The Western had been a major genre for film and television from the earliest days of both their industries up until the first half of the seventies. In fact, by that time, there had already been over one hundred Western TV shows on the airwaves. In 1959 alone, there were 30 Westerns that you could watch during the week. By the late seventies, successful Westerns were few and far between. Hollywood had worn out the genre.
Older Gen Xers might remember when Gunsmoke was still on the air. That classic show ran on CBS from 1955 to 1975. Another show that might have caught the eye of eary Xers was Kung Fu, the legendary Western with a martial arts twist that aired on ABC from 1972 to 1975. While there were still some big Western films made in the first half of the seventies, it could be argued that only The Outlaw Josey Wales and The Shootist, which was John Wayne’s final film, were the only significant classic westerns released in the second half of the seventies.
The eighties kicked off the genre with some major box office bombs such as Heaven’s Gate and The Legend of the Lone Ranger. There were some hits scattered across the decade such as Silverado, Young Guns, The Man from Snowy River and of course the biggest Western of the decade, Pale Rider. The genre really shined on the small screen during the decade in the form of Made for Television Movies and Mini-Series. Some of note are the Kenny Rogers Gambler films on CBS, The five Desperado films on NBC and several CBS films featuring Country music legends such as Wilie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, and Waylon Jennings. The biggest hit on TV was the massively successful Mini-Series, Lonesome Dove in 1989.
The success of Lonesome Dove kicked off a bit of a Western resurgence in the first half of the nineties. The decade started off in 1990 with a huge hit in Dances with Wolves. The film earned Kevin Costner an Oscar for best director and it also won the award for best picture. Young Guns 2 was also big at the box office that year. Unforgiven starring Clint Eastwood was a huge hit in 1992 and won the Oscar for best picture. Tombstone became a classic in 1993 and possibly only second to My Darling Clementine from 1946 as the definitive film version of the famous gun battle at the O.K. Corral. Kevin Costner returned to the genre in 1994 with Wyatt Earp, but this version of the O.K. Corral story was not as successful as Tombstone.
TV Westerns continued with a series of Gunsmoke movies and Kenny Rogers returned to play the Gambler two more times. Lonesome Dove had a sequel called Return to Lonesome Dove air in 1993 and that was followed by two syndicated series: Lonesome Dove: The Series and Lonesome Dove: The Outlaw Years.
What was your favorite Gen X era Western?