Kurt Russell’s “Tombstone” and Kevin Costner’s “Wyatt Earp” offered a classic example of a box-office battle. “Tombstone” came out in December of 1993. Then “Wyatt Earp” hit theaters in June of 1994. Both were Westerns. Both dealt with the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. But Sam Elliott wasn’t sweating it.
As it turned out, “Tombstone” beat “Wyatt Earp” easily. It raked in $56 million, while “Wyatt Earp” only made $25 million, Entertainment Weekly reports.
Meanwhile, Elliott, who played Wyatt’s (Russell) brother Vigil Earp in “Tombstone,” turned out to be right in the end.
Sam Elliott Said He Was Never Worried
“We were in Arizona and down in New Mexico they were making ‘Wyatt Earp,’ Kevin Costner’s version,” Elliott told EW. “I remember sitting in the Holiday Inn one night. It was before we started, and Kurt was kind of angst-ridden about all of it, because he was looking at a much bigger picture that I was, much bigger than all of us.”
Russell knew they had serious competition. Costner’s co-stars included Dennis Quaid, Gene Hackman and Michael Madsen. Still, Elliott was sanguine.
“I said, ‘What the f— are you worried about, man?’ He said, ‘What do you mean?’” Elliott recalled. “I said, ‘They haven’t got this f—ing script and they haven’t got this f—ing cast.’ And that was the f—ing truth, you know? ‘Apart from that, sweat all you want.’”
‘Tombstone’ Was Beset By Problems
But Elliott’s carefree attitude couldn’t spare the movie its share of drama. Kevin Jarre, who wrote the script, originally also directed. However, the cast soon realized he wasn’t much of a director. So six weeks into filming, Russell arranged to boot him from the project and replace him with George P. Cosmatos. Elliott called the move “brilliant and painful at the same time.”
Jarre has since passed away. He died in 2011 of heart failure at his home in Santa Monica, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“But that cast, I believe, was assembled by Kevin,” Sam Elliott explained. “That’s what made that take of the O.K. Corral the best of all of them, I think. I mean, that tale’s been told half-a-dozen times too over the eons. F—ing Powers Boothe, you know. Billy Paxton. Kurt and Val. I mean, it’s just endless. Michael Biehn. Best f—ing thing he’s ever done. Best thing Val Kilmer’s ever done. Ever. Just mind-boggling…. Amazing cast. It just had all the elements to make a great Western.”
Despite its box office success, the film garnered mixed reviews. Variety declared it fundamentally soft-hearted. Time Out took aim at its romantic subplot and sprawling ending, but called the film “rootin’, tootin’ entertainment.” Entertainment Weekly derided it as a “three-hour rough cut.” The Chicago Reader panned it as historically unbelievable. Finally, the New York Times took issue with its discordant, “at once traditional and morally ambiguous” visions.
Be that as it may, “Tombstone” has with time come to be considered a modern classic of the Western genre. As Elliott perhaps knew all along it would.