5 Great (Mostly) Forgotten Kevin Costner Films

Kevin Costner began his film career in the early 1980s and became of cinema’s most respected leading men, starring in numerous big budget films that made him a superstar around the world. While he can be found in a number of genres, he is best known for his dramas. Both an actor and a director, his films have ranged from award-winning epics to smaller, independent movies. Here are 5 great (mostly) forgotten films that you need to see.

Silverado (1985)

Kevin Costner
Kevin Kline, Kevin Costner (Silverado, 1985)

Costner plays Jake in this ensemble Western that features many up and coming stars, including Kevin Kline, Jeff Goldblum, Scott Glenn, and Danny Glover to name a few. The story tells of a four men, including two brothers, who come together by peculiar circumstances and ride into the town of Silverado, where a corrupt rancher is attempting to seize the land of other nearby cattle farmers for his enormous herd. Some bad blood lies between Jake’s older bother Emmet (Glenn) and Ethan McKendrick (Ray Baker), the wealthy rancher, and things come to a boil as old haunts are revisited.

Directed by Lawrence KasdanSilverado is a fun mix of comedy and drama, with lots of good action and a sharp script (by Kasdan and his brother Mark). With a huge cast, it somehow finds a way to give everyone time and space, making it a rare case where lots of starpower actually works. Costner is the young hotshot little bother who is deadly with two pistols and can ride like the wind on his horse. A supporting role, he has great presence and it is easy to see the charisma that would make him a big star not soon after.

A Perfect World (1993)

Kevin Costner
Kevin Costner, T.J. Lowther (A Perfect World, 1993)

Costner plays Robert ‘Butch’ Haynes, an escaped convict in 1963 Texas. He and his partner (Terry Pugh) kidnap an eight-year-old boy named Phillip Perry (T.J. Lowther), needing a hostage to make their getaway. Soon after, Butch kills his accomplice for trying to molest the child, leaving just him and Phillip, who is a timid but willing victim that somehow forms a bond with his captor, a man who isn’t entirely who he seems. Meanwhile, Texas Ranger Red Garnett (Clint Eastwood) is in pursuit, tracking Butch with the governor’s new Airstream camper van. Garnett is a patient hunter, intelligent and wise in his years, who sees something different in Butch’s behavior.

Directed by Eastwood, the film appears to be a road movie, but is much more with a complex story about men with a history and wounds that run deep. These are richly detailed characters that are more than their descriptions, combatants in a game that is decided by wits rather than pistols. Costner is perfectly-cast, himself a young Eastwood in many ways, with his soulful, quiet presence and expressive face. An emotional experience, A Perfect World is thriller unlike most you’ll ever see.

American Flyers (1985)

Kevin Costner
David Grant, Kevin Costner (American Flyers, 1985)

Costner plays Marcus Sommers, the older brother of David (David Marshall Grant). Their father recently died of a heart condition and Marcus, a doctor, worries his brother is also susceptible. He runs some tests and discovers there is a strong possibility, but doesn’t tell him. Instead, he convinces him to join him for a rigorous bike race called the “Hell of the West” in Colorado. They head there with Marcus’ girlfriend Sarah (Rae Dawn Chong), picking up Becky (Alexandra Paul), hitchhiking along the way. The four share in the adventure and the two brothers compete in the race, where much is discovered. 

Directed by John Badham, this under-rated film is a solid story of hope and inspiration, with some stunning bike race footage (the film was written by Steve Tesich, who penned Breaking Away) and great performances by the four leads. Costner, in an early lead role, really shines, in a powerfully good turn as the mentor brother who has a few secrets. A genuinely moving movie, this forgotten film is still great fun and well worth a look.

Open Range (2003)

Kevin Costner, Robert Duvall (Open Range, 2003)

Costner plays Charley Waite, a former Civil War soldier now working for a rancher named Boss Spearman (Robert Duvall), grazing their cattle on the wide open prairies of the mid-West. Boss is a quiet men, steadfast and non-violent, who has become a mentor over the last ten years for Waite, who has looked to Boss to tame his more darker side. They live in a world outside of civilization, under the great blue banner of the open sky, yet when their herd ventures near a small town, they run afoul of a corrupt sheriff and large-scale rancher who doesn’t agree with the open range philosophy of Boss. A showdown becomes inevitable.

Directed by Costner, the film is a meticulously crafted work that has its flaws, but remains a magnificent production. Aside from two great lead performances, Annette Bening plays SueBarlow, a love interest for Charley that is also more than just that. Still, Costner is at his best, delivering to the screen a character that is one of the more broadly drawn men he has ever created. This is an expertly made, beautifully written film that somehow fell off the map, but deserves to be seen. Its theme is a serious take on Costner’s earlier film Silverado (see above) and the two make for a great double feature.

Fandango (1985)

Kevin Costner
Kevin Costner, Judd Nelson (Fandango, 1985)

Costner plays Gardner Barnes, a graduating university student and member of ‘The Groovers’, a group of five guys who are the best of friends. It’s 1971 and they are facing the draft, all soon to be enlisted. To celebrate their last days of freedom (one is supposed to marry but has called it off due to military service), they hop in a car and drive down to Rio to dig up ‘something’ they buried long before. Along the way, they discover much about each other and what it means to be true friends, facing truths they didn’t expect. A road trip movie that is a mix of real humor and great drama, the five soon-to-be-men are traveling a road to maturity.

Directed by Kevin Reynolds, a long time collaborator of Costner’s, the film is often misunderstood as a raucous boy’s comedy (partly due to its marketing), but is much more. A male-bonding story that works on many levels, the complexities of the many diverse characteristics of the five men seem broad at first but reveal themselves to much deeper. Judd Nelson, who was about to have a very big year with The Breakfast Club and St. Elmo’s Fire just months after this movie, plays Phil, a ROTC cadet, and gives his strongest performance of the year, despite the less-commercial success of the film. But it’s Costner who carries the story, whose Barnes is very aware of what is coming but doesn’t want to let go of the life he has, even if some of that is heartbreak. A fascinating character with a lot of growth, this charming, emotional role is one of Costner’s more lively turns. Watch this movie.