I have a certain love for the sci-fi Western “genre”–from Back to the Future III (1990), to Joss Whedon’s Firefly (2002-2003) and Serenity (2005), as well as HBO’s remake of Michael Crichton’s Westworld (2016 – ). I call it a “genre,” because many people might call it a hybrid, and not a full-blown genre like either science fiction or the Western. However, some scholars might argue that no genre is, or ever has been, pure. Wherever you might land in that debate, one thing is certain: the sci-fi Western has had a surprisingly long history, even if it has resulted in only a few films or shows every so often. No, it’s not a “genre” that often sees much success, but it must mean something that we keep seeing it pop up.
Given the recognizable look and feel of both the science fiction and Western genres as well as the breadth of iconography of both, you can find quite a bit of difference in what constitutes a sci-fi Western. People include films like Star Wars: A New Hope (1977); Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989); Wild Wild West (1999); this year’s The Dark Tower, based on the Stephen King series; and even a 12-episode singing cowboy Western series starring Gene Autry called The Phantom Empire from 1935 (here are the first three episodes on YouTube!).
You can have cowboys in space, space travelers out West, Westerners and aliens, cowboys and science, time travel, robots, and more. In the case of Crichton’s Westworld (1973), it’s androids who come “alive” in a Western theme park…
A PhD Candidate in Communication and Culture, Katherine studies film and media, genre (particularly the Western), gender, and performance. She has a BA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an MA from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, and has been fascinated with film since she could remember.