Directed by John Sturges
Inducted to the National Film Registry in 2013
In 1954, Akira Kurosawa released what is considered by many to be his most influential film: Seven Samurai. Kurosawa was a self-admitted fan of American western films (especially those directed by John Ford), and he set out to make a western-style film in a genre that was popular in Japanese film at the time: the samurai movie. Six years later, the western influences on Kurosawa would come full circle as his film would itself get a Western (in more than one sense of the word) remake with John Sturges’ The Magnificent Seven, which would itself be considered one of the most influential westerns ever made.
Considered a bit of a flop on its initial release, The Magnificent Seven would go on to gain popularity after it became a financial success in foreign box office markets, and after it began to play on American TV.
One of the biggest impacts that this film had on Hollywood was its choice of cast. Steve McQueen was an up-and-coming actor at the time he was cast in this film, and The Magnificent Seven was a major launching point in his Hollywood career. This may have been helped by his well-known rivalry with Yul Brynner during the filming of the movie. While Brynner was considered the lead of the film, McQueen was known to try to upstage him at every possible opportunity. Much of this can be seen in the film. During many of the scenes that the two actors shared together, whenever Brynner was talking, McQueen would move in some way to draw attention to himself, such as by adjusting his hat, or loading his gun. McQueen was reportedly so eager to appear in this film that he faked a car accident to get a break in his television contract so that he would have time to shoot it.
Eli Wallach (who played the lead bandit, Calvera) was another breakout star. His role in this film would eventually lead to a role in another one of the most famous westerns of all time: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. In it, he played Tuco, aka “The Ugly,” of the film’s titular trio.
The Magnificent Seven also helped to popularize the “gunslinger” or “hired gun” trope, which would go on to become a popular element in the western genre.
Lastly, the film’s score (composed by Elmer Bernstein) is considered one of the most iconic western themes of all time, and has been used as a shorthand for western music in other settings (including a ride at Disneyland Paris, and in an episode of The Simpsons). It was also the theme music used in advertising for Marlboro brand cigarettes for several years.
The presence of The Magnificent Seven on the National Film Registry presents one of the most compelling arguments (to me) as to why foreign films should be included in the Registry (there are currently none that I know of at current time of writing—November 2020). The Magnificent Seven has gone on to influence many aspects of American culture (especially American film culture), but the Magnificent Seven (and all its influence) would literally not exist without the influence of Seven Samurai. Thus, it could be argued that Seven Samurai has also had just as large of an impact on American film culture (and that’s not to mention some of Kurosawa’s other films, such as Hidden Fortress, which heavily influenced George Lucas in the creation of Star Wars, an absolute juggernaut when it comes to film impacting American culture.)
Likewise, since Seven Samurai was itself influenced by previous American westerns you get a kind of ouroboros of film—American film influencing Japanese film influencing American film. And if that’s not the kind of movie that should be recognized and preserved for both its influence by and influence on American film, I don’t know what is.
Likewise, since The Magnificent Seven was somewhat saved by its performance in the foreign box office, that further reiterates how American film culture isn’t all that insular—without influence from other countries (both monetary and artistic), American film just wouldn’t be the same.
The Magnificent Seven (1960) is available to stream on the services listed here: https://www.justwatch.com/us/movie/the-magnificent-seven
Information sources and additional resources:
- The official NFR essay about The Magnificent Seven – https://www.loc.gov/static/programs/national-film-preservation-board/documents/magnificent_seven.pdf
- The original (somewhat negative) 1960 New York Times review: https://www.nytimes.com/1960/11/24/archives/screen-on-japanese-idea-magnificent-seven-a-us-western-opens.html
- A contemporary review from BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/films/2001/06/29/the_magnificent_seven_1960_review.shtml
- The Wikipedia page for The Magnificent Seven – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Magnificent_Seven
- A YouTube video that compares The Magnificent Seven with its 2016 remake and with Seven Samurai: