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Heaven's Gate (1980)

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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.


Michael Cimino


Michael Cimino
3,571 ( 683)
Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 2 wins & 8 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Kris Kristofferson ... James Averill
Christopher Walken ... Nathan D. Champion (as Chris Walken)
John Hurt ... William C. Irvine
Sam Waterston ... Frank Canton
Brad Dourif ... Mr. Eggleston
Isabelle Huppert ... Ella Watson
Joseph Cotten ... The Reverend Doctor
Jeff Bridges ... John L. Bridges
Ronnie Hawkins ... Maj. Wolcott
Paul Koslo ... Mayor Charlie Lezak
Geoffrey Lewis ... Trapper Fred
Richard Masur ... Cully
Rosie Vela Rosie Vela ... Beautiful Girl (as Roseanne Vela)
Mary Catherine Wright Mary Catherine Wright ... Nell (as Mary C. Wright)
Nicholas Woodeson ... Small Man


Wyoming, 1890. James Averill is the Sherriff of Johnson County, a county largely inhabited by foreign immigrants. The wealthy cattle owners view the immigrant farmers as a nuisance and hindrance to them enlarging their own land. The cattlemen's association, the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, effectively declares war on the immigrant farmers, and gets the state government's blessing. They assemble an army of guns-for-hire, and, backed by US cavalry, set out to rid the state of the immigrants. James Averill's heart is with the immigrants but he is not sure they have a chance of winning the inevitable war. Written by grantss

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:

View content advisory »





English | Russian | French | Polish | German

Release Date:

19 November 1980 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate See more »

Filming Locations:

Butte, Montana, USA See more »


Box Office


$44,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend USA:

$12,032, 19 November 1980, Limited Release

Gross USA:

$3,484,331, 31 December 1981
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Partisan Productions See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


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

Sound Mix:

Dolby (35 mm prints)| 70 mm 6-Track (70 mm prints)



Aspect Ratio:

2.39 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


To build the various large sets, notable for their intricate detail, the production utilized the skills of around one hundred fifty carpenters. The picture was nominated for just one Academy Award, Best Art Direction. See more »


The little boy that plays Kovac's son while the family is butchering the cow looks directly at the camera while smiling while they drag out the basket containing the cow's innards. See more »


Ella Watson: I never cheated on you. I always made Nate pay.
See more »

Alternate Versions

All UK versions are cut by 1 min 14 secs to remove all scenes of cockfighting as well as editing footage of cruel horse-falls. See more »


Referenced in Modern Romance (1981) See more »


The Battle Hymn of the Republic
Music by William Steffe
Played by the marching band
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Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

No wonder it was a bust
6 March 2010 | by WhythorneSee all my reviews

I recorded the full-length "director's cut" version off of TCM the other day to see if there was validation for this being one of the biggest box-office busts in movie history. After viewing I can certainly understand why it was.

I have no problem with movies taking their time developing, so that we can get to know characters and really feel a part of what is going on in the film. But this film gave me the impression that director Michael Cimino felt moving things along at a snail's pace automatically makes those things happen. In spite of the epic length he had to work with, Cimino's character development is quite minimalistic, due to the sheer volume of dead space devoted to empty looks and a lack of dialogue or at least a lack of comprehensible dialogue, which is thanks to un-subtitled foreign languages or bad sound recording. The end result is another film in which we just don't care what happens to these characters, because we really know so little about them, nor are we given a reason to care for them, other than the fact that they exist.

The film begins with a long and tedious set-up at Harvard, leading the viewer to believe there is going to be an important significance for this later. As it turns out, there isn't. Strangely, the relationships established in these scenes end up going nowhere. By the end of the movie, several characters, especially John Hurt's and Jeff Bridges', were so pathetically wasted in their development, I wondered why they were even in the film at all.

Worst, silliest, most bizarre and utterly maddening scene: the targeted immigrants decide to fight back against the band of regulators. They end up on horseback, stupidly circling around the enemy encampment like a bunch of caricatured Indians circling the wagons in an old Western serial. The only thing missing from the scene as the immigrants get picked off like ducks in a shooting gallery are those stereotypical, hysterical Indian war whoops.

But that is just one example of people behaving extremely stupidly and unrealistically in this film.

As someone who enjoys subtlety in a film and doesn't even mind one that is slower paced, I nonetheless found myself fast-forwarding through several non-eventful minutes of this film. Thank goodness for that technology, but it made me wonder how anybody would have had patience for even a trimmed-down version of this film when it first showed in theaters.

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