It’s not hard to imagine that somewhere in the recesses of Hollywood, some development exec is pointing at the abysmal returns from Disney’s failed attempt at a new Johnny Depp franchise, “The Lone Ranger,” and saying that the western is dead because audiences don’t care about cowboys.
That studio exec is very, very wrong.
The exec has some good evidence, though. “The Lone Ranger” may result in a loss for Disney totaling $150 million. One of last year’s biggest flops, “John Carter,” begins in a western setting. Even James Bond and Han Solo couldn’t bring audience out to see “Cowboys & Aliens.” Don’t even mention “Wild Wild West.”
But these aren’t the movies that the exec should be looking at to gauge the vitals of the western. These are all perfectly good examples of why, of all genres, you don’t mess with the western by adding crappy effects. If you really want to know if the western still has some power, these are the three movies you need to consider.
The Coen Brothers’ adaptation of Charles Portis’ novel opened on Christmans Day 2010 and became one of the biggest surprise hits of the year. In all, the classic-style western made $171 million in the US alone, making it the 13th highest grossing film of the year behind “Tron Legacy.” The Coens take on the classic western is almost subversive in how traditional it is. There are occasional moments of their signature humor, but for the most part this is a straight adaptation, and audiences ate it up.
“Django Unchained” the perfect example of how a creative mind can shift the tropes of a traditional western, while still remaining true to what people love about the genre. Quentin Tarantino took the themes and characters he wanted to explore with his slavery era narrative and fit them into them perfectly into the style of a spaghetti western.
The bombastic finale to James Bonds’ latest adventure borrowed more than a few moves from the classic “last stand” trope found in countless westerns. Over his 50 year history, Bond has played many roles, but we had never seen him before as the western hero. And he fit it oh-so well. “Skyfall” also proved that even if the hero isn’t sporting a 10-gallon hat, the western can live on.