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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
2,104 ( 1,184)
Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 2 wins & 8 nominations. See more awards »



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Director: Michael Cimino
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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 H. 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


What one loves about life are the things that fade. 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) | (2012 director's recut)

Sound Mix:

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



Aspect Ratio:

2.39 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


Isabelle Huppert was cast as Ella over the objection of United Artists executives. Michael Cimino insisted on casting her, and threatened (not for the last time) to take the film to Warner Brothers, and United Artists capitulated. Even afterwards, Steven Bach, at one point, told Cimino to his face, that his leading lady was so unappealing, that the audience was going to wonder why Kris Kristofferson and Christopher Walken "weren't fucking each other, instead of her". Cimino told him to go fuck himself. 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 »


Nathan D. Champion: Why don't you come in for a while? You haven't been here for a long time. I fixed the place up inside.
Ella Watson: What have you done to it?
Nathan D. Champion: [whispers] Wallpaper.
See more »

Alternate Versions

Writer-director Michael Cimino was coaxed to revisit his film for a 2012 video release via The Criterion Collection and supervised a 2K transfer from the YCM separation negatives from which he noticeably changed the original look of the film from a subdued sepia to a more rich "Technicolor" appearance. He also made a number of revisions, including the removal of the intermission thus creating a straight cut, reversed a "pull out" shot to a "pull in" and made a number of other tweaks as well as a re-tweak of the soundtrack. See more »


Referenced in Mike & Mike: Episode dated 18 June 2015 (2015) See more »


The Battle Hymn of the Republic
Music by William Steffe
Played by the marching band
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

Flawed Epic
15 January 2006 | by Theo RobertsonSee all my reviews

What ? You expect me to review HEAVEN'S GATE a movie that destroyed the Hollywood studio system and bankrupted United Artists ! Okay then , but mind if I ask where do I begin ?

I've seen this movie twice . The original cut in 1986 and the short version ( Amazing to think a movie that has a 149 minute run time qualifies as a short version ) last night and I must say that it's a much better movie than Michael Cimino's Oscar winning THE DEER HUNTER if only because it has a much clearer plot : An association of cattle barons hire a mercenary army to kick immigrants out of Wyoming . There that's the plot perfectly explained and I doubt if anyone can clearly explain the plot of THE DEER HUNTER in one sentence . By a bitter irony Cimino then decides to muddy the waters by throwing everything but the kitchen sink into the movie and the film starts with a character set up in Harvard where friends James Averill and Billy Irvine have the party of their life . These scenes are very cinematic and epic as boys and girls waltz on the lawn but as for introducing the characters they become totally redundant later in the film . It's interesting to note that in the shortened version much of this has been edited out and replaced with a voice over where Averill travels to Wyoming on a train . This could easily have been the opening scene without any detriment to the narrative

HEAVEN'S GATE has four credited editors a ridiculous amount for a movie and while watching the short version you can't help noticing how badly edited it all is . For example we see Averill and Irvine talking in a billiard room . Averill walks away into another room and confronts the association heads and receives applause from Irvine who is now sitting in a chair in the same room which gives the impression that he can teleport ! Even if you have no knowledge about film editing you can't fail to notice that many , many scenes start or finish in a completely unnatural manner but one can't help thinking it's not the fault of the editors since so many scenes should have been discarded from the script at first draft stage which would have led to a better and much more compact screenplay without it losing any epic quality . Having said that it wouldn't have stopped the sound editing being so awful and many sequences are ruined because the background noise drowns out the duologue

Where the film works best is when it concentrates on the hatred the association has for the immigrants and when it does it is a great film at portraying man's callous inhumanity to man . It also contains some very shocking violence and epic battle scenes and it's a pity that HEAVEN'S GATE is known only for the behind the scenes fiasco than what takes place on screen . So if you watch this movie please forgot that it caused studio bosses to be the driving force on a movie instead of the director or that its production costs ballooned from two million dollars to forty million . Enjoy it for what it is - A flawed epic

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