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"I'm a cowboy, on a steel horse I ride,

And I'm wanted - dead or alive."
Bon Jovi, Wanted Dead or Alive

The Western genre is a rich one, but has been decidedly played out over the years, to the point where it's hard to do a Western series without looking like you're ripping off a rip-off. The easiest way to revitalize the genre is to set it in the future, when man's expansion onto other planets has created a similar state of lawlessness and grit -- hence the Space Western.

A less popular choice is the New Old West, in which Western traditions and tropes are shifted forward a hundred or so years into the modern day. Now the bandits drive pick-up trucks, the outlaws hole up in motels and the great plains of America are surrounded on all sides by airports, highways and cities.

Of course this means that it's harder to do stories about outlaws, because advances in technology mean that it's easier for law enforcement agents to pursue and convict criminals. As a result, many New Old West stories are about the perceived loss of freedom in America now that such days are gone.

There's an overlap with the Twilight of the Old West trope if the New Old West story is set in the early part of the 20th century and is about elements of the Wild West fading away.

If there is a fantasy or supernatural element to the story, expect an actual cowboy -- or some other person from the actual Old West - to somehow make an appearance.

Examples of New Old West include:


Anime and Manga

  • The fallout-covered nuclear wasteland in Fist of the North Star.
  • Trigun has this in spades. Here's an AMV set to Bon Jovi's Wanted Dead or Alive.
    • Could be considered sort of a cross between this and Space Western--it's on an alien planet, but space travel has been lost and the tech is kind of schizy. The level of order is deplorably low, which is treated as kind of a problem because bandits and other abuses of the violent kinds, but the hero would be in big trouble if 'the Feds' could actually exert any authority, and the 'awesome' factor is milked for all it's worth.

Comic Books

  • Preacher (Comic Book) takes the whole thing so far it even features an undead cowboy and the "ghost" of John Wayne.
  • The Hitman annual is a modern-day Western, right down to the coffin full of money.
    • Several other DC Comics Annuals that year were modern westerns (the "theme" being pulp fiction genres). These included Superman as the Mysterious Stranger riding flying into town; Impulse teaming with the original Vigilante, now running a dude ranch; and Robin facing down the modern day Trigger Twins, alongside the modern day Pow-Wow Smith and Nighthawk.
  • The DCU comic Cinnamon: El Ciclo was an updating of a female Bounty Hunter from the 1970s book Weird Western Tales to the present day, where she was a security operative for hire.
  • Several other DC Western characters have modern day counterparts, although how Western their stories are varies considerably.
  • The Legend of Red Wolf by Enrique Villagran.
  • Wynonna Earp is New Old West meets Weird West.
  • The Marvel Comics miniseries Six Guns features present day legacies of five Western characters: the Tarantula, the Two-Gun Kid, the Black Rider, Matt Slade: Gunfighter, and Tex Dawson.
  • The Golden Age DC Comics characters Pow-Wow Smith (Native American sheriff) and Vigilante (singing cowboy) were 1940s Western characters, although sometimes DC forgot and put them in the real Old West. This was eventually explained as Pow-Wow having an Identical Grandfather and Vigilante getting Trapped in the Past during an adventure with the Seven Soldiers.
  • Parodied in a Lobo Elseworlds annual in which Lobo takes the role of various Western characters (Geroni-bo, The Main Man With No Name, Anne Bo-kley, etc). The final story is about "The Last Despera-bo" ... who promptly gets hit by a truck.

