Any story set in the American West
during the frontier era — generally from about 1843, the year the Oregon Trail was completed, to 1890, the year the US Census Bureau declared the frontier closed; most often between the end of The American Civil War
Perhaps surprisingly, the Western genre is Older Than They Think
; in fact, it predates
the classic Western era. It has its roots in the early 19th century novels of James Fenimore Cooper
(set in the then-frontier, which was well east of the Mississippi at the time) and his imitators, as well as 19th century "dime novels"—meaning that, like the gangster films of The Thirties
, the genre was originally pretty much contemporary with its source material. In fact no less a figure than Wild Bill Hickok
was already a star in dozens of embellished stories by the time he died in 1876. By the turn of the century a lot of the stock Western tropes had already been established in popular imagination: see Western Characters
Westerns made a very early leap to film with The Great Train Robbery
in 1903. William S. Hart (Hell's Hinges
and many other films) became the first big star of movie Westerns. Westerns remained popular throughout the next few decades, though their golden age truly arrived in the 1930s.
What also comes to a surprise to many is that Westerns are almost as old as a literary genre in Europe as in America, due to the success of the aforementioned James F. Cooper spawning imitators starting with works like Tokeah
(1829 in English, 1833 in German) by Austrian Charles Sealsfield (real name: Carl Anton Postl). Other pioneering European works were Die Regulatoren von Arkansas
(1846) by German Friedrich Gerstäcker, Le Coureur de Bois
(1850) by Frenchman Gabriel Ferry, and The Rifle Rangers
(1850) by Thomas Mayne Read from Ulster. European film Westerns also date back to before World War I, one being made by Sergio Leone's father Vincenzo, who went by the name Roberto Roberti. This led to the beginnings of the "Kraut
" and "Spaghetti Westerns" in the 1960s.
Enormously popular on TV and in the movies
in the 1950s and 1960s: Gunsmoke
, Wagon Train
, The Wild Wild West
, Have Gun — Will Travel
, The Rifleman
, The Big Valley
In recent decades the genre has been uncommon on TV, though it's never been entirely gone: The Seventies
had The Life And Times Of Grizzly Adams
and Little House on the Prairie
; The Nineties
brought Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman
; and Deadwood
was a critical success in the Turn of the Millennium
Common plotlines include a Cattle Drive
, a Train Job
, and a Bank Robbery
There's a Wanted Poster
on every wall and it's more savage the further south you go
There's an important distinction between the "classic" Western (The Lone Ranger
-type stuff) and the "revisionist
" Western (High Noon
, The Searchers
, the Dollars
trilogy, The Wild Bunch
, McCabe & Mrs. Miller
). The former is shiny and heroic. The latter is Darker and Edgier
, and often embodies a paradox: "Civilization can only be defended from barbarians by men with guns, but once you pick up a gun, you become a barbarian yourself." In the 21st century, the distinction seems fuzzy, as most of the "best" (or at least, most fondly-remembered) Westerns are the revisionist ones — and therefore they are now seen as the core of the genre.
The Western is usually set on the American frontier, but sometimes go farther afield to places like Alaska (North To Alaska
, The Far Country
), Mexico (The Wild Bunch
, Vera Cruz
, The Professionals
(North West Mounted Police
) and Australia (The Proposition
, Quigley Down Under
In terms of time, the genre's heyday (as stated above) is a 25-year span in the 19th century
, but there are examples set earlier
(Drums Along the Mohawk
takes place during The American Revolution
when upstate New York was frontier country) and later into the early 20th century
's The Ballad of Cable Hogue
ends with the title character getting hit by a car
). For series that use Western tropes but are set in the modern day, see New Old West
A subtrope of Period Piece
. Often overlaps with Settling the Frontier
. See also Western Characters
and Spaghetti Western
. Also a reason why most people believe All Deserts Have Cacti
- the majority of Westerns were filmed at Kirk's Rock
When a series that isn't The Western
visits The Wild West
or borrows heavily from its imagery for a story, it's a Cowboy Episode
Osterns (Easterns) are Westerns made in the Eastern Bloc, the most notable being East Germany's DEFA Westerns
. Another example could be Wilcze Echa, Polish Ostern set immediately after WWII (with looters and guerillas instead of bandits) on the Polish-Czechoslovakian border.
