Once upon a time, there were two movies about the legendary Western lawman (or outlaw, depending on who is telling the story) Wyatt Earp. One came out in 1993 and the other came out in 1994.
The 1993 movie was called Tombstone. That is the one that starred Kurt Russell was Wyatt, with Sam Elliott and Bill Paxton in the roles of his brothers and Val Kilmer playing Doc Holliday. Tombstone deals with the circumstances that led to the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. “I’m your huckleberry,” Doc Holliday says right before his gunfight with Michael Biehn’s Johnny Ringo. Tombstone is the movie that everyone remembers.
The 1994 movies was called Wyatt Earp. This was a big budget extravaganza that was directed by Lawrence Kasdan and starred Kevin Costner as Wyatt. Dennis Quaid played Doc Holliday and supporting roles were played by almost everyone who was an active SAG member in 1994. If they were not in Tombstone, they were probably in Wyatt Earp. Gene Hackman, Michael Madsen, Tom Sizemore, Jeff Fahey, Mark Harmon, Annabeth Gish, Gene Hackman, Bill Pullman, Isabella Rossellini, JoBeth Williams, Mare Winningham, and many others all appeared as supporting characters in the (very) long story of Wyatt Earp’s life.
Of course, Wyatt Earp features the famous Gunfight at the O.K. Corral but it also deals with every other chapter of Earp’s life, including his multiple marriages, his career as a buffalo hunter, and his time as a gold prospector. With a three-hour running time, there is little about Wyatt Earp’s life that is not included. Unfortunately, with the exception of his time in Tomstone, Wyatt Earp’s life was not that interesting. Neither was Kevin Costner’s performance. Costner tried to channel Gary Cooper in his performance but Cooper would have known better than to have starred in a slowly paced, three-hour movie. The film is so centered around Costner and his all-American persona that, with the exception of Dennis Quaid, the impressive cast is wasted in glorified cameos. Wyatt Earp the movie tries to be an elegy for the old west but neither Wyatt Earp as a character nor Kevin Costner’s performance was strong enough to carry such heavy symbolism. A good western should never be boring and that is a rule that Wyatt Earp breaks from the minute that Costner delivers his first line.
Costner was originally cast in Tombstone, just to leave the project so he could produce his own Wyatt Earp film. As a big, Oscar-winnng star, Costner went as far as to try to have production of Tombstone canceled. Ironically, Tombstone turned out to be the film that everyone remember while Wyatt Earp is the film that most people want to forget.