In the late 80’s and early 1990’s Kevin Costner was arguably the most popular actor in the world, a string of big successes gave him a can do no wrong vibe. Until the double whammy of mega flops Waterworld (1995) and The Postman (1997) put his career seriously on the back foot. An actor of Costner’s skill recovered quickly enough and these days can be relied on for lead roles in smallish scale movies such as the excellent Draft Day (2014) and McFarland, USA (2015) as well as supporting roles in epics such as the superman movie Man of Steel. Here though is our pick of five of his all time best movies.
The Untouchables (1987)
Although the history is pure fiction, director De Palma accurately re-creates 1920s Chicago, and David Mamet’s tough-as-nails script breathes life into the legendary Elliot Ness and his band of incorruptible (or untouchable”) lawmen as they take on ruthless bootleggers. De Niro is electrifying as Al Capone and Connery, playing a street-hardened cop, won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, but De Palma’s frenetic camerawork, authentic sets and a robust score distinguish the film. Although director Brian De Palma is known for his many visual homages to Alfred Hitchcock, in The Untouchables he couldn’t resist a nod to Soviet director Sergei Eisenstein. De Palma’s slow-motion shot of a baby carriage rolling down a staircase during a gunfight echoes a famous scene from Eisenstein’s classic Battleship Potemkin (1925). Academy Award nominations: Best Score, Art Direction and Costume Design.”
Director: Brian De Palma
Cast: Sean Connery, Kevin Costner, Robert De Niro, Andy Garcia, Charles Martin Smith
Field of Dreams (1989)
Kevin Costner stars in this beloved baseball drama about dreams, innocence, faith and passion. In response to the mysterious voices he hears on his Iowa farm, Ray Kinsella (Costner) plows away his failing crops and builds a baseball diamond. A true believer, he can see the spirits of baseball greats like Shoeless Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta), as well as those who weren’t so great, playing as equals on his field. Ray also heeds the calls of the spirits to visit an embittered novelist (James Earl Jones) and journey back in time to visit Moonlight” Graham (Burt Lancaster), a big-leaguer who never got to bat. The now-famous scene in which Shoeless Joe disappears into the cornfields was shot while a thick misty fog just happened to roll into the fields. No fog machines or digital effects; just very good luck. Based on the novel Shoeless Joe by W. P. Kinsella. Nominated for three Oscars: Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Score.”
Director: Phil Alden Robinson
Cast: Dwier Brown, Timothy Busfield, Kevin Costner, Gaby Hoffman, James Earl Jones, Burt Lancaster, Ray Liotta, Amy Madigan, Frank Whaley
Dances with Wolves (1990)
Sickened by Civil War carnage, heroic Union officer Lt. John Dunbar (Kevin Costner) opts for a new assignment at the farthest reaches of the frontier, in the unsettled Dakota plains. He develops a bond with nature and the local Sioux tribes, earning the title moniker after he befriends and cavorts with a wolf. When ruthless white settlers encroach on their territory, Dunbar joins his new friends in resistance. Earnest, elegiac, sweeping and wry, Costner’s three-hour epic, his directorial debut, won seven Oscars, including Best Picture and Director.
Cast: Maury Chaykin, Kevin Costner, Rodney A. Grant, Graham Greene, Mary McDonnell
Director: Kevin Costner
Writer/director Oliver Stone’s blistering take on the Kennedy assassination stars Costner as New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison. Convinced that accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald (Gary Oldman) didn’t act alone, Garrison conducts an investigation that casts a cloud of suspicion over such institutions as the CIA, the military, and the Mafia. Brilliantly conceived and shot, and often scarily convincing.
Director: Oliver Stone
Cast: Kevin Costner, Tommy Lee Jones, Gary Oldman, Joe Pesci, Sissy Spacek, Donald Sutherland
Wyatt Earp (1994)
Writer/director Lawrence Kasdan and Costner joined forces to produce this Western epic, a darkly realistic retelling of the life of legendary lawman Wyatt Earp (Costner). Earp’s bitterness begins when his young pregnant wife (Annabeth Gish) dies of typhus; wandering through the West, he has brief careers as a horse thief and buffalo hunter, then joins forces with brothers Morgan (Linden Ashby) and Virgil (Michael Madsen) as deputies in Wichita. Soon they’re recruited by authorities from dicey Dodge City, where they encounter the charming but dangerously ill Doc Holliday (Dennis Quaid). They then move on to the even more dangerous Tombstone. There, Wyatt lives with one woman (Mare Winningham) but longs for another (Joanna Going), while he and his cohorts find themselves involved in a simmering feud with the vicious gang led by Ike Clanton (Jeff Fahey).
Director: Lawrence Kasdan
Cast: Kevin Costner, Jeff Fahey, Gene Hackman, Mark Harmon, Michael Madsen, Catherine O’Hara, Bill Pullman, Dennis Quaid, Isabella Rossellini, Tom Sizemore, JoBeth Williams, Mare Winningham