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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
4,119 ( 123)
Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 2 wins & 8 nominations. See more awards »





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 the U.S. 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) | (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?


Getting to the filming site, from the cast and crew's hotel in Kalispell, took two hours each way. Many cast and crew members were on-site (and on the payroll) for several months, just to complete a few hours of shooting. See more »


At approximately 3:27:10 after the final ambush of John Bridges, Ella, and James Averill, actor Jeff Bridges is supposed to be dead but he's puffing like a steam engine. 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 »

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 »


Featured in The Cinema Snob: Heaven's Gate: Part 2 (2015) See more »


An der schönen, blauen Donau (On the Beautiful Blue Danube), Op. 314
(as "The Blue Danube Waltz")
Music by Johann Strauss
Performed by Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic (as The New York Philharmonic Orchestra)
Waltz danced on the lawn and heard as a theme
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

Unfairly Maligned
2 May 2005 | by evanston_dadSee all my reviews

Michael Cimino's "Heaven's Gate" is certainly not without its problems, but it's hard to believe, now that the historical context in which the film was released is long past, that it received such a rough drubbing when it came out 25 years ago. It's quite an interesting film and even a very well made one. It bears many similarities to Cimino's earlier success, "The Deer Hunter": a focus on male solidarity and conflict, man returning to a more primitive state, a narrative structure that has the protagonist moving from civilization to a barbaric world and then back to a civilization that will be changed forever by preceding events. Like "The Deer Hunter," this films deals in images more than words. Unlike "The Deer Hunter," however, and this film's biggest failing, is the lack of a cast of the same strength that graced Cimino's earlier film. "The Deer Hunter" had Robert De Niro, Meryl Streep and Christopher Walken. "Heaven's Gate" gets Christopher Walken, but in a role for which he is ill suited, and instead of De Niro and Streep we get Kris Kristofferson and Isabelle Huppert. I don't know what possessed Cimino to think Kristofferson could carry a film of this magnitude, but it's a dire miscalculation on his part. Kristofferson isn't necessarily a horrible actor, but he's certainly not strong enough to retain an audience's interest over the course of a 219 minute film. Isabelle Huppert is bland as well. The result is long scenes with little or no dialogue, in which feelings are supposedly being expressed in the faces of the actors; but since the actors aren't very strong, nothing is getting expressed. That's what makes "Heaven's Gate" much longer than it needs to be. There's really only a wisp of a story, so if we're not fully engaged in the characters, what exactly are we supposed to be engaged in? However, the weak cast and writing aside, "Heaven's Gate" is still a remarkable achievement in its own way, and a much better film than a new generation of movie lovers has been led to believe. Cimino may stumble with actors, but he's got a iron-clad grasp of visuals, and puts some stunning and memorable images on the screen. The film feels much more like a 70's film than it does an 80's film. At various times, it reminded me of "Little Big Man," "McCabe and Mrs. Miller," and "The Wild Bunch." If that esteemed company doesn't serve as an endorsement of this film, I don't know what does.

Grade: B

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