What is it about science fiction and westerns that go so well together? Is it because they both tend to feature frontier settings on the edge of civilization? Is it because they both celebrate archetypes of rugged individualists? Or is it just that a robot in a cowboy hat is friggin' awesome? Unfortunately, most people trying to combine the two genres just throw leather chaps on an alien or have dinosaurs run around Arizona - pure laziness. Heck, it seemed like every '80s sci-fi cartoon had one "cowboy" character in it, drawling in a southern twang and wearing an ill-fitting 10-gallon hat. (I'm looking at you Silverhawks and COPS). But while there was a lot of that faux-frontier spirit, some properties genuinely combined the best of both worlds (literally and figuratively) to make some truly original sci-fi Western stories. Here are the ten best space cowboy stories we've seen.
Since this is a Michael Crichton story, of course it's about a futuristic amusement park breaking down and people dying horribly. But this one features robots going amok and killing people, as all robots are wont to do. Westworld's much more science fiction than western -- the park just happens to have an old west section filled with robot hicks. What makes this film watchable is Yul Brynner as an unstoppable robot version of his Magnficient Seven gunslinger. We'll say it again, robots in cowboy hats are awesome... especially if they're just shooting people down like dogs.
9) Cowboy Bebop
Okay, so this one doesn't have obvious western doodads like heroes in cowboy duds or horses in it, but the crew of the Bebop are clearly doing western stuff in a western way. After all, they're a group of bounty hunters traveling together and hunting down fugitives with a gun-slinging hero with a troubled past and a long-lost love... that's as western as a wagon train full of John Waynes. It just that this cowboy happens to travel in a spaceship with a former space cop, a cryogenic defrostee, a super hacker and genetically enhanced data dog. And the ending - a battle between Spike and Vicious on desert-like Mars - is the classic western showdown, just with gun versus sword...and in the future...and on Mars.
He's a space Indian with a talking horse who can summon the powers of animals. And that's fucking crazy. But if you're able to get past that, (and we can't blame you if you can't) Bravestarr actually tried to be smarter than the average '80s cartoon with some episodes dealing with drug abuse and the casual racism that was the wild west's major hobby. (But could you blame them, with those annoying high-pitched, buck-toothed prairie people?) Yep, they even had a kid die after O.D.-ing on the drug "Spin" in one episode. Yep, Bravestarr was the kiddie space Deadwood of it's time, but if Ian McShane was a gun-toting horse. Well, moreso.
7) The Gunslinger
This Steven King's magnum opus... which isn't hard when he's decided just about everything he's written is part of it. While much of the spooky knight-gunslinger's story focuses on magic and horror, there's a fair amount of science fiction in the story in the form of things that get shot, from Andy the villainous robot to Blaine, the psychopathic monorail. Heck, the Wolves of the Calla book's main fight is against a bunch of Dr. Doom-styled robots armed with lightsabers and flying robot "sneetches" based on Harry Potter's golden snitch. If you think King is scary, imagine how terrifying his copyright lawyers must be.
6) Jonah Hex
Jonah Hex has a pretty shitty life. First he gets his face scarred by his adoptive Native American tribe, has to fight in the Civil War, and eventually ends up stuffed in a Planet Krypton theme restaurant. (Man, a corpse with a horribly scarred face must've really sold those Booster Gold Disco Fries.) But even worse, in his solo book Hex, he spent some time trapped in a distant Mad Max-like future full of mutants, motorcycles and pretty women to save. It's so lucky he ended up in another time period where shooting someone in the face was a valuable job skill.
Tags: BraveStarr, Bruce Campbell, Cowboy Bebop, Firefly, Jonah Hex, Sci-Fi, Stephen King, Trigun, Westerns