Do Movies Made in Australia Count as Westerns?

By: ScreenGawk Staff | Published: Feb 13, 2024

Western movies tell the stories of early adventurous pioneers who ventured across the American frontier. 

But does a movie really have to be set in the West of the U.S. to be considered an authentic Western? The answer is probably not. 

Outback Westerns

Western movies centered on legends and tales of American pioneers and criminals entered into a golden era across the states during the middle of the 20th century.

John Wayne stars as Ethan Edwards in the movie “The Searchers”

Source: Screen Archives/Getty Images

With characters such as Hoplalong Cassidy and Ethan Edwards and historical figures including Jesse James, the movies played out the adventurous fantasies of many moviegoers of the era. 

Outback Westerns

While Western movies typically garnered the most success in America, other nations created their own versions.

Photograph of the famous Ayers Rock found in Uluru, Red Center, Australia

Source: Tim Graham/Getty Images

Australia has plenty of Western-styled movies that can compete with those of the States, though they are generally referred to as Outback Westerns (via BFI). But should they be counted as Westerns at all?

Shared Love for All Things Wild

The debate has sparked several arguments over the years, including in True West Magazine. One thing that cannot be ignored is Western movies from the States and those from Down Under share similar themes.

A cowboy dressed in a jacket and white sat sits on a white horse

Source: Freepik

However, one movie produced in Australia during the early part of the 20th century should have ended the argument well before it ever began.

The Story of the Kelly Gang

Released in 1906, “The Story of the Kelly Gang” took place at the end of the 19th century.

The actor who played Ned Kelly is pictured in an authentic suit of the Kelly gang's armor

Source: Wikimedia

A gang hatched a plan to rob a stagecoach and become known as the Bushrangers. All of this occurred while an Indigenous group was fighting for their land against white colonists. If that’s not Western, then neither are American cult classics such as “Stagecoach.”

Australians and Americans Share a Love of Bad Boys

Just like Americans, those Down Under share a love for Western “bad boys.” 

Actor Kris Kristofferson pictured during his portrayal of Billy the Kid in 1973’s “Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid”

Source: Screen Archives/Getty Images

While the States have legends, including Billy the Kid and Jesse James, the Aussies have their equivalents in Ned Kelly and Ben Hall. 


Quigley Down Under

American actor Laura San Giacomo spoke highly of the setting during her time in Australia filming “Quigley Down Under.”

Actress Laura San Giacomo pictured during a scene from one of her movies

Source: Keith Hamshere/Getty Images

“There was a very gung-ho, cavalier spirit of filmmaking, [as if] it was going to be very easy to do this Western, to do a really difficult shoot,” she told True West Magazine


No Good Guys in Australia

There are a few minor differences between American and Outback Westerns. Regarding the heroes, the Americans had men like Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp. 

Wyatt Earp, played by James Garner, pictured alongside several other actors in “Hour of the Gun”

Source: United Archives/Getty Images

According to the director of “Quigley Down Under,” Simon Wincer, “We don’t have anyone like that.”


Admired for Rebellion

The stars who inspired Outback Westerns weren’t admired for their good deeds.

Mick Jagger stars as Ned Kelly in the movie “Ned Kelly” released in 1970

Source: United Artists/Getty Images

Instead, men like Ned Kelly were made famous for their rebellious acts against the government.


Criminal Migrants Oppressed by the British Police

According to Matthew Holmes, the director behind “Ben Hall,” the criminal migrants of Australia played a significant part in the type of character they came to revere.

A large wooden vessel pictured as it sails across still waters

Source: Freepik

“The public cared for [them] because they knew what it was like to be oppressed by the British police. They also cared because the gang would pay them to provide shelter and information,” said Hall (via True West Magazine). 


Plenty of Ned Kelly Films to Enjoy

Of all the characters who inspired the growth of Outback Westerns, Ned Kelly has to take the no. 1 spot. 

Heath Ledger, Naomi Watts, and Geoffrey Rush photographed together at the press conference for the movie “Ned Kelly” in Melbourne, Australia.

Source: Regis Martin/Getty Images

While Tony Richardson’s “Ned Kelly,” released in 1970, often takes the top spot, Heath Ledger put on a reputable performance in the 2003 movie of the same name.


Outback Westerns Are Here to Stay

Nonetheless, Outback Westerns have earned the right to call themselves precisely that: Westerns. 

A man pictured as he rides his horse across a small field

Source: Freepik

With films such as “Robbery Under Arms” (1957) through to “The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith” (1978) and modern hits including “The Proposition” (2005) and “The Outlaw Michael Howe” (2013), the Aussies Down Under have produced their fair share of cult classics.