Tombstone Information

Tombstone is a 1993 American biographical revisionist Western film directed by George P. Cosmatos, written by Kevin Jarre (who was also the original director, but was replaced early in production) and starring Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer, with Sam Elliott, Bill Paxton, Powers Boothe, Michael Biehn, and Dana Delany in supporting roles, as well as a narration by Robert Mitchum.

The film is based on events in Tombstone, Arizona, including the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral and the Earp Vendetta Ride, during the 1880s. It depicts a number of western outlaws and lawmen, such as Wyatt Earp, William Brocius, Johnny Ringo, and Doc Holliday.

Tombstone was released by Hollywood Pictures in theatrical wide release in the United States on December 24, 1993, grossing $56.5 million in domestic ticket sales. The film was a financial success, and for the Western genre it ranks number 14 in the list of highest grossing films since 1979. Critical reception was generally positive, but the film failed to garner award nominations for production merits or acting from any mainstream motion picture organizations.


Wyatt Earp (Kurt Russell), a retired peace officer with a notable reputation, reunites with his brothers Virgil (Sam Elliott) and Morgan (Bill Paxton) in Tucson, Arizona, where they venture on towards Tombstone, a small mining town, to settle down. There they encounter Wyatt's long-time friend Doc Holliday (Val Kilmer), a Southern gambler and expert gunslinger, who seeks relief from his worsening tuberculosis. Josephine Marcus (Dana Delany) and Mr. Fabian (Billy Zane) are also newly arrived in Tombstone with a traveling theater troupe. Meanwhile, Wyatt's common-law wife, Mattie Blaylock (Dana Wheeler-Nicholson), is becoming dependent on a potent narcotic. Wyatt and his brothers begin to profit from a stake in a gambling emporium and saloon when they have their first encounter with a band of outlaws called the Cowboys, led by "Curly Bill" Brocious (Powers Boothe). The Cowboys are identifiable by the red sashes worn around their waist.

Wyatt, though no longer a lawman, is pressured to help rid the town of the Cowboys as tensions rise. Curly Bill begins shooting aimlessly after a visit to an opium house and is approached by Marshal Fred White (Harry Carey, Jr.) to relinquish his firearms. Curly Bill instead shoots the marshal dead and is forcibly taken into custody by Wyatt. The arrest infuriates Ike Clanton (Stephen Lang) and the other Cowboys. Curly Bill stands trial, but is found not guilty due to a lack of witnesses. Virgil, unable to tolerate lawlessness, becomes the new marshal and imposes a weapons ban within the city limits. This leads to the legendary Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, in which Billy Clanton (Thomas Haden Church) and other Cowboys are killed. Virgil and Morgan are wounded, and the allegiance of county sheriff Johnny Behan (Jon Tenney) with the Cowboys is made clear. As retribution for the Cowboy deaths, Wyatt's brothers are ambushed; Morgan is killed, while Virgil is left handicapped. A despondent Wyatt and his family leave Tombstone and board a train, with Clanton and Frank Stilwell close behind, preparing to ambush them. Wyatt sees that his family leaves safely, and then surprises the assassins; he kills Stilwell, but lets Clanton return to send a message. Wyatt announces that he is a U.S. marshal, and that he intends to kill any man that he sees wearing a red sash. Wyatt, Doc, a reformed Cowboy named Sherman McMasters (Michael Rooker), along with their allies Texas Jack Vermillion (Peter Sherayko) and Turkey Creek Jack Johnson (Buck Taylor), join forces to administer justice.

