Now that HBO's new $100 million Westworld series has galloped out of the gates with its premiere episode Sunday night, this might be the perfect time to dig your heels into more cowboy movies that hung their creative hats in the science fiction realm.
Rip-roaring westerns might seem like unlikely territory for a mashup with the tried-and-true tropes of speculative fiction, but it turns out they pair up nicely together, and Hollywood has a long history of tossing aliens, spaceships, rayguns and robots into their dusty "Oaters."
So grab a plate of beans and bread and gather 'round this campfire collection of sci-fi westerns corralled from the last 60 years of cinema and tell us which ones make you hoot 'n holler for more!
Not the first time Hollywood dipped its boot into the sci-fi western mashup but certainly the finest. Inspired The Dark Knight's Jonathan Nolan to team up with J.J. Abrams to reimagine this Michael Crichton-directed masterpiece for the current HBO series, centering around the exclusive AI theme park and what happens when the lifelike robots run amok. One of the first films to use digital images to simulate the android's infrared POV and was one of the major influences on not only John Carpenter's Halloween and James Cameron's Terminator, but also Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park novel years later. Yul Brynner is perfect as the unstoppable gunslinger, doing a parody of his Chris Adams character from The Magnificent Seven.
JESSE JAMES MEETS FRANKENSTEIN'S DAUGHTER 1966
The notorious outlaw hides out in Frankenstein's Castle where Victor's evil granddaughter, Maria, has taken up his legacy as a creation-hungry mad scientist in the Old West. Maria transforms the bandit's beefcake sidekick, Hank, into a shambling sci-fi zombie, then sets her sinister sights on Jesse's badboy brain. Directed by Hollywood veteran William Beaudine and released as a double feature with Billy the Kid Meets Dracula, it's roaring guns against a raging monster and packed with plenty of unintentionally campy fun.
COWBOYS AND ALIENS 2011
Iron Man's Jon Favreau directed this disappointing mashup based on a graphic novel whose sales figures were kinda manipulated to give the illusion of a successful publication to attract Hollywood financing. Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig seem like an awesome pair to watch in a western with dragonfly-winged spaceships, an awesome alien bracelet that shoots particle beams and an Apache legend of extraterrestrials returning to Earth. The patchwork script by Transformers' Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci and Lost's Damon Lindelof is a jumbled mess and this promising sci-fi hybrid rides off into the sunset as a tonal catastrophe that audiences failed to love.
HIGH PLAINS INVADERS 2009
A low-budget attempt to meld the two genres ends up being semi-watchable if you're in the right frame of mind. This was a Syfy original movie that aired in 2009, two years before the $164 million Cowboys and Aliens stunk up the frontier. Big alien bugs invade a Colorado town and James Marsters (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) rides in to save the day, with predictable plot points and better-than-average SFX for a TV movie, it's a harmless guilty pleasure perfect for a rainy Saturday afternoon.
WILD WILD WEST 1999
SIGH. What else can be said for this $175 million feature adaptation fiasco of the classic TV adventure series that hasn't already been repeated. Directed by Men in Black's Barry Sonnenfeld, it's a cautionary tale on the pitfalls of plunging into unrestrained parody instead of understanding the source material, with Will Smith, Kevin Kline and Kenneth Branagh clowning it up in a slapstick steampunk sci-fi flick of disastrous proportions. That giant mecha-spider was kinda cool though!
A strange cinematic outing following the time-tripping adventures of a brash motorcycle racer who accidentally sails through an experimental portal and back to the frontier times of 1877 America. Timerider: The Adventure of Lyle Swann is a bit of an '80s cheesefest that choked the shelves of video stores back in the day and was seen nearly every hour on pay cable stations. Directed by Harry and the Henderson's William Dear, with Fred Ward and Peter Coyote having fun in this entertaining, low-budget oddity. Co-written by The Monkee's Mike Nesmith, who also contributed the film's musical score!
THE BEAST OF HOLLOW MOUNTAIN 1956
A primeval Allosaurus spawned at the dawn of time wreaks havoc in an Old West village in this goofy sci-fi western about American cowboys in Mexico battling the prehistoric T-rex. Directed by animation pioneer Edward Nassour (The Lost Continent), it featured his patented "Regiscope" stop-motion animation process using multiple, rigid models instead of a single articulated puppet, with fill-in shots using armatured models. The result is not masterful but pretty convincing for the time and marked the first feature film to put buckaroos and ancient beasts together in the same frame.
Back to the Future Part 3 Trailer
BACK TO THE FUTURE PART III 1990
Marty McFly hops back in the Delorean and heads back to an 1885 Hill Valley, California to save Doc Brown from the ruthless desperado, Buford "Mad Dog Tannen. Sort of an unloved stepchild in the BTTF trilogy due to its unconvincing Old West setting and large amount of slapstick comedy, but the movie still holds up as a solid addition to the franchise despite being the least successful of the three fantasy sci-fi flicks directed by Robert Zemeckis.
ALIEN OUTLAW 1985
The whip-cracking Lash LaRue and old-time cowboy actor Sunset Carson star with fitness trainer Kari Anderson in this no-budget affair stuffed with corny dialog, high school drama class production design and snorting aliens on horseback packing Colt revolvers. The first of shlock director Phil Smoot's western sci-fi experiments that followed this B-movie with the Native American zombies of The Dark Power, also starring Lash LaRue.
WELCOME TO BLOOD CITY 1977
Part science fiction western, part totalitarian futurism commentary and a dose of Matrix-like virtual reality, this forgotten film features a scene-chewing Jack Palance (Batman, City Slickers) with Keir Dullea (2001: A Space Odyssey). Directed by Peter Sasdy (Taste the Blood of Dracula, Hands of the Ripper), it centers around five strangers who wake in a simulated western town and must participate in a killing game to make them exempt from slavery. Big brother is watching from beneath a sweat-stained Stetson!
THE VALLEY OF GWANGI 1969
The legendary Ray Harryhausen (The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, Jason and the Argonauts) contributed the premium stop-motion special effects for this amazing dinosaurs vs cowboys hybrid. A Wild West show discovers a miniature prehistoric horse and explores a hidden valley where a tribe of dinos are enjoying a quiet life of leisure until they're disturbed by the troupe of trick riders and ropers. Directed by Jim O'Connolly (Berserk, Tower of Evil) with a certain convincing style and seriousness. The T-rex chowing down on the elephant is an instantly classic scene. This was Harryhausen's final dinosaur-related film project and it's one of his best.
THE AURORA ENCOUNTER 1986
A pint-sized alien visits Jack Elam and the sleepy western town of Aurora, Texas and changes the lives of its residents in a series of magical gestures. This heartwarming, micro-budget movie was made possible by the Make-a-Wish Foundation. Mickey Hays, the boy who plays the benevolent E.T., was suffering from Progeria, a rare accelerated aging disease and wanted to star in a movie. The organization and the film's producers pulled it together and granted his request. Now that's a grand gesture to tip your hat to!