When talking about the constant change of audience taste and interest, the one genre that seems to come up the most is the Western. After Westerns had their heyday from the 1940s through the ‘60s, interest in the genre has dwindled significantly. The genre that had once been the lifeblood of Hollywood cinema was quickly forgotten and replaced with other genres like sci-fi, horror, and, most recently, superhero films. However, that doesn’t mean that the Western has ceased to exist entirely.
There have still been many Westerns produced in the decades following the genre’s fall from the limelight. Many of the best entries in the genre have been produced just in the last 30 years, and it’s not an irregular thing to see at least one Western represented at the Oscars every year. Some of the most successful modern filmmakers, such as Quentin Tarantino, Edgar Wright, and Chloé Zhao, have taken a swing or two at the genre with great results. Even Martin Scorsese has recently released a new Western, Killers of the Flower Moon. With that in mind, here are twelve modern directors that we would love to see direct a Western.
Update January 5, 2024: This article has been updated with even more great directors who we would love to see tackle a Western film at some point in their career.
While most of John Carney‘s films are set in Ireland (Once, Sing Street, and Flora and Son), one thing that unites all of his movies is music. All of his films are focused on musicians and how music serves as a connection between people. Begin Again showed the director’s willingness to tackle stories set in America, and Carney could certainly tell an interesting Western, one focused more on country music.
Music is a big part of the old frontier and the modern West, and following the story of a musician would be a unique premise for the genre. The film could feature a mix of classic country music but also great original songs. After all, who wouldn’t want a Western soundtrack from the same director who helped make iconic original songs like «Falling Slowly» from Once, «Drive It Like You Stole It» from Sing Street or recently «High Life» from Flora and Son. Carney could change what audiences think of when they think of Western.
His directorial debut, American Beauty, brought him gushing critical and commercial acclaim, and since then, it has been more-or-less hit after hit for British director, Sam Mendes. Perhaps most famous for his stint as director of the Bond franchise, taking to the chair to oversee both Skyfall and Spectre, Mendes has developed an almost faultless capacity to merge together breathtaking visuals with deep explorations of characters, attributes that could translate brilliantly in a Western.
There is an air of John Ford and David Lean to Mendes’ filmmaking, which would lend itself perfectly to more of a classic Western aesthetic. After his work on 1917 and the war film, a Western under Mendes’s direction would be one we certainly would check out.
After shooting to fame with his British gangland cult-classic, Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, Guy Ritchie‘s distinctive brazen-faced creative talents became almost unmistakable. From the razor-sharp editing and audacious quick-cuts to the direct, cut-throat nature of his scripts and heavy reliance on narration, the Sherlock Holmes director has established himself as somewhat of a pioneer. Turning his filmmaking gaze to the genre conventions of a Western would have irrefutable potential, and stamping his own unique design on this celebrated genre could bring a playful, Lock, Stock-esque energy to a type of movie that could benefit from a completely rejuvenated approach.
While Ritchie normally plays around with the idea of working-class Brits, even infusing it into his King Arthur retelling King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, he has played outside his own culture before. Aladdin and The Covenant show Richie’s willingness to explore non-British stories. A Western movie focused under Ritchie’s direction could have the same emphasis on criminals and outlaws as his other work and maybe draw a parallel between America and Great Britain, as the two countries have a long history woven together.
One of the most exciting modern directors who has yet to break into the mainstream is Robert Eggers. His first feature film was the acclaimed A24 horror film The Witch from 2015, which he then followed in 2019 with The Lighthouse, starring Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe, and his most recent film was the historical epic The Northman from last year. Currently, his next film is slated to be a new adaptation of Nosferatu.
Eggers has proven that he has an immense talent for crafting psychological thrillers, and we would love to see him apply his own aesthetics and perspectives to a Western in what would be a completely new take on this classic genre. The directors canvas has grown with each entry, and his emphasis on historical accuracy could make for a Western unlike anything seen before and just what the genre needs in the 21st century.
Céline Sciamma is a French director who has quietly been establishing herself as one of the most talented filmmakers on the indie scene over the last 15 years. She started out with films like 2007’s Water Lilies and 2010’s Ivory Tower, though she has received a lot of recognition globally for her two most recent movies, 2019’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire and 2021’s Petite Maman.
Throughout her filmography, Sciamma has demonstrated an expert knowledge of how to build and establish dynamic characters in complex situations. This makes Sciamma well-suited for taking on a Western, as it’s a genre that often tackles these same kinds of nuanced characters and scenarios. Honestly anything Sciamma tackles would be worth watching but a Western under her direction could have a truly quiet beauty to it.
