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Wyatt Earp (1994) -vs- Tombstone (1993)

Wyatt Earp -vs- Tombstone

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Bob Nowotny, Contributing WriterThe Smackdown

A 30-second gunfight at the OK Corral in 1881 propelled sometime-lawman Wyatt Earp to legendary status as one of the West’s toughest badges, but it wasn’t until the early days of the Clinton Administration that two films both took aim at each other at high noon to tell the modern version of his story.

Firing the first shot was Tombstone. Then, mere months later, Wyatt Earp rode into movie theaters throughout North America. The decision was split among movie critics and audiences: Those who strongly preferred Tombstone and those who strongly maintained that Wyatt Earp was the superior product.

It had been quite some time since Hollywood had cranked out a big budget Western, much less two. The arrival of both these feature films was eagerly anticipated. What had once been among the most popular and durable of all film genres clearly needed a big boost. While both of these films experienced a similarly challenging road from development to the big screen, both were blessed with a solid cast and plenty of pistol-packin’ mayhem.

But there were significant differences as well — George P. Cosmatos’ Tombstone, written by the late Kevin Jarre, focused primarily on the relationship between Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday and the events which led them to the O. K. Corral. Lawrence Kasdan’s Wyatt Earp, which Kasdan wrote with Dan Gordon, took the historical biography approach and was a comprehensive and complicated exploration of the man himself. In simpler terms, Tombstone was reminiscent of a Republic Pictures Western whereas Wyatt Earp aimed higher — did someone say John Ford? Only one of these scored a bulls-eye.

The Challenger

Originally intended to be a six-hour miniseries, director and co-writer Lawrence Kasdan signed Kevin Costner as Wyatt Earp and Dennis Quaid as Doc Holliday. The supporting cast was equally impressive — Gene Hackman, Michael Madsen, Mark Harmon, Bill Pullman, Joanna Going, Isabella Rossellini and Tom Sizemore to name a few.

As for the story, the tone is established early on when the patriarch of the Earp family (Hackman) tells his offspring, “Nothing counts as much as blood; the rest are strangers.” With a budget estimated at $63 million, it appeared that the talent and the resources were available to chronicle Wyatt Earp’s life from childhood, where he desperately wanted to escape his family’s farm, to his awkward attempt to become a lawyer, to his marriage and the subsequent, tragic death of his wife, to a spiral into alcoholism, to his turning to crime and, finally, to his redemption as a lawman, eventually ending up in Tombstone, Arizona as sheriff with his brothers at his side.

Things really get interesting when old pal Holliday rides into town and joins the Earps as they do battle with a band of reprobates headed by the likes of Ike Clanton, Curly Bill Brocious and Johnny Ringo. Still, the primary focus is on Wyatt — the man, not the myth — and Kasdan is committed to delivering an epic life journey, as the 191-minute running time attests.

The Defending Champion

Tombstone had a rocky start. Screenwriter Kevin Jarre was slated to direct, but he was fired a week into principal photography and Rambo vet George P. Cosmatos was called upon to take over. What started out to be more of a character study like Wyatt Earp morphed into more of a traditional Western, with its focus on action rather than introspection. In fact, as with our Challenger, the tone is set right away, in the opening scene, with the intimidating, always defiant Robert Mitchum delivering the opening narration.

Likewise, the cast is terrific, headed by Kurt Russell as Wyatt and Val Kilmer (in a truly memorable role) as Doc Holiday. Others lending a hand are Sam Elliott, Bill Paxton, Powers Boothe, Michael Biehn, Jason Priestly, Dana Delaney, and the incomparable Charlton Heston. The underlying story is centered upon Wyatt’s arrival in Tombstone with his two brothers, his reuniting with old friend Holliday, and their subsequent run-ins with a powerful and lawless gang that called themselves The Cowboys. Of course, the climax comes with the famous shootout that has come to symbolize the raw edge, unpredictability and violent finality of the Western experience, an experience that continues to resonate within the American psyche.

The Scorecard

Wyatt Earp aims high — very high. Costner and Kasdan clearly have a genuine love for the material, and they were committed to fully explore the details of Wyatt’s life and the reason this man changed as he did from an innocent, callow youth to a coldhearted, callous upholder of law and justice — at least as he saw it. Costner’s performance is extremely low key but solid. Likewise, Quaid’s interpretation of what has to be one of history’s all-time great characters was not only credible, it is chillingly realistic.

The buildup to the big gunfight is energetic and the execution is well staged. Mention must also be made regarding Owen Roizman’s Oscar-nominated cinematography which captures the scope and the grandeur of the Old West. The movie says a lot about Wyatt Earp, portraying him as a civilized man who becomes a killer and a gifted lawman. Yet he’s often shown initiating violence and possessing all the traits of a common killer. That’s quite a range of attributes — fascinating, to be sure, but on several occasions the film is confusing and unsatisfying. Put another way, while epic in scope, is Wyatt Earp epic in depth?

