Where Have All the Westerns Gone?

What guy out there grew up with having never watched a Western? My own dad wasn’t obsessed or anything but we definitely had seen a fair amount when we were younger.

John Wayne’s name was thrown around enough for me to know who he was without ever having watched one of his movies. Looking back on it though, the Westerns that I’d list as my favorites today or even childhood favorites were ones that my dad never actually even cared about.

The Quick and the Dead (1995) was one in particular that I was a fan of as a kid even though looking back, it’s clearly got that Sam Raimi flavor. Close-up zooms, giant holes blown into dummy heads, so on and so forth. We’ve had a handful since then but nothing that the public has latched onto. So the real question is, where have all the Westerns gone?

The 50s and 60s were ripe with the rugged masculinity that permeates the screen, with classics in and out of the genre. From High Noon (1952) to Shane (1953), The Magnificent Seven (1960)to my all time favorite, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966), these two decades alone produced the majority of arguably the most favored Westerns of all time.

The seventies still had theirs as well, A Fistful of Dynamite (or Duck, You Sucker! Whichever you prefer), several with our man Clint, Jeremiah Johnson. Heck, even Blazing Saddles and Westworld came to light.

The eighties weren’t as kind as the previous decades but they still brought a good number of decent entries to the genre including Pale Rider and The Cowboys.

Have you ever seen anything so…Western? You live in the actual West? Oh.

Though the 90s are when things get a bit hazy. There were still a lot of Westerns to be made, but very few that have actually mattered. Unforgiven in 1992 being the most notable, while Tombstone is a favorite among audiences even for all its historical inaccuracies and problems in general. But dang it if it’s not quotable.

As mentioned above, I’ve watched The Quick and the Dead but that really seems to be more of a nod to Westerns rather than a member of the category in many ways. Great cast, though.

This past decade has not been nearly as giving to the topic in question. There have been a few watchable ones here and there, Open Range being the first to come to mind. Though 3:10 to Yuma and True Grit seem to be the only high quality Westerns to have come along in recent memory, both of which are of course, remakes.

Certain genre benders could be considered Westerns and if they are, they’re great ones though they don’t necessarily qualify as “true” Westerns at the end of the day. Not rhetorical: Would you consider Shanghai Noon with Jackie Chan or No Country for Old Men Westerns?

What does the hair say?

In any case, you see my point: Westerns have all but died out completely. Why is this? Where did a guy’s love for the wild, open west die out? No on particular genre seems to be a definite crowd pleaser these days, being that we’re exposed to so much I’d say, but this type of film in particular has suffered tremendously. Could it be that the further we get away from the actual time of the cowboys and outlaws, the less interested we become?

If this is true, it could simply be likened to the waning love of balls-out action movies. Seems to me, America and the rest of the world can only take so much of that “I SHOT YOU. I WIN.” attitude. Honestly, that will never go away, but it’s hey day has certainly passed. As mentioned, look at the success of The Expendables movies and you can tell there will always be a love for things of that nature.

Bang! BANG! BOOM! Paa-DOOOM! Okay, cut.

Bang! BANG! BOOM! Paa-DOOOM! Okay, cut.

I’m writing this article for two reasons: One, I love Westerns and I hate that I just can’t get a new one that’s worth anybody’s time anymore. Two, it’s interesting to see how one specific type of film just hardly seems to have a contemporary place anymore.

Did 2010’s True Grit become as successful as it did because it was as good as it was? Or did it also have something to do with the fact that “they don’t make’ em like they used to” and people were ready for whatever Hollywood would give them? On a 40 million budget, it grossed 250. It’s possible people wanted to see how the recent effort would stack up to the John Wayne original and it’s not much more than that.

But I can’t believe the latter. I have no written evidence to suggest that Westerns aren’t made as much anymore simply because Hollywood just decided to stop, but it could have just burned itself out.

Who could be this beautiful forever? WHO?

Who could be this beautiful forever? WHO?

Being the business that they are, they’re all about the money of course, but it feels like a “chicken and the egg” scenario; did Hollywood stop the flow of quality in these movies, prompting audiences to quit paying for them, or did audiences themselves stop going, thereby discouraging Hollywood from producing anything of value? I’m sure someone who would care to dig deep in the basements of cinema history could find the answer I’m looking for.

There’s no one particular answer that would satisfy the question I’m asking, but it’s really more of a thought with a question mark on the end. It’s doubtful the Western will ever make a full comeback altogether and I’m also doubtful of whether or not it should. There is such thing as too much of a good thing.

Still, it doesn’t hurt to see one pop up now and then and remind us of why many of us started loving movies in the first place.

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