Richard Harris. Eastwood stated that the film would be his last Western for fear of repeating himself or imitating someone else's work.The film won four Academy Awards: Best Picture and Best Director for Clint Eastwood, Best Supporting Actor for Gene Hackman, and Best Film Editing for editor Joel Cox. Eastwood was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance, but he lost to Al Pacino for Scent of a Woman. The film was the third Western to win the Oscar for Best Picture, following Cimarron (1931) and Dances with Wolves (1990).
Eastwood dedicated the film to directors and mentors Sergio Leone and Don Siegel. In 2004, Unforgiven was added to the United States National Film Registry of the Library of Congress as being deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".Wild Wild West
Wild Wild West is a 1999 American steampunk western action comedy film co-produced and directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, produced by Jon Peters and written by S. S. Wilson and Brent Maddock alongside Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman. Loosely adapted from The Wild Wild West 1960s TV series created by Michael Garrison, the film stars Will Smith and Kevin Kline as two rival Secret Service agents who put their differences aside in order to protect U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant and the United States during the American Old West. The supporting cast features Kenneth Branagh, Salma Hayek, Ted Levine, M. Emmet Walsh and Bai Ling.
Wild Wild West was released theatrically in the United States on June 30, 1999 by Warner Bros. and was a critical and commercial disappointment, grossing only $222.1 million against a $170 million budget.Wild and Wooly
Wild and Wooly is a 1978 comedy/western television film about four turn-of-the-century women who break out of prison to foil an Irish assassin out to kill the President of the United States. It starred Charles Siebert, David Doyle, Elyssa Davalos, Vic Morrow, and Doug McClure. It was directed by Philip Leacock.