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New Old West

I'm a cowboy, on a steel horse I ride,
And I'm wanted—dead or alive.
Bon Jovi, "Wanted Dead or Alive"

The Western genre is a rich one, but has been decidedly played out over the years, to the point where it's hard to do a Western series without looking like you're ripping off a rip-off. The easiest way to revitalize the genre is to set it in the future, when man's expansion onto other planets has created a similar state of lawlessness and grit—hence the Space Western.

A less popular choice is the New Old West, in which Western traditions and tropes are shifted forward a hundred or so years into the modern day. Now the bandits drive pick-up trucks, the outlaws hole up in motels and the great plains of America are surrounded on all sides by airports, highways and cities.

Of course this means that it's harder to do stories about outlaws, because advances in technology mean that it's easier for law enforcement agents to pursue and convict criminals. As a result, many New Old West stories are about the perceived loss of freedom in America now that such days are gone.

There's an overlap with the Twilight of the Old West trope if the New Old West story is set in the early part of the 20th century and is about elements of the Wild West fading away.

If there is a fantasy or supernatural element to the story, expect an actual cowboy—or some other person from the actual Old West—to somehow make an appearance.

Because of its proximity to Texas, the overwhelming power of The Cartel, and the numerous poor towns that any criminal can hide in, a good number of New Old West stories take place South of the Border.


Examples

    open/close all folders 

     Anime and Manga  

  • The fallout-covered nuclear wasteland in Fist of the North Star.
  • Trigun has this in spades. Here's an AMV set to Bon Jovi's Wanted Dead or Alive.
    • Could be considered sort of a cross between this and Space Western—it's on an alien planet, but space travel has been lost and the tech is kind of schizy. The level of order is deplorably low, which is treated as kind of a problem because bandits and other abuses of the violent kinds, but the hero would be in big trouble if 'the Feds' could actually exert any authority, and the 'awesome' factor is milked for all it's worth.

     Comic Books  

  • Preacher takes the whole thing so far it even features an unkillable cowboy and the "ghost" of John Wayne.
  • The Hitman annual is a modern-day Western, right down to the coffin full of money.
    • Several other DC Comics Annuals that year were modern westerns (the "theme" being pulp fiction genres). These included Superman as the Mysterious Stranger riding flying into town; Impulse teaming with the original Vigilante, now running a dude ranch; and Robin facing down the modern day Trigger Twins, alongside the modern day Pow-Wow Smith and Nighthawk.
  • The DCU comic Cinnamon: El Ciclo was an updating of a female Bounty Hunter from the 1970s book Weird Western Tales to the present day, where she was a security operative for hire.
  • Several other DC Western characters have modern day counterparts, although how Western their stories are varies considerably.
  • The Legend of Red Wolf by Enrique Villagran.
  • Wynonna Earp is New Old West meets Weird West.
  • The Marvel Comics miniseries Six Guns features present day legacies of five Western characters: the Tarantula, the Two-Gun Kid, the Black Rider, Matt Slade: Gunfighter, and Tex Dawson.
  • The Golden Age DC Comics characters Pow-Wow Smith (Native American sheriff) and Vigilante (singing cowboy) were 1940s Western characters, although sometimes DC forgot and put them in the real Old West. This was eventually explained as Pow-Wow having an Identical Grandfather and Vigilante getting Trapped in the Past during an adventure with the Seven Soldiers.
  • Parodied in a Lobo Elseworlds annual in which Lobo takes the role of various Western characters (Geroni-bo, The Main Man With No Name, Anne Bo-kley, etc). The final story is about "The Last Despera-bo" ... who promptly gets hit by a truck.
  • The modern Amazing Fantasy anthology series was headlined for a few issues by Vegas, a shiftless luck-stealing bounty hunter on the trail of the old mutant gang he used to run with after they hospitalized his sister.
  • The Cursed Earth from Judge Dredd is essentially an After the End version of the Old West, with Dredd and his fellow Judges often taking the role of The Sheriff.
  • The Rafael Sandoval version of DC Comics' El Diablo, who had his own short-lived title in the early 90s, patrolled a modern day border town while confronting issues that face Mexican-Americans.

