"Westerns. A period gone by, the pioneer, the loner operating by himself, without benefit of society. It usually has something to do with some sort of vengeance; he takes care of the vengeance himself, doesn't call the police. Like Robin Hood. It's the last masculine frontier. Romantic myth. I guess, though it's hard to think about anything romantic today. In a Western you can think, Jesus, there was a time when man was alone, on horseback, out there where man hasn't spoiled the land yet."
—Clint Eastwood, on the genre that helped shape his career.
Any story set in the American West during the frontier era—generally from about 1843, the year the Oregon Trail was completed, to 1890, the year the US Census Bureau declared the frontier closed; most often between the end of the American Civil War and 1890.
Perhaps surprisingly, the Western genre is Older Than They Think; in fact, it predates the classic Western era. It has its roots in the early 19th century novels of James Fenimore Cooper (set in the then-frontier, which was well east of the Mississippi at the time) and his imitators, as well as 19th century "dime novels"—meaning that, like the gangster films of The Thirties, the genre was originally pretty much contemporary with its source material. In fact no less a figure than Wild Bill Hickok was already a star in dozens of embellished stories by the time he died in 1876. By the turn of the century a lot of the stock Western tropes had already been established in popular imagination: see Western Characters.
Westerns made a very early leap to film with The Great Train Robbery in 1903, and remained popular throughout the next few decades, though their golden age truly arrived in the 1930s.
There's an important distinction between the "classic" Western (The Lone Ranger-type stuff) and the "revisionist" Western (High Noon, The Searchers, the Dollars trilogy, The Wild Bunch, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Unforgiven). The former is shiny and heroic. The latter is Darker and Edgier, and often embodies a paradox: "Civilization can only be defended from barbarians by men with guns, but once you pick up a gun, you are a barbarian." In the 21st century, the distinction seems fuzzy, as most of the "best" (or at least, most fondly-remembered) Westerns are the revisionist ones—and therefore they are now seen as the core of the genre.
In recent decades the genre was only seen on TV in the form of its hybrid child the Space Western, but it is now enjoying something of a revival with the success of Deadwood in 2004. Two networks, according to the British Radio Times, have new series in development.
The Western is usually set on the American frontier, but sometimes go farther afield to places like Alaska (North to Alaska, The Far Country), Mexico (The Wild Bunch, Vera Cruz, The Professionals), and Australia (The Proposition, Quigley Down Under).
In terms of time, the genre's heyday (as stated above) is a 25-year span in the 19th century, but there are examples set earlier (Drums Along the Mohawk takes place at a time when upstate New York was frontier country) and later into the early 20th century (Sam Peckinpah's The Ballad of Cable Hogue ends with the title character getting hit by a car). For series that use Western tropes but are set in the modern day, see New Old West.
- Cattle Punk = The Western plus Science Fiction, Steampunk, or Punk Punk
- Space Western or Wagon Train to the Stars = The Western plus Recycled in Space
- Weird West = The Western plus Supernatural Fiction
- New Old West = The Western plus Wretched Hive
- Samurai Cowboy = The Western plus Feudal Japan
- Twilight of the Old West = The Western plus End of an Age
- The longest running and currently best selling Italian comic book, Tex Willer, is a Western. Published since 1948, and thus actually predating the Spaghetti Western movies, it preceded them in using some of their famous tropes, such as a good attitude towards (some) Indians: the titular character is a Texas Ranger and "the White chief of the Navajos", had a Navajo wife, and walks the Earth righting wrongs with his trusty Indian friend Tiger Jack, his son and Kit Carson.
- Next Town Over, a steampunk western published on the web and in print.
- Lucky Luke, an Affectionate Parody of the western genre from the francophone part of Europe.
- Jonah Hex
- Tumbleweeds, a long-running (1965-2007) Newspaper Comic strip by Tom Ryan.
- Blaze Of Glory, a MARVEL miniseries that depicted the last stand of many of their Western heroes (Two Gun Kid, Ghost Rider, Rawhide Kid, etc.)
- MARVEL's Rawhide Kid.
- MARVEL's Two Gun Kid.
- MARVEL's original Ghost Rider (the guy in the white outfit, not the gentleman with the fiery skull).
- MARVEL's Red Wolf.
- See Category:Film Westerns for an index of movie westerns.
- The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, perhaps the best and best-known of the Spaghetti Westerns. Also the originator of "The Ecstasy of Gold", which Metallica use to open up their concerts. Sergio Leone's other Spaghetti Westerns being:
- The film adaptation of Shane.
- John Ford is perhaps the most important director in the genre, responsible for must-watch films like:
- Howard Hawks also did a number of classic westerns, mostly starring John Wayne:
- High Noon
- The Magnificent Seven
- The Proposition, a western set in Australia
- Quigley Down Under, another western set in Australia.
- Back to the Future Part III, sort of.
- An American Tail: Fievel Goes West
- Young Guns and sequels
- The Quick and the Dead
- Both of them.
- The Wild Bunch
- White Sun of the Desert—the most famous Soviet Ostern
- True Grit
- Anthony Mann directed a series of excellent '50s films, starring Jimmy Stewart, that employed elements of Film Noir in an Old West setting.
