Notes from the Westerns of the 2000s panel

The overall trend in Westerns seems to be a branching out into different moods and styles, and cross-genre efforts. The moods/styles list, with examples:

  • Gritty realism — the miniseries Godless is an example.
  • Greater historical realism — too many examples to count. Seems the bar has just generally been raised. Some of this may be owing to research having gotten significantly easier with newspapers, library map collections and so on getting put online for free.
  • More complex characters – also many examples. I especially like the descriptions of the Cheyanne characters in Longmire — Henry Standing Bear is clearly smarter and more responsible than his good friend Walt, and observes everything with extremely dry commentary. The casino owner, Jacob Nighthorse, is morally complex. He clearly commits crimes, but he’s really good at it and one could plausibly argue that he’s working for the benefit of his people in the only way he can.
  • Sci-fi westerns like Firefly/Serenity and Westworld.
  • Greater diversity and the use of the genre to address issues of social injustice, for instance racism in Django Unchained and the current immigration mess at the US border with Mexico (

Some thoughts:

Fiction, though it may be set in historical times, is really about the present.
Demographics are changing
The American West was always more diverse than Westerns portrayed it, and now there’s an audience for bringing that out more.
It’s also easier to do that research now that more historical information is online. (Dusty Richards had a huge trove of historical documents, diaries etc.)
“themes of open country, unforgiving nature, struggles to survive and settle the land, freedom from authority, cooperation with fellow adventurers, and other experiences that human beings encounter on the frontier. Traditional westerns are set west of the Mississippi River and between the end of the American Civil War and the turn of the twentieth century. But the western is not limited to that time. The essence, though, is openness and struggle. These are happening now as much as they were in the years gone by. ” – from the submissions guidelines at
  • Brokeback Mountain (2005)
  • Longmire. The Cheyenne are the best characters. Longmire’s buddy Henry Standing Bear is the smart, wryly humorous, responsible counterweight to Longmire’s tendency to jump in before learning all the facts. The casino owner, Jacob Nighthorse, is morally complex.
  • Godless (2017 miniseries) – Gritty, and most of the characters are tough, capable women.
  • Tears of the Black Tiger (2000) – made in Thailand, got to the US several years later.
  • The Good, The Bad, The Weird (2008) – Korean director, Asian setting
  • Django Unchained (2012)
Weird Westerns/SciFi
  • Westworld
  • Firefly/Serenity
  • Rango (2011) – hero is a chameleon.
  • The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018) — is just weird not speculative
The old school is still with us but has gained more depth and historical accuracy:
  • Open Range (2003) with Kevin Costner and Robert Duvall punching cattle.
  • Yellowstone (2018 series)
  • Dusty Richards
  • Cormac McCarthy

Other media mentioned during the panel

Mostly this is just a list of books, movies, and TV series that are of interest, without much explanation of what makes them interesting. Please feel free to expand on that in the comments.

  • Have Gun Will Travel (tv series)
  • The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.
  • Priest (Japanese comic)
  • The Kid
  • The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. – Wikipedia. A weird western from the early 90s that showed there was a market for that sort of thing.
  • Shanghai Noon (movie)
  • The Mask of Zorro
  • Red Dead Redemption (game)
  • Cool Ranch (game)
  • Hostiles (movie): Tommy Lee Jones is hired to escort an imprisoned old and dying Indian chief back home.
  • Hell On Wheels (series) about the building of railroads thru the American West.
  • Quigley Down Under (movie) about cowboy in Australia.
  • Jane Has a Gun (and she means to use it on some bastard who ruined her life)
  • Dead Man’s Gun (is apparently cursed)
  • The Mandalorian