In 1990, Hollywood skeptics were convinced that Kevin Costner had a flop the size of Heaven's Gate on his hands in "Dances with Wolves." They thus tagged his three hours directorial debut, "Kevin's Gate." When Costner was looking for financing, there was not much interest in a marathon-length Western featuring unknown actors speaking in subtitled Lakota Sioux dialect.
But Costner proved his critics wrong, when "Dances With Wolves," his epic ode to a West long gone, won seven Oscars, including Best Picture.
Costner directed himself as an idealistic cowboy officer whose solitary life at a frontier outpost is interrupted, and forever changed, when he encounters members of a tribe of Lakota Sioux.
Some critics dismissed it as a simplistic "New Age" Western, while other thought the movie was too preachy in its messages. Nonetheless, while "dances With Wolves" is not a revisionist or new type of Western, it's a perfectly watchable film with middlebrow sensitivity about co-existence between the Whites and Native Americans.
The movie suffers from Costner's flat voice-over narration. As an actor, Costner is blessed with the right looks for the part–in his screen image, he's close to Gary Cooper–but lack of acting skills and interesting voice have always worked against him.
Even so, "Dances With Wolves" became the first Western since "Cimarron" in 1931 to be named Best Picture. By Oscar night, the picture had grossed more than $130 million in ticket sales.
Michael Blake, who just a few years ago was washing dishes and sleeping on friends' sofas, won the Oscar for Screenplay, based on his novel, which Costner had encouraged him to write.
Oscar Nominations: 12
Picture, produced by Jim Wilson and Kevin Costner Director: Kevin Costner Actor: Kevin Costner Supporting Actor: Graham Greene Supporting Actress: Mary McDonnell Screenplay (Adapted): Michael Blake Cinematography: Dean Semler Art Direction-Set Decoration: Jeffrey Beecroft; Lisa Dean Costume Design: Elsa Zamparelli Sound: Jeffrey Perkins, Bill W. Benton, Greg Watkins, and Russell Williams II Original Score: John Barry Editing: Neil Travis
Oscar Awards: 7
Picture Director Screenplay (Adapted) Cinematography Sound Original Score Editing
Sweeping most of the Oscars in 1990, "Dances With Wolves" received 12 nominations, that largest that year. Kevin Costner's Western competed with two crime films: Coppola's "The Godfather: Part III" and Scorsese's "GoodFellas," each of which got 6 nominations.
The other two nominees for Best Picture were Penny Marshall's melodrama "Awakenings" and the spiritual romantic drama "Ghost," the most commercially successful of the five nominated films.
Lt. John W. Dunbar (Kevin Costner)
Stands with a Fist (Mary McDonnell)
Kicking Bird (Graham Greene)
Win in the Hair (Rodney A. Grant)
Chief Ten Bears (Floyd Red Crow)
Black Shawl (Tabtoo Cardinal)
Timmons (Robert Pastorelli)
Lt. Elgin (Charles Rocket)
Major Fambrough (Maury Chaykin)
Stone Calf (Jimmy Herman)