Westerns used to be the backbone of the film industry. There are more Westerns than any other genre of movie. Even so, they have never received their due as art. Only three Westerns have won the Best Picture Oscar and there are 60 years between the first to win and the second. At least one world class filmmaker, John Ford, is inextricably linked to the Western.
The genre iconography of the Western became so formalized that when filmmakers began to question that iconography in the so-called "revisionist" Westerns of the 1960s and 1970s, it dealt the form an almost mortal blow. By the time Heaven's Gate came along, the Western was on its last legs, like a lame horse awaiting the bullet. Of course, the Western is like any other genre in that it allows filmmakers to test their characters and ideas in specific ways, so it is unsurprising that the Western rose from the dead in the 1990s to ride again.