Wyatt and his posse are ambushed in a riverside forest by the Cowboys. Hopelessly surrounded, Wyatt seeks out Curly Bill and kills him in a fast draw gunfight. Curly Bill's second-in-command, Johnny Ringo (Michael Biehn), becomes the new head of the Cowboys. When Doc's health worsens, the group are accommodated by Henry Hooker (Charlton Heston) at his ranch. Ringo sends a messenger (dragging McMasters' corpse) to Hooker's property telling Wyatt that he wants a showdown to end the hostilities; Wyatt agrees. Wyatt sets off for the showdown, not knowing that Doc had already arrived at the scene. Doc confronts a surprised Ringo and kills him in a duel. Wyatt runs when he hears the gunshot only to encounter Doc. They then press on to complete their task of eliminating the Cowboys, although Clanton escapes their vengeance. Doc is sent to a sanatorium in Colorado where he later dies of his illness. At Doc's urging, Wyatt pursues Josephine to begin a new life. The film ends with a narration of an account of their long marriage, ending with Wyatt's death in Los Angeles in 1929.


  • Kurt Russell as Wyatt Earp
  • Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday
  • Sam Elliott as Virgil Earp
  • Bill Paxton as Morgan Earp
  • Powers Boothe as "Curly Bill" Brocius
  • Michael Biehn as Johnny Ringo
  • Charlton Heston as Henry Hooker
  • Jason Priestley as Billy Breakenridge
  • Jon Tenney as Sheriff Johnny Behan
  • Stephen Lang as Ike Clanton
  • Thomas Haden Church as Billy Clanton
  • Dana Delany as Josephine Marcus
  • Paula Malcomson as Allie Earp
  • Lisa Collins as Louisa Earp
  • John Philbin as Tom McLaury
  • Robert Mitchum as Narrator (voice)
  • Dana Wheeler-Nicholson as Mattie Blaylock
  • Joanna Pacu?a as Big Nose Kate
  • Michael Rooker as Sherman McMaster
  • Harry Carey, Jr. as Marshal Fred White
  • Billy Bob Thornton as Johnny "Madcap" Tyler
  • Tomas Arana as Frank Stilwell
  • Paul Ben-Victor as Florentino "Indian Charlie" Cruz
  • Robert John Burke as Frank McLaury
  • Billy Zane as Mr. Fabian
  • John Corbett as Johnny Barnes
  • Buck Taylor as "Turkey Creek" Jack Johnson
  • Terry O'Quinn as Mayor John Clum
  • Frank Stallone as Ed Bailey
  • Peter Sherayko as John "Texas Jack" Vermillion
  • Christopher Mitchum as Ranch Hand
  • Don Collier as High Roller
  • Pedro Armendriz, Jr. as Priest



The film was shot primarily on location in Arizona.

According to a 2006 True West Magazine interview with Kurt Russell, Kevin Jarre and Kevin Costner were going to make the movie together, but disagreed over its focus. Costner felt that the emphasis should be on Wyatt Earp and decided to make his own movie with Lawrence Kasdan. Russell made an agreement with executive producer Andrew G. Vajna to finance Tombstone with a budget of $25 million.

Jarre and Russell wanted to cast Willem Dafoe as Doc Holliday, but Walt Disney Studios refused to distribute the film if he was cast, due to Dafoe's role in the controversial The Last Temptation of Christ. As Costner was making a competing Wyatt Earp film, he used his then-considerable clout to convince most of the major studios to refuse to distribute Tombstone"?Disney was the only studio willing to do so. Jarre and Russell then went with their next choice, Val Kilmer.

Filming was plagued with several problems. Russell and Kilmer both have said that the screenplay was too long (Russell estimated by 30 pages). Kilmer told True West Magazine, "virtually every main character, every cowboy, for example, had a subplot and a story told, and none of them are left in the film." He said that over 100 people, cast and crew, either quit or were fired over the course of the production. Russell even went so far as to cut his own scenes in order to let other actors have more screen time.

Early in the production, screenwriter Jarre was fired as director due to his refusal to cut his screenplay and going over schedule. Disney panicked because the film was two weeks behind and contacted George P. Cosmatos, who had worked with executive producer Vajna earlier on Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985). After Cosmatos' death in 2005, Russell claimed in the True West Magazine interview that Cosmatos had in fact ghost-directed the movie on Russell's behalf. Russell claimed he gave Cosmatos a shot list every night for the next day, and developed a "secret sign language" on set to exert influence.

