Welcome to the Wild, Wild West: Western Genre Makes a Comeback—Again
It’s been a long day.
You’re satisfied with how it turned out, but utterly exhausted and need something to help lay your hair down.
You instruct your trusty old horse to turn to the first place you can think of – the local saloon.
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Yep, this is it.
The blistering sun has begun to set and as it casts shadows in the sand, you can begin to feel the atmosphere changing.
You finally reach the saloon, and having tied your horse and ensured he’s had some water, you push the familiar half-doors and enter the place, to be greeted by the smell of stale alcohol among the general cacophony that accompanies an establishment as refined as this.
You place hat on the reception, ignoring the stand built for the same – ever the rebel – and make your way to your usual place, only to find some other man sitting there.
You walk up to them, and tell them they’re in your spot. They snap.
If they’d politely admitted their mistake, or asked you if you could sit somewhere else, you’d probably have obliged, but uncalled for rudeness? That’s trouble.
This time you ask a little less nicely, and they respond by drawing their Colt out.
You respond in kind. Your eyes lock, your arms tense. You both know what’s about to happen, and for a split second, you both consider the consequences. The staredown is intense, but ultimately, he draws, and you do the same.
“Some other day, pal,” he says and leaves with a smirk on his face and you take your usual seat while the crowd returns to the activities they were already engaged in.
Men are still good.
Image Source: wikiwand.com
Where in fact, this is it.
I bet you feel like you were a part of a John Wayne Western right now.
Who and what, you ask?
It’s a perfectly valid question, after all you and I grew up in an era where the genre had already breathed its last.
But, to answer your question, Mr. Wayne was an Academy Award-winning and American icon epitomizing effortless cool before the Robert Downey Jr.s and Hugh Jackmans of today appeared.
Image Source: jwayne.com
The inimitable Mr. Wayne.
And just like Mr. Downey Jr. and Mr. Jackman cut their teeth on the superhero genre, Mr. Wayne did it with Western.
I suppose it’s valid to wonder why Westerns were so popular at the time, but think of it as similar to today’s superhero glut.
Westerns, in essence, had a simple premise – you had a lone gunslinging cowboy protagonist fighting the good fight against the backdrop of the American West embodying the spirit and struggle of the new frontier.
While the core premise was more or less similar in every case, there were countless subgenres, such as comedy Westerns, musical Westerns, epic Westerns or the ubiquitous Spaghetti Westerns, all of them telling a variation of a story that revolved around an outlaw, revenge, empires, ranches, Indians and countless others.
But what good is a story if it lacks the aesthetic to highlight its strengths and hide its weaknesses?
The John Fords and Ennio Morricones of cinema knew this all too well, and the hard work that went into crafting the perfect grainy shots and the soaring beats stands testament to the fact.
And there was no lack of flash in the props and costume departments either, you can’t say Western and not instantly conjure up mental images of a rugged looking individual with a Stetson hat, a bandana, buckskins and a baffling array of tools one requires to survive and to dole out frontier justice.
They may not have had CGI back in those days, but that sure didn’t stop them from serving up eye candy.
See the parallels with today’s superhero movies yet?
Just as we have our The Dark Knight, The Avengers and X-Men to show off proudly, they had their The Magnificent Seven, Stagecoach, High Noon, and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly among countless others. The superhero genre might be huge, but it’ll never be Western huge.
And just like superhero movies are widely beloved, so were the Westerns, but while beloved by audiences, there was ultimately a flood of these in the market, and coupled with the shifting tastes of the audiences, there was a steady reduction in the output of Westerns until they were few and far between every decade. (There’s speculation that the superhero genre might go the same way, but that’s a worry for another day).
"Westerns" Have Been Here All Along
While the genre may have “died out”, its influence continued far beyond its lifespan, and there’s a trace of them in every movie we see today. They practically gave birth to the action and the superhero genre, with films such as The Postman, or the Mad Max franchise being a post-apocalyptic Western extravaganza and the TV series Star Trek and Firefly drawing enough inspirations to be loosely termed space Westerns. Even George Lucas himself states that the concept of the Mos Eisley cantina and Han Solo’s bad boy appearance were derived from the Western ideologies!
And this influence isn’t just limited to movies.
Horror maestro Stephen King’s series of The Dark Tower books is a genre blend of horror, fantasy and Western, and it’s all the better for it.
Even videogames like Fallout, Red Dead Redemption and Mass Effect wouldn’t be what they are if it hadn’t been for the genre.
Image Source: theguardian.com
The cast of Deadwood getting their blue steel on.
But while the genre’s influence lingered, it found itself facing cultural obsolescence by the 2000s.
The only true Western you could find was the critically acclaimed HBO series Deadwood, but even that didn’t last long.
But then, with the advent of the new decade, something magical happened – oversaturation.
Think about it, there are only so many times you can present similar themes and stories to the audience and hope they’ll embrace it. It was at this point, a need for innovation was felt, and while a section of the industry chose to better the already popular genre to substantial results, another decided to revive an old one and show the audience that back to the basics was the approach we needed and deserved.
This came to a head in 2015 – while on one hand, there were the usual superhero movies such as Age of Ultron, Ant-Man and Fant4stic, on the other hand were the innovative Westerns such as The Hateful Eight and The Revenant, directed by benchmark setters Quentin Tarantino and Alejandro Gonzalez-Innaritu, starring thespians like Samuel L. Jackson and Leonardo DiCaprio, and having their own set of party tricks – 70MM screenings and cinematography in natural lighting.
The result? Box office smashing, complete with fanfare from audience and critics.
Some of the best modern Westerns.
A very healthy byproduct of this incident has been a resurgence in the genre’s popularity – there’s an adaptation of The Dark Tower being readied for television, Antoine Fuqua’s remake of The Magnificent Seven starring heavyweights such as Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt is just around the corner, and countless other scripts are undergoing approval and entering pre-production.
We’ve seen the influences, it’s time for the real thing.
?Image Source: moviefone.com
Unite the seven.
And this is a very good thing!
It will push the envelope of creativity, and force filmmakers to think differently, and present time old stories in a context that the modern audience can understand and enjoy and I feel that’s a good thing as it will serve as the perfect counter-programming to the endless remakes, reboots and feature length CGI product placements that are dominating our screens at the moment.
We as an audience deserve to be respected and presented with well told stories that enthrall us and affect us, and this opportunity is a godsend!
Every now and then we need to shake things up, and as much as I’d still love going to a new Avengers or a Justice League film, I’d know there’s something else waiting in the wings that’s decidedly different and equally full of potential.
And as a fan of cinema, isn’t that everything you asked for?
It is for me.
PS. Just one request, Hollywood – don’t smother us with the films this time.
You know what they say about too much of a good thing.
The West Beyond Film
The Western genre celebrates “the good, the bad, and the ugly” side of early American Western frontiersmen and women. Beyond a classic period in American history, the days of cowboys and cowgirls remains relevant today, not just in film, but also in text books and events like rodeos and town fairs. But the best example of the relevance of the Western period is Halloween. Every year, cowboy and cowgirl costumes are among the most requested classic styles—whether there is a movie at the theaters or not. Films and shows like those mentioned in this article further popularize the genre, making Western a pivotal category in any costume shop. At Wonder Costumes, we take great pride in our selection. We cater to all those seeking western themed outfits for any event—from Halloween to the local rodeo. Visit our collection of cowboy and cowgirl costumes and pay respect to the genre that never dies.