Westerns were once a very prominent genre with high-caliber actors attached to each project. Each year multiple stories set in the age of the Wild Wild West managed to earn money in the box office. However, Hollywood has been quite cold towards the genre recently despite releasing a couple of really good motion pictures such as Iron Grip and even Logan which many consider an homage to traditional westerns. Why did it happen?
There are many reasons why cowboys and hip shooting are no more exciting and make from little to no money in the box office. Let’s talk about them.
Flop after flop
When the business was booming once again after the global economy somewhat recovered from the 2008 financial crisis, Hollywood tried to revive the genre and a slate of various films set in the early years of America were released to mixed reviews and general confusion of audiences. One of the biggest flops in history was The Lone Ranger. With a massive budget way over one hundred million and Johnny Depp leading the cast, the movie was the biggest flop of 2013.
Three years before that, Jonah Hex with Josh Brolin also bombed in the box office followed by another financial disappointment that we now remember as infamous Cowboys & Aliens. Hollywood tried western comedies, western sci-fi, and even western comic book adaptations. Nothing worked. At least, financially.
Westerns are money sinks
While it may seem that westerns are cheaper than other blockbusters, you must remember that building sets from scratch, producing authentic costumes and makeup, using horses and training actors for horse riding, filming on location, and hiring extras that look convincing are all very expensive lines in the film budget. The price is just too high.
For example, Yuma released in 2007 and starring Russel Crowe together with Christian Bale infamously ran out of cash right in the middle of production. The script had to be rewritten to accommodate the unfinished town that was not fully built due to the lack of cash.
Europe and Asia do not like westerns
It is hard to imagine a big blockbuster that does not try to appeal to the Chinese market. The latter is a huge moneymaker meaning that all huge films have to account for the tastes and preferences of Asian audiences. While action-heavy CGI fests do not really need to adjust their cast and story to be successful relying on the spectacle alone, westerns do not have the same luxury and usually do not fare well outside of the US.
Times have changed
The romanticized stories about cowboys and train robberies are not “necessary” in the modern world. The cultural landscape changed significantly and modern generations do not seek solace and entertainment in stories about lone knights protecting innocent from criminals. Our heroes are not badass outcasts with a heavy emotional burden but bright square-jawed caped superheroes.
We still see an odd western here and there, but they are mostly Oscar baits with nothing that can make them moneymakers Hollywood so very much loves.