Robert Mitchum was originally set to play Newman Haynes Clanton, but suffered a horse riding accident which left him unable to work. Mitchum ultimately narrated the film, and the part was written out of the script. Much of Old Man Clanton's dialogue was spoken by other characters, particularly Curly Bill, who was effectively made the gang leader in lieu of Clanton. Glenn Ford was also cast as Marshall White, and Harry Carey, Jr. was to play a wagonmaster, but Ford dropped out of the project and Carey was cast as White.


The original motion picture soundtrack for Tombstone was originally released by Intrada Records on December 25, 1993. On March 16, 2006, an expanded two-disc version of the film score was also released by Intrada Records. The score was composed and produced by Bruce Broughton, and performed by the Sinfonia of London. David Snell conducted most of the score (although Broughton normally conducts his own scores, union problems mandated another conductor here), while Patricia Carlin edited the film's music.

The score contains strong echoes of Max Steiner's music for John Ford's The Searchers (1956) with variations on the 'Indian Traders' theme used midway through the Ford movie. The album begins with the Cinergi logo, composed by Jerry Goldsmith and conducted by Broughton.



A paperback novel adapted from Kevin Jarre's screenplay, written by Giles Tippette and published by Berkley Publishers titled Tombstone, was released on January 1, 1994. The book dramatizes the real-life events of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral and Earp Vendetta, as depicted in the film. It expands on western genre ideas in Jarre's screenplay.


Box office

Tombstone premiered in movie theaters six months before Costner and Kasdan's version, Wyatt Earp, on December 24, 1993 in wide release throughout the United States. During its opening weekend, the film opened in third place, grossing $6,454,752 in business showing at 1,504 locations. The film's revenue increased by 35% in its second week of release, earning $8,720,255. For that particular weekend, the film jumped to third place, screening in 1,955 theaters. The film went on to earn $56,505,065 in total ticket sales in the North American market. It ranks 20th out of all films released in 1993.

Critical response

Rotten Tomatoes reported that 73% of 44 sampled critics gave the film a positive review, with an average score of 6.2 out of 10. Following its cinematic release in 1993, Tombstone was named "One of the 5 greatest Westerns ever made" by True West Magazine. The film was also called "One of the year's 10 best!" by KCOP-TV in Los Angeles, California.

Siskel & Ebert originally thought they would have to miss reviewing the film as they could not get a screening but, as Ebert explained, "... a strange thing started to happen. People started telling me they really liked Val Kilmer's performance in Tombstone, and I heard this every where I went. When you hear this once or twice, it's interesting, when you hear it a couple of dozen times, it's a trend. And when you read that Bill Clinton loved the performance, you figured you better catch up with the movie." Ultimately, Ebert recommended the movie while Siskel did not.

Ebert would later refer to Tombstone in future reviews, comparing it favorably to Kevin Costner's Wyatt Earp ("It forced the comparison upon me.") and, in his review of Wild Bill, singling out Val Kilmer's portrayal as "the definitive saloon cowboy of our time." In his review of Kurt Russell's Dark Blue, he stated, "Every time I see Russell or Val Kilmer in a role, I'm reminded of their Tombstone, which got lost in the year-end holiday shuffle and never got the recognition it deserved."

