Kevin Costner always was fascinated with Wyatt Earp. After he enjoyed huge success with Dancing with Wolves, the future Yellowstone star wanted to do a project about the legendary lawman.
But director Larry Kasdan turned Costner’s idea for a miniseries into a three-hour, big-screen epic. A bevy of big names, including future NCIS star Mark Harmon, joined Kevin Costner in the Wyatt Earp cast. Gene Hackman and Dennis Quaid also had major roles.
The movie was released June 24, 1994, so it was out there when Fourth of July holiday crowds were searching for a perfect popcorn flick.
The Wyatt Earp story was well told on the movie screen. Through 1994, there were at least 20 movies featuring Earp, the complicated lawman and participant in the shootout at the O.K. Corral. Kevin Costner told reporters he wanted his version of Wyatt Earp to stand out from the rest. Of course, Costner, who had his choice in characters, picked Earp to play.
“There was a point where I didn’t even think this movie should be made,” Kevin Costner told reporters in 1994 as he promoted the movie. “And that was because I thought the story of Wyatt Earp was terribly familiar to us.
“When I commissioned the script,” Costner said, “the idea was that if this story couldn’t be any more interesting than ‘Gunfight at O.K. Corral,’ it could not and would not be made. It just so happens that great writing found a way to make the movie original, strong and entertaining.”
Harmon’s Character Didn’t like Kevin Costner’s Wyatt Earp
Mark Harmon usually stuck with TV roles. But he joined Kevin Costner in the cast to play Sheriff Johnny Behan. His character was in charge of Cochise County in the Arizona territories. Behan didn’t like Wyatt Earp or his family and testified against them.
Harmon said of his role in the Kevin Costner movie: “You know, it’s a kid’s dream. Play cowboys, grow a mustache and ride a horse.”
Kevin Costner said he wanted the movie to be authentic and not some western cut out.
“I believe in westerns when they’re careful,” Kevin Costner said. He added: “I think westerns will sink like a stone when they’re black hat/white hat affairs or when they’re designed only for commercial impact. I love to deal with westerns that tackle real issues, real dilemmas. Whether ‘Wyatt Earp’ is financially successful or not is one thing. I believe it’s already successful because of the kind of movie that it is.”
Problem was, the movie did sink like a stone. Moviegoers probably were intimidated at the idea of sitting through a three-hour movie. Plus, the Wyatt Earp character was well known. It was the second major movie about Earp within six months. Kurt Russell starred in the other, which was called Tombstone.
The movie earned only $25 million at the box office. It had a budget of $63 million. And to add insult to injury, the Kevin Costner film ended up on several end-of-year worst list. It was nominated for five Razzies (the opposite of the Oscars). Costner won the Razzie for worst actor.
It probably was a forgettable movie in the very successful careers of both Kevin Costner and Mark Harmon.