Western Movies

The Lone Rango


One film that touched everyone—from the kiddies to us grizzled veterans—was 2011’s Rango.

We enjoyed it more because we understood all the inside humor. From paying homage to Clint Eastwood’s “Man With No Name” to the dozens of Western heroes encapsulated in the lizard Rango, the CG-animated flick could be a game for who can figure out the most Western movie references. Its success—the movie was a box office winner in both the United States and the UK—has cleared the path for its Rango star, Johnny Depp, to remake The Lone Ranger. For more on Rango and this year’s biggest Westerns, read on.


Television and Westerns are back in the line dance together, at least for the next year or two, as several series and movies are in production or planning stages.

Hell on Wheels is the frontrunner, beginning its run on November 6. It’s the story of a lone ex-Confederate soldier, working his way through a list of the men who killed his wife during Sherman’s March. The trail leads to the ever-moving construction site of the Union Pacific, as it works its way West.

TNT’s anticipated series Gateway has a revenge theme as well, but it’s also a brother story—three brothers, actually, coming to the Colorado town where their sheriff father has been killed. The responsible party is looking like the local land-and-power hungry cattle baron.

We’ve also heard rumors that former teen idol Shaun Cassidy is pitching an 1840s-era series called Frontier. Ex-Star Trek: The Next Generation writer/producer Ron Moore has a made-for-tv movie and potential series called Hangtown. ABC is working on Gunslinger, featuring a doctor and a marshal who solve crimes in the wooly West.

Ron Howard told Howard Stern this January that the Stephen King Fantasy Western, The Dark Tower, will be a six-hour mini-series, with Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men) and Viggo Mortensen (Hidalgo) being considered for roles. Howard is working with HBO on another series, about Doc Holliday (see Mary Doria Russell).

Justified is the best Western on television, although it doesn’t hail from the West, or the past. The FX series takes place in the back roads and hollows of southeastern Kentucky, and it was created by Elmore Leonard, who got his start writing top-dollar Westerns like Hombre and The Tall T.

At heart though, Justified is a family story, about U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant), and the people who live in his old Kentucky home. Justified is good because, like Leonard’s best writing, his characters are deliberately silly or downright diabolic, some are sexy, and others are casually murderous.
As for officer Givens, he’s inclined to be more than a little confused, personally and ethically, but he usually gets the job done, which is why he wears the white hat.

AMC won four Emmys for the last Western that gave the cabler record ratings—the 2006 miniseries Broken Trail, starring Robert Duvall and Thomas Haden Church. In the winter 2011, AMC brought us a series, Hell on Wheels. The verdict is still out on this one…we’re hoping the writers pick up some steam and give these characters relationships with each other (a la HBO’s character-driven Deadwood), instead of just having them flail about from one plot to the next. We have enough faith in this cast and in AMC that we are excited to see where this ride will take us in the coming year.

Luke Perry and Jason Priestley, first brought together in the teen phenom TV series Beverly Hills, 90210, joined up to film a Western based on a character dreamed up by Perry, John Goodnight. In the Priestley-directed film, Perry plays Goodnight, a circuit judge who is tormented by the lawless folks rampaging through Wyoming territory, reminding him of the outlaws who murdered his parents. The Western turned out to be Hallmark Movie Channel’s #1 movie of all time; the highly-anticipated sequel came out in early 2012, entangling the justice in a murderous bank robbery involving the son of a former flame of his, with another movie on the way. On p.30, Perry reveals how Eastwood has inspired his work in Westerns.


Looking ahead, Tanner Beard, fresh off his Legend of Hell’s Gate film, is at work on his next film, about Henry Starr. The legendary outlaw-turned-actor portrayed himself in the silent movie, A Debtor to the Law. Starr’s criminal history includes being convicted of murdering a deputy marshal in 1892 and twice being sentenced by Judge...

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