Wyatt Earp is a 1994 American semi-biographical Western film, written by Dan Gordon and Lawrence Kasdan and directed by Kasdan. It stars Kevin Costner in the title role as lawman Wyatt Earp, and features an ensemble cast that includes Dennis Quaid, Gene Hackman, Isabella Rossellini, Mark Harmon, Michael Madsen, Joanna Going, Tom Sizemore, Bill Pullman, JoBeth Williams, Linden Ashby, and Mare Winningham.
A teenage Wyatt Earp lives on the family farm. His older brothers, Virgil and James, are away at war serving with the Union Army. Wyatt dreams of war, and packs some belongings, bids his younger brothers & sisters goodbye, and attempts to run away, intending to lie about his age and join the Union Army. He doesn't make it off the farm before his father catches him and forces him to return home. A short while later, both brothers return home at the war's end, with James gravely wounded. Shortly afterwards, the family moves west. It is during this move that Wyatt first sees a man killed, shot during a gunfight. He gets sick at the sight, and vomits.
Years pass, finding him working out west as a wagon driver. During his time there, he works also as a referee for fights, and finds himself at odds with a bully. Wyatt and the bully eventually come to the point of fighting, with the bully intending to shoot Wyatt. Wyatt disarms him and defeats him, taking his gun as a trophy.
Returning home to Missouri, Wyatt marries a childhood sweetheart, Urilla Sutherland (Annabeth Gish). The two move into their own house, and he begins working as a policeman. Months later, while pregnant, his wife dies from Typhoid fever. He stays by her side throughout the illness, becoming deeply depressed afterward. He burns their home and all they own, begins drinking, and drifting from town to town, eventually landing in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. He robs a man and steals his horse, but is captured a short time later. With Wyatt facing certain hanging, his father bails him out of jail, telling him to leave and never return to Arkansas.
He begins working as a buffalo hunter, where he meets Bat Masterson and his brother Ed Masterson. The three become friends and work together hunting buffalo, with the two brothers working as Wyatt's skinners. Years pass, and he begins working as a Deputy Marshal in Wichita, Kansas, and builds a reputation as a good lawman. He is recruited to work as a deputy in Dodge City, with a lower salary, but for extra money for each arrest made, in the end making more than he would have in Wichita. In Dodge City he builds a hard reputation, and he kills his first man, a shooting witnessed by actress Josie Marcus. Wyatt becomes involved romantically with a prostitute, Mattie Blaylock, and the Mastersons begin working with him as deputies. Wyatt disagrees with Ed Masterson working as a lawman, believing him to be too passive. However, the Dodge City council decides that Ed is more acceptable than Wyatt due to the latter's excessive force, and fires him, appointing Ed to take his place. Wyatt then begins working for the railroad, capturing outlaws.
While pursuing outlaw Dave Rudabaugh, he is introduced to gunman and gambler Doc Holliday, in Fort Griffin, Texas, and the two become friends. Holliday assists Earp in locating Rudabaugh, whom he dislikes tremendously. Shortly afterward, Wyatt receives word that Ed Masterson has been killed, having shot and killed both his assailants before dying in the street. Wyatt returns to Dodge City to help bring law and order. After working there for a while, he and his family move to Tombstone, Arizona, under the protest of the Earp wives, and Mattie. Wyatt immediately finds himself at odds with the "Cowboy" gang. He meets and becomes romantically involved with Josie Marcus, which puts him at odds with her boyfriend, Sheriff Behan. This relationship also causes stress in his relationship with Mattie, and becomes the subject of rumor about town.
Wyatt and his brothers Morgan and Virgil arrest several Cowboys, and Virgil takes over as marshal following the murder of town marshal Fred White (Boots Southerland). The brothers find themselves at odds with the Cowboys often, and tension builds. Wyatt breaks up several altercations involving the Cowboys, particularly Ike Clanton (Jeff Fahey), and Doc Holliday swears his loyalty to Wyatt, whom he considers his only real friend. Eventually the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral occurs, with the brothers becoming very unpopular in town. Virgil is ambushed and wounded, and Morgan is killed. The film then shows only a glimpse of the Vendetta Ride with Wyatt and his friends taking out revenge on the remaining "Cowboys", and then skips to many years later with him and Josie mining for gold in Alaska. While en route by boat, a young man on the same boat recognizes Wyatt, and recounts a story in which Wyatt had saved the boy's uncle, "Tommy Behind-The-Deuce". Wyatt says to Josie, "Some people say it didn't happen that way", to which she responds "Never mind them, Wyatt. It happened that way."
An epilogue states that Doc Holiday died six years later in a hospital in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. Members of the Clanton gang continued to die mysteriously for years after Morgan's murder. Josie's and Wyatt's marriage lasted forty-seven years until Wyatt died at age 80 in Los Angeles.
All compositions by James Newton Howard.
- "Main Title"
- "Home from the War"
- "Going to Town"
- "The Wagon Chase"
- "Mattie Wants Children"
- "Nicholas Springs Wyatt"
- "Is That Your Hat?"
- "The Wedding"
- "Stillwell Makes Bail"
- "It All Ends Now"
- "Urilla Dies"
- "Tell Me About Missouri"
- "The Night Before"
- "O.K. Corral"
- "Down by the River"
- "Kill 'Em All"
- "Dodge City"
- "Leaving Dodge"
- "Indian Charlie"
- "We Stayed Too Long"
- "Winter to Spring"
- "It Happened That Way"
Kevin Costner was originally involved with the film Tombstone, another film about Wyatt Earp written by Kevin Jarre. However, Costner disagreed with Jarre over the focus of the film (he believed that the emphasis should have been on Wyatt Earp rather than the many characters in Jarre's script) and left the project, eventually teaming up with Kasdan to produce his own Wyatt Earp project. The film was also originally meant to be a six-hour miniseries until Kevin Costner joined the cast. Costner then used his then-considerable clout to convince most of the major studios to refuse to distribute the competing film, which affected casting on the rival project.
Wyatt Earp, released six months after Tombstone, was the less successful of the two films, taking in $25 million on a $63 million budget, compared to Tombstone's $56 million domestic gross on a $25 million budget.
Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 42% based on reviews from 26 critics.
The biopic debuted at No. 4 at the box office and was not a commercial success, although it was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Cinematography in 1995 and writers Dan Gordon and Lawrence Kasdan received the Spur Award from the Western Writers of America for Best Drama Script. Although the film received mixed to negative reviews, critics and audiences praised Dennis Quaid's portrayal of Doc Holliday. Wyatt Earp was also nominated for five Razzie Awards including Worst Picture, Worst Director and Worst Screen Couple (Costner and "any of his three wives"), winning two for Worst Remake or Sequel and Worst Actor (Kevin Costner).