**Circuit Q&A’s are our daily community question, posed to the readers of AwardsCircuit that cover various topics from film and television to general wonderings and for instances**
The moment “The Great Train Robbery” was released in 1903, film changed forever. The 12-minute silent film spawned what would become one of the most popular film genres of all time – the western. Westerns are mostly set in the American West and are simple stories that primarily focus on cowboys or lawmen. They feature beautiful settings, romance, humor and plenty of gunfights. While the stories may seem flippant, westerns have been able to mold themselves and stay relevant over time. Thus, the western sits atop the totem as one of the most vital genres ever put to screen.
The Classic Western
The western as we know it was built on the backs of two icons, John Wayne and Clint Eastwood. Wayne was the face of the traditional western. Alongside legendary director John Ford, Wayne delivered classics like “Stagecoach”, “The Man that Shot Liberty Valance” and “The Searchers.” Meanwhile, Eastwood, alongside Italian filmmaker Sergio Leone, made “The Man with No Name” trilogy and brought the spaghetti western to cinemas around the world. Many consider these films as some of the greatest films ever made. Basically, Wayne and Eastwood were synonymous within westerns well into the 1970s.
As these two icons thrived, the western was forming new sub-genres almost every year. With the form expanding, it gave audiences a little bit of everything when they went to the movies. Rather than a single lead, movies like “The Magnificent Seven,” “Rio Bravo” and “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” embraced the idea of an ensemble casts. The revisionist western, or anti-western, was born with films like “The Wild Bunch,” “Little Big Man” and “McCabe and Mrs. Miller.” Then there was the comedic western, most notably “Blazing Saddles,” which is a great spoof on classic western tropes. By the end of the 1970s, the western remained strong but time can change all things.
The Modern Western
Once the ’80s hit, audiences seemed to shift their focus to other genres. The western struggled throughout most of the decade. But towards the end, films like “Silverado” and “Young Guns” came out and brought life back to the western. These movies showed a new generation of audiences how fun westerns could be. Continuing off the late success of the ’80s, the ’90s brought a resurgence of the western. Titles like “Tombstone”, “Maverick”, “Dances with Wolves” and “Unforgiven” were critical and box office successes. The latter two films even won multiple Oscars, including Best Picture. While not as popular as it once was, the western was back in public conscious and could thrive when done right.
Now in the new millennium, the western has settled in a place for successful directors to make their mark on the genre. Most of today’s westerns come from a place of pure nostalgia for the films of yore while trying to create something new. Films like “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” “The Revenant,” and “Django Unchained” highlight some of the best films of the era and best work from the directors behind the films. Even films like “Hell or High Water,” “No Country for Old Men” and “There Will Be Blood” have massive inspiration from westerns and use a number of the genre’s tropes.
Overall the western is still a relevant genre that continues to bring out new, exciting entries every couple of years. We embrace the present, cherish the past and feel grateful that the western will exist long into the future.