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By Noelle Buffam · March 26, 2011

Western Film is a genre that revolves around stories primarily set in the late 19th century in the American Old West. Most Westerns are set between the American Civil War (1865) and the early 1900s. Common themes within Western Film include: the conquest of the wild west, the cultural separation of the East and the West, the West’s resistance to modern change, the conflict between Cowboys and Indians, outlaws, and treasure/gold hunting. American Western Film usually revolves around a stoic hero and emphasizes the importance of honor and sacrifice.

Examples of Western Film:

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre The harsh realities of the Mexican South Western Frontier threaten three men in their search for gold.

Unforgiven – A reluctant and retired gunslinger teams up with two sharpshooters for one last killing.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid Two train robbers flee to Bolivia, with the law just one step behind them.

Sub-genre of Western Film:

Contemporary Westerns

Contemporary Western is a sub-genre that reflects the motifs and themes of classic Westerns, yet is set in contemporary America. These films are usually still set in the west. Contemporary Westerns often explore the “classic cowboy” struggling in the “civilized” world. These films not only examine an individual in these settings, but also the way the West has changed since the 1800s.

Examples: No Country for Old Men, Brokeback Mountain, Hud.

Revisionist Western

Revisionist Western came about in the 1960s as a response to classic Westerns. These films took a different look at the West, often incorporating Native Americans as more than just “savages.” Revisionist Westerns called the audience to examine whether the use of violence is moral – even if the protagonist is justified.

Examples: Dances With Wolves, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Wild Bunch.

Science-Fiction Western

Science-Fiction Western is a genre that incorporates elements of Sci-Fi into a Western film. Often, future technology is used to transport the characters into the Wild West. These films tend to have a lighter tone and less violence than traditional Western films.

Examples:Back to the Future III, Wild, Wild West, Outland.

Spaghetti Westerns

Spaghetti Westerns were developed in the 1960s and 1970s. These films tended to be low budget and were often shot on location in a desert. Spaghetti Westerns introduced more violence into the larger Western genre. The protagonist often had less noble motivations in the film, contrary to the classic Cowboy hero.

Examples: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, Once Upon a Time in the West, Payment in Blood.