Tombstone, on the other hand, is clearly less ambitious, both in the scope of the underlying story and in budget — costing less than half of what was spent on Wyatt Earp. But the cast, all-in-all, delivers equal to superior performances. Kurt Russell’s Wyatt comes across more self-assured and sharply defined but probably a bit less realistic.

On the other hand, Kilmer literally and figuratively kills with a fabulous, audience-pleasing performance that raises the bar for any future actor in this role. Actually, to be fair and concise, Quaid was playing the real man named John Holliday, while Kilmer embraced the legendary iconic figure who went by the name of “Doc.”  This was a wise choice by Kilmer. As the Maxwell Scott character so famously stated in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence (screenplay by James Warner Bellah and Willis Goldbeck), “This is the West, sir. When legend becomes fact, print the legend.” (Or in this case, play the legend.) After all, the single greatest achievement an actor can attain is to deliver a role that will live forever. Kilmer’s Doc Holliday reached that level.

On the other hand, Dana Delaney’s interpretation of Josie Marcus lacks the sparkle of Joanna Goings’. And the script — although lean and well-paced — is sometimes a little confusing, possibly the result of it being trimmed down from three hours to a final running time of 130 minutes.

The Decision

Unless one is talking about waistlines, bigger is usually better. And there’s no denying that Wyatt Earp is certainly the bigger, more ambitious project. It is beautifully produced with excellent production values and a conviction that is impossible to deny. It is also more than three hours long, and it is very rare for any motion picture to sustain itself for that period of time without becoming tedious, even downright boring.  For a film that tries so hard to offer intelligent insight, it often forgets to entertain. Tombstone, on the other hand, is a taut, well-paced production. While saddled with an underdeveloped side story or two and far too many unnecessary characters (there are 83 speaking parts), Tombstone definitely accomplished what it set out to do. It simply and earnestly delivers a rip-roaring, throwback Western that entertains from Fade In to Fade Out.

So — does one reward the well-made, very ambitious, albeit ponderous project? Or does one reward the well-made, less ambitious, but never ponderous production? Audiences at the time clearly chose Tombstone by a margin of two-to-one at the domestic box office. Some 17 years later, the result is the same — Tombstone not only fired the first shot, it is the only one to clearly hit its mark.

About Bob Nowotny 15 Articles
Bob is, without a doubt, the one SmackRef who really can pull off wearing a hat. Although his dream to wear the baseball cap of a major league player never materialized (he grounded out in his only at-bat in Wrigley Field against Hall-of-Fame pitcher Ferguson Jenkins), Bob has found solace in producing four independently-financed feature motion pictures and a number of successful television productions. His work includes The Legend of Billy the Kid — an Emmy Award-winning documentary for Disney.

80 Comments on Wyatt Earp (1994) -vs- Tombstone (1993)

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed both films! Personally, I tend to favor Wyatt Earp as I wanted to see his whole life story and have it portrayed with a fair degree of accuracy. On that criteria, I think Wyatt Earp hits the mark much more directly. Now, Tombstone to me was a more Hollywood stylized Western. Fabulous cast, some of the more memorable lines delivered on screen, more action oriented, some scenes were overly dramatic, and they played more loosely with the truth. However, it was highly entertaining and for the average person that is probably more interested in entertainment than accuracy, you can understand why it was a bigger box office draw. Glad both westerns were made; they both serve a specific purpose and in that respect I think both films hit their marks as intended.

  2. Both movies pale as compared to Open Range with Costner and Duvall.

  3. I’m your huckleberry.

  4. There are many people saying the movie Wyatt Earp was more historically accurate than Tombstone but I beg to differ, especially regarding the gunfight near the OK corral. The movie Tombstone wins hands down for the accuracy of the gunfight including Virgil saying, “I didn’t mean this” and Ike dropping down and hugging Wyatt’s ankles and begging him. Knowing everything I’ve researched on this subject for me Tombstone was by far more historically accurate.

  5. Rewatched both today. I would rate Tombstone higher. Wyatt Earp feels like a Kostner vanity project (did he make Mark Harmon wear a goofy mustache and clothes as a choice? His desire to make his character the sole focus of the film puts some great actors in the background I would rather learn more about that watching him pout around in every scene. Earp is still a good, if o
    overly long film with a great cast. Tombstone is a notch above in my opinion. Plus Kostner is annoyingly cold and grumpy and really felt like Kevin Kostner, not a man named Wyatt.

  6. The question to ask, first and foremost, is: What Hollywood is made for — to educate historians or to entertain people from all walks of live? The answer to that is not needed.

    Next question: Are Hollywood movies made only for the Americans? If the answer is YES then I must say Jesus Christ must have been a white man, too, and Christianity should have been made exclusive to the Caucasians only.

