2021 has, somewhat surprisingly, begun by leaning hard into the Western genre.
Over on NOW TV, meanwhile, The Good Lord Bird (aka the critically-acclaimed TV series about abolitionist John Brown) has given us a lot to get stuck into. And, of course, bookworms have been treated to must-read dystopian book Outlawed, too – which is, essentially, The Handmaid’s Tale set in the Wild West.
If you thought that was it in terms of Westerns, though, think again; later this year, The Harder They Fall – a revenge thriller starring Jonathan Majors, Idris Elba, Zazie Beetz, and Regina King – will be dropping on Netflix. And the streaming platform is also set to bring us Cowboy Bebop, which has been described as a “jazz-infused space Western”.
Throw in the fact that A24 and Amy Adams’ Bond Group Entertainment team have picked up the aforementioned Outlawed for a TV adaptation, and it seems as if our TV screens will be a sea of cowboy hats before the year is out.
But why now? Why, in 2021, have we lost our hearts and minds to all things Western?
Because, perhaps most importantly of all, Westerns are about people stepping out into a brave new world and learning to reckon with a new normal. And hopefully, Covid-depending, that’ll be all of us soon, too.
If your appetite for Westerns has been well and truly whetted, then you’re in luck; there’s a bevy of brilliant films and TV shows available to stream that are guaranteed to have to screaming ‘Yeeha!’ in no time flat.
Fair warning, though: if you climb in the saddle, be ready for the ride. Life in the Wild Wild West was tough – and the majority of these titles, as a result, make for hard viewing.
On a mission to find her father’s killer, 14-year-old Mattie (Hailee Steinfeld) hires a boozy, trigger-happy lawman named Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to help her achieve justice. It’s not long, though, before the bickering duo are joined by a Texas Ranger named LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), who has been hunting their same quarry for years.
As per the title, the trio’s true grit is tested in myriad ways as they cross the wilderness together.
True Grit is available to stream on Netflix.
In this whip-cracking classic of a musical, Doris Day steps into the shoes of sharpshooter Calamity Jane – and belts out some truly iconic tunes as she does so, too.
However, while the movie is beloved by many (particularly for its LGBTQ+ themes), The Guardian warns that its fondness for “shooting the Indians, Confederate headgear and affectionate references to Robert E Lee might make it tricky to reclaim this movie for progressive politics generally.”
Calamity Jane is available to rent on Amazon Prime Video.
Jane Got A Gun
Starring (and produced by) Natalie Portman, Jane Got A Gun sees the eponymous Jane take on a a gang of violent outlaws who are hell-bent on killing her husband, Bill.
Jane Got A Gun is available to rent on Amazon Prime Video.
Forget the main story of the teen detention centre on Camp Green Lake; we’re more interested in those sepia flashbacks about Katherine “Kissin’ Kate” Barlow (Patricia Arquette), a school teacher turned outlaw after her love affair with onion seller Sam (Dulé Hill) ends in tragedy.
Holes is available to stream on Disney Plus.
News Of The World
Set five years after the end of the Civil War, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Tom Hanks) travels from town to town telling stories about presidents and queens, glorious feuds, devastating catastrophes, and gripping adventures from the far reaches of the globe.
In the plains of Texas, though he crosses paths with 10-year-old Johanna (Helena Zengel), and agrees to deliver the child where the law says she belongs. As they travel hundreds of miles into the unforgiving wilderness, the two will face tremendous challenges of both human and natural forces as they search for a place that either can call home.
News Of The World is available to stream on Netflix.
The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs
Fancy something overwhelmingly different? The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs is a character-rich and thought-provoking anthology of six short films, all of which take place in 19th century post-Civil War era during the settling of the Old West.
The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs is available to stream on Netflix.
Based on true events, Deadwood is the story of a Gold Rush-era camp coalescing into a town in the lawless territory destined to become South Dakota. And the award-winning show has long been praised for its unflinching look at the past – particularly when it comes to its female characters.
As Time notes: “Deadwood shows its women respect not by placing them on pedestals, but by giving them wills separate from those of the men who use them for sex or obsess over their purity.”
Deadwood is available to rent on Amazon Prime Video.
Fancy dipping your toe into the little-known ‘Western noir’ genre? Wind River sees rookie investigator Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) do her utmost best to solve a chilling murder mystery in the icy backwoods of a Native American Reservation.