"Grafted onto this traditional framework, the film's meditative aspects are generally too self-conscious to fit comfortably. Especially when the movie tries to imagine a more enlightened role for women in the Old West, the screenplay begins to strain."
"?Stephen Holden, writing in The New York Times
In a mixed review, Chris Hicks writing in the Deseret News said, "aside from Russell and Val Kilmer's scene-stealing, sickly, alcoholic Doc Holliday, there are so many characters coming and going, with none of them receiving adequate screen time, that it becomes difficult to keep track of them all." But he did comment that there were "some very entertaining moments here, with Russell spouting memorable tough-guy lines". Overall, he felt "Taken on its own terms, with some lowered expectations, Western fans will have fun." Emanuel Levy of the Variety staff believed the film was a "tough-talking but soft-hearted tale" which was "entertaining in a sprawling, old-fashioned manner." Regarding screenwriter Jarre's dialogue, he noted that "Despite the lack of emotional center and narrative focus, his script contains enough subplots and colorful characters to enliven the film and ultimately make it a fun, if not totally engaging, experience." The film however, was not without its detractors. James Berardinelli writing for ReelViews offered an almost entirely negative review, recalling how he thought that "Not only is the last hour anti-climactic, but it's dull. Too many scenes feature lengthy segments of poorly-scripted dialogue, and, in some cases, character motivation becomes unclear. The gunplay is more repetitious than exciting. The result "? a cobbled-together morass of silly lines and shoot-outs "? doesn't work well."

Stephen Holden writing in The New York Times saw the film as being a "capacious western with many modern touches, the Arizona boom town and site of the legendary O.K. Corral has a seedy, vaudevillian grandeur that makes it a direct forerunner of Las Vegas." He expressed his satisfaction with the supporting acting saying that the "most modern psychological touch is its depiction of Josephine (Dana Delany), the itinerant actress with whom Wyatt falls in love at first sight, as the most casually and comfortably liberated woman ever to set foot in 1880's Arizona." Critic Louis Black, writing for The Austin Chronicle viewed Tombstone as a "mess" and that there were "two or three pre-climaxes but no climax. Its values are capitalist rather than renegade, which is okay if it's metaphoric rather than literal. Worse, as much as these actors heroically struggle to focus the film, the director more successfully hacks it apart." Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly gave the film a C- rating calling it "preposterously inflated" at "135 minutes long". He observed the film as being a "three-hour rough cut that's been trimmed down to a slightly shorter rough cut" with "all that holds the film together is Kurt Russell's droll machismo." Author Geoff Andrew of Time Out commented that "Kilmer makes a surprisingly effective and effete Holliday". He negatively acknowledged that there was "a misguided romantic subplot and the ending rather sprawls" but ultimately exclaimed the film was "'rootin', tootin' entertainment with lots of authentic facial hair."

"From the audience's viewpoint, it's difficult to assign responsibility for the most serious of this film's shortcomings, but one thing is clear: somewhere along the way, the creative process misfired. Large segments of Tombstone belong buried at Boot Hill."
"?James Berardinelli, writing for ReelViews
Richard Harrington of The Washington Post highlighted on the film's shortcomings by declaring, "too much of Tombstone rings hollow. In retrospect, not much happens and little that does seems warranted. There are so many unrealized relationships you almost hope for redemption in a longer video version. This one is unsatisfying and unfulfilling." Alternately though, columnist Bob Bloom of the Journal & Courier openly remarked that the film "May not be historically accurate, but offers a lot of punch for the buck." He concluded by saying it was "A tough, guilty-pleasure Western."

Home media

Following its cinematic release in theaters, the film was released on VHS video format on November 11, 1994. The Region 1 Code widescreen edition of the film was released on DVD in the United States on December 2, 1997. Special features for the DVD include French and Spanish subtitles, Dolby Digital Surround Sound, original theatrical trailers, and chapter search options. A director's cut of Tombstone was also officially released on DVD on January 15, 2002. The DVD version includes a two-disc set and features "The Making of Tombstone" featurette in three parts; "An Ensemble Cast"; "Making an Authentic Western"; and "The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral". Other features include an audio commentary by director George P. Cosmatos, an interactive Tombstone timeline, the director's original storyboards for the O.K. Corral sequence, the Tombstone "Epitaph" - an actual newspaper account, the DVD-ROM feature "Faro at the Oriental: Game of Chance", and a collectible Tombstone map.

The widescreen high-definition Blu-ray Disc edition of the theatrical cut was released on April 27, 2010, featuring the making of Tombstone, director's original storyboards, trailers and TV spots. A supplemental viewing option for the film in the media format of video-on-demand is available as well.

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