    Forgive me, I’m speaking as someone from South East Asia. The people in this part of the world don’t have sort of a ‘fetish’ for American history. But we enjoy watching American movies so much that some of our kids picked up English along the way before even going to school.

    So give us more movies in the likes of Tombstone please; keep Wyatt Earp to yourself. Tombstone can go on for another 3 hours, I’d order another bucket of popcorns no problem. Show me legends, not documentary.

    In fact, I researched all about Wyatt Earp, the real Wyatt Earp, after I watched Tombstone, a movie I liked so much. There you go. That’s how you educate the world about American history. Kevin Costner and Lawrence Kasdan’s version of Wyatt Earp is only successful in making the real Wyatt Earp a forgettable fiction character instead. The only reason why you, the Americans, can say you enjoy watching Wyatt Earp the movie is because you ALREADY knew about Wyatt Earp BEFORE you watch the movie.

    • I think Wyatt Earp was a good movie, even if you didn’t know the history. But I agree completley with your point that we don’t need it to be a historical biography since so much more information about the real people is easily accessible. And imho Tombstone is just a better film.

    • 100% agree with you

  7. You are asking people to make a choice between the two movies the general consensus is that people like both movies why must they make a choice although the topics are the same the screenplays are different like each one for what it is enjoy both it’s not always about black and white J

  8. I know this is years late, but I have always preferred Wyatt Earp, for acting, (reasonable) historical accuracy and overall story telling. Tombstone, for me is cartoonish with poor dialogue and over acting. I also MUCH prefer Quaid’s Holliday, for acting and physicality. Wyatt Earp I can watch over and over, Tombstone was painful enough just once.

  9. Can anyone tell me which film is historically accurate..??..
    Hands down,”Tombstone “is by far the most entertaining,however “Wyatt Earp”holds its own,but much too long…

  10. Tombstone: full-packed action movie
    Wyatt Earp: more like a biography movie, focused on the drama and storytelling rather than an action

    Western movies is traditionally more identical to gunfight and action. So for me, without a doubt, Tombstone wins by a mile.

  11. When it really comes down to it for me, Tombstone swept me up from beginning to end. I loved the storyline, the actors and the cinematography. I’m still smitten with it after all these years. Wyatt Earp on the other hand had me cringing over bad acting, bad casting and an overlong script that SHOULD have been a miniseries. It would have been less tiring and it’s flaws not as noticeable on a small screen. I do confess I quite enjoyed Dennis Quaid but he really can’t compete with Val Kilmer’s Doc.

  12. I really enjoyed both movies Tombstone and Wyatt Earp!
    I love history so I definitely did enjoy Wyatt Earp because it went into Wyatt’s total background and history and I love Lawrence Kasdan (Grand Canyon? Silverado, Raiders of the Lost Ark) but I did also enjoy Tombstone! I thought Kurt Russell brought a gritty emotional strong performance as well as you had to love Val Kilmer’s Doc Holiday although Dennis Quaid was great also as Holliday, more realistic by Quaid and more artistic by Kilmer! I’m still kind of split on which one I enjoyed the most considering I like historical pieces that tell the whole story: it seemed the both films are very accurate in there accounting of the gunfight with a tracking down of the Cowboys that were involved in the shootings of Morgan and Virgil !
    I’m trying to decide right now which one I liked better: I would have to say I like them both equally: I like that they both had more accurate accounting of the actual OK Corral gun fight; the aftermath and the love affair of Wyatt and Josie!
    I say: just enjoy them both: I can see them both over and over again!

    • Good comparison and contrast. I think Tombstone was simply more entertaining withdrew acting. Russell and Kilmer just nailed it!

  13. Wyatt Earp was broader in biographical scope and felt like it might be somewhat more accurate; Tombstone was a lot more engaging and entertaining, and Val Kilmer’s Doc Holliday is one of Hollywood’s great characters. When I want accurate history, I’ll watch a documentary, not a docudrama. The smackdown goes to Tombstone.

  14. Having watched both recently, Costner’s Wyatt Earp has stood the test of time…always a good indicator of a film of quality. Tombstone at various times seems very ‘TV movie’ and its historical inaccuracies make the end rather silly.
    I prefer Costner’s portrayal of Wyatt…who was not an overtly emotional man. On the death of his brother Morgan, it was noted at the time, how little emotion Wyatt showed. Russell’s portrayal of this scene seems over the top and rather ridiculous.
    In regard to the battle of the Hollidays, then I would say it’s a bit of a tie as I liked both. Fantastic acting from Kilmer and Quaid.
    To be honest, the real events of the O.K Corral and the Tombstone vendetta are so fantastic that there is little Hollywood need to change. The real facts make for an entertaining story as is.

  15. I loved both movies and would watch them again and again, but if I only had time for one, I would pick Tombstone every time. But, it would be because of Val Kimer, not any other reason. He will forever in my mind be the best Doc Holiday there ever was!!

