Heaven's Gate (1980)

R  |   |  Western  |  19 November 1980 (USA)
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Ratings: 6.7/10 from 9,172 users  
Reviews: 181 user | 101 critic

A dramatization of the real-life Johnson County War in 1890 Wyoming, in which a sheriff born into wealth attempts to protect immigrant farmers from rich cattle interests.



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Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 2 wins & 8 nominations. See more awards »



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An inside look at the hectic production of Heaven's Gate, the media circus that turned it into a synonym for movie flop and how it added to the tectonic change that occurred in Hollywood film studios after it infamously flopped.

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Cast overview, first billed only:
Nathan D. Champion (as Chris Walken)
John L. Bridges
Major Wolcott
Mayor Charlie Lezak
Trapper Fred
Rosie Vela ...
Beautiful girl (as Roseanne Vela)
Mary Catherine Wright ...
Nell (as Mary C. Wright)
Small man


In Michael Cimino's bleak anti-western based on events in 1890s Wyoming, Sheriff James Averill attempts to protect immigrant farmers from wealthy cattle interests, and also clashes with a hired gun, Nathan Champion, over the woman they both love. Both men find themselves questioning their roles in the furious conflict between wealthy landowners and European immigrants attempting to build new lives on the American frontier, which culminates in a brutal pitched battle. Written by Bernard Keane <BKeane2@email.dot.gov.au>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


The only thing greater than their passion for America...was their passion for each other. See more »




R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:





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Release Date:

19 November 1980 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate  »

Box Office


$44,000,000 (estimated)


$1,500,000 (USA)

Company Credits

Production Co:

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


(1981 re-cut) | (original cut) | (2012 director's recut) | (rough cut)

Sound Mix:

(35 mm prints)| (70 mm prints)


Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Fog machines and 20,000 tones of Fullers Earth fine dust were used by DOP Vilmos Zsigmond and director Michael Cimino to give the film a smoky and dusty atmospheric look atypical of 19th century period photographs. The Fullers Earth was sprayed into the air using gigantic fans. See more »


When Canton shoots the immigrant point-blank in the back of the head, there is no blood, bone or hair shown coming off the head. In fact, after the immigrant's head is lifted to show his face then dropped down again, there is no sign on the back of his head that he's been shot at all. See more »


James Averill: You're not my class, Canton, and you never will be. You'd have to die first and be born again.
See more »


Referenced in At the Movies: Winners That Were Losers (1983) See more »


"Mamou Two-Step'
Written by Doug Kershaw'
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Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

A wasted opportunity.
8 August 1999 | by (Stockton, California) – See all my reviews

HEAVEN'S GATE will always be remembered for at least three things: destroying United Artists, wrecking director Michael Cimino's career, and ending the last golden age of Hollywood, when the directors could make the types of films they wanted to make. To this day we are still living through the effects from HEAVEN'S GATE. Although the film was made for only $36 million, back in 1980 that was a fortune. Many films since have lost more money, but this one wrecked a respected studio. There is no question as to where all the money went, for it is on the screen to see. Everything was carefully detailed exquisitely down the extras' clothing. An entire town was built in a remote area of Montana. The film opens with a graduation sequence that takes place at Harvard in 1870, which is nicely shot and choreographed, but is completely unnecessary. Many such scenes are scattered throughout, and the film is more than halfway over before the plot finally starts to move forward. The actors all play characters who are one-dimensional and/or irrelevant, especially the John Hurt character. Why Cimino needed so many extras to play the immigrants is unclear, because we never get to know any of them and they are so annoying when they gather together to plot strategies against the rich bad guys who want to kill them off. The editing is pretty bad, but that's to be expected because there really isn't much of a story here, just a series of vignettes. Vilmos Zsigmond's photography is good, but too often there is too much dust and smoke everywhere that obscures the characters and locations. Also, the colors in the film are all washed out; it looks like the filmstock was left out in sun. For example, in the middle of the roller-skating scene, the color simply vanishes, leaving only light brown and black! Granted, there are a few things in the film that I admire, like David Mansfield's score. Isabelle Huppert always looks sexy even without makeup. The battle scenes are pretty exciting, although I could swear that I saw one particular wagon blow up four times. The film has a rather odd denoument that takes place on board a ship, but everything else in this movie is pretty odd. Why the studio didn't bring in another writer or two to rewrite the script is a mystery because inside this mess there was a good movie trying to get out. It's a shame that Michael Cimino still hasn't recovered from this debacle. I sure hope he makes a comeback.

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