Film

  • Many Westerns from the 1930's and 1940's were borderline examples of this, since they took place in contemporary times, but instead of replacing Western trappings with modern technology, just continued using the old ones that weren't too out of place yet, like horses, mining, bandits, and wide open plains.
  • Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia.
  • Six Reasons Why takes the tropes of the old west and places them in an unknown time with modern technology.
  • Near Dark is a film that follows a band of outlaw vampires on the backroads of Oklahoma.
  • Wild at Heart provided some of the inspiration for Preacher (see Comic Books, above).
  • The Three Burials Of Melquiades Estrada.
  • Happens in the Gun Crazy live action Japanese movies.
  • The Mad Max trilogy are essentially Westerns set After the End Down Under.
  • Dead Man's Shoes is a rare British example, taking Western themes and setting them in Matlock.
  • A setting much beloved by Robert Rodriguez, whose forays include the El Mariachi trilogy and From Dusk till Dawn.
  • Arguably Brokeback Mountain, though it's not a shoot 'em up.
  • No Country for Old Men is a Film Noir set in the New Old West.
  • Parts of Kill Bill. Instead of a brothel, you've got a dingy titty bar; instead of a sinister mustachioed gunslinger, you've got a shotgun-wielding sadist who listens to Johnny Cash. . .
  • Ghost Rider played up these elements, also tying in an older Western character by the same name (who existed in the comics but was unrelated to the modern character).
  • The Professionals (not to be confused with the TV series of the same title) is a classic 1966 Western set in 1917. A group of experts are hired to go into Mexico and rescue the wife of a rancher who has been kidnapped by Mexican revoloutinaries. Comments are made about the Great war raging in Europe and the heroes have to face the traditional dangers of the West combined with more modern threats such as machine guns and artllery pieces.
  • Extreme Prejudice (1987) used this trope as the background for an action movie where a Sheriff teams up with a high-tech black ops unit to take down a former friend-turned-Mexican druglord. Emphasis is placed on how the Old West ways are being destroyed by the easy money available from the drug trade, and the violence that accompanies it.
  • Lone Wolf McQuade (1983) David Carradine and Chuck Norris kick martial arts butt in the New West. Was the inspiration for Walker, Texas Ranger.
  • Streets of Fire emphasizes the trope with Tom's duster.
  • The Korean The Good, the Bad and the Ugly remake, The Good, the Bad, the Weird, transplants the setting of the story from the American Civil War to 1940s Manchuria.
  • Crush Proof plays like The Wild Bunch recast with a bunch of Dublin teenagers.
  • Bad Day At Black Rock
  • Alex Cox's 1987 cult film Straight To Hell is a parody of spaghetti westerns set in modern times, with a cast of punk rockers and character actors.
  • Big Trouble in Little China started out as a western before being moved to the present. It still retains some of the trappings, especially Jack Burton carrying a saddlebag around on his shoulder and riding off into the sunset.
  • Red Hill, set in modern-day rural Australia (which works perfectly).
  • Day of the Wolves
  • Johnnie To's Exiled
  • The Wild Bunch takes place in 1913, basically showing the last hurrah of the wild west.
  • The oft-overlooked Lonely Are The Brave, set in 1962

Literature

  • The Dark Tower series by Stephen King has elements of this; much of the action takes place After the End, but there are also parts in which Roland and his fellow "gunslingers" enter the modern world for a while. Most of these instances are grim (Eddie taking on the drug dealers he used to work for), but once or twice Hilarity Ensues.
  • In what may be one of the earliest examples of the New Old West (with the actual Old West still being within living memory), the Continental Op short story "Corkscrew" by Dashiell Hammett (written in 1925) takes a big city private eye to a small western town.
  • The planet Surebleak from the Liaden Universe has pretty much been abandoned by the founders and fallen behind on technology. Klingon Promotions are what run things, such as they are.
  • All The Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy, as well as the film adaptation by Billy Bob Thornton.
  • The Joanna Brady mysteries by JA Jance. Joanna is sheriff of Cochise County in Arizona; the jurisdiction with happens to include Tombstone.
  • The Rockabye County series by J. T. Edson.

