‘Dances With Wolves’ & 5 More Kevin Costner Westerns to Watch (PHOTOS)

Kevin Costner with Graham Greene in 'Dances with Wolves'
Orion Pictures Corp/Courtesy Everett Collection
Dances with Wolves

Kevin Costner‘s history directing and starring in big Western movies made him the perfect choice to play Yellowstone‘s John Dutton. In March 1991, he was the big winner at the Academy Awards. During the star-studded ceremony, his Western epic Dances With Wolves scored seven Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director for Costner. How big of a deal were those wins? In Academy Award history, only two other traditional Westerns have ever been named Best Picture: Cimarron in 1931 and Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven, which won two years after Dances With Wolves. (Eastwood also nabbed his own Best Director trophy, just like Costner.)

So, it’s no wonder that Yellowstone co-creator Taylor Sheridan cast Costner, 26 years later, as the lead of his own modern Western epic. The acclaimed screenwriter and director has always listed Dances With Wolves as one of his major influences, and by the series’ 2018 premiere, Costner had aged into the perfect icon to cast as a modern Montana patriarch with an empire to protect: experienced, commanding and gravelly voiced while looking natural in a Stetson and riding a horse.

Because of the current success of Yellowstone, Sheridan is credited with reviving the Western genre on television, just as Costner was credited with reviving Westerns for the silver screen thanks to Dances With Wolves more than three decades ago. Another similarity between the two Westerns: Costner was praised for his portrayal of Native American life in the movie and for using Indigenous (in that case, Lakota) language onscreen; with Yellowstone, Sheridan is respectful of the complexities of modern Native American life.

A fun casting note marks one more way in which these two American Westerns overlap: In Dances With Wolves Graham Greene played a Sioux medicine man named Kicking Bird who helped Costner’s character, John Dunbar, gain acceptance into the tribe. Sheridan cast Greene in the Yellowstone prequel 1883 as a Crow elder named Spotted Eagle who guides Dutton ancestor James (Tim McGraw) and his daughter Elsa (Isabel May) to her final resting place, which eventually becomes the Dutton Ranch.

Scroll down to see more of Cotner’s great western roles and projects.

Olivia Williams and Kevin Costner in 'The Postman'
Warner Bros. / Courtesy Everett Collection

The Postman

If a neo-Western is a movie or show with traditional Western themes set in more modern times (like Yellowstone!), then Costner’s second directorial effort — released in 1997 but set in the distant future of 2013 — definitely qualifies. The setting is a post-apocalyptic America torn apart by plagues and the loss of technology. Costner, as a nomad, dons an old post office uniform and helps unite the country by, yes, delivering the mail! Of course, he and other postmen have to form a rebel army to fight the bad guys to actually rebuild the country. The Postman is a little far out but really fun.

Kevin Costner in 'Silverado'
Columbia/courtesy Everett Collection


The 1985 drama Silverado was Costner’s breakout film. It could have been The Big Chill from two years earlier, but all his scenes were cut by director Lawrence Kasdan. Kasdan, however, gave him a second chance in this movie as Jake, a hotshot with an ego brash enough to match the “flashy” two guns on his hip. Jake was all uncorked energy and often reckless, but he rarely missed his mark. (Keep an eye out for his double takedown while walking backward out of a saloon.)

Kevin Costner in 'Wyatt Earp'
Warner Brothers/courtesy Everett Collection

Wyatt Earp

Costner and Kasdan teamed up to make a second Western about 10 years after Silverado: a biographical look at one of the West’s most famous lawmen, Wyatt Earp. It covers his life in Iowa as a teenager before heading to Tombstone, Arizona, and his time with Doc Holliday (Dennis Quaid), as well as his later years prospecting for gold in Alaska, then eventually settling in Los Angeles. And of course, there is the famous Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. The movie runs over three hours, but the gunfight lasts only about 45 seconds, which is pretty close to the actual one: It took about 30 seconds!

Diane Lane and Kevin Costner in 'Let Him Go'
Kimberly French / © Focus Features / Courtesy Everett Collection

Let Him Go

In a 2020 mix of revenge thriller and adult romance that actually works, Costner plays a retired Montana sheriff set on rescuing his grandson from a dangerous family his former daughter-in-law has married into. While grieving their recently passed son, Costner and Diane Lane as his wife cut a surprisingly bloody path through a North Dakota home on their mission, sometimes with not-entirely-guilty parties paying with their lives. But Costner and Lane’s fictional marriage remains strong!

Kevin Costner and Robert Duvall in 'Open Range'
Touchstone/courtesy Everett Collection

Open Range

This 2003 Western is the third movie that Costner directed. It’s another classic cattleman-versus-rancher clash, and Costner plays a herder with a Union soldier background — and a particular set of gun skills — who comes to the rescue of a town taken over by a ruthless rancher. Gunfights are part of the Western movie vocabulary, but the concluding battle here (with an assist from costar Robert Duvall as his boss) is simply one of the best shoot-out action scenes ever. Realistic? Nope. Dramatic as hell? Yep!

This is an excerpt from TV Guide Magazine’s Yellowstone Deluxe Collector’s Edition, which is available for purchase here.