Kevin Costner is one of Hollywood's great movie stars and has been for decades. He's an Academy Award winner, one of the best directors out there, with a career full of blockbuster hits ranging from Field of Dreams to Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. He's become just as synonymous with starring in baseball films like Bull Durham and For Love of the Game as he is in westerns and he fits in effortlessly in either world.
He may be John Dutton on Yellowstone right now, but this was definitely not the first time Costner has appeared in a western and I have a feeling it won't be the last. He's a legend, and I hope we get to watch him for many years to come. Without getting too dramatic, he's just one of those actors where it feels like a privilege to get to watch him do his thing.
Here are all of his best western performances, ranked.
7. George Blackledge in Let Him Go
One of Costner's most recent roles was a modern (kind of, it was set in the '60s) western in which he plays retired sheriff George Blackledge. He and his wife Margaret (Diane Lane) go on a mission to save their son's widow and grandson from the horrors of her new boyfriend's family. It's dramatic, unexpected, and has Costner playing a heroic gunslinging grandpa.
6. Wyatt Earp in Wyatt Earp
Many people have taken on playing the legendary Wild West hero Wyatt Earp so why not Kevin Costner? Written and directed by Costner's frequent collaborator Lawrence Kasdan, Costner gave a strong performance as Earp in the story of his life from farmboy to gunslinger at the O.K. Corral with Dennis Quaid co-starring as Doc Holliday. This movie came out just 6 months after the box office favorite Tombstone and kind of followed the same story. But Costner really added a certain depth and grit to Earp that made it a memorable performance.
5. Jake in Silverado
A western starring Scott Glenn, Kevin Kline, Danny Glover and Kevin Costner? No wonder it's still one of the most popular westerns of all time. Costner played Jake, the younger brother of Scott Glenn in a seriously great performance. This was early in his career in 1985 and apparently he was so electrifying on set, Glenn started calling him "movie star." It was a joke at the time but clearly, he knew Costner would go on to do great things. And of course, give more amazing performances.
4. 'Devil' Anse Hatfield in Hatfields & McCoys
This three-part miniseries from the History Channel brought to life the real-life feud of the Hatfield and McCoy families that became folklore after nearly wiping each other out in the mid-1800s. Costner played the Hatfield patriarch with Bill Paxton leading the McCoy clan. Though both men were nominated for Best Actor at the Emmys it was Costner who went home with the award. His portrayal of the legendary Appalachian leader was captivating and interesting, not to mention his band recorded music for the series.
3. Charley Waite in Open Range
Kevin Costner directed this 2003 western where he starred opposite Robert Duvall. Based on the novel The Open Range Men by Lauran Paine, Costner played Charley Waite, a hired hand who joined Trail Boss Spearman (Duvall) on a cross-country cattle drive. It's on this journey he meets Sue (Annette Bening) and they begin a sweet relationship. Costner has amazing chemistry onscreen with both Duvall and Bening and directed one heck of a memorable western. It's definitely one of his best roles, regardless of genre.
2. John Dutton in Yellowstone
Decades after Costner and other filmmakers like Clint Eastwood helped bring back a love of western films that had previously dominated the '50s and '60s, Taylor Sheridan came along and brought that same quality to TV shows. His epic saga of modern rancher John Dutton maintaining his empire is captivating, dramatic, thrilling and sometimes heartbreaking. The Paramount Network series wouldn't be the same without Costner in the lead as the Dutton family patriarch who will literally do whatever it takes to protect his legacy for his children and grandchildren. He might just be one of the coolest characters to ever appear on any TV show.
1. Lt. John J. Dunbar in Dances With Wolves
Of course, Costner's best role on this list had to come from his western masterpiece Dances With Wolves. It's the western movie credited with reigniting a love of the genre in younger audiences and getting Hollywood excited to tell more stories set in the Wild West. It turned Costner into an Oscar-winning director, also taking home Best Picture and a nod for Best Actor. It was a stunning tribute to the American West and the Native Americans whose lives were forever changed as more and more people settled down on their land after the Civil War.
Lt. John J. Dunbar was a fascinating character, requesting a post out West so he could see it before America changed for good. He assimilates himself into the local Native American culture, earns the nickname Dances With Wolves and finds love. It was a layered and thought-provoking performance by Costner so his Oscar nomination was well deserved.
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