Antoine Fuqua’s Western actioner hit DVD and Blu-ray not too long ago, so what better time to suggest a couple of titles that share qualities with this 2016 remake of Japanese classic Seven Samurai (1954)? Whether you enjoyed the ragtag cast’s camaraderie, the hard-hitting action, the attention to historical detail in the production values or even just seeing a Western on the big screen with this type of money and star power behind it, I may have something for you.
Let’s not procrastinate any longer, and just get shooting:
1. Tombstone (1993)
Probably the easiest recommendation on the list, George P. Cosmatos’ 1993 offering shares the same combination of humour and action as Fuqua’s film. Starring Kurt Russell as legendary lawman Wyatt Earp, the film dramatises the events leading up to the infamous gun battle at the OK Corral, as newcomers and former marshals the Earp brothers get into conflict with cattle rustling clan the Clantons, along with their dangerous associates Curly Bill and Johnny Ringo.
Produced a year before Lawrence Kasdan’s longer Wyatt Earp, where that film was rambling and unfocused, Tombstone is dead set on delivering a succinct and satisfying drama as you see Wyatt go from humble, retired husband to vengeful force of nature. Of course, complimenting Russell’s square-jawed, plain talking Wyatt is the fantastic Doc Holiday, portrayed by a younger Val Kilmer. A somewhat psychotic sophisticate, Holiday brings a tonne of humour to the proceedings, but also surprising heart as Wyatt’s most doggedly loyal friend. It’s a masterfully paced action ride with heart. What more could you want?
2. Death Rides A Horse (1967)
Here’s a tight and lean offering from the spaghetti era, and while it would’ve been easy to recommend one of Sergio Leone’s films, I decided to go for something more left field, but just as worthwhile. John Philip Law plays Bill, a young gunslinger hunting for the gang that slaughtered his family as a child. At the same time, one of the gang, Ryan, played by genre icon Lee Van Cleef, is released from jail after being framed by his former compatriots. The two meet, unaware of their mutual history, and team up to punish the killers.
While the opening raid may register as a little melodramatic for modern sensibilities, Death Rides A Horse delivers the goods you’d want from a spaghetti western, with dusty plains and violence aplenty. The final gun battle, in a fort amidst a sandstorm, is a wonderful example of effective low-budget filmmaking, with excellent cinematography, editing and use of sound. Just as good, however, is the mentor-student dynamic between Bill and Ryan: it starts as almost comical, each trying to upend the other, but they do reach a mutual respect and even companionship that makes the final revelation carry much more weight. It’s short and sweet. Can’t argue with that.
3. Silverado (1985)
While Wyatt Earp wasn’t that great, Lawrence Kasdan’s previous Western more than made up for it. A ragtag group of men, a Magnificent Four of two brothers, a cowboy and a mystery man rescued in the desert, battle a powerful rancher trying to control the plains by running off the rightful claimants. They battle Bandidos, corrupt law enforcement and even love as they seek to right wrong in Silverado.
The most directly akin to Magnificent Seven in its premise, Silverado is more candid and cheery in tone than the more grounded and grim Fuqua film. Indeed, the writing style has the same tongue in cheek awareness of Kasdan’s own Raiders of the Lost Ark in its presentation of Western tropes, while still delivering on them. The combination of Kevin Kline, Glenn, Danny Glover and Kevin Costner is inspired, all sharing great chemistry with each other, while the likes of Ray Baker and Brian Dennehy are having a ball as the bad guys. If you only know Kline from comedies, be ready to be on the edge of the seat in his climactic gun duel. It hits a great balance of comedy and wonderful action that you shouldn’t miss.
4. Pale Rider (1985)
Wouldn’t be a proper Western list without a mention from Clint Eastwood, the man who has come to embody the genre more than even heavyweights like John Wayne or Randolph Scott did. In this mid-80s offering, which he also directed and produced, Eastwood stars as a mysterious figure known as ‘the Preacher’, who seemingly arrives in answer to the prayers of a young girl whose mining community is being harassed by tycoon Coy LaHood and his men.
Moulded very much from the Dollars framework, especially Fistful, Eastwood delivers a splendid tale of judgement, faith and retribution. Of course, Eastwood directs a good looking film with visceral gunfights that will satisfy his devotees, but he also creates legitimately compelling drama concerning the Preacher’s dynamic with the girl and her family. Her innocence and good nature bring out a humanity in what could’ve merely a distant figure, which only makes you want to see him destroy the mining company that much more. The last act is especially intense but pays off incredibly.
And with that, I’m done. Four other worthy films for you to see if you found yourself quite pleased with Fuqua’s movie. Naturally, there’s an ocean, or trail here, of great Westerns that could’ve been recommended, be it for great drama or exciting gun battles, but I wanted to pick the most inviting to newcomers who may have gotten onboard because of Denzel Washington or Chris Pratt’s involvement. Either way, enjoy the ride, partners.