When it comes to building tension and atmosphere through film, there are few modern directors as effective as David Fincher. After he made a name for himself in the ‘90s with Seven and Fight Club, Fincher has gone on to direct some of the best films of the 21st century so far. Including his newest, The Killer, he has directed 12 feature films, though he has yet to dip his toes into the world of Westerns.
Some of the best Westerns feature a similarly dark styling to Fincher’s work, and there’s no doubt that a Western from him would join those that have become staples of the genre. Blending together two genres that almost go hand-in-hand, the thriller and the Western, with the former a niche that he has ostensibly taken control of over the last three decades, could set up a mouthwatering screenplay.
Greta Gerwig is one of the most talked-about directors in Hollywood right now, for good reason. She’s on a real hot streak right now, as her string of films from Lady Bird to Little Women and Barbie over the last six years is the stuff of legend. Each of these films brings something new and exciting to the table, and together, they clearly show that Gerwig is one of the best filmmakers working today.
She has also made it clear that she wants to experiment with different genres and kinds of films, which is exactly why we would love to see her take on a Western. The energy she could bring to the genre could produce something truly new and original, and it would undoubtedly have something more nuanced to say than the archetypal bad vs. good rhetoric that has been overused for decades.
Another director whose reputation precedes him is Rian Johnson. After his early successes with Brick and Looper, Johnson became a much more widely known name through his work on Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and now he’s become known as the go-to murder-mystery guy, with films like Knives Out and Glass Onion as well as his new series Poker Face.
What we’d like to see is Johnson apply his love for murder mysteries to the Western genre. Whether it be with a completely new story or with a new film in his Knives Out series, Johnson would undoubtedly pay homage to the genre’s roots while still injecting his own personality and knack for subverting expectations into the story. Plus, the idea of seeing Benoit Blanc in a Western is just too good not to bring up.
Gina Prince-Bythewood is a director who has been working in Hollywood for a couple of decades now, but she recently leveled up in a major way with last year’s The Woman King, starring Viola Davis. That film was one of the best of 2022, as Prince-Bythewood crafted an emotional yet exhilarating story that featured some truly outstanding action sequences.
Her skills as a director are clear to see in The Woman King, especially in the performances she pulled out of the cast and production team. Based on the strength of that film as well as the fact she has clearly mastered the art of the period epic, we believe that a Western with her at the reins would be something truly special.
Ben Affleck is now as well known as a director as he is an actor. After his debut film, Gone Girl, wowed critics and audiences, he has found a way to make movies that have both been critical hits while also being appealing to mainstream mid-budget populist entertainment. The Town, Argo, and Air were all big hits, and if any director could help turn the Western genre around, it is Ben Affleck.
Affleck’s films tend to focus on teams of people coming together to pull off an incredible and almost impossible task. That would certainly work with the template of a Western, from outlaws and bandits in a Western riff on The Town or even a group of law enforcers trying to keep a town safe. Similar to Clint Eastwood or Kevin Costner, Affleck knows how to blend high-quality drama with spectacle that draws in general audiences.
In what feels like an obvious choice, we had to include Wes Anderson on this list simply because we would love to see his take on essentially any genre out there. He has already played with the aesthetics of Westerns in his films before, especially in one of his latest efforts, Asteroid City, but we’d love to see him dive into the genre.
Anderson has one of the most consistent and noticeable styles of any filmmaker working today, and it’s safe to assume that would remain true with any Western that he would direct. As a native Texan, Anderson would certainly have a unique take on the Western, which could mix his background with his desire to make detailed hand-crafted worlds that feel more like storybooks. A Wes Anderson Western is an intriguing idea.
Christopher Nolan has reached the point in his career in which he is able to do pretty much whatever he wants with no restrictions. After the success of his Dark Knight trilogy, he has consistently delivered excellence with films like Interstellar, Dunkirk, Tenet, and, most recently, Oppenheimer. A Western may seem pretty outside Nolan’s wheelhouse, but the director flirted with the genre a bit in Oppenheimer.
While Westerns may not be the massive box office draws that they used to be, Nolan’s films are consistently big hits. If he were to tackle the genre openly, there’s no doubt that it would be yet another massive cinematic event for the filmmaker and one that would seriously reap the rewards at the box office and critically. With his eagle-eyed lens and utter devotion to the craft of filmmaking, a Western under his belt would be a real spectacle. One look at the massive landscape shots in Oppenheimer is enough to sell anyone on the idea of an IMAX shot Christopher Nolan Western.