Gotta love a good old-fashioned Western. It’s a genre that’s been an American staple for decades. The image of the lone gunslinger is one that’s inspired countless novels, films, comics, and TV shows — and it’s one that’s bound to continue to do so for countless years. Though while as kids the genre may have been synonymous with fun adventure, the reality is that the majority of these flicks are slow, meditative character studies.
That’s all well and good, but I’m gonna chuck every one of those movies out the window today. You won’t find me talking about The Assassination of Jesse James, Once Upon A Time In The West, or The Unforgiven here. Granted, I acknowledge the quality of those films, but today, I wanted to highlight a handful of flicks that may be more in line with what we’ll be getting when we head to the theaters this weekend to check out Antoine Fuqua’s Magnificent Seven.
That’s right. Today, I will be talking about five action-packed popcorn Westerns that’ll just show you a good time, and won't make you feel like your soul’s ripped out and stomped on.
The Good, The Bad, The Weird
My first pick comes courtesy of Korean wizard Kim Jee-Woon, who set out to make perhaps the most elaborate love note to the Sergio Leon classic, The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly. Like with the original film, The Good, The Bad, The Weird finds three gunslingers and their intersecting journey as they each go in search of a mysterious treasure. Of course, this isn’t your average, straightforward Western. This one is set in the 1930s Manchurian desert, and as such, the weaponry and tech has been updated accordingly, making for an even more kinetic, fun atmosphere.
While this film does take the bare bones concept of The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, it does plenty to set itself apart from the Spaghetti Western classic. The pacing is quickened considerably, and the action upped to eleven. There’s a lot less time wasted on standoffs (though the standoffs are there), and a lot more time spent firing endless amounts of ammo. If you want sit back and crack open a few beers with a group of friends, you could do far worse than this.
Maverick seems to be a film that’s long since been forgotten since its release in the 1990s, but if given the opportunity, I invite you give this fun flick a try if you haven't seen it before. The movie stars Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster, and James Garner, and kind of epitomizes everything I thought Westerns were growing up as a kid. Based on the 1950s TV series of the same name, the film follows the adventures of two con artists (played by Gibson and Foster) and a lawman (Garner) in the wild, wild west.
In addition to being directed by Superman director Richard Donner, Maverick had the benefit of being adapted by William Goldman, the legendary screenwriter responsible for such films as The Princess Bride, as well as another Western classic, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Of all the films in the list, this is definitely the most family friendly, and the lightest on its toes. Indeed part of the reason why this film may have been so forgettable is that there’s really nothing objectionable for particularly memorable. That being said, it’s one hell of a ride, for what it is, and one you’ll likely not regret taking.
Say what you will about its sequel (or the impending threequel Shanghai Dawn), but Shanghai Noon is a film that, despite its cheesy “East meets West” premise, manages to land solidly on its feet. Martial arts superstar Jackie Chan and actor Owen Wilson have great chemistry as a couple of men who cross each other one too many time, and against all odds, form a friendship that takes them on a journey to save a princess. The action scenes are well choreographed and well shot, and despite a relatively generic plot, it has enough heart to make it hold up on repeated viewings.
What’s more is how clear it is that the director is a fan of the genre, and you’ll have a good time picking out the numerous homages and Easter eggs scattered throughout. It’s no “classic” by any means, but you’d have a hard time making your way to the end of its runtime without having a good time.
Cowboy Bebop: The Movie
This one’s a bit of a cheat. It’s by no means a Western in the traditional sense, but rather an animated Space Western that follows the exploits of a band of bounty hunters and their attempts to take down a terrorist who’s gotten hold of a biological weapon. While the setting itself is by no means a Western, the tropes and variety of characters are in full effect.
Spun off from the anime series of the same name, this Shinichiro Watanabe-directed film managed to capture all the magic of the TV and successfully adapt it to a feature-length film. The animation in the film is topnotch, the action scenes well-choreographed, and while the actual characters are a bit paper thin (there’s only so much a film can do with established characters in a series, after all), it still manages to check off most of the boxes for a solid action flick.
The last film on my list is one of Quentin Tarantino’s more recent movies. Indeed between this one and 2015’s Hateful Eight, it’s very clear that the filmmaker has an infatuation with the Western genre. While I would’ve loved to include Hateful Eight on this list, at the end of the day, there was no comparison to Django Unchained, which sports topnotch dialogue and buckets full of blood.
One of the amazing talents Tarantino has always had — his ability to take very serious subject matter, treat it seriously, all the while having a lot of fun — is in full effect in those one as he tackles the subject of racism head on. But don't worry. He doesn’t get too caught up in letting the message overpower the telling of a great story. Yes, this movie runs a bit long (as most of Tarantino’s films do), but at the end of the day, it still may very well stand as my favorite film of his, as well as my favorite Western of all time.
Do you agree with this list? What fun, action-packed Westerns do you like to revisit? Let us know in the comments down below!