‘Yellowstone’: How ‘Dances With Wolves’ Shaped Taylor Sheridan’s Entire Career

by Suzanne Halliburton
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Taylor Sheridan created perfection with Yellowstone. Did you ever wonder what past projects might’ve inspired him to write this series?

In a recent interview with Variety, Sheridan named two movies he watched as a young man that led to his love for the cowboy genre.

“In terms of the movies that influenced me, it was watching Unforgiven when I was in my late teens or very early 20s,” Sheridan said. “The same with Dances With Wolves, where you’re looking at the Western genre through a whole new lens that had never been explored before.”

Sheridan was in his early 20s when Dances with Wolves and then Unforgiven hit theaters. The movies premiered in 1990 and 1992. And they dominated awards like no western had done in decades.

Dances with Wolves, which starred Kevin Costner, won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1991. It was the first western movie to earn the honor since Cimarron in 1931. The movie spanned 15 years, telling the story of western expansion during the mid-19th century. Plus, Costner also took home the Academy Award for Best Director. Of course, Yellowstone fans know that Taylor Sheridan uses Costner, as John Dutton, to bring the show to life.

Kevin Costner won an Oscar for Best Director for “Dances with Wolves.” He now stars on Yellowstone, which was created by Taylor Sheridan. (Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)

Then, Unforgiven premiered in 1992. The western took place later in the 19th century. And it starred Clint Eastwood as Will Munny, the former gunslinger who gave up the outlaw life to get married and raise a family. He’s a widower in the movie, which also won Best Picture at the Academy Awards.

Taylor Sheridan Used Those Movie Influences in Yellowstone

Neither movie had traditional good and bad guy roles. And after absorbing those movie influences, Sheridan began telling westerns through a new lens.

Chris McCarthy, president of MTV Entertainment Group, told Variety that Sheridan adapted the Western for more modern times.

“Neo-Westerns are really unique in that they are beautifully sophisticated, cinematic scripted programming,” McCarthy said. “But if you’re not into Westerns, that’s OK, because these are just great stories about family dynamics.”

Taylor Sheridan and the rest of the Yellowstone cast start production for season five next month. The premiere likely will be late summer. As Variety pointed out, the popularity of Yellowstone has inspired other networks to come up with their own western dramas. The season four premiere drew an audience of nearly 15 million, proving American TV viewers still love the western genre. So since they say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, no wonder Amazon Prime debuted Outer Range earlier this month. It’s a neo-Western with a sci-fi plot twist. Meanwhile, NBC is testing a pilot called Unbroken. And Fox is developing a TV series based on the movie Hell or High Water. Sheridan wrote the screenplay for the movie, but he isn’t involved in the TV version.

And Yellowstone has its own spinoffs. There was 1883, the first prequel. It’ll be followed by 1932.

Given that Taylor Sheridan was drawn to Costner’s creation in his 20s, it’s a natural fit for the two to work together on Yellowstone.

“I saw that the dialogue had a fun, realistic approach to it. It was raw. It was dysfunctional,” Costner told Variety. “And it was set against the backdrop of mountains and rivers and valleys and people on horseback, which is very appealing.”

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