- Winchester '73
- Bend in the River
- The Naked Spur
- The Far Country
- The Man from Laramie
- Deconstructions such as McCabe and Mrs. Miller and Dead Man, and parodies like Blazing Saddles and Support Your Local Sheriff.
- Known for epitomizing the hero of the modern Western, Clint Eastwood directed quite a few of them as well:
- The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Unfortunately, most modern audiences only know it for the line "We don't need no stinking badges!" as relayed through Blazing Saddles.
- West German movies based upon the work of author Karl May, like Der Schatz im Silbersee.
- Undead or Alive
- Crush Proof is a dark western set in 1980s Ireland.
- The Burrowers
- The Warrior's Way
- Maverick, a rare example of a western comedy.
- 3:10 to Yuma was a 1957 western film which was remade in 2007.
- Rango is an animated film by ILM that is an Affectionate Parody of western films in general.
- Once Upon a Texas Train
- Posse, a 1993 western directed by Mario Van Peebles.
- See also Western Literature.
- The Virginian, the father of 20th-century Western literature.
- Almost every novel written by Louis L'Amour.
- Lonesome Dove.
- Blood Meridian.
- The Dark Tower novels by Stephen King, most notably The Gunslinger, Wolves of the Calla and Roland's backstory in Wizards and Glass, borrow extensively from this genre. The latter story even lampshades this when the other members of his ka-tet ask if the tale he's going to tell is a Western. A puzzled Roland replies that it does, indeed, take place in the Western Byronies...
- Flashman and the Redskins by George Macdonald Fraser
- Zane Grey novels.
- Winnetou and other novels by German author Karl May.
- Many of Bret Harte's Gold Rush stories qualify, and are one of the earlier examples, since he wrote in the mid-to-late 1800s. Harte pretty much invented several Western character types including the Forty-Niner (naturally), Chinese Laborer and Chinese Launderer, the Schoolmarm, and the Professional Gambler. Harte's stories prefigure the kind of Western like Maverick or Support Your Local Gunfighter, which have a somewhat humorous tone but are set in a Wretched Hive.
- Stephen Crane's story The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky is a humorous western, telling of a seedy town's marshal returning with a Mail Order Bride, who while neither young nor that pretty is seen by him as cultured and sophisticated. He habitually has conflicts with a drunken Retired Outlaw, and the latter's plans to duel him to the death in the street falls apart because he's so discomfited learning that his rival has gotten married.
- Johnston McCully's Zorro stories probably qualify, although they're set back when California still belonged to Spain.
- The Lone Ranger stories by Fran Stryker.
- The Western Mysteries
- The novels of J. T. Edson.
- The novels of Jack Schaefer, most notably Shane, the source material for the famous film.
- The Ben Snow mysteries by Edward D. Hoch.
- See also Western Series.
- The Big Valley - a 60s-style Western, with reasonable diversity and plenty of moralizing.
- Firefly - a twist on the genre, as this is basically a western In Space !, played as straight as possible.
- Justified - A modern day Western of sorts set in Kentucky.
- Little House On the Prairie, a classic Western Family Drama
- The Adventures of Brisco County Jr : The Western meets zany comedy and some snazzy Steampunk...
- The Dakotas
- The Wild Wild West: The western meets James Bond.
- Branded : The Western meets The Fugitive.
- The Lone Ranger : The TV show is the Ranger's best-known incarnation, but he had previously appeared in novels and on radio, and has since appeared in comics, film, and animation.
- Have Gun — Will Travel
- Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, another rare example of a Western Family Drama slash Nineties Adventure Show
- Lonesome Dove, an adaptation of the book.
- Hell on Wheels: Gritty drama following the expansion of the Railroad.
- F Troop: Sitcom set at a western Army outpost.
- Call of Juarez
- Red Dead Revolver and its sequel, Red Dead Redemption
- Outlaws (1997 video game)
- Sunset Riders
- the Desperados series of Commandos-like stealth strategy games
- the 1866 Game Mod for Mount & Blade
- the earliest example is probably the 1975 Midway Games arcade game Gun Fight
- Wild Western
- High Noon
- Bank Panic
- Blood Bros.
- Dead Man's Hand
- The Westerner
- Fallout: New Vegas has shades of this.
- 1979's Sheriff is this. It's also Shigeru Miyamoto's first game, and one of Nintendo's earliest.
- Rolling Western is going to be this but with an armadillo and tower defense.
- The Westward series by Sandlot Interactive, excluding Westward Kingdoms(set in medieval times)
- Gun.Smoke (Capcom game unrelated to the TV series)
- Smokin'Guns - Quake 3 mod .
- In an episode of Rocko's Modern Life, they follow the adventures of Bloaty the Tick and Squirmy the Ringworm (two parasites living on Spunky) as they go off to the "new frontier" (all the extra weight Spunky has gained). The (mis)adventure follows the setup of a Western; the new setting is a Wild West setting, and Bloaty and Squirmy become sheriffs who have to get rid of a gang of outlaw mosquitoes that have been terrorizing the town.
- Quick Draw McGraw'