Wyatt Earp (1994) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

A quick refresher to get you up to speed. In 1993-1994, there were two major Wyatt Earp movies, each of which has now become a two-disk special edition DVD. The first one to be released was Tombstone, with Val Kilmer and Kurt Russell as Doc Holliday and Earp, respectively. That one garnered $56 million at the box office. This film, Wyatt Earp, was in the "me too" position, featured two far less charismatic actors (Kevin Costner and Dennis Quaid), was more than three hours long, and did a disappointing $25 million at the box, despite a lavish $63 million budget.

Summary chart:

  Tombstone Wyatt Earp
as Wyatt Earp Kurt Russell Kevin Costner
as Doc Holliday Val Kilmer Dennis Quaid
as Virgil Earp Sam Elliott Michael Madsen
gross $56 million $25 million
IMDb score 7.4 6.1
Rotten Tomatoes (% positive reviews) 80% 39%

That chart leads you to believe that Wyatt Earp is Tombstone's retarded cousin, but that impression is not precisely accurate.

It is true that Tombstone is far more iconographic, more flamboyant, and a much better yarn. On the other hand, I spent some time looking up what really happened in the lives of the people involved. Both stories made some efforts at accuracy, but where the two movies differed, Wyatt Earp had the more accurate version.

A couple of examples:

  • Shortly after the death of Morgan Earp, Wyatt and some of his posse killed Frank Stillwell (presumed to be one of the men who ambushed Morgan and Virgil) at the Tucson train station. Tombstone showed Wyatt bravely facing Stillwell down, then letting Ike Clanton go when he begged for mercy. The other movie showed the truth - a revenge-bent mad dog Wyatt Earp unloading bullet after bullet into Stillwell after he fell.

  • Tombstone portrayed the death of Johnny Ringo as an obviously mythical incident. Ringo was set to fight Wyatt Earp, whom he expected to kill in a fair fight, because he was a great gunfighter and Earp wasn't. Somehow, Doc Holliday, the greatest of all the gunfighters, crawled out of his death bed and got to Ringo before his friend Earp could arrive, thus changing the gun battle to one which Ringo could expect to lose, and did lose after trying to weasel out of it. Not only does this version have no basis in fact, or even in legend, but it doesn't even make sense in the script. In order to find Ringo, Earp had to go to Point A, where he got a message from a third party to meet Ringo at Point B - a place Holliday could not have known about at all. So even if Holliday could have crawled out of bed, dressed, saddled his horse, and raced past his friend to get to Ringo first, despite his friend's massive head start and good health, he could not have known where the fight would occur! There is simply no way he could have been there to battle Ringo, yet there he was. Good story, but utter horseshit.

Even the actors in Wyatt Earp, being down-to-earth "regular Joe" kinds of guys, seemed much more believable than the ones in Tombstone.

  • Kevin Costner portrayed Earp as a decent guy with a cold, hard streak and sometimes a viper's tongue, a good guy who was also a bad guy. Kurt Russell's Earp seems more like a movie hero than a real man (although Russell looked more like Earp, and managed to grow the correct moustache).

  • Dennis Quaid gave an excellent performance, lost thirty pounds from his already-slim body, and probably represented Doc Holliday as he really was, while Val Kilmer was completely unbelievable and sometimes downright silly - he seemed like he was playing that histrionic actor character in The Fantastiks.


Joanna Going exposed one breast in a lovemaking scene with Costner. She was also seen topless in a postcard.

Annabeth Gish wore a wet nightgown in her deathbed scene, and her nipples were partially visible through it.

DVD info from Amazon

  • Original 190-minute version with an all-new digital transfer and remastered 5.1 soundtrack

  • New behind-the-scenes documentary "It Happened That Way"

  • Vintage making-of TV special "Walk with a Legend"

  • About 20 min of deleted scenes

  • Widescreen anamorphic format

But compared to Quaid, Kilmer was far more entertaining.

Oh-oh. There's the real point. Look at the last three words of the preceding paragraph. Wyatt Earp is three hours of credibility. Tombstone is two hours of entertainment. Which one do you want to watch?

I don't know about all of you, but when it comes to movies, I find that the truth is often highly overrated.

The Critics Vote ...

  • Super-panel consensus: two stars. James Berardinelli 2.5/4, Roger Ebert 2/4.

The People Vote ...

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The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a C. It is a reasonably accurate biography of Wyatt Earp, starting in his childhood. It can be excellent at times. It can also be slow-moving, and sometimes boring in its 190 minutes. It's not bad at all, but I like it the least of Kasdan's major movies.

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