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Resurrecting the Classic Western: How to Save a Dying Genre

Resurrecting the Classic Western: How to Save a Dying Genre

Modern filmmaking was built on the foundation of storytelling that originated in the 40s, 50s, and 60s — a large portion of those movies being down-and-dirty Westerns. Nearly every major Hollywood actor had a chance to star in a western at some point in their careers and audiences ate them up. Westerns, for many years, embraced the escapism audiences craved and gave it out in spades. You didn’t just feel like you were watching the Wild West, you were IN the Wild West.

Fast forward to 2015, and Westerns are nearly extinct. Superheroes, astronauts, and cartoons are at the forefront of film-goers’ wish lists, and no one seems to care about cowboys. It’s a real life story of Woody and Buzz Lightyear. But for those of us who love this classic, beautiful genre of filmmaking, keeping the Western alive and well is the mission. We NEED to save Westerns, and we’ll gladly explain why and how.

True Grit

Image Credit: True Grit

Bring Back the Classics

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly; True Grit; Stagecoach; Once Upon a Time in the West; The Wild Bunch …the films of Sergio Leone, Clint Eastwood, Sam Peckinpah, John Wayne, and the countless other directors, actors, and artists among them are reason enough to save this classic genre. When so many successful films have come out of the minds of writers and creators, inspiring the current professionals today, why should we sit idly by as the Western continues to struggle? In many ways, the term “classic” means old, and audiences simply aren’t interested in old. They want new, new, new. So how do you revive a classic? Well, you do just that. It might be a cop-out strategy, but it seems to work for the most part.

Take a successful classic like True Grit, for instance: the Coen Brothers took what was already a successful Western franchise and brought their current writing style and modern film equipment to pay tribute to the original movie. 3:10 to Yuma did the same, years earlier, when James Mangold directed Christian Bale and Russell Crowe in an adaptation. Happily, Hollywood is working on reviving The Magnificent Seven, which of course was one of the most successful Western films of all time — its roots stemming from Japan of all places. Global appreciation is the key to giving these typically American films the respect and attention they deserve. In a flurry of straight-to-DVD low-budget Westerns, only 2 major releases are scheduled for 2015: Slow West, starring Michael Fassbender, and Quentin Tarantino’s highly anticipated Hateful Eight. Even with the support from directors like Tarantino, if westerns ever want to make a comeback, that number needs to rise, and fast.

cowboys and aliens

Image Credit: Cowboys and Aliens

Blending Genres

So how do you do that? One option is blending the Western with another genre. While they may not always capture the honesty and simplicity of the classic western, any attempt to blend westerns with other genres should at least count for something. Comedy, science fiction, and even horror all seem to delve into the Western territory now and again. Last year’s A Million Ways to Die in the West was actually a pretty good attempt at blending comedy with the western genre. If audiences aren’t interested in pure Westerns, maybe another genre will help peak their interest. Cowboys and Aliens, Django Unchained, and The Lone Ranger all attempted to blend genres in recent years, so maybe we’ll continue to see a rise in Western cross-breeds. Hey, if we Western fans can’t get our full fix, a small dose will do.


Image Credit: Red Dead Redemption

Branch Into Non-Movie Territory

If the spaceman has taken over the cowboy’s territory, let the cowboy join in on the fun! When Rockstar games developed Red Dead Redemption, modern video gamers were reintroduced to the Western in a new medium and it was a huge success. John Marston’s adventures in the Wild West made their way into nearly every gamer’s household, and rekindled that simple yet spirited emotion of the classic Western. Maybe if Westerns aren’t seeing success in theaters, they should venture out into uncharted territory more often. Here’s hoping Rockstar games will announce Red Dead Redemption 2 in the near future!

No matter how uninterested in Western films society may seem to be, we as members of the “geek” community have the power to revive nearly any genre. Hey…it’s what we do! So maybe if we work together and take the time to recognize this dying art form, we can bring it back to the forefront of cinema and the world.

How would you revive the Western? Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments.

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