Westworld is not only one of the most popular programs on television since Game of Thrones, drawing in audiences all over the globe, but it has also given the sci-fi western a much needed kick in the butt. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, this forgotten genre might just be in time for a resurgence. Science fiction and westerns share the same narrative roots, initially audiences couldn't get enough of cowboys and their boot-strapping ways, then as technology grew, westerns' popularity waned and science fiction was on the rise. This led to a bleeding effect that blended these to genres together sometimes seamlessly, sometimes not, but to get into the spirit, in no particular order, here are the some of the best sci-fi westerns of all time.
Back To The Future Part III
After the events of the first two films, Marty McFly had journeyed into the past, the future, the present, the future, and the past again. After all of the to-ing and fro-ing, it was just a matter of time before a great change in scenery was needed for the trilogy. Dr. Emmett Brown, having escaped the previous events (miraculously) unharmed, he is now living a peaceful existence in the old west, that is until Buford Tannen, also known as Mad Dog, decides that he is going to kill him.
Marty, upon discovering this information, decides to go back in time, again, in order to save his oldest friend from a terrible fate. At the end of the day, this is the basic Marty and Doc back and forth, with the sci-fi western theme slapped on top. This may have been the weakest film of the franchise, but what it lacked in conviction, it made up with humor and sass.
The original movie on which the television show was based, Westworld is an adult theme park set in the old west and populated by androids. It's a place where customers can live out their deepest, darkest fantasies, with the robot inhabitants ready to serve their every whim. However things are not quite as they seem, and after a computer glitch one of the android, played by the awesome Yul Brynner, goes rogue and starts hunting down the human guests at the park.
James Cameron's Avatar was both a revelation and a revolution to the world of film. This movie set the bar for at least the next 10 years or so. The use of motion capture and the glorious world that was created were astounding. Unfortunately, the story seemed to take a back seat to the visual effects, which is a shame, as the story itself had such great potential. The basic concept of the western was flipped on its head and taken (mostly) from the viewpoint of the natives instead of the cowboys.
Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter
No, your eyes are not deceiving you, this is a real movie that exists. This mash up of pulp goodness is fantastic. In an ancient castle in Mexico live the grandchildren of the disgraced Dr. Frankenstein, who's monstrous creation terrorized Europe half a century previous. Maria and her brother Rudolph live a relatively secluded life, only for the legendary outlaw Jesse James, and his slow witted (and mortally wounded) friend Hank to take refuge.
Never one to miss a beat, Maria Frankenstein, seeing her chance, took it and sends Jesse away for medicine, so that she may finish her grandfather's experiments. Jesse returns and his pal Hank is nowhere to be seen...
Sean Connery is the marshal of a mining town on Io, one of Jupiter's moons. He uncovers a drug smuggling conspiracy and the managers, miners, and staff have no idea what hits them. Receiving no help from the general populace of Io, it's up to marshal William T. O'Neill and him alone as his friends and deputies desert him, to battle the mercenaries and murderers who are determined to end his existence. It's basically High Noon, but in space, it's awesome.
Cowboys & Aliens
The most recent entry on our list, Cowboys & Aliens stars James Bond and Han Solo, I mean come on, if that doesn't pique your interest, I don't know what will. Daniel Craig, a mysterious loner, shows up in Arizona with no memory of who he is or how he got there, only to discover the townsfolk aren't the friendliest and really do not take kindly to strangers. Soon the town of Absolution has more to fear than a wounded amnesiac stumbling through town, as a spaceship arrives, abducting the helpless, their first step in taking over the Earth. Slowly regaining his memories, the stranger must band together with the townspeople and the natives, in order to defeat this perilous foe.
Battle Beyond The Stars
You know that a movie is going to be full of glorious cheese when it stars John Boy Walton! This movie has definitely been a source of reference for the best and worst sci-fi westerns to date. The story is a blatantly the Magnificent Seven, but in SPACE! However, it is definitely one of those "so bad it's good" types. So, Richard Thomas is the leader of a gang of mercenaries who are trying to defeat the evil Lord Sador from destroying the planet and turning it into a sun, which would be no good for anyone really. Can the plucky gang of misfits overcome all odds and save the day? You'll have to watch and find out.
Following on from the cult hit Firefly, Serenity was a movie that ties up loose ends, a nod back to the loyal fans of the show. Joss Whedon's tale of cowboys in space is set in the distant future after a galactic civil war. The crew of the ship Serenity, a rag and tag group of outlaws, take aboard a fugitive, who holds a secret that could take down the entire galaxy.
The Phantom Empire
The original mash up tells the tale of the peaceful race of superior humans known as the Muranians, who live under the ranch of Gene Autry, the singing cowboy. The Muranians have advanced technology, such as ray guns and television, powered by their supplies of radium. This brings invaders from the surface, and the only person who can stand in the way of all out war is Autry.
Wild Wild West
Riding off the back of the popular 60s hit, Wild Wild West was one of those films that was sure to be a hit, except it wasn't. It did however, have an extremely catchy theme song, by Jim West himself, Will Smith. West is a Civil War hero who teams up with US Marshal Artemis Gordon, and the unlikely duo are charged with defeating Dr. Loveless and his diabolical machines. The film had an interesting premise, but technology at the time wasn't ready for the steampunk vision that was Wild Wild West.
No western trope is unturned in this classic piece of cinema. It's a classic story of good vs evil, the archetypal characters have simple motivations, the Jedi, the Sith, white hats and black hats. This movie is at its core, the recreation of the heroes and settings of George Lucas' favorite childhood movies. Skywalker is the idealistic youth in town, taken under the wing of a wise sage and meets up with a scoundrel. After joining up with the resistance, these outlaws must band together, to thwart the evil that rules the galaxy far far away.
We've had aliens, bounty hunters, singing cowboys, and Richard Thomas. Say what you want about it, this is one of those sub-genres that manages to create a huge variety of concepts and ideas that are constantly fresh. Think about it, how many stale vampire romances have you seen? Exactly. So what are you waiting for? It's time to kick off those cowboy boots and treat yourself to a good sci-fi western.