(Ch. 11) The Western: A Brief History

The Western:

  • The Western is the only true American Film genre. Why because it is about a truly western-movie-historyaAmerican experience of exploration and the search for a better life. No other film genre
  • The least successful film genre at the box office today because it has a very limited and focused audience (mostly white male-targeted, historical-minded, action-oriented).
  • Western Films can cover this time period in history (1830 – 1909) but usually focus on 1865-1895
  • First Western Film: The Great Train Robbery (1903).
  • 1915-1930 Western Films flooded the box office as double feature materialv1-btsxmte2odk3odtqoze3mji5ozeymda7odawozeymda
  • 1940-1960 – The Western covers themes of Honor, Sacrifice.
  • John Wayne was a major Western film star for nearly 50 years (84 Westerns from 1930-76) and earned several Oscar nominations including his first Academy Award win for Best Actor for the western True Grit (1969).
  • Westerns from the 1960s and 1970s often have more pessimistic view, glorifying a rebellious anti-hero and highlighting the cynicism, brutality and inequality of the American West.
  • “Spaghetti Westerns” emerged in Italy –(1960-75, 600 films) Low budget, more action and violence that Hollywood (this inspired Hollywood).
  • “Spaghetti Westerns” launched career of Clint Eastwood. He went on to star and direct in numerous Westerns (1960-92) and won an Oscar in 1992 for Best Picture and Director for “The Unforgiven.”
  • 1960s – Revisionist Western –challenged the traditional Western story.
  1. Native Americans not portrayed as savages.the-quick-and-the-dead-2
  2. No longer typical hero vs. villain.
  3. More depth displayed in characters.
  4. Women begin to take on stronger leadership roles.
  5. Children called into the role leadership.
  6. the revisionist aspect of these films will offer this for the characters: Instead of dying bravely or stoically, characters whine, cry, and beg; instead of a hero saving the innocent, it is a villain who steps in to seek revenge.


Traditional Westerns Film Plots:

  • Usually, the central plot of the western film is the classic, simple goal of maintaining william-fitchner-interpreta-a-butch-cavendish-un-temido_680_478_190311law and order on the frontier in a fast-paced action story. It is normally rooted in the conflict – good vs. bad, virtue vs. evil, white hat vs. black hat, settler vs. nomad, and farmer vs. industrialist, etc.
  • In many ways, the cowboy of the Old West was the American version of the Japanese samurai warrior, or the Arthurian knight of medieval times. The heroes were all bound by legal codes of behavior, ethics, justice, courage, honor and chivalry.


Other Film Western Sub-genres:


Other Western films for viewing consideration

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)unknown

The Searchers (1956)

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966)

The Wild Bunch (1969)

Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid (1969)

Jeremiah Johnson (1972)

Pale Rider (1985)

Dances with Wolves (1990)article-2754192-2151563500000578-888_634x449

Tombstone (1993)

The Quick and the Dead (1995)

The Missing (2003)

3:10 to Yuma (2007)

True Grit (2010)

The Revenant (2015)


Agresta, M. (2013, July 24). How the western was lost (and why it matters) – The Atlantic. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2013/07/how-the-western-was-lost-and-why-it-matters/278057/


AMC. (n.d.). Westerns Films. Retrieved from http://www.filmsite.org/westernfilms.html


Encyclopedia Britannica. (n.d.). western | narrative genre | Britannica.com. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/art/western


Genre: Western – The Script Lab. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://thescriptlab.com/screenplay/genre/western


Perry, C. J. (2015, March 6). The evolution of the western genre. Retrieved from http://www.filmslatemagazine.com/the-evolution-of-the-western-genre/


5 Comments Add yours

  1. 1. Why has the Western genre continued to survive for over a century on film since it is but a snapshot of American history?

    In my opinion, the western genre has survived because it embodies American ideals and is a True American story. One critic compared the western to America’s “The Odyssey,” because it gives America a story to be proud of – our own story. With that being said, I think the western will need to fight to stay alive in future years. There has been a serious decline in the genre’s popularity in recent years, because a stereotypical western just doesn’t appeal as much to the audience anymore. A few have succeeded (such as “Django Unchained”), but usually by breaking the mold.

    2. Based on the Western hybrid formulas mentioned – can you name two other films you feel would fit one (1) of these categories (other than a Western/Comedy or Western/Musical)? Why? (You must give examples that are congruent with what you’ve learned about Western themes, ideas, storylines, etc.).

    I think the film “Interstellar” fits within the Space Western hybrid formula. The film is about exploring new worlds in search of a planet to inhabit. It covers themes of honor and sacrifice (a dad leaves his children on Earth so that he can search for a new world for humanity), and it displays the brutality of the harsh planets, much like westerns show the brutality of the west. An example of a post-apocalyptic western is “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.” It displays characteristics of the revisionist western – characters whine, cry, and beg in the film, and one of the main (human) characters is a villain who steps in to seek revenge on the apes.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. ssevert says:

    Why has the Western genre continued to survive for over a century on film since it is but a snapshot of American history?

    American’s tend to be proud of their heritage and Westerns allow American’s to remember “where they came from” and “where they’re going”. Westerns can take on a variety of forms and therefor I think attract a variety of people. As humans we also like someone to root for. Westerns never fail to give us that. There is always some one or some thing that we want to succeed in the end.

    After listening to the interview with S. Craig Zahler (writer & director) of the unknownWestern/Horror film “Bone Tomahawk” – share some things that you found interesting about his approach to filmmaking and the Western.

    One thing I really liked learning about was that Zahler was always willing to write a character biography for his characters. I never really thought about a write having to do this but it makes a lot of sense. There was a limited budget and also a very limited time to shoot. It was also interesting to learn about all the different versions that were going on. He says “we just kept pushing forward”.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. noeltmanning says:

      This was really interesting to me as well: “write a character biography for his characters.”


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