    Film 

  • Sky High (1922) is set in the present day, but has all the trappings of The Western—a hero on horseback wearing a cowboy hat (Tom Mix), bad guys who conspire in a Bad-Guy Bar, the desert, a climactic fight on the side of a cliff.
  • Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia.
  • Six Reasons Why takes the tropes of the old west and places them in an unknown time with modern technology.
  • Near Dark is a film that follows a band of outlaw vampires on the backroads of Oklahoma.
  • Wild at Heart provided some of the inspiration for Preacher (see Comic Books, above).
  • The Three Burials Of Melquiades Estrada is a 2005 Mexican-American neo-western film set on the US-Mexican border.
  • Happens in the Gun Crazy live action Japanese movies.
  • The Mad Max films are essentially Westerns set After the End Down Under.
  • Dead Mans Shoes is a rare British example, taking Western themes and setting them in Matlock.
  • A setting much beloved by Robert Rodriguez, whose forays include the El Mariachi trilogy and From Dusk Till Dawn.
  • Arguably Brokeback Mountain, though it's not a shoot 'em up.
  • No Country for Old Men is a Film Noir set in the New Old West.
  • Parts of Kill Bill. Instead of a brothel, you've got a dingy titty bar; instead of a sinister mustachioed gunslinger, you've got a shotgun-wielding sadist who listens to Johnny Cash. . .
  • Ghost Rider played up these elements, also tying in an older Western character by the same name (who existed in the comics but was unrelated to the modern character).
  • The Professionals is a classic 1966 Western set in 1917. A group of experts are hired to go into Mexico and rescue the wife of a rancher who has been kidnapped by Mexican revoloutinaries. Comments are made about the Great war raging in Europe and the heroes have to face the traditional dangers of the West combined with more modern threats such as machine guns and artllery pieces.
  • Extreme Prejudice (1987) used this trope as the background for an action movie where a Texas Ranger teams up with a high-tech black ops unit to take down a former friend-turned-Mexican druglord. Emphasis is placed on how the Old West ways are being destroyed by the easy money available from the drug trade, and the violence that accompanies it.
    • Interestingly, the director, Walter Hill, is the self-proclaimed pioneer of the Western In Name Only, noting in at least a couple of interviews (one of which provides a page quote) that From a Certain Point of View, all of his films are Westerns.
  • Lone Wolf McQuade (1983) David Carradine and Chuck Norris kick martial arts butt in the New West. Was the inspiration for Walker, Texas Ranger.
  • Streets of Fire emphasizes the trope with Tom's duster.
  • The Korean The Good, the Bad and the Ugly remake, The Good, the Bad, the Weird, transplants the setting of the story from the American Civil War to 1940s Manchuria.
  • Crush Proof plays like The Wild Bunch recast with a bunch of Dublin teenagers.
  • Alex Cox's 1987 cult film Straight To Hell is a parody of spaghetti westerns set in modern times, with a cast of punk rockers and character actors.
  • Big Trouble in Little China started out as a western before being moved to the present. It still retains some of the trappings, especially Jack Burton carrying a saddlebag around on his shoulder and riding off into the sunset.
    • John Carpenter said that he chose to direct Vampires because he thought the script resembled a Western (and even described as a "Western disguised as a horror film"). The film itself is full of Western landscapes and ghost towns with a vintage feel.
  • Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man is set in the New Old West. It features a gang of outlaws(with one of the lead outlaws, the Marlboro Man, being an actual cowboy), riding motorcycles rather than horses, robbing an armored car(instead of a train), to get money to save the cowboy barb(set near a modern airport and skyscrapers, representing the last bastion of the old way of life) they all love.
  • Red Hill, set in modern-day rural Australia (which works perfectly).
  • In Day of the Wolves, a gang of outlaws take over a small Western town. It would not take much of a rewrite to have the plot take place in 1871 instead of 1971.
  • The Wild Bunch takes place in 1913, basically showing the last hurrah of the wild west.
  • The oft-overlooked Lonely Are The Brave, set in 1962. The protagonist, Jack Burns (Kirk Douglas), is an itinerant ranch hand who still rides everywhere on horseback and sleeps wherever he ends up in the evening; he refuses to join modern society, claiming that he resents its emphasis on telling people where they can or can't go and what they can or can't do. His Old West lifestyle, however, has been growing increasingly difficult to maintain.
  • The Electric Horseman takes place in the contrasting worlds of the modern West: the glitzy Las Vegas Strip and the unspoiled wilderness of Utah's Zion National Park.
  • Last Man Standing brings the chain of adaptations begun by Red Harvest full circle, putting the familiar story of Yojimbo and A Fistful of Dollars back in a 1930s border town.
  • Hud is set on a Texas cattle ranch during the early 1960s and involves the undermining of the Old West's traditional values by the amorality and ruthlessness of the modern West represented by the film's titular character.
  • The Last Stand is about an aging sheriff of a Arizona-Mexico border having his own High Noon-like experience.
  • No Man's Land, set in the isolated deserts of Xinjiang, China.
  • 1955's Bad Day at Black Rock was influential in its mixing of Old West tropes and modern elements like rental cars. It was contemporary by necessity, in fact, since a good part of the theme was the anti-Japanese racism of the World War II era.