Risky casting choices aside (filmmakers were met with criticism for casting non-Native actors in some of the Native American roles), it will have you hooked from titles to credits. And it has been praised for its cinematic activism, too: specifically, its aim to raise awareness about the abduction and abuse of Native American women.
Wind River is available to rent on Amazon Prime Video.
Set in the small mining town of La Belle, where nearly all of the town’s men have died in a mining accident, this feminist Western pits a town of women against a brutal, merciless outlaw gang. Look out for Downton Abbey’s Michelle Dockery, who shines bright as an almost unrecognisable (and shotgun-wielding) pioneer woman who is entirely out of fucks to give.
Godless is available to stream on Netflix.
When Calls The Heart
When Calls The Heart tells the tale of Elizabeth Thatcher (Erin Krakow), a young teacher who experiences a culture shock when she lands her first classroom assignment in a small mining town named Coal Valley. But, while it’s definitely a Western, it’s also irresistibly gentle and comforting TV; try sticking it on if you want to embrace the trend but aren’t ready for too much gun-toting and brutality.
When Calls The Heart is available to stream on Netflix.
An oldie but a goodie, The Furies sees the strong-willed Vance (Barbara Stanwyck) rise up against her cruel father when he marries Flo Burnett (Judith Anderson) – and evicts Vance’s childhood friend Juan (Gilbert Roland) from his land.
The Furies is available to rent on Amazon Prime Video.
In HBO’s Westworld, Thandie Newton shines as Maeve Millay – a robot that’s been programmed to fulfil the tasks of a sex worker at a futuristic western-themed amusement park. When she unexpectedly becomes self-aware and recognises the truth of her predicament, though, all hell breaks loose…
Westworld is available to stream on NOW TV.
The Hateful Eight
Starring Samuel L Jackson, Kurt Russell, and Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight is not for the faint-hearted; indeed, it’s a Quentin Tarantino film, which means it’s gleefully gory (and about half an hour too long, too).
That being said, though, its tale of a bounty hunter and his captured fugitive forced to seek refuge in a snowstorm is packed to the brim with rich characters and playful dialogue. And, as such, it makes for an incredibly entertaining ride.
The Hateful Eight is available to rent on Amazon Prime Video.
Moving at a far more contemplative pace than most Westerns, this slow-burn is loosely based on a historical incident on the Oregon Trail in 1845, in which frontier guide Stephen Meek led a wagon train on an ill-fated journey through the Oregon desert.
Shirley Henderson, Zoe Kazan and Michelle Williams shine as the subjugated pioneer women forced to submit to the dictates of their brash husbands – all as a potent mixture of dread and suspense swirls up around them.
Meek’s Cutoff is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.
The Good Lord Bird
Told from the point of view of ‘Onion’ (Joshua Caleb Johnson), a newly freed teenager, The Good Lord Bird is all about abolitionist John Brown (Ethan Hawke) and his holy crusade to end slavery in Bleeding Kansas.
With a 98% ‘fresh’ rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the series speeds us towards Brown’s famous 1859 raid on the Army depot at Harpers Ferry – which, despite failing to initiate the slave revolt he intended – was the instigating event that started the Civil War.
The Good Lord Bird is available to stream on NOW TV.
The Magnificent Seven
Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt lead this relentlessly violent remake of Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 classic, Seven Samurai. And it has been praised for building a diverse vision of the Wild West.
“The western constantly changes depending on where we are as a society,” explains director Antoine Fuqua. “What I wanted to do was bring it up to date and show people it’s an exciting genre. It represents who we are, what the promise of the United States is supposed to be.”
The Magnificent Seven is available to stream via MGM on Amazon Prime Video.
Quintessentially Quentin Tarantino, this reimagining of the spaghetti Western centres on Django (Jaime Foxx), an African-American slave who teams up with bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) in order to rescue his beloved wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) from a plantation.
The resulting story is raucous, violent, and incredibly self-aware, yet strangely affecting, too. And, despite the film being met with some criticism for its use of racial slurs, critics lavished praised on it. Indeed, the original screenplay and Waltz’s scene-stealing supporting performance both went on to win Academy Awards.
Django Unchained is available to rent on Amazon Prime Video.
Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.