In the early 1990s, a race to make a film about the legendary American lawman Wyatt Earp was underway. The competitors were Tombstone (1993) starring Kurt Russell as Earp, and Wyatt Earp (1994) which had Kevin Costner in the titular role. Though Tombstone won out as the more beloved version of the Wyatt Earp story, according to a story by Slashfilm, Kevin Costner’s involvement in Wyatt Earp nearly struck Tombstone down before it was ever made.
When Kevin Costner announced his Wyatt Earp project, Tombstone was expected to be dead in the water. Costner had star power and a strong western pedigree that included films like Silverado and Dances With Wolves.
Wyatt Earp reunited Costner and director Lawrence Kasdan, who helmed Silverado a few years prior. With Kevin Costner and the writer of hits like The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark on board, attaching a star to Tombstone that could compete seemed impossible.
Screenwriter Kevin Jarre went so far as to say that Kevin Costner’s Wyatt Earp was “an attempt to crush my picture.” Kevin Costner was actually Jarre’s first pick to play the role of Wyatt Earp in Tombstone, but the star turned the project down because of his involvement with Wyatt Earp, which was intended at the time to be a miniseries and was later condensed into a three hour film. When Tombstone crossed the desk of Kurt Russell; the movie had its A-lister.
Kurt Russell’s involvement opened the saloon doors to a host of high caliber co-stars, including Sam Elliott, Bill Paxton, and Val Kilmer, who delivered one of the most iconic performances of his career as the smooth talking Doc Holliday. Neither Tombstone nor Wyatt Earp opened to particularly rave reviews from critics, but Tombstone has stood the test of time and is regarded by many as one of the best westerns ever made. Though Kevin Costner lost to Tombstone and Kurt Russell for Hollywood’s definitive portrayal of Wyatt Earp, the star continued a successful career that led to a different kind of western with the Paramount Network hit series Yellowstone.
Now in its fifth season, Yellowstone stars Kevin Costner as John Dutton, a Montana rancher fighting to retain his family’s property and legacy. The series from creator Taylor Sheridan has been a massive success for Paramount and has spawned two spinoffs, 1883 and 1923, which have also been instant classics in the expanding franchise. With Yellowstone, Kevin Costner is more than making up for his loss in the 90s duel with Tombstone.
After a two decade hiatus, Kevin Costner is returning to the director’s chair for Horizon, which follows the stories of those settling the American west in the 1800s. Costner co-wrote the film with Jon Baird and will star in it alongside Avatar’s Sam Worthington and Orphan star Isabelle Fuhrman. The star power of Kevin Costner nearly shut down Tombstone thirty years ago, and three decades later, Costner is still leveraging immense star power to maintain not only relevance, but strong popularity in the western genre.