The Western genre is a group of films set in a very particular place and time-specifically, the American West in the last half of the nineteenth century. These films include the typical "cowboys and Indians" films, with their horses, gunfights, saloons and dusty little towns. The genre also includes more modern Westerns. In these, the culture of the Old West is considered in more realistic and nuanced ways, and films set in the contemporary West but written in the spirit of classic Westerns.
Westerns were popular in the silent-film era, but they fell out of favor in the 1930s, when they were seen as low-brow entertainment. By the end of the 1930s, however, some new Westerns-most notably the work of director John Ford-were produced and promoted by the big studios and were able to bring the genre back to mainstream popularity. Ford's work made the dramatic landscape of the West a familiar sight for movie-goers, and the new Western made stars out of actors such as John Wayne.
The Western declined again in the 1960s, but a series of low-budget Western produced in Europe helped to bring about a modest revival of the genre in the late 60s and 1970s. These films, dubbed "Spaghetti Westerns" because of their Italian directors, were violent and gritty, and they are most well-known for giving a significant boost to the careers of actors such as Clint Eastwood and Charles Bronson.
Modern Westerns have engaged in a fair amount of genre-mixing. Contemporary Westerns like the Coen brothers' No Country for Old Men melds the Western spirit with a crime thriller, and Cowboys and Aliens combines science fiction with a Western-style plot, a tradition dating back to 1973's Westworld. Joss Whedon's Serenity goes a step further, transplanting a very Western-esque story into outer space.