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Heaven's Gate


Michael Cimino's bleak anti-western based on events in 1890s Wyoming. Sheriff James Averill attempts to protect immigrant farmers from wealthy cattle interests…

Release Year: 1980

Rating: 6.5/10 (5,373 voted)

Michael Cimino

Stars: Kris Kristofferson, Christopher Walken, John Hurt

Michael Cimino's bleak anti-western based on events in 1890s Wyoming. Sheriff James Averill attempts to protect immigrant farmers from wealthy cattle interests, and also clashes with a hired gun, Nathan Champion, over the woman they both love, Ella Watson. Both men find themselves questioning their roles in the furious conflict between wealthy landowners and European immigrants attempting to build new lives on the American frontier, which culminates in a brutal pitched battle.


Kris Kristofferson

James Averill

Christopher Walken

Nathan D. Champion

(as Chris Walken)

John Hurt

Billy Irvine

Sam Waterston

Frank Canton

Brad Dourif

Mr. Eggleston

Isabelle Huppert

Ella Watson

Joseph Cotten

The Reverend Doctor

Jeff Bridges

John L. Bridges

Ronnie Hawkins

Major Wolcott

Paul Koslo

Mayor Charlie Lezak

Geoffrey Lewis

Trapper Fred

Richard Masur


Rosie Vela

Beautiful girl

(as Roseanne Vela)

Mary Catherine Wright


(as Mary C. Wright)

Nicholas Woodeson

Small man

The only thing greater than their passion for America…was their passion for each other.

Release Date: 19 November 1980

Filming Locations: Blackfeet Indian Reservation, Montana, USA

Box Office Details

Budget: $44,000,000


Opening Weekend: $12,032
(19 November 1980)
(2 Screens)

Gross: $3,484,331

Technical Specs



(original cut)

Did You Know?


Real horses' entrails were used to add realism to the gorier scenes.


Factual errors:
The period steam engine is a coal fired engine, with black smoke. In the West, steam engines had wide, open smokestacks for burning cheap, plentiful wood, producing white smoke and live cinders. In fact, piles of logs are stacked on the accompanying tender.


Ella Watson:
Do you think a woman can love two men?

James Averill:
Sure you can. Why not three? But it sure as hell isn't convenient.

User Review


Rating: 10/10

I saw Heaven's Gate on its opening week nearly twenty years ago. Tickets
were sold in advance based on the great anticipation of seeing Cimino's long
in the making follow up to his 1978 masterpiece "The Deerhunter." The
reviews came in and critics trashed the film with vehemence. An influential
New York film critic led the way and most critics followed suit, and the
3hr. 40-min. film was pulled from distribution. United Artists had Cimino
shorten the film by about an hour and it was re-released many months later
to equally horrible reviews and to dismal business. The film at that time
cost about 40 million dollars (now considered low budget) making it one of
the most expensive in history and Cimino had free rein on the project with
endless retakes despite it being only his third film. "The Deerhunter" had
also received a negative backlash based on a perceived political ideology,
which was not popular. I mention all this to present a possible bias
building up against Cimino. At the time I thought the
film was very good and when I saw the shorter version it was still very good
only less so. The film showed up again in a museum in the early 1990's. They
were supposed to show the long version but they could not find an existing
print. Nevertheless, seeing the film years later I now thought Heaven's Gate
was a masterpiece. Finally, the long version started to appear in a few
select cities, I got to see it recently and it was well worth the wait.
Heaven's Gate begins with the graduation
ceremony at Harvard University. Two of the graduates are Kris Kristofferson
and John Hurt and we some of the flaws in their characters early on. Despite
the mandate Joseph Cotton gives in his speech to the graduating class to use
their education to enlighten and improve their country, many of the
graduates behave as if they are part of an elite country club.
The film flashes ahead 20 years to Johnson County in Wyoming. A
cattle company called "the Stockholders Association" has hired poor people
to shoot 125 poor immigrants claiming they are cattle thieves. Kristofferson
sides with the immigrants while John Hurt is part of the Association.
Although Hurt is totally against this insane action he is too ineffectual a
character to do anything about it. A massacre
takes place but the immigrants do well in defending themselves. A United
States Cavalry comes to the rescue of the Association to allegedly arrest
them after most of the damage has been done when in fact they sanctioned the
mass killing. Kristofferson also suffers a great personal loss and the film
ends with him years later as part of the elite class of his Harvard days
married, bored, on a yacht, living but dead on the inside.

This is a very complex film which is brilliant in every department such as
it's themes, structure, direction, cinematography, writing, music, editing,
set designs, and acting. Kristofferson, Walken, Hurt, Huppert, Dourif,
Bridges, Waterston, and Cotton are all excellent portraying very complex
Some of the major complaints I read about this film
state that is ugly to look at, incoherent, too long, that the characters
make no sense and that the words are often unintelligible. In
its defense, Heaven's Gate has the look of photographs of that period just
as "McCabe & Mrs. Miller" did. Some of the scenes are smoky looking to
suggest the industrial revolution or sometimes horses, wagons, people are
passing by from all sides creating a sense of reality.(The critic who called
it one of the ugliest movies ever made likes to use his thumbs a lot.) But
in spite of all that, the composition of each frame and the cinematography
are impeccable. The film
makes a great deal of sense if you pay attention to it. Everything is not
spelled out for the viewer and one has to observe closely to understand the
motivations of the characters or its themes. As to its length, it is a
beautifully structured piece, at times moving, poetic, exhilarating, or
devastating with virtually one great scene following another.
At times some of the words are unintelligible
especially in some of the scenes bustling with activity. But one could
understand such a cinematic film as this through its use of film language,
the glances between characters or their actions.
One day soon this film should be re-released in its full length so that
people and critics could give it a second chance. Do not let Michael Cimino
become another Orson Welles- under appreciated in his lifetime and not able
to make the kinds of great films he is capable of making.