    Literature 

  • The Dark Tower series by Stephen King has elements of this; much of the action takes place After the End, but there are also parts in which Roland and his fellow "gunslingers" enter the modern world for a while. Most of these instances are grim (Eddie taking on the drug dealers he used to work for), but once or twice Hilarity Ensues.
  • In what may be one of the earliest examples of the New Old West (with the actual Old West still being within living memory), the Continental Op short story "Corkscrew" by Dashiell Hammett (written in 1925) takes a big city private eye to a small western town. The Hammett short story "The Man Who Killed Dan Odams" is pretty standard Western fare, but takes place in the Twentieth Century as well.
  • There's also the short-lived Pulp Magazine character Peter Rice, a sheriff who investigated murders in contemporary 1930's Arizona.
  • Louis Lamour set his novel The Broken Gun in the 1950's, with a reporter following up on century-old journal pages stuffed in a revolver.
  • All The Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy, as well as the film adaptation by Billy Bob Thornton.
  • Also McCarthy's No Country for Old Men (the basis for the film, which is also a good example).
  • The Joanna Brady mysteries by JA Jance. Joanna is sheriff of Cochise County in Arizona; the jurisdiction with happens to include Tombstone.
  • The Rockabye County series by J.T. Edson.
  • Several stories Walt Coburn, most likely a result of him having grown up in the Twilight of the Old West.
    • Bronken Wings is set shortly after WWI and makes a point of throwing an airplane into a story about a gold mind and a Mexican coup.
  • In the Kate Shugak novels, much is made of the frontier atmosphere of Alaska, and the fact that the beat of single trooper can cover 300 miles or more.

     Live Action TV  

  • The Highwayman — 1988 TV series (ran for 9 episodes). Set Twenty Minutes into the Future, chronicles the adventures of a U.S. Marshal and his cohorts in the lawless West of the near-future. Unexplained throwaway lines such as "re-colonizing the West" are common. Sometimes described as "Mad Max Meets Knight Rider".
  • Bearcats!! — 1971 TV series (13 episodes plus 2-hour pilot film Powderkeg), a Western set in the year 1914. The heroes were freelance adventurers who drove around in a Stutz Bearcat sports car instead of riding horses. The 20th-century setting allowed the writers to add modern elements such as the aforementioned Bearcat, oil companies, Imperial German spies and World War One, Mexican revolutionaries, and belt-fed machine guns. Ended up as something of an Anachronism Stew anyway because they often skimped on research — one episode featured a Renault FT-18 tank (the tank was not invented until 1915), another a Curtiss JN-4 biplane (first flight 1915) in Mexican Air Force colors (Curtiss "Jennies" were exported only to Britain). The show's continuity was a little soft from week to week, particularly with regard to those Mexican revolutionaries—one week, our heroes were working with the Mexican government against the rebels, the next week they were siding with the rebels. Despite all that, was quite fun to watch.
  • One episode of Sliders had the group slide into a world where all of America (and possibly the whole world) was wild-west-ey, including such things as the stock market being gambling, (stocks are traded in poker games), and lawyers are actually gunslingers (trials are a quick-draw duel).
  • Walker, Texas Ranger has many episodes set outside Dallas, especially those on the Indian reservations.
  • The Toku show Kaiketsu Zubat is a Mix And Match of New Old West and Superheroes. Though it takes place in Japan in The Seventies, with modern technology plainly visible, the characters all dress and act as if they were in The Wild West.
  • Justified is set in the present day, the main character will never be seen without his cowboy hat, and the show features many quick-draw gunfights. However, it also draws attention to how weird this trope can look to bystanders, with its protagonist being given endless amounts of crap both for his hat and for his Cowboy Cop tendencies
  • Longmire and the novels on which it's based.
  • Supernatural is New Old West meets Weird West.
  • The Walking Dead is also both this with Weird West, being a modern western set in the backdrop of a zombie apocalypse.
  • Breaking Bad, set in New Mexico, is a story of power and corruption featuring gunfights, stalemates, showdowns, deserts, Indian reservations, and even a train robbery. The criminals in the show are essentially Western outlaws who use modern technology and make money through the modern-day drug trade.
    • Even the show's theme music deliberately invokes this, with a twanging guitar riff that's pretty obviously meant to channel a classic Western theme.
  • Defiance is a Western set on a heavily terraformed Earth after a war between humanity and several alien races ended in a draw, leaving humanity and the aliens to work together (at least in the titular city, built over the ruins of St. Louis)

    Music 

  • Bon Jovi's "Wanted Dead or Alive", featuring the quote for this page.
  • MC Solaar's "Nouveau Western" depicts a sheriff/detective type (named Harry) making his way through Paris's wild wild Gare de L'Est.

