By 1990, westerns were few and far between. When Kevin Costner starred, directed and produced Dances With Wolves in 1990 and then Clint Eastwood starred, directed and produced Unforgiven in 1992, a western resurgence would occur. Both were hits at the box office and earned multiple Academy Awards.
Now Hollywood would get to work on making more westerns because when Hollywood sees success and money, they want more of what made it. Fortunately, the westerns to be made had skillful directors, strong actors and solid screenplays. The western was no longer thought of as a dying genre. It was born again.
1. The Quick And The Dead (1995)
Working primarily in horror beforehand, Director Sam Raimi moves away from the grotesque and focuses on the wild west. Throughout the western genre, there are hundreds of films that all star men. But in 1995 comes one that stars a woman. After acting in films for a decade, the talented Sharon Stone had her breakthrough performance in the hit 1992 film Basic Instinct. Now a part of superstardom, Stone selects ambitious projects to star in moving forward. The first was Sliver which kept the sexiness of Basic Instinct going.
Here she abandons sexy for tough as a gunslinger who holds her own in a cast of men that includes the incredible Gene Hackman, a pre-Titanic Leonardo DiCaprio, and in his American film debut, Russell Crowe. Rounding out the cast is Gary Sinise, Lance Henrikson, and Pat Hingle who was cinema’s first Commissioner Gordon in Tim Burton’s Batman.
The acting along with the cinematography is worth the watch. Close-ups, fast zooms and oblique framing present a showdown between two gunslingers that puts us right next to the tumbleweeds. With a cinematic style that blends well with the unpredictable west, Raimi exhibits a western film that we haven’t seen before.
2. Far And Away (1992)
After years of directing comedies and dramas, Ron Howard steps into his first epic film. Starring real-life couple at the time Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman who both play Irish immigrants in America during the 1890s. With dreams of owning their own land, they travel to America to take part in the Land Run of 1893 – the largest land run in history. In an amazing cinematic sequence, several potential settlers race on horses to claim their land.
Cruise has always been the consummate movie star and the physicality of this role proves that. Along with Kidman who’s as great as always, the duo show charisma in their second film together following the 1990 hit Days Of Thunder. Seven years later they would star in their third and last film together, Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut.
Director Ron Howard always has big stories in mind and in three years directs one of his best films, Apollo 13. With Far And Away being the first film of its scope for Howard, he would later take on major films of the 2000’s such as A Beautiful Mind and The Da Vinci Code. While this film started a multitude of projects for Howard that are a far cry from the comedies and dramas before them, every one of them maintains a high caliber of entertainment.
3. El Mariachi (1992)
Independent films were reaching their annex in the early 90s. Richard Linklater came out with his first film Slacker which he made for $23,000. Quentin Tarantino made waves with Reservoir Dogs. Robert Rodriguez made his mark too but not on purpose. Made with a budget of $7,000 for the purpose of being distributed on Mexican home video, El Mariachi became an indie darling and took the cinematic world by storm. It got the attention of Columbia Pictures who financed its post-production and spent a great deal more on marketing and distribution.
The story is unique – a criminal who carries a guitar case full of weapons and seeks revenge on a drug lord. Rodriquez became a made man in Hollywood and continues to make successful franchises like Spy Kids and Machete. He even owns his own cable network El Rey. Two sequels and a television series were created in the years to follow El Mariachi. There’s no doubt that Rodriguez would become successful, but the fact that it all came from a little action film with no names and a shoestring budget makes this film stand out in cinema history.
4. Geronimo: An American Legend (1993)
Directed by the accomplished Walter Hill, best known for The Warriors and 48 Hours, this film gives us an honest portrayal of the Apache Leader Geronimo. This is less of a history lesson and more of an entertaining story about the Apache Wars and his surrender to U.S Government Troops. Geronimo is played brilliantly by Wes Studi who previously appeared in Dances With Wolves and The Last Of The Mohicans. Starring alongside him is the compelling Jason Patric as well as a very young Matt Damon in one of his earliest roles. Also in the cast are two bona fide screen legends – Gene Hackman and Robert Duvall.
Even with a cast like that and a top-notch director, the film was not a success. Hill attributes its failure to the broadcast of the Geronimo TV Movie which aired on the cable network TNT less than a week before his film was released in theaters. In the 30 years since its release, no film or TV Movie about Geronimo has been made. It’s a fascinating story with a strong cast that deserves to be seen.
5. Ravenous (1999)
Ravenous is by far the oddest film on this list as it’s one of the few westerns made that features cannibalism. Guy Pearce, fresh off his breakthrough role in L.A. Confidential, plays a US Army Lieutenant during the Mexican-American War. He’s sent into exile at a remote military outpost that’s populated by a group of misfits that include David Arquette and Jeremy Davies. Eventually a stranger comes along played by Robert Carlyle who turns out to be trouble for the group.
Being set in California in the 1840s only makes the subject of the film more outlandish. In fact, it was too weird for audiences and bombed in its theatrical run. However, the film has gone on to earn cult status over the years. The film warrants an audience because of its entertaining nature. No film in history is similar which begs the question, how did this story about cannibalism ever make it to the big screen?