Though he often isn’t a fan of the genre’s offerings, Kevin Costner has been in his share of Westerns. He was the titular figure in 1994’s Wyatt Earp, he’s the patriarch of the Dutton family in the modern Western hit series Yellowstone, and then of course there’s his Oscar-winning turn as Lieutenant Dunbar in 1990’s Dances with Wolves. Unlike in those later projects, Costner wasn’t in the lead role for his very first Western, but regardless it changed his life and career. We’re talking about 1985’s ensemble Western Silverado, which is currently streaming on Netflix.
For its time, Silverado was absolutely star-studded, including helping to launch the careers of now well-known actors beside Kevin Costner. Kevin Kline — who was just coming off the two cultural touchstones 1982’s Sophie’s Choice and 1983’s The Big Chill — leads the cast as the heroic gunslinger Paden. Fresh off The Right Stuff, Scott Glenn plays Emmett, older brother to Costner’s Jake. Danny Glover plays a cowboy who encounters the other heroes after being run out of a town for being Black, and two years later he would assume his signature role as the always too-old-for-you-know-what Murtagh in Lethal Weapon. A year before the release of The Fly, Jeff Goldblum stars as a very un-Jeff-Goldblum villain named Slick and the late, great Brian Dennehy is the corrupt and brutal Sheriff Cobb. Also appearing are Rosanna Arquette (Pulp Fiction) who that same year starred alongside Madonna in Desperately Seeking Susan, John Cleese of Monty Python’s Flying Circus fame as another corrupt sheriff, and Linda Hunt (The Year of Living Dangerously) as the saloon owner Stella.
It can be jarring to look back and see Kevin Costner as Jake in Silverado. Yes, he’s younger, but it isn’t just his youth that will seem strange. In many of Costner’s more recent roles — particularly in Westerns — he plays the kind of war-weary hero who, if he’s going to resort to heroics, has to be dragged to it kicking and screaming. He plays characters who have seen the worst the world has to offer and while not necessarily cowed by them, the experiences have made him smarter and more cautious. Jake of Silverado, in other words, is exactly the kind of guy a lot of Costner’s characters couldn’t stand. He’s young, cocky, quick to draw, and slow to listen. While he’s one of the best gunslingers in the film, anyone used to how Westerns turn out would probably tap Jake as the least likely to survive the flick. We’ll leave the question of whether or not he does aside, so you can find out for yourself.
Kevin Costner’s Jake may not be the deepest thinker in Silverado or the most careful, but he’s a lot of fun and the actor had a lot of fun playing him. Speaking to the publication Cowboys & Indians in 2020, Costner called the role “a total gift.” The actor credited Silverado with spring-boarding his journey into stardom, saying, “It was a career-making role, a scene-stealing role… [Lawrence Kasdan] wrote it so beautifully — along with his brother, Mark Kasdan — that the character was designed to just jump off the page. And I was happy almost every day of my life doing that film.”
The actor confessed that there was at least one thing that happened during filming that he wasn’t too happy about. Kevin Costner explained during a scene in which he and the other actors ride up to a wagon train on horseback, Costner’s serape blew over his head, and that was the cut that made it into the film. The actor said he was “really upset” Lawrence Kasdan kept it in, and explained Kasdan shot the scene multiple times, because of the difficulty of getting four horses to get their animals to hit their specific marks with the right timing. “And the one time everybody else got in line, it was the one time the wind just blew and blew,” Costner recalled. “And blew the serape over my head, so that I looked like a little girl. And, yes I was pissed about it.”
Sadly — and we can’t blame Kevin Costner’s serape for this — while we might not go so far as to call Silverado a flop, it didn’t exactly tear up the box office charts. With a reported budget of $23 million, Silverado left theaters with $32.2 million to show for itself, but it’s tough to blame the filmmakers or actors. The Western not only came out at a time when the genre was already in decline, but the list of films that were in theaters on Silverado‘s opening week reads like a list of ’80s movie landmarks. Back to the Future, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, The Goonies, Coccoon, Rambo: First Blood Part II, and St. Elmo’s Fire were all on screens when Silverado premiered. All things considered, the fact that the Western even made its budget back and then some is impressive. If you want to figure out for yourself whether or not moviegoers in the ’80s cheated themselves out of a good time by missing Silverado, it’s streaming on Netflix right now.