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Note to Hollywood: Stop Blending the Western Genre with Other Genres; It Doesn't Work

By Dustin Rowles | Box Office Round-Ups | August 1, 2011 |

By Dustin Rowles | Box Office Round-Ups | August 1, 2011 |

Cowboys and Aliens over the weekend became the most recent film to attempt what — outside of Serenity — has yet to be a successful cross-genre mash-up with Westerns (and honestly, Serenity wasn’t a box-office hit). There have been a number of good to great Westerns in recent years (3:10 to Yuma, True Grit, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and The Proposition), but Hollywood still hasn’t realized that no one wants to see the purity of Westerns mixed up with the likes of martial arts, aliens, or comic-books. Look at the wasteland of Western mash-ups: Jonah Hex, Shanghai Noon (which was OK), Shanghai Knights (which was not), the unforgivable Wild Wild West, The Warrior’s Way (which was so bad it was good, but apparently only to me) and Sukiyaki Western Django, which mustered only $50,000 at the box office.

It’s a bad idea to cross-pollinate Westerns with other genres, especially when it dilutes the main themes of the traditional Westerns: The difficulty of life for frontier families, the conflicts with both Native Americans and the land, and the way that the Industrial Revolution wiped out that way of life. The cowboys in films like Cowboys and Aliens and Wild Wild West are only cowboys in name and costume: None of these men actually herd cattle. The characters that populate many of these Westerns are not cowboys so much as they are people who rob stagecoaches; they’re bandits or outlaws, and a cowboy hat in and of itself doesn’t afford you the title of cowboy. You wanna be a cowboy? Pick up a goddamn rope and, uh, put down your fucking machine guns.

Anyway, the $163 million film, Cowboys and Aliens, managed only $36.2 million in its opening weekend despite the presence of James Bond, Indiana Jones, and the director of Iron Man. It was also the dumbest fucking movie I’ve seen this summer (see Dan’s review) and while final box-office figures won’t be out until later today, Cowboys and Aliens deserves to be beaten by The Smurfs (which also opened with $36.2 million). God knows, The Smurfs was a more plausible film. And after this and Iron Man 2, I’m beginning to question Favreau as a director. Is he more Iron Man or more Zathura? I think we also understand why Robert Downey, Jr. eventually dropped out of Cowboys and Aliens.

The other new entry was Crazy, Stupid, Love, which despite its PG-13 rating fell short of the box-office openings of the summer’s R-rated comedies. It’s the first time in six tries that Carell has’t opened a movie with at least $20 million, although it’s the best movie he’s made since Little Miss Sunshine. It’ll do gangbusters on DVD, I assure you.

Captain America dropped to third (with a 61 percent drop) and will probably level off to arrive at numbers similar to Thor. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II came in at number four with $21 million, and has now crossed the $1 billion mark worldwide. Friends with Benefits landed at number six with $9 million and will probably end up with a final gross similar to the $60 million of Will Gluck’s last film, Easy A. Horrible Bosses, in at number seven, looks to cross $100 million next week, just ahead of Bad Teacher.

Also, it was a good week for indies, as four limited release films opened with per theater averages much higher than the $10,000 of Cowboys and Aliens: Attack the Block ($16,000), The Future ($28,000), The Guard ($20,000) and The Devil’s Double ($19,000). Expect those films to begin filtering down into the rest of America over the coming weeks. Check ‘em out, especially Attack the Block and The Guard.

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Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.