When you think of classic Westerns, the face that enters your mind will probably be either John Wayne or Clint Eastwood. They’re both men who moved through the Hollywood world as if they were literally grown in a lab for the purpose of wearing a cowboy hat and staring into the middle distance. But when it comes to modern iterations of the Western, Kevin Costner is the man.
In the early ’90s, Kevin Costner revitalized the best Westerns with Dances With Wolves to the tune of seven Oscars, only for the genre to fade from view again during the latter half of that decade. In more recent years, he has taken center stage in Yellowstone, which stands as one of the best TV series around today.
But between those two big beasts, Costner helmed another Western at a time when the genre was ebbing away again. In 2003, Costner directed Open Range and also starred in it alongside one of the best actors of all time, Robert Duvall.
Costner told Entertainment Weekly it was “difficult to get [Open Range] mounted” due to his own box office struggles at the time – we’d just had Waterworld and The Postman as flops among his new movies – and the downturn in Westerns on the big screen.
While Dances With Wolves reinvigorated the genre in 1990, the success of one of the best Clint Eastwood movies, Unforgiven, and its deconstruction of the genre had scared people away once again. But that wasn’t going to stop Costner.
He said: “There’s nothing wrong with the formula of Westerns. Lately, Westerns have been kind of lazy, stupid costume parties. I wanted to direct this because I’ve always believed what’s worked most in Westerns are the little things. And if you throw in the obligatory things a little bit on their ear you challenge yourself to do something original.”
In a separate interview with the BBC, Costner was bullish about the future potential of the Western in Hollywood.
“Tough shit, it’s a real genre. It’s just real hard to do it right. Most people when they make a Western, they make them dumb. They’re also not relevant, and when a movie is not relevant to you, you’re not going to enjoy it. There has to be something that speaks to you in terms of the characters and what’s happening. So even though it’s not considered a commercial genre, I don’t believe it’s not commercial.”
Given that so many of the best movies of Costner’s career have been a part of the Western landscape, it’s no surprise that he’s a voracious defender of the genre. And he was proven right with Open Range, which was a critical success and a decent-sized box office hit.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t get the respect it deserves in the Costner pantheon today, but it’s well worth a look. Maybe when you’re up to date with Yellowstone on Paramount Plus?
For more on Costner’s future with Westerns, find out what we know about Yellowstone season 5 part 2. You can also learn what’s happening with the wider Yellowstone timeline with our guides to the 6666 release date and the 1923 season 2 release date.
Meanwhile, learn about the Oscars record shared by Kevin Costner and Clint Eastwood and find out what we think might happen if Yellowstone can’t get Costner back.