    • I mean Val Kilmer…

    • I completely agree Jackie.Val Kilmer was the fire where there was smoke.Without Val playing Doc, my vote would have gone to Wyatt Earp.It still does in some regards.I am a man who loves a good documentary and Wyatt Earp nailed the documentary aspect of the movie coupled with being a movie.

  16. Tombstone.

  17. I love westerns and have a love for both movies but when you are reciting lines, Tombstone takes the prize, the scene with Billy Bob Thornton is probably one of the most recited scenes from any movie, Skin that smoke wagon and see what happens. Two awesome movies for two totally different reasons. One cerebral one endlessly recitable

  18. For me, the difference comes down to watch-ability. I grew up a fan of Tombstone, and I still am. But I feel that Wyatt Earp should have been the six-hour miniseries that it was intended to be. If you truly want to explore a man’s life, don’t try to cram it into three hours. You lose the audience. Now, both Costner and Russell did bang-up jobs as Wyatt, but I feel Costner is a bit stiff. I’ve liked him in other films, but here, he seemed a bit devoid of emotion. Kurt Russell’s take is probably the best portrayal of Wyatt to date. He let his emotion drive the character, and he had some truly memorable lines.
    But one thing that has always bothered me about Kevin Costner’s film is the fact that he used his clout within Hollywood to get studios to refuse to release Tombstone. Many know that he was originally attached to play Wyatt in Tombstone, but after his disagreement with screenwriter Kevin Jarre over the direction of the film, he tried to have it kept from theaters. But Tombstone still managed to blow Costner’s film out of the water in the Box Office, and that really hurt Costner’s film career.

  19. Russell’s portrayal of Wyatt Earp reminded me of a 20th Century take on a rough and tumble western lawman. The difference between the two portrayals comes out in Costner’s scene when his brother’s wives tell him to stop convincing his brothers to stay in Tombstone and let them live their own lives. His response reminds me of what a real person from the west would say: “You brought me here to ask me about this without my brothers?” Russell had too much sensitivity to have ever let Wyatt actually say that, and that among other reasons is why Wyatt Earp is better.

    • bottom line I bought both on blue ray , and could watch them both at one sitting ,in my opinion its the little things in movies that makes them last forever . Kevin throws in Gene Hackman as his father , the cast in both movies is out of this world . Kilmer ad Quaid wouldn’t have better parts in their careers

  20. Good movies, both of them. Without a doubt, Costner’s Wyatt Earp is the far superior film, and shows that historical accuracy does not have to take a back seat to good movie making. Quaid’s Doc Holliday was the better of the two performances, although Kilmer did good in his take on Holliday. Realistic meant gritty and made Wyatt Earp a much better film than Tombstone.


    Lets pass up all the fine actors and go straight to the best actor in either movie… Val Kilmer. Sorry Kevin. And Kurt, in your own movie, Val Kilmer Killed It!
    I’m thankful for these two true quality Westerns. Modern day performances and cinematography makes you forget it’s a Western until you blink your eyes and meld into the “Western” screenplay. The “behind the scene” bosses didn’t forget and presented us “Wyatt” and “Tombstone”, a Western reminiscent of the cowboy heydays… or close to it.
    Costner being Costner. His natural demeanor was evident through the whole movie. I’m not complaining. Maybe it added a realism to the era. Taking the script and the smooth “Kevin”pace, I felt like I was watching a historically closer-to-correct version.
    As for the Disney star, Kurt lit it up. Before my first viewing, I wondered how “Tombstone” could possibly work with a Wyatt Russell. If you want a hyped good-guy / bad-guy version that edges out Costner’s version just a tad, Kurt did a very good job, maybe too much in proportion to the other actors… except Val.
    Val overplayed Doc, but that’s the way we wanted it. Val became the script. He found a nitch that flowed with the movie while sticking ahead in his relaxed, quick witted and fearless performance. Kurt and Val were both “Action”, but you’d never know with Val, I mean “Doc”.

    My boring, generic vote: You can almost place them in two different Netflick-ish categories, Action and Drama. Of course, they both rightfully earned their place in the “Western” category. I vote on VAL KILMER in TOMBSTONE and when he’s in WYATT EARP II.
    P.S. Wyatt Earp Customer Service Dept. Kevin Costner can’t fill a spot as a young Wyatt. Maybe a comedian could. It’s not “Kevin” and he looked like he was suffering. If you disagree, then Kevin really stunk it up. Either way, it’s not the way to set the precedence for a movie. But who am I, I couldn’t direct traffic… or maybe?

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  23. Tombstone hands down….
    Classic throwback Western and the Characters made the the movie work…

  24. Tombstone was far more superior than Wyatt Earp. #1.) Val Kilmer should have received an Oscar for his portrayal of “Doc” especially due to his final scene. Wyatt Earp was too long, and the cigar smoking of the Earps would choke a horse. Costner, as usual, demanded an overdose of close-up, and his love interest appeared as a phony spoiled female who just left shopping on Rodeo Drive. Tombstone-4 stars; Wyatt Earp-2 stars.

