Westerns: Don’t Carve that Tombstone Yet

The western genre, perhaps, is the narrative representation of the frontier mentality that has been a mainstay of American ideology for the last two centuries. It displays rugged individuality, bravado, masculinity, and personal and moral triumph over all that the cruel and wicked world has to offer that Americans have loved. Not to age myself, but one of my earliest film memories as a child was watching The Lonesome Dove miniseries with my grandfather. I’ve also read a dozen or more Louise L’Amour novels, although I am more fond of his non-western works.

Along with the diversification of American popular culture, the Western may seem to be on the way out, or so some journalists believe. While it may be in a state of decline, there is still quite a bit that the Western Genre has to offer American audiences.  The rehash of The Lone Ranger might be a better indication of a decline in Johnny Depp’s career than that of the entire genre. As Michael Agresta noted, Django Unchained and True Grit demonstrated the stamina of the genre in 2013 when he wrote his article. More recently, the Hateful Eight and Diablo haven’t met much critical or box office success, despite the former being a rather entertaining movie in my opinion, but The Revenant has demonstrated though both the box office and Oscar nominations there there are still more fish in the Western Movie barrel. But it takes more than a familiar name (here’s looking at you Scott Eastwood) to attract broad audiences. The days when any film maker could churn out another western and expect moderate success have long since vanished, as they will with all constantly rehashed film ideas (bye Johnny Depp and Tim Burton, and watch out Marvel), but some ingenuity, a compelling storyline, and a smattering of notable actors, there is still hope for Western films.

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