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John Wayne & Clint Eastwood Aren’t the Highest-Grossing Western Movie Stars

The Big Picture

  • Kevin Costner holds the record for the highest-grossing Western movie star, earning over $551 million with his four Western films.
  • Dances with Wolves
    was the most successful Western film of Costner’s career, grossing over $424 million worldwide and winning seven Academy Awards.
  • Costner has found success in television Westerns with the hit series
    Yellowstone
    , but he will be departing from the show after five seasons. He is set to return to Western feature filmmaking with
    Horizon: An American Saga
    in 2024.



The Western genre as a whole is arguably one of the most influential ones in all of Hollywood. Not only did stars like John Wayne and Clint Eastwood help build the Western renaissance of old Hollywood, but the influence of those same films still impacts the industry today. That could be said for blockbuster franchises like Star Wars, which heavily relies on Western elements such as the gunslinging smuggler archetype, and other modern Western stories set in a more modern age like Yellowstone. Speaking of Yellowstone, the highest-grossing Western movie star of all time is none other than the man behind the Dutton family patriarch: Kevin Costner. Being an actor, producer, and director once more for his upcoming Horizon: An American Saga — Chapter 1, Costner’s career is nothing short of fascinating, as it is filled with astronomic highs and crushing blows.


The box office and Kevin Costner, in particular, have a real love-hate relationship. Sometimes Costner will star in an unprecedented gigantic hit like Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, and then he’ll make some huge financial bombs, like Waterworld. When it comes to Westerns, though, those have always been a safe bet for Kevin Costner. Even more impressive, as fans of Westerns already know, John Wayne and Clint Eastwood starred in dozens of Western films in their careers. Thus far, Kevin Costner has only starred in four, most notably Dances with Wolves, and yet, he still holds the title as the highest grossing Western movie star of all time.

Dances With Wolves Movie Poster

Dances With Wolves

Lieutenant John Dunbar, assigned to a remote western Civil War outpost, finds himself engaging with a neighboring Sioux settlement, causing him to question his own purpose.

Release Date
March 30, 1990

Runtime
180 minutes

Writers
Michael Blake

Studio
Image Entertainment

Tagline
Inside everyone is a frontier waiting to be discovered



Kevin Costner’s ‘Dances with Wolves’ Dominated the Box Office

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Kevin Costner’s four theatrical Western movies have grossed a grand total of $551,065,992. It’s an impressive number that is made even more remarkable by the fact that over $400 million of Costner’s record came from a single film. That movie was the 1990 mega-hit Dances with Wolves, which was a gargantuan success both critically and financially. Not only does Kevin Costner star in the film, but it was also his directorial debut.

Dances with Wolves is arguably one of the most successful first feature films by a new director in film history. This three-hour epic sees Costner play a Union lieutenant during the height of the American Civil War. During his service, Costner’s character encounters a community of Sioux Native Americans, and he finds himself forming a unique and life-changing bond with the tribe. The widespread success of Dances with Wolves cannot be understated. The $22 million dollar production made less than a million in its domestic opening weekend, but word of mouth spread like wildfire. Dances with Wolves ended its 1990-1991 domestic box office run with over $184 million, and its worldwide total still reigns supreme at an astounding $424.2 million, making nearly twenty times its production budget.


This also gives Dances with Wolves the title of the second highest-grossing Western ever made, coming in just behind Quentin Tarantino‘s Django Unchained. Dances with Wolves‘ successful legacy doesn’t end with its box office scores. The film went on to sweep the 1991 Academy Awards with seven wins, including Best Musical Score, Best Director, and Best Picture. Three other Western projects helped Costner clear the $500 million mark. The first was 1985’s Silverado, the star-studded cult classic that grossed $32 million. Then, there’s 1994’s Wyatt Earp, another three-hour Western epic, which raked in $25 million. Finally, there’s 2003’s Open Range, the cattle ranch defense thriller that earned $58 million.

‘Yellowstone’ Continued Kevin Costner’s Western Reign


With the world of Western filmmaking officially conquered, it was only a matter of time before Kevin Costner would venture into TV Westerns. Compared to his feature film resume, Costner’s experience in television isn’t quite as prolific, though he did star in the hit rivalry miniseries Hatfields & McCoys. That said, Costner’s biggest success story in the television sphere has inspired an unprecedented and wildly lucrative cinematic universe.

First releasing in 2018, Yellowstone is widely credited as the modern Western series that put prolific showrunner Taylor Sheridan on the map. Here, Costner stars as John Dutton III, the patriarch of a wealthy ranching family and a business dynasty that has lasted for several decades. Their lucrative land makes them the target of some rival forces, but the Dutton family hasn’t reigned supreme for this long without defending their property.


Yellowstone became such a massive success that it has generated a number of spin-offs and prequels, with even more being continuously planned. However, despite Costner’s involvement undoubtedly being a factor in Yellowstone‘s high viewership, it was announced in 2023 that Kevin Costner would exit the hit series after five seasons, reportedly due to creative differences regarding his pay and creative involvement.

‘Horizon: An American Saga — Chapter 1’ Is Kevin Costner’s Next Western


Kevin Costner is set to finally return to theaters with an all-new Western, which will mark the first time he’s starred in a Western feature film since 2003’s Open Range. In 2024, Costner will be starring in Horizon: An American Saga — Chapter 1, an epic two-part Western event that will also put Costner back in the director’s chair, for the Civil War era epic. Costner is also set to team up with director Ariel Vroman for another Western passion project, showing that his long-awaited return to big-screen Westerns won’t end with Horizon: An American Saga.

Dances with Wolves is available to watch on Tubi in the U.S.

Watch on Tubi

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