63 user 37 critic

Matewan (1987)

PG-13 | | Drama, History | 28 August 1987 (USA)
A labor union organizer comes to an embattled mining community brutally and violently dominated and harassed by the mining company.


John Sayles


John Sayles
Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 2 wins & 7 nominations. See more awards »




Cast overview, first billed only:
Chris Cooper ... Joe Kenehan
Mary McDonnell ... Elma Radnor
Will Oldham ... Danny Radnor
David Strathairn ... Sid Hatfield
Ken Jenkins ... Sephus Purcell
Kevin Tighe ... Hickey
Gordon Clapp ... Tom Griggs
Bob Gunton ... C.E. Lively
Jace Alexander ... Hillard Elkins
Joe Grifasi ... Fausto
Nancy Mette ... Bridey Mae
Jo Henderson Jo Henderson ... Mrs. Elkins
Josh Mostel ... Cabell Testerman
Gary McCleery Gary McCleery ... Ludie
Maggie Renzi ... Rosaria


Mingo County, West Virginia, 1920. Coal miners, struggling to form a union, are up against company operators and the gun thugs of the notorious Baldwin-Felts detective agency. Black and Italian miners, brought in by the company to break the strike, are caught between the two forces. UMWA organizer and dual-card Wobbly Joe Kenehan determines to bring the local, Black, and Italian groups together. While Kenehan and his story are fictional, the setting and the dramatic climax are historical; Sid Hatfield, Cabell C. Testerman, C. E. Lively and the Felts brothers were real-life participants, and 'Few Clothes' is based on a character active several years previously. Written by Susan C. Mitchell <susanm@indirect.com>, expanded by Silverwhistle

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


At the coal company they use you until you wear out See more »


Drama | History


PG-13 | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »

Did You Know?


The name of the mining organization was the Stone Mountain Coal Company. See more »


Look for the sheriff to remove a gun from someone's hand(by holding the gun by the barrel) after it's been fired four or five times. See more »


Conductor: You don't want to go there, mister. Ain't nothing but crazy people.
See more »


Referenced in While We're Young (2014) See more »


Lyrics by John Sayles and Mason Daring
Music by Mason Daring
(c) 1987 Daring Music/ASCAP
Sung by Hazel Dickens
See more »

User Reviews

A great history lesson!
7 July 2009 | by GethinVanHSee all my reviews

You might say we have it pretty good today, we don't have to pick up a rifle to form a union. This movie is based on the Battle of Matewan that took place in Matewan, West Virginia in 1920.

The conditions these workers faced were brutal. Miners had to pay for all their own equipment, their housing was owned by the mining company and they also paid for it, workers were also paid in credits which they could only use at the mining company store. Workers who went strike were subsequently evicted from their homes.

This movie is great. It's a page from history which should be told much more often. James Earl Jones is terrific as a black miner who is signed up as a scab but he's actually a union sympathizer who encourages the black scabs to strike with the West Virginia workers.

Chris Cooper is also great as a union organizer. I think he's a highly underrated actor. He was very good in American Beauty as the hick next door neighbor and he's great in Matewan as well. Proof, I believe that he can really take on any role.

Bob Gunton is also a great actor. This movie was made long before he was playing every two bit villain of the week. I think that was due to his role as the warden in The Shawshank Redemption where he just let it all out.

I liked one scene in particular early in the film where the union men on strike try to weed out Cooper by finding out how much he knows about union history. Where was Joe Hill buried? In which eye was Big Bill Haywood blind in? Cooper also quips, "I was a Wobbly, back when that meant something" But he does support the notion of One Big Union. The IWW will rise again!

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English | Italian

Release Date:

28 August 1987 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Matewan See more »

Filming Locations:

West Virginia, USA See more »


Box Office


$4,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend USA:

$23,850, 30 August 1987

Gross USA:


Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

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Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:




Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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