     Newspaper Comics  

  • The Modesty Blaise arc "Butch Cassidy Rides Again" thoroughly embraces the tropes of The Western while maintaining a modern day setting.

     Radio  

  • The old-time radio show Tales of The Texas Rangers started in 1950 and chronicled relatively recent exploits of the famous Texas law enforcers.

     Roleplay 
  • A weird case in Dino Attack RPG, in that this and the more traditional Wild West seem to be happening at the same time note . On the one hand, we have Engineer who has a clear Western vibe but is also quite skilled with handling modern technology. On the other hand, Clint Wayne and Angel Eyes are still very much the sort of old-fashioned gunslingers you'd see in a Sergio Leone Western. The town of El Paso that we see also resembles the more classical Wild West, even going as far as to have the majority of the population being misogynistic bigots, drunkards, bandits, or otherwise unlikeable outside of those in the Dino Attack Team (though the primitive nature of the town could be justified by the fact that it was quickly built up after the main Western town was destroyed by a mutant dinosaur apocalypse).

     Video Games  

  • Fallout has several aspects of this despite (or perhaps because of) being a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Especially the second game, in which the New California Republic was spreading it's influence north and east resulting in several "frontier towns" (although many did exist before the NCR). This would have been explored further in the cancelled Van Buren version of Fallout 3 which had a major sub-plot about the NCR establishing railways.
    • Fallout: New Vegas clearly evokes this trope up and down. Two hundred and fifty years after the nuclear war, the American Southwest starts to look less like an irradiated wasteland and more like it has returned to late 19th century with heaps of schizotech. People finally start producing their own technology alongside with scavenging the ruins. As a result, laser pistols run side-by-side with .44 revolvers, while cowboy hats and dusters are worn next to Powered Armor; the driving theme is no longer survival on the ruins of civilization but rather the reconquest of the frontier and the conflict between civilization and lawlessness.
    • There's even a Perk called "Cowboy." It helps that most of the production team for New Vegas worked on Van Buren.
  • Borderlands counts as this, since it's a Space Western in which you cannot escape the planet Pandora. No, not that Pandora. While Pandora is not a Single-Biome Planet, the parts you can reach (those not fenced off by Atlas Corporation) are mostly desert and badlands. Oh, and Revolvers and Sniper Rifles are noticeably more effective than assault rifles and rocket launchers. Also, the few established towns are subject to frequent raids by local bandits. Guns by the Jakobs corporation (particularly in the second gamel) are specifically meant to invoke this as most of them are modeled after weapons of Westerns.
    • Borderlands 2 has a much wider series of settings... including Lynchwood, a town specifically designed to evoke this. The missions in the area are distinctly western-themed, including standbys like a train robbery, robbing a bank, and having a gunfight with a corrupt sheriff.
  • Call of Juarez: The Cartel advertised itself as this, proclaiming "Welcome to the new Wild West." In practice, however, it's simply a shooter set in modern-day LA with no real elements of this trope save for character Ben McCall's appearance and a few of the settings (an abandoned frontier town and a Mexican graveyard).
  • Red Steel 2 is set in a futuristic wild west town. So you have tumble-weeds, a grumpy sheriff, six-shooters and a roaming band of bandits mixed up with samurai, cars, machine-guns and robots.
  • Interstate76, where the main difference is that both vigilantes and outlaws mount their guns on classic muscle cars.
  • Bastion is sort of a fantasy New Old West; it's about forging a new life in a hostile land after a cataclysm destroyed everything familiar, and the hero's journey is accompanied by a hard-bitten old-timer's narration.
  • Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain sets up Afghanistan, of all places, as this. It too is a rocky desert with a lot of violence, and Snake starts off by riding into it on a horse along with cowboy-wannabe Ocelot.

     Real Life  

  • Western cities that used to be more in the "Wild West" style are now the epitomes of this trope. Sure, there are still lots of ranches, farms, cattle, horses, and such in area like that of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, but those are now among skyscrapers, ten-lane highways, massive urban sprawl, bright lights, and metro lines.
    • Telluride, Colorado, home of the famous Telluride Film Festival, is basically a permanently Old West town that happens to contain some modern technology.
  • The Texas Rangers encourage their members to "wear clothing that is western in nature", essentially making this an Enforced Trope. That does not mean they can't use customized, modern weapons or drive cars to get from place to place, however.
  • And of course, in many backwater areas of third-world countries (Hell, even in first-world ones), you may find a barren land where civilzation isn't advanced enough, people solve their problems with lead instead of words in a lawless town. Essentially, The Old West with new tech.


Twilight of the Old WestSettingsSpace Western
Weird WestThe WesternSamurai Cowboy
Call of Juarez: The CartelImageSource/Video GamesCannon Fodder

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