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- The longest running and currently best selling Italian comic book, Tex Willer, is a Western. Published since 1948, and thus actually predating the Spaghetti Western movies, it preceded them in using some of their famous tropes, such as a good attitude towards (some) Indians: the titular character is a Texas Ranger and "the White chief of the Navajos", had a Navajo wife, and walks the Earth righting wrongs with his trusty Indian friend Tiger Jack, his son Kit Willer, and most commonly, his also ranger friend Kit Carson.
- Next Town Over, a steampunk western published on the web and in print.
- Lucky Luke, an Affectionate Parody of the western genre from the francophone part of Europe.
- Another long-running Franco-Belgian series was the more serious and realistic Jerry Spring (1954-1978), originally created by Jijé.
- Jonah Hex
- Tumbleweeds, a long-running (1965-2007) Newspaper Comic strip by Tom Ryan.
- Marvel had a number of Western series over the years, including the Rawhide Kid, the Two-Gun Kid (who became an Avenger), Ghost Rider (the one in the white outfit, not the one with the flaming skull.) and Red Wold. There was also a more recent John Ostrander-penned miniseries called Blaze Of Glory that depicted the Last Stand of these characters.
- After the rights to Karl May's novels fell into the public domain in 1962, his Western stories were adapted into several comic series. The most famous and most well-researched one (1962-1964), which also is in many ways truer to the novels than the films, was written and drawn by Helmut Nickel (whose main job was as a curator in the Metropolitan Museum in New York) for the West German Lehning Verlag.
- The Belgian series Bessy, created by Willy Vandersteen and his studio, which features the adventures of a Lassie-like Collie and her owner, after a while shifted to serving the West German market. It ran from 1952 to 1980.
- Another comic series produced in Belgium for the West German market was Silberpfeil — Der junge Häuptling ("Silver Arrow — The Young Chief"), which ran from 1970 to 1988.
- Some of the chapters of The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck show young Scrooge's adventures as a cowboy.
- Hergé had a lifelong fascination with the North American Plains Tribes, so it was no surprise that in Tintin Tintin In America, a story that pits Tintin against Al Capone, the hero somehow ends up on an Indian Reservation. In the 1930s Hergé also did the ephemeral series called Popol et Virginie au Far-West, a funny-animal Western.
- Before Astérix, René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo collaborated on Oumpah-Pah, a humorous series set in New France (Canada) in the 18th century. The series has been collected into three and five albums.
- The French series Coeur brûlé ("Burned Heart", 1991-2000, seven albums) and Plume aux Vents ("Feather in the Winds", 1995-2002, four albums) by writer Patrick Cothias and artists Jean-Paul Dethorey and André Juillard are largely set in Québec in the 17th century, in the early days of the French colony there. They are parts of the larger cycle of series Les 7 Vies de l'Épervier.
- The Good The Bad And The Ugly, perhaps the best and best-known of the Spaghetti Westerns. Also the originator of "The Ecstasy of Gold", which Metallica use to open up their concerts. Sergio Leone's other Spaghetti Westerns being:
- The film adaptation of Shane.
- John Ford is perhaps the most important director in the genre, responsible for must-watch films like:
- Howard Hawks also did a number of classic westerns, mostly starring John Wayne:
- High Noon
- The Magnificent Seven
- The Proposition, a western set in Australia
- Quigley Down Under, another western set in Australia.
- Back to the Future Part III, sort of.
- An American Tail: Fievel Goes West
- Young Guns and sequels
- The Quick and the Dead
- The Wild Bunch, a violent western set in the Twilight of the Old West, directed by Sam Peckinpah.
- White Sun of the Desert — the most famous Soviet Ostern
- True Grit
- Anthony Mann directed a series of excellent '50s films, starring Jimmy Stewart, that employed elements of Film Noir in an Old West setting.
- Deconstructions such as McCabe & Mrs. Miller and Dead Man, and parodies like Blazing Saddles and Support Your Local Sheriff.
- Known for epitomizing the hero of the modern Western, Clint Eastwood directed quite a few of them as well:
- The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Unfortunately, most modern audiences only know it for the line "We don't need no stinking badges!" as relayed through Blazing Saddles.
- West German movies based upon the work of author Karl May, like Der Schatz im Silbersee.
- Undead or Alive
- Crush Proof is a dark western set in 1980s Ireland.
- The Burrowers
- The Warrior's Way
- Maverick, a rare example of a western comedy.
- Three Ten To Yuma was a 1957 western film which was remade in 2007.
- Rango is an animated film by ILM that is an Affectionate Parody of western films in general.
