Heaven's Gate is a 1980 American epic western film written and directed by Michael Cimino (who also wrote and directed the Academy Award-winning film The Deer Hunter). The film stars Kris Kristofferson, Christopher Walken, Isabelle Huppert, Jeff Bridges, John Hurt, Sam Waterston, Brad Dourif, Joseph Cotten, Geoffrey Lewis, David Mansfield, Richard Masur, Terry O'Quinn, Mickey Rourke, Willem Dafoe, and Nicholas Woodeson.
The film follows the story of two graduates who take part in the Johnson County War in 1870.
Note: Most of these apply to the original theatrical run in 1980.
- The plot and story are both weak.
- Poor writing and directing.
- Terrible acting, even from experienced actors like Jeff Bridges and Willem Dafoe
- Writer and director Michael Cimino was being extremely haughty while making the film; for example:
- Going behind schedule a lot.
- Ordering both sides of a set to be torn down when one of the crew members said it would be cheaper and easier to tear down one side.
- Halting filming until a cloud he liked appeared in the sky.
- Doing 50 takes or more for various scenes, especially for a one-second whip-cracking scene which took 52 takes.
- Willem Dafoe was supposed to have a bigger role in the film, but he got fired for laughing at a joke.
- At the end of filming, all the footage filmed amounted to 1.5 million feet. 1.3 million feet were processed, or 220 hours of film, which is way too much.
- Spending excessive money on making the film and not caring for the financial situation of United Artists. This led to them being unable to fund an Oscar campaign for Raging Bull which led to it losing Best Picture to Ordinary People.
- It led to United Artists' decline.
- It caused Hollywood to lessen the power of film directors and in response to this, the studio now takes control of the film, causing studio control of budgets and productions to become tighter. This is commonly cited as the end of the famed "New Hollywood" era which brought masterpieces like The Godfather and Jaws.
- The film drags on a lot.
- Thanks to the various re-edits that fix many of the problems in the original run, the film is now considered a masterpiece.
- Its high budget means the film looks stunning with great sets and costumes.
- The costumes look authentic for the time period.
- The sets look well done.
- The film actually does have the potential for being a decent Western film set during a real-life event.
- The film inspired directors to make various edits of their own films.
Heaven's Gate was panned by critics and audiences alike. Roger Ebert of The Chicago Sun-Times awarded the film a 0.5 out of 4 stars and described it as "$36 million thrown to the winds. It is the most scandalous cinematic waste I have ever seen."
In later years, however, the film has garnered a more positive reception, as later re-edits have garnered critical acclaim, and is now considered to be one of the greatest films of all time. The film currently holds a 54% audience approval and 57% critic approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes with an average of 6.2 out of 10, with a critic consensus that reads "Heaven's Gate contains too many ideas and striking spectacle to be a disaster, but this western buckles under the weight of its own sprawl."
The film grossed $3,484,331 at the domestic box office. In foreign countries, it made $192 million. Overall, the film grossed $3,484,523 against its $44 million budget making it a huge box office flop and one of the most expensive flops of all time.
- Cimino submitted the script in 1971 under the working title The Johnson County War.
- The original release of the film was pulled from theaters after its first week of release at the request of Michael Cimino.
- This film did so poorly that United Artists had to file for bankruptcy. Following bankruptcy, United Artists was later acquired by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
- There are various re-edits of this film including a 219-minute cut.
- Despite being deemed as one of the worst films of all time, the film earned an Oscar nomination for Best Art Direction.
- Michael Cimino didn't direct another film until 1985 with Year of the Dragon. As a result of this film, he kept directing films that ended up as failures. In 1996, he retired from filmmaking and died twenty years later in 2016.
- In the documentary Final Cut: The Making and Unmaking of Heaven's Gate, actor Jeff Bridges referred to the experience of being on the set of the film as "Camp Cimino".
- The end of the New Hollywood era (which began with the surprise success of Bonnie and Clyde) as a result of the film's failure led to the rise of independent cinema and a greater interest in foreign cinema.