Live Action TV

  • The Highwayman -- 1988 TV series (ran for 9 episodes). Set Twenty Minutes Into the Future, chronicles the adventures of a U.S. Marshal and his cohorts in the lawless West of the near-future. Unexplained throwaway lines such as "re-colonizing the West" are common. Sometimes described as "Mad Max Meets Knight Rider".
  • Bearcats! -- 1971 TV series (13 episodes plus 2-hour pilot film Powderkeg), a Western set in the year 1914. The heroes were freelance adventurers who drove around in a Stutz Bearcat sports car instead of riding horses. The 20th-century setting allowed the writers to add modern elements such as the aforementioned Bearcat, oil companies, Imperial German spies and World War One, Mexican revolutionaries, and belt-fed machine guns. Ended up as something of an Anachronism Stew anyway because they often Did Not Do the Research -- one episode featured a Renault FT-18 tank (the tank was not invented until 1915), another a Curtiss JN-4 biplane (first flight 1915) in Mexican Air Force colors (Curtiss "Jennies" were exported only to Britain). The show's continuity was a little soft from week to week, particularly with regard to those Mexican revolutionaries--one week, our heroes were working with the Mexican government against the rebels, the next week they were siding with the rebels. Despite all that, was quite fun to watch.
  • One episode of Sliders had the group slide into a world where all of America (and possibly the whole world) was wild-west-ey, including such things as the stock market being gambling, (stocks are traded in poker games), and lawyers are actually gunslingers (trials are a quick-draw duel).
  • Firefly
  • Walker, Texas Ranger has many episodes set outside Dallas, especially those on the Indian reservations.
  • The Toku show Kaiketsu Zubat is a Mix and Match of New Old West and Superheroes. Though it takes place in Japan in The Seventies, with modern technology plainly visible, the characters all dress and act as if they were in The Wild West.
  • Justified is set in the present day, the main character will never be seen without his cowboy hat, and the show features many quick-draw gunfights.
  • Supernatural is New Old West meets Weird West.

Music

  • MC Solaar's "Nouveau Western" depicts a sheriff/detective type (named Harry) making his way through Paris's wild wild Gare de L'Est.

Newspaper Comics

  • The Modesty Blaise arc "Butch Cassidy Rides Again" thoroughly embraces the tropes of The Western while maintaining a modern day setting.

Video Games

  • Red Dead Redemption straddles the line between this and a traditional Western, especially when the player reaches Blackwater and West Elizabeth. The railroads now reach throughout the West, electricity and telephones are becoming increasingly commonplace, automobiles are starting to appear, and the end of the frontier was declared 21 years ago. The growing presence of technology and government in the West is a major theme that runs through the game.
  • Fallout has several aspects of this despite (or perhaps because of) being a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Especially the second game, in which the New California Republic was spreading it's influence north and east resulting in several "frontier towns" (although many did exist before the NCR). This would have been explored further in the cancelled Van Buren version of Fallout 3 which had a major sub-plot about the NCR establishing railways.
    • Fallout: New Vegas clearly evokes this trope up and down. Laser pistols run side-by-side with .44 revolvers, while cowboy hats and dusters are worn next to Powered Armor; there's even a Perk called "Cowboy." It helps that most of the production team for New Vegas worked on Van Buren.
  • Borderlands counts as this, since it's a Space Western in which you cannot escape the planet Pandora. [1] While Pandora is not a Single Biome Planet, the parts you can reach (those not fenced off by Atlas Corporation) are mostly desert and badlands. Oh, and Revolvers and Sniper Rifles are noticeably more effective than assault rifles and rocket launchers.
  • Call of Juarez: The Cartel is going this route, with its trailer proclaiming "Welcome to the new Wild West."
  • Red Steel 2 is set in a futuristic wild west town. So you have tumble-weeds, a grumpy sheriff, six-shooters and a roaming band of bandits mixed up with samurai, cars, machine-guns and robots.
  • Interstate76, where the main difference is that both vigilantes and outlaws mount their guns on classic muscle cars.
  • Bastion is sort of a fantasy New Old West; it's about forging a new life in a hostile land after a cataclysm destroyed everything familiar, and the hero's journey is accompanied by a hard-bitten old-timer's narration.

Real Life

  • Western cities that used to be more in the "Wild West" style are now the epitomes of this trope. Sure, there are still lots of ranches, farms, cattle, horses, and such in area like that of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, but those are now among skyscrapers, ten-lane highways, massive urban sprawl, bright lights, and metro lines.
    • Telluride, Colorado, home of the famous Telluride Film Festival, is basically a permanently Old West town that happens to contain some modern technology.

Notes

  1. No, not that Pandora.
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