I think it’s a tasteful understatement that there are a few remakes around these days, and quite a few articles written about them. Many feel that the trend of endlessly rebooting films and franchises indicates a ‘creative bankruptcy’ within Hollywood, a ‘lack of original ideas’. To my mind, this is a little like pointing at a house that’s on fire and yelling “Oh no! There’s something terribly wrong with that house! Someone left the tap running in the kitchen!”, but you can see their point. So with the release of The Magnificent Seven, Antoine Fuqua’s 2016 remake of the 1960 original, it was inevitable there would be some backlash, as any attempt to remake something as iconic as The Magnificent Seven is naturally going to be seen as a cynical cash-grab.
The problem with this outrage, however, is that it forgets a crucial fact about the original Magnificent Seven: it is itself a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 film The Seven Samurai. In fact, examining the Western canon, it’s remarkable how many of them are remakes, particularly how many are re-workings of Kurosawa films: A Fistful of Dollars is basically Yojimbo, just with Clint Eastwood wearing a pair of your nan’s curtains and squinting a lot. The Outrage, a 1964 western (which rather jarringly stars William Shatner as a priest), is Kurosawa’s 1950’s classic Rashomon, one of the most innovative films in cinematic history. Even Tarantino’s far more recent Django Unchained is a very, very (very) loose re-imagining of the 1966 film Django. In fact, the themes and tropes of the Western are so established, one could argue that it is impossible for a film within that genre not to be at least part-remake.
While the Hollywood reboot machine is undeniably tiresome, when it comes to Westerns, perhaps we should attempt a more measured response than the customary eye-roll/Twitter Rant/Four month pilgrimage to Sergio Leone’s house in search of meaning. After all, with classics like A Fistful of Dollars recycling everything short of its actors from another (admittedly excellent) film, if any genre can claim a tradition of good remakes, it’s Westerns.