  25. Wyatt Earp is ten times the movie Tombestone will ever be. Anybody who claims anything else is a complete idiot and has no idea about movies

    • …if you’re a metrosexual hipster douchebag who doesn’t understand the character of the real men who forged the west.

      ‘Wyatt Earp’ may have followed the text book story more closely, but no real man today would be intimidated by those characters. They seemed like 21st century men and women not 19th, and that’s bad storytelling no matter how acurate the story. And who in hell cares enough about any film to sit for five hours, especially when it can be better done in 2 or 3?

    • But it comes down to pure entertainment…and Tombstone won hands down!

    • But Tombstone is far more entertaining. Sometimes more is not always better.

    • When someone resorts to unprovoked insults to make their point, it belies the weakness of their argument.

    • Tombstone was much better inevery way. Acting was better. Remeber when Jurassic park came out? There was a movie that came out after it called carnasaur. Tombstone is the jurrasic park while wyatt erp was more like carnasaur a pretender movie with stlted acting.

  26. I doubt any Wyatt Earp movies will ever be accurate. I think it is impossible to find the real truth of Wyatt. They were just writing stories and changed them at will, with prejudice to whatever point each writer wanted to major on.
    I even read Josie’s book, It could be the most accurate. But, she may have been trying to make things saleable and not so accurate.
    I love John Ford’s “My Darling Clementine”.
    When questioned about the accuracy of his film Ford said “I knew Wyatt Earp.” My Darling Clementine is probably the most inaccurate film of all of them made. However, I favor it as entertainment above all of the later Earp movies.

  27. Loved both films. Many accounts portrayed in both films are historically accurate and inaccurate, guess probably for cinematic entertaining value. I have researched the lives of all the people portrayed in both films and have to say “Wyatt Earp” was a little more factual, though not by much, than “Tombstone” but I definitely found both movies to be very entertaining and are amongst my two all time favorites.

  28. I agree with the review in most every way. The key issue to me, though, is that Costner is way too serious about everything. Who else could have sucked the fun out of Robin Hood by psychoanalyzing Robin the whole way? Also in one word, Waterworld. Coster is best when he doesn’t have any creative control over a film.

  29. I’m a Tombstone fan myself, with it actually being my favorite movie. It may not have the historical accuracy, but it knows what it is & executes it well. I’ve seen it countless times & Wyatt Earp completely maybe twice. To me, it’s almost like a chore to watch & I’m not typically bothered by the length of movies. Not saying it’s bad, it’s just not for me.

    Something that’s just popped into my mind is what a Wyatt Earp movie written by David Webb Peoples would be like. What he was able to get into the writing of Unforgiven was phenomenal. A perspective like that could be interesting for a story of such emotion.

    I’d love to see another Wyatt Earp or maybe even Doc Holliday movie in the future.

  30. I vehemently find Wyatt Earp a trillion times better in every way over Tombstone. Tombstone seemed cartoonish. The acting, with the exception of Kilmer, were thin, damn near anorexic. The costumes were too clean. And the Cowboys seemed too old.

    I walked out of Tombstone feeling cheated. I felt completely different about Wyatt Earp.

    • I repeat…

      …if you’re a metrosexual hipster douchebag who doesn’t understand the character of the real men who forged the west.

      ‘Wyatt Earp’ may have followed the text book story more closely, but no real man today would be intimidated by those characters. They seemed like 21st century men and women not 19th, and that’s bad storytelling no matter how acurate the story. And who in hell cares enough about any film to sit for five hours, especially when it can be better done in 2 or 3?

    • You really should have stayed…and finished your popcorn. Kind of an impulsive move.

  31. Great article. i love both movies for their own merits. I’ve seen both many times and enjoy their differences.

    One comment I wanted to bring up, as a john ford and john Wayne fan is the curly bill character played in tombstone by powers boothe. His character is eerily similar to the chAracter of lee marvins portrayal of liberty valance in john fords the man who shot liberty valance. It literally just occurred to me after recently watching both films. He had to be paying omage to Lee Marvin. Anyone else notice!? It’s awesome imo.

  32. I happen to love both of these films, each on its own merits. In fact, I often get them mixed up in my head, mixing characters and scenes from one to the other. My comment here concerns Doc Holiday. After twenty some years of rumination I have to give the nod to Dennis Quaid’s portrayal as Doc. I have come to love that mean edge he brings to it as opposed to the much more congenial Holiday played by Val Kilmer. After all, if it were you in Doc’s boots, dying at a young age from “Consumption” as they called Tuberculosis in those days, you’d be mean too. All the poor guy ever wanted to do was be a successful dentist, but his disease put his life on the path to the O.K. Corral, and into the history books instead.