- Cinderella 3D, the Mock Buster of the above film. They try to make it interesting by placing Cinderella in the west, but it just falls flat.
- Once Upon a Texas Train
- Posse, a 1993 western directed by Mario Van Peebles.
- Django Unchained, a 2012 spaghetti-style revenge story directed by Quentin Tarantino.
- Utu (1983), a New Zealand Western where the Maori fill the role of the Indians.
- The Virginian, the father of 20th-century Western literature.
- Almost every novel written by Louis L Amour.
- Lonesome Dove.
- Blood Meridian.
- The Dark Tower novels by Stephen King, most notably The Gunslinger, Wolves of the Calla and Roland's backstory in Wizard and Glass, borrow extensively from this genre. The latter story even lampshades this when the other members of his ka-tet ask if the tale he's going to tell is a Western. A puzzled Roland replies that it does, indeed, take place in the Western Baronies...
- Flashman and the Redskins by George Mac Donald Fraser
- Zane Grey novels.
- Winnetou and other novels by German author Karl May.
- The Tecumseh novels by German author Fritz Steuben (Egon Wittke).
- Die Söhne der großen Bärin ("The Sons of the Great She-Bear") and its sequels by German author Lieselotte Welskopf-Henrich. The film adaptation of the first was the first of the DEFA Westerns.
- Many of Bret Harte's Gold Rush stories qualify, and are one of the earlier examples, since he wrote in the mid-to-late 1800s. Harte invented several Western character types including the Forty Niner (naturally), Chinese Laborer and Chinese Launderer, the Schoolmarm, and the Professional Gambler. Harte's stories prefigure the kind of Western like Maverick or Support Your Local Gunfighter, which have a somewhat humorous tone but are set in a Wretched Hive.
- Stephen Crane's story The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky is a humorous western, telling of a seedy town's marshal returning with a Mail Order Bride, who while neither young nor that pretty is seen by him as cultured and sophisticated. He habitually has conflicts with a drunken Retired Outlaw, and the latter's plans to duel him to the death in the street falls apart because he's so discomfited learning that his rival has gotten married.
- Johnston McCully's Zorro stories probably qualify, although they're set back when California still belonged to Spain.
- The Lone Ranger stories by Fran Stryker.
- The Western Mysteries
- The novels of J.T. Edson.
- The novels of Jack Schaefer, most notably Shane, the source material for the famous film.
- The Ben Snow mysteries by Edward D. Hoch.
- Almost everything by Walt Coburn
- The Worst Shots In The West is obviously one, and a Tall Tale too.
Live Action TV
- The Big Valley - a 60s-style Western, with reasonable diversity and plenty of moralizing.
- Justified - A modern day Western of sorts set in Kentucky.
- Little House on the Prairie, a classic Western Family Drama
- The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. : The Western meets zany comedy and some snazzy Steam Punk...
- Best Of The West was an earlier (1981-1982) comedic take on the western.
- The Dakotas
- The Wild Wild West: The western meets James Bond.
- Branded : The Western meets The Fugitive.
- The Lone Ranger : The TV show is the Ranger's best-known incarnation, but he had previously appeared in novels and on radio, and has since appeared in comics, film, and animation.
- Have Gun — Will Travel
- Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, another rare example of a Western Family Drama slash Nineties Adventure Show
- Lonesome Dove, an adaptation of the book.
- Hell on Wheels: Gritty drama following the expansion of the Railroad.
- F Troop: Sitcom set at a western Army outpost.
- The Young Riders: The Pony Express
- Strange Empire, a unique example of a Western centered around women.
- My Friend Winnetou (originally titled "Mein Freund Winnetou" and "Winnetou le Mescaléro"), a 1980 German-French-Swiss co-production loosely based on Karl May. It ran for 14 episodes and (of course) starred Pierre Brice in the title role.
- Played for laughs in Cactus Canyon.
- El Dorado (and its variations Gold Strike and Lucky Strike) take place in the Southwest desert.
- One of the tables in Psycho Pinball is called "The Wild West".
- The Cisco Kid
- Fort Laramie
- Frontier Gentleman
- Frontier Town
- Have Gun — Will Travel
- Hopalong Cassidy
- The Lone Ranger
- Riders Radio Theater
- The Six Shooter
- Tales of the Texas Rangers
- Winnetou, a ten-part West German radio drama series was first broadcast in 1956. In 2000 an ensemble of German comedians led by Jürgen von der Lippe recorded it again for fun, using the original scripts. The latter version was also produced on CD.