Marty McFly, Mal Reynolds, El Mariachi - the ten coolest offbeat cowboys
We've always loved cowboys, with their twirling lariats and dusty bandanas. Today, about 17,000 of the bowlegged rough riders are convening at the tiny area of Hamel for its 30th annual rodeo. To celebrate, we've compiled a list of the 10 coolest cowboys in film. But our list has a twist: They're all characters that fulfill the cowboy archetype -- the lanky, lonesome gunslinger -- but in an unexpected package, whether as a child's toy or a space pilot.
Malcolm Reynolds Firefly
Joss Whedon's Serenity, in addition to being a rollicking sci-fi adventure series, was also a space Western set in the time after a cataclysmic war (a Civil War, dare we say?). The frontier is unexplored, and savage Reavers (American Indians?) plague the outer borders of civilization. Malcolm Reynolds, a retired soldier from the losing side of the war, makes a living rustling cattle, hauling contraband, and anything else that will render enough cash to keep his ship in the sky. He wears a duster and low-slung pistol, speaks in a Southern drawl, and manages to get himself in to all manner of traditional cowboy scrapes--quick-draw battles, numerous fistfights and bar brawls, and a train robbery (in the series on which Serenity is based, Firefly) are amongst the most memorable.
Ed Tom Bell No Country for Old Men
Sheriff Bell isn't the traditional main character of No Country for Old Men - that honor falls to Llewelyn Moss, who spends the entire movie being chased down by diabolical hitman Anton Chigurh. But Tommy Lee Jones' character steals the show just by dutifully riding in behind the firefights and explosions, examining each scene of destruction for clues and being ready to go toe-to-toe with Chigurh if need be. Ultimately, the six-gun toting, horse-riding sheriff admits to his inadequacy in the closing monologue, after having failed to stop Chigurh or do much of anything beyond clean up the mess. In his own defeat, he reveals the strong character and quiet resignation common to the cowboy archetype.
Woody Toy Story
Poor, abused Woody: As the favorite toy in the closet he is worn, torn, thrown down stairs, and left lying at awkward angles for hours. In his spare time, though, he strides the prairies of Andy's bedroom with a bowlegged gait, wooing Bo-Peep. Unfortunately, when Buzz Lightyear shows up, his rural lifestyle is thrown for a loop and the two gallop off for adventures. Despite the shiny lights and flip-out wings of Toy Story's space ranger, our hearts remain with Tom Hanks' stuffed cattle-man, whose simplicity and loyalty make him a credit to cowboys everywhere.
Han Solo Star Wars
It's easy to get distracted by the galactic scope of the Star Wars story - the Jedis and their lightsabers, the Empire and its evil grasp -- and never come to the realization that Han Solo is basically a stand-in for the Lone Ranger. A bastard, conniving sort of Lone Ranger, admittedly, but think about it -- he wears a pistol low on his hip, rides his favorite steed, the Millenium Falcon, into battle, and has a savage sidekick who sports most of the duo's common sense. Nowhere is the Han Solo-as-cowboy revelation stronger than in his shootout with Greedo -- kicked up against the adobe wall of the Mos Eisly cantina, you can almost see the Stetson knocked back over his eyes and the poker cards in his hand.
Westworld has one of the cooler plots of '70s sci-fi; in a futuristic amusement park, android cowboys wander the dusty streets of Westworld, ready for action. Guests can challenge these gunslingers to an old-fashioned shoot-out and win every time, thanks to the robots' non-lethal programming. Yul Brynner plays the Gunslinger, a robot pistol fighter who goes rogue and starts killing the amusement park's guests like a retro, wild-west terminator. Unfortunately (spoiler alert) the Gunslinger finally succumbs to damage and deactivates permanently by the end of the film, but his freaky bald visage is burned into history as the coolest amusement park robot cowboy gunslinger villain of all time.
El Mariachi, Robert Rodriguez's lower-than-low-budget career kick-off, follows the story of a wandering guitar player, a loner sporting spurs who hangs out in dusty cantinas, picking for a living. A case of mistaken identity finds El Mariachi on the run from gangsters and converts the guitarist into a badass pistolero. The production values may be minimal, but El Mariachi features some of the cooler shoot-outs in Western (or Southwestern) film, and the end of the movie leaves the main character with a broken heart, a hand injury that ends his guitar-playing career, and nothing to do but wander the Mexican countryside with a guitar case full of weapons. Classic cowboy.
Marty McFly Back to the Future III
Back to the Future III features more time-travel paradoxes than you can shake a Delorian at, and one of the creepiest endings in film history (google "Back to the Future III creepy kid"), but it also has great campy action sequences and pseudo-modern twists, like this scene, where Marty McFly does the moonwalk to avoid bullets in a nod to the "make 'im dance" meme of Western film. With a hovertrain, fistfights, and a steampunk sniper rifle, Marty McFly's brief but awesome time as an unwilling cowboy cements his place on our list.
Buddy Six String Samurai
Post-apocalyptic badass Buddy takes being the strong silent type to the extreme -- his dialogue in this movie could be written out on a cocktail napkin. His cowboy-ness is a little less overt than others on this list; he wears a black suit instead of a duster, rides a dilapidated jalopy instead of a horse, and carries a katana instead of a six-shooter. But his quest into the West falls right into the cowboy archetype, as does his attempt to save the orphan waif he discovers in his wanderings. Much of Six String Samurai is filmed in classic Western style, focused on dusty streets, tense stand-offs, and rollicking chase scenes. His final desert guitar duel with Death follows the format of a shoot-out perfectly; you can almost hear the hammer-fanning "powpowpow" behind each riff.
Lt. Aldo Raine Inglourious Basterds
Quentin Tarantino works hard to jam as many genres into this alternate-history WWII action flick as he can. One of those genres is the Western, but interestingly, most of the Western-style action takes place off-screen, as Lt. Aldo Raine gathers up a group of Jewish soldiers to ride across Nazi Europe, staging raids against the Axis, collecting scalps and striking terror into the hearts of the anti-Semite aggressors. A combination of Apache raiding, cattle rustling, and outlaw themes combine to a satisfying whole as we are left to imagine most of the vicious antics of Raine and his band. But here we're treated to a bit of fun, as a European ditch takes the place of a dusty box canyon.
Bart Blazing Saddles
Mel Brooks' foray into the Western could hardly be expected to be a straight study in the genre, and Blazing Saddles doesn't disappoint. The central joke -- a black sheriff is assigned to a racist village in order to sow dissent and drive the townsfolk off -- sets up racist joke after racist joke, mostly instigated by Bart himself, as in this scene, where the new sheriff holds himself hostage with his own gun: "Drop it! Or I swear I'll blow this nigger's head all over this town!" With Gucci saddlebags, a coordinated khaki cowboy suit, and a big helping of sass, there's no doubt Bart is one of the coolest cowboys of all time.
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