  33. Love the story of Wyatt Earp & the O.K. corral so much that I’ve actually visited Tombstone. The majority of local residents and town historians claim that “TOMBSTONE” is the more accurate of the two films. It is sold in several shops and even plays continuously on a T.V. in the Boot Hill gift shop. You don’t see many of the Wyatt Earp movies for sale. While waiting in line to see a reenactment of the famous shoot out, a group of visitors behind me were discussing the gunfight based on the old Burt Lancaster / Kirk Douglas film. The leader of this group was proclaiming to know everything about the gunfight based on his having seen this film. My wife and I had a good laugh over that.

  34. It’s a tie for me. There are good and bad points to both. I would say that although Val Kilmer’s Doc was a little on the cheeky side for the time, Dennis Quaid’s portrayal was more to the tuberculosis side of things, both in his physical appearance and general temperament. I also noticed similarities in appearance with the lesser characters in both movies. Both Josies were alike and so were both Maddies.

  35. I was fortunate to meet Dan Gordon (after the fact) and share some personal observations. I have an autographed copy of his book. I consider him an honest and honorable man. I have seen both movies bur cannot comment on acting skills, but the portrayal of WBSE and JHH are beyond the pale. Margaret in heaven is giggling at both flix.

  36. Wyatt Earp fan. I love your comparison of the movies on so many levels. Though Tombstone is obviously fan-favorite, ever since I was a kid I was always a fan of historical & human accuracy. My sister & I, at 5 years old, couldn’t stand old 1950s Cowboys & Indians type movies… the costumes, the lingo, the sound stages & props… all wrong! We’ve seen Wyatt Earp countless times now & it never gets old. I’ll take a subtle & more realistic portrayal of the human condition over drama or theatrics any day Team Wyatt Earp!

  37. Well, both films are great. But, I myself love more to tombstone. Wyatt Earp is better in story line or perhaps in history side (since I don’t expert on that), but when it comes to how the actors dig their characters, I certainly love to tombstone, specially on how nailed val kilmer plays as doc holiday. I think in general tombstone is much better on picking actors than wyatt earp.

  38. I saw Tombstone at the theater when it first came out and I really liked the film at the time. I’ve never been s Costner fan so I passed on Wyatt Earp when it came out a few months later.

    I finally saw Wyatt Earp when it was released on video. Wow did I miss out on not seeing this film on the big screen. IMO it is a far superior film than Tombstone. I have seen Tombstone 3 times but I have watched Wyatt Earp numerous times!

    Wyatt Earp is my choice!

  39. I loved both movies but liked Kevin Costner’s portrayal of Wyatt Earp better. Both movies had strong points and were entertaining. I would watch either one of them any chance I get.

  40. “It had been quite some time since Hollywood had cranked out a big budget Western, much less two.”
    Wrong. Unforgiven came out just two years earlier.

    • “Tombstone” takes it on theatricality
      Seemingly as campy as a spaghetti western. The dusters, wide brimmed hats reminiscent of Australian Akubras” it seemed to follow the book by the always entertaining Allen Barra.
      “Wyatt Earp” followed the book by Casey Tefertiller….an exhaustive bio
      Of much of the minutae of the gambler and occasional lawman’s peripatetic adulthood. Zero doubt but as wildly entertaing as Val Kilmer’s Doc in “Tombstone” Dennis Quaid nails Doc Holliday like no one else in 1994s “Wyatt Earp.”
      After the shoot out and trial
      Wyatt’s life was anti climactic. Fixed fight, failure in Alaska, mostly boring
      Settling down, docile and not much to show.
      The walk down is a toss up
      Edge to Wyatt Earp for realism.
      Yet Tombstone is more anticipatory and lip bitingly fun.
      True of much of each movie.
      I want to pick “Wyatt Earp” because it did it right. I’m picking “Tombstone” just because.

  41. Hey, We watched both movies in History and we have to write an essay how the character of Wyatt Earp differ in each film. The problem is Im an exchange student from Germany so it would be so nice if you could help me! Just some things how they differ that I can write the essay about it.
    I appreciate your help!

  42. I just Wyatt Earp again yesterday and I noted what is possibly an historical in accuracy. I have seen accounts that say the actual gun play started when Doc pulled back the hammers on the shotgun he had in his hands. The opposition heard that sound as the hammer being pulled back on a handgun which only happened right before the handgun was about to be fired, so they might have thought they were about to be murdered and the shooting started. That would put a shotgun in Doc’s hands not a handgun (as it shows in Wyatt Earp) when the shooting started. I haven’t compared that piece of info to Tombstone yet.

  43. Also records show that doc holliday was arrested numerous times, and most records are lost, who knows how many shootouts he had been in and how much damage he had done. He sure was at the ok corral and did well there. I think Val Kilmers performance is more like the real guy or he wouldnt of been alive as long as he was, simple as that.

  44. Wyatt Earp the movie has Wyatt throwing a pool ball during a gunfight, the movie was a complete joke, costner always has to be the center of attention and made a lousy movie, boring all the way.

