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Kevin Costner Left ‘Tombstone’ To Team Up With Dennis Quaid on Another Underrated Western

Kevin Costner felt ‘Tombstone’ didn’t do the iconic lawman justice, so he took matters into his own hands.

  •  Kevin Costner’s decision to pass on a major role in Tombstone led him to make his own Wyatt Earp movie, which suffered from poor timing and hubris.
  •  Costner’s version of Wyatt Earp featured an all-star cast and extravagant promotion, but the film’s three-hour runtime and lackluster box office performance earned scathing reviews.
  •  Despite the film’s shortcomings, Dennis Quaid’s performance as Doc Holliday stood out, and both Costner and Quaid have returned to the Western genre through their work on Yellowstone.

There was a time when Kevin Costner was on top of the world. Though people are most familiar with his work on Yellowstone, his body of work in the late ’80s to early ’90s catapulted him to prominence. Unsurprisingly, most of these films were Westerns: the epic Dances With Wolves, Open Range, and the modern-day classic Silverado. One of these Westerns, Wyatt Earp, has flown under the radar for several reasons. Chief among those reasons was the fact that it was released shortly after the Western epic Tombstone, which also featured Wyatt Earp in a major role, courtesy of Kurt RussellWyatt Earp was born out of the fallout of Costner passing on a major role in Tombstone.

Why Did Kevin Costner Make His Own Wyatt Earp Movie?

Tombstone is notorious for its behind-the-scenes drama, which was just as tense as the legendary gunfight at the OK Corral. In addition to writ ing the screenplay, Kevin Jarre 

was supposed to direct the film, but ultimately succumbed to the pressure and was replaced by George P. Cosmatos. However, he did manage to direct all the scenes involving Charlton Heston as Henry Hooker. Russell then worked with producer James Jacks to rework Jarre’s script and even claimed to have been the actual director of the film (a claim that Val Kilmer, who played Doc Holliday, backed up). Kevin Costner had his quibbles with the script, mainly the fact that he felt like Wyatt Earp should be the focus of the film.

During an interview with Henry Cabot Beck, Kurt Russell wondered what could have been had Costner boarded the film. “At that time, Jarre and Costner were going to do the movie. Then Costner decided he liked the idea of doing, not Tombstone, but Wyatt Earp, with Kasdan writin’ it. And he gave the movie to Kevin with his best wishes. Good luck,” he said. Costner and Kasdan had previously worked together on Silverado, so it only made sense that Costner would seek him out for the project, which evolved from a six-hour miniseries to a full-length feature film. A piece by Entertainment Weekly detailed the dueling films, and how Costner’s presence with the CAA (Creative Artists Agency) led actors like Brad Pitt to shy away from Tombstone. “Because of the asinine mentality in this town, they won’t let two pictures about Earp go forward. If I were a gambling man, I’d bet Tombstone doesn’t go ahead,” Costner’s producing partner, Jim Wilson said at the time.

But Costner’s pull didn’t just extend to who starred in Tombstone. Russell recalls that he received a phone call saying that Costner was able to contact most of the major studios and convince them not to distribute Tombstone at all. “He was powerful enough at the time, which I always respected. I thought it was good hardball,” Russell said. Jarre was able to secure distribution at Buena Vista Pictures, though he wasn’t able to convince the Disney-backed studio to cast Willem Dafoe as Holliday and Richard Gere as Earp. The rest, as they say, is history: Tombstone became a box-office hit as well as a cult classic.

Despite Its Great Cast, Poor Timing Affected Kevin Costner’s ‘Wyatt Earp’

While it’s not uncommon for a pair of films to tackle a similar story — as well as being released in the same year — Kevin Costner went all out when it came to Wyatt Earp

. He wrangled together an all-star cast that included Dennis Quaid as Doc Holliday, Gene Hackman as Earp’s father Nicholas, and Bill Pullman as Ed Masterson. James Newton Howard composed a sweeping score. In perhaps the most brazen attempt to promote his version as the apex Earp story, Costner grabbed hold of every Western-themed costume in Hollywood, once again undercutting Tombstone‘s production. But it was all for naught, as the film debuted at a lackluster box office, as well as receiving scathing reviews.

Most of those reviews focused on the runtime, which stretches well into the three-hour mark. Roger Ebert famously snarked, “Wyatt Earp plays as if they took Tombstone and pumped it full of hot air.” Costner wanted to cover the entirety of Earp’s life, which was commendable, but critics as well as people who starred in the film said that the length was a major hindrance. “It’s long, it’s stupid and boring. It’s a giant close-up of Kevin for three f—king hours,” Michael Madsen griped during an Empire interview in 2017. (Madsen would later confirm that he had to pass on starring in Reservoir Dogs since he was committed to Earp.).

The one bright spot was Dennis Quaid’s performance as Holliday. He lost close to 40 pounds playing the dentist-turned-gunfighter and gave Kilmer a run for his money by capturing Holliday’s sarcastic yet honest nature. Quaid himself was proud of the work he did and said as much in an interview with Larry King. When King brought up Earp, Quaid said, “My honest opinion is I think the movie is too long. I think the first half of the movie is a history lesson… But I’m also really proud of it.”

Kevin Costner and Dennis Quaid in the ‘Yellowstone’ Universe

Though it’s been years since Kevin Costner and Dennis Quaid were on the set of Wyatt Earp, they’ve returned to the world of the Western via YellowstoneTaylor Sheridan has built an empire of spinoffs to rival any major franchise, whether the Marvel Cinematic Universe or fellow Paramount franchise Star Trek. The latest entry, Lawmen: Bass Reeves, features Quaid in a prominent role as Sherrill Lynn, the U.S. Marshall who deputizes David Oyelowo‘s titular lawman. Every scene that Quaid is in is a wonder to behold; he manages to match Oyelowo’s scene for scene and brings a world-weary approach to Lynn. It’s a far cry from his performance as Holliday, but it showcases that he still has the commanding chops from earlier in his career. Costner is set to depart Yellowstone after its fifth and final season, but he hasn’t left the world of the Western behind, as his next project is a two-part epic Horizon: An American Saga that debuts next year. Hopefully, no one will attempt to make another Western before then.


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