  45. wyatt earp is horrible, tombstone great, john wayne would of fell a sleep watching kevin costener, lol

    • It looks like you and others don’t have a clue to a great western with your comments.

      • No… but we understand that real men like the Earps, Clantons and McLowerys can’t be understood, nor can the late 19th century western united states by watching Kevin Costner overact for five hours. The actors seemed more interested with developing whom they believed the characters were (and winning oscars) rather than taking the audience back in time to those events.

    • Kevin seemed sedated.

  46. Wyatt Earp is a full steak dinner: salad, steak, loaded baked potato, and roll. Tombstone is a triple ice cream sundae, with whipped cream and nuts. Both are delicious and preference depends on what I’m in the mood for, but to be honest, I’ve been know to eat my dessert first.

    Excellent “Smackdown” Bob, I’ve just discovered your blogs and thoroughly enjoy your writing.

    “I’ll be back!”

  47. When “Tombstone” was released…I was 22…and in many ways my wants, needs, opinions, thoughts, dreams, politics, and desires have CHANGED. That being said…I remember wanting to watch it…but opted to wait for its release on video. After a few months, it was released and I finally rented and watched it. I have to say…I LOVED IT!!! I ran out and bought it the very next day after I did my part of “Be kind, please rewind” and returned it to the video store.

    Fast forward a few months…”Wyatt Earp” is released. I loved “Tombstone” so much and after watching it…I really wished I had done so at the movie theater. I was not going to risk that happening again…and I didn’t. When I exited the theater…I was ASTONISHED. I dreaded having to wait for its release on video. “Wyatt Earp” was my choice for the better portrayal of the man.

    I started off by saying how much I have changed from the 22 year old to the 43 year old that I am now…but that is one opinion that has not changed. Although “Tombstone” is a fantastic movie…it does not stand up to the theatrical perfection that is “Wyatt Earp”. Regarding “Tombstone”…Hollywood allowed themselves…as they often do…the right to exaggerate the historical facts and over do the male eye candy that occurs in most biopics…the action. One scene in particular that has always bothered me, although entertaining, is when Wyatt is told that The Oriental is, “a regular slaughter house” and he proceeds to go in and rid the establishment of the bully Johnny Tyler. The premise that “The Cowboys” basically run Tombstone…I find it hard to believe that Johnny Tyler “madcap” would have lasted very long at The Oriental. I’m not saying that “Wyatt Earp” didn’t allow for the occasional embellishment…but the movie itself was a more honest and true depiction of who Wyatt Earp was and how he led his life.

  48. Just watched both movies back to back. I still prefer “Wyatt Earp” due to it being the biographical movie as opposed to a classic western as I see “Tombstone” being. I like Costner’s stoic, calm/steady, and stubborn portrayal over Kurt Russell’s strong, strained and stagy. I like both portrayals of Doc.
    I’m a fan of long biographical movies. Alot of the west’s stories have been done and redone. I like the new take less dramatic “history channel” like biopics. The romanticism should be left to the cinematographer.

    • Having been a Wyatt Earp junkie since I was 8 or 9 (now 66) I prefer Wyatt Earp to Tombstone. Wyatt Earp is just more realistic while Tombstone is a typical Hollywood interpretation of history. Quaid’s Doc Holliday is his masterpiece, he should have won an Oscar for his effort. Kilmer was charming and witty, but seriously folks, do you really think his portrayal was anything like the real man, misfit gunfighter who was wracked with TB? I love Charlton Heston but his role as Henry Hooker was historically inaccurate and a bunch of baloney. The real Wyatt Earp was very cold and calculating, and Costner did a much better job of conveying this image. I loved Kurt Russell in Soldier, but not here. As one blogger said, ‘too stagey’. Sam Elliot is a caricature of himself in Tombstone. Bill Paxton was totally out of place. Delaney now reminds me of Howdy Doody. I still have a crush on Costner’s Josie. Powers Booth was better, as was Michael Biehn, Church and the excellent Stephen Lang. I will give the nod to Tombstone for those roles. But Wyatt Earp had Hackman and Mare Winningham, both of them superior actors.

  49. I find the whole argument somewhat moot. Even though the subject matter is the same you are comparing apples to oranges. As was basically stated, each film attempted to achieve different objectives and did so, quite admirably. I loved both films and enjoyed them as they were presented, Wyatt Earp, a period biography (with a little artistic license) and Tombstone, a real Hollywood western. I love Costner and Russell, Quaid and Kilmer. As for their respective performances in their roles it is obvious to anyone with eyes they were asked to approach their roles quite differently, as different as a sports car to sensible shoes. They both have their place and are equally welcome. In the end it was the role of Doc Holliday that garnered the most comparisons and, I think, to dismiss Quaid’s take is a little unfair, after all Kilmer was allowed to play his role quite a bit more over the top and that, as long as it is done well, (which it was) will always be more noticeable to a viewing audience. They were both brilliant! The Balance Has Spoken!!

  50. Kevin Costner seems so often out of place acting in “historical” films.
    He seems to believe that his name recognition alone will help the audience overlook his poor acting, and pitiful attempts at using “accents”. I lost count on how many times I watched Tombstone, and still marvel on how it keeps me wanting to watch more.
    Val Kilmer was unbelievably riveting in his role. Kurt Russell was also excellent. And anything involving Sam Elliott and that awesome voice/acting is got my attention.

  51. I found Wyatt Earp to be acted poorly and unbelievable, like a b-rated movie people were saying thier lines without much conviction. As far as supporting casts Tomestone had the better actors, most people that prefer Wyatt admit Kilmer was the better Doc Holiday, but Sam Elliott and Bill Paxton had superior performances as well.
    Not to mention Dana Delaney is far better looking!! Last thing is Costner (thou I like most of his movies) cannot match Kurt Russell’s intensity of screen presence.

  52. Wyatt Earp tries to tell a long story and ends up boring us all. Tombstone has far better lines and interest. True West called it one of the 5 best Westerns ever made. When Costner left the Tombstone project, he did his best to make sure no one would distribute that movie, but still Tombstone out-grossed Earp. Wyatt Earp was nominated for five Razzie Awards including Worst Picture, Worst Director and Worst Screen Couple (Costner and “any of his three wives”), winning two for Worst Remake or Sequel and Worst Actor (Kevin Costner). The film currently holds a 42% rating on Rotten Tomatoes vs 73% for Tombstone. I have been to Tombstone – you will see many posters and other memorabilia from “”Tombstone but no mention of “Wyatt Earp”. As far as reality goes, look at photos of Earp in his heyday and Russell and Costner in the films, and see which looks more like the real deal.

    • If you don’t know squat about the Earp Legend, then I suppose you could find parts of Wyatt Earp that are ‘boring’.
      But I think it is also generational. If you grew up with sweeping classic John Wayne epics like Red River and the Searchers, or any of John Ford’s movies, then I would think you would prefer the cinematography, sets and tone of Wyatt Earp. If you prefer the latter day formula Hollywood-style western like El Dorado, the glitz, the witty dialogue, emphasis on star-power rather than historical accuracy, then Tombstone is for you.

  53. When it comes to movies supposedly based on history, I like a movie that tells the whole story as closely and as accurately as possible. Wyatt Earp hands down over Tombstone. Yes Val Kilmer’s character was the best Holiday of the two but I felt that Kevin Costner’s low key approach to Earp was the most genuine.

    • Kilmer’s interpretation was more entertaining, that is true. But I feel if you are a true Earp purist, if you could take a time machine back to the 1881 OK Corral, Tombstone and the key players would look like Costner’s movie, not Russell’s. And that’s exactly why I like it more.

    • I love both movies, but the more I watch Tombstone the more I dislike Russell’s cartoonish acting, way over the top. His whole performance is as phony as his moustache. Fortunately for Tombstone, the other actors are incredible, especially Kilmer.

  54. Good review! Thanks! You (and Rodney) have convinced me to give Wyatt Earp a try.

  55. Awesome Smack, Robert. While I agree with almost every single point you make, I have to say, I “enjoyed” Wyatt Earp a lot more – perhaps I identified more with Costers take on the character than Russells, a take I agree was more realistic than cinematically legendary.

    I would have swung my smack in the direction of Wyatt Earp, only for the fantastic writing of Kasdan, and the wondrous cinematography by Owen Roizman, photography I consider to be among the finest ever done for a Western outside of a John Ford film.

    On Tombstone: I can’t help but cringe at that “I’m comin’, ya hear, and hell’s comin’ with me” line… it just sounds clunky in todays climate: it might have made a great line in a trailer, but the scene would work just as well without it.

    Both great films, though. I’d just side with the longer take on this classic American legend.

    • Rodney: Thank you for your comments. As you may know, I recently Co-Produced a small, independently financed Western and my partners, like you, all felt that WYATT EARP was the better film. That’s O.K. — either way one will have a satisfying viewing experience.

      • Off topic, Robert, but have you seen Machete yet? The recent Robert Rodriguez grindhouse flick?

        Man, I’d LOVE to get your thoughts on that one!!!

        • No — I haven’t seen Machete. Based on your question I will try and get a copy in the days ahead. And speaking of Robert Rodriguez, his SPY KIDS 4 is coming out this August and it is in 4D. While I will not take the time to review that film, I am writing a little historical piece about previous efforts at bringing the sense of smell to the movie-going experience. I think it will be a fun article, both informative and definitely a bit caustic for reasons I’ll explain in the article. I think they plan to publish this a few days before SPY KIDS 4 opens…

    • Don’t forget the extremely corny line, also by Russell:
      “Skin that smoke wagon!”
      It has no historical accuracy whatsoever.

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