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Dances with Wolves (1990)

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Lieutenant John Dunbar, assigned to a remote western Civil War outpost, befriends wolves and Indians, making him an intolerable aberration in the military.


Kevin Costner


Michael Blake (screenplay), Michael Blake (novel)
426 ( 247)
Won 7 Oscars. Another 44 wins & 37 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Kevin Costner ... Lieutenant Dunbar
Mary McDonnell ... Stands With A Fist
Graham Greene ... Kicking Bird
Rodney A. Grant ... Wind In His Hair
Floyd 'Red Crow' Westerman ... Ten Bears (as Floyd Red Crow Westerman)
Tantoo Cardinal ... Black Shawl
Robert Pastorelli ... Timmons
Charles Rocket ... Lieutenant Elgin
Maury Chaykin ... Major Fambrough
Jimmy Herman ... Stone Calf
Nathan Lee Chasing His Horse Nathan Lee Chasing His Horse ... Smiles A Lot
Michael Spears ... Otter
Jason R. Lone Hill Jason R. Lone Hill ... Worm
Tony Pierce Tony Pierce ... Spivey
Doris Leader Charge Doris Leader Charge ... Pretty Shield


Lt. John Dunbar is dubbed a hero after he accidentally leads Union troops to a victory during the Civil War. He requests a position on the western frontier, but finds it deserted. He soon finds out he is not alone, but meets a wolf he dubs "Two-socks" and a curious Indian tribe. Dunbar quickly makes friends with the tribe, and discovers a white woman who was raised by the Indians. He gradually earns the respect of these native people, and sheds his white-man's ways. Written by Greg Bole <bole@life.bio.sunysb.edu>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


The journey begins this November. Discover it for yourself. See more »


PG-13 | See all certifications »

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English | Sioux | Pawnee

Release Date:

21 November 1990 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Dances with Wolves See more »

Filming Locations:

Kansas, USA See more »


Box Office


$22,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend USA:

$598,257, 11 November 1990, Limited Release

Gross USA:


Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


| (extended) | (director's cut) | (DVD special edition)

Sound Mix:

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



Aspect Ratio:

See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


In 2007 the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress. See more »


During the hunt scene, the Lakota are repeatedly shown immediately bringing down the stampeding buffalo with single arrow shots. Bowhunting does not work that way. In reality, the hunters would have to track the wounded animals, sometimes for miles, until they bled out. See more »


John Dunbar: [voice-over] I had never really known who John Dunbar was. Perhaps because the name itself had no meaning. But as I heard my Sioux name being called over and over, I knew for the first time who I really was.
See more »

Alternate Versions

The 236-minute "extended version" has been released on DVD, containing the scenes that were missing from most of the previous VHS releases. See more »


Fire Dance
By Peter Buffett
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Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

It is the trail of a true human being. I think you are on this trail and it is good to see.
10 October 2010 | by SpikeopathSee all my reviews

Dances With Wolves Is directed by Kevin Costner who also stars. It's adapted by Michael Blake from his own novel of the same name. Starring along side Costner are Graham Greene, Mary McDonnell & Rodney A. Grant. Dean Semler provides the cinematography & John Barry the musical score. Set during the American Civil War, the story tells how Lieutenant John Dunbar (Costner) goes to a military outpost on the American frontier, where confronted with alienation he befriends nature, the Lakota Indians and finds himself in the process.

"I had never known a people so eager to laugh, so devoted to family, so dedicated to each other. And the only word that came to mind was harmony"

The critics were rubbing their hands with glee, getting ready to tear Costner apart for what undoubtedly would be a failure. An epic Western movie made in 1990, had he not learnt from Heaven's Gate? It was long in production, and with only a $15/$22 million budget afforded it, word came that Costner had to put in $3 million of his own cash to aid production. It was beset with production delays as the problems mounted up with the weather, animal training and with action scenes taking up to three weeks to shoot, all contributing to the belief that it was doomed to failure. "Kevin's Gate" they cried, what's that? It's partially sub-titled too? Never work.

Dances With Wolves went on to make $424 million in Worldwide theatre tickets alone. Heaven knows what the total would be if we added the VHS & DVD returns as well! Come Academy Award time the film won 7 Oscars, including Best Picture (making it the first Western to win the prestigious award since Cimarron in 1931) & Best Director. It was also nominated in five other categories with Costner up for Best Actor, Graham Greene for Best Supporting Actor & Mary McDonnell for Best Supporting Actress. It was, all told, a personal, artistic and commercial triumph for Costner. One can see him post Oscar night sitting there on his porch sipping sour mash and flipping the finger at all those critics who willed him to fail.

Costner's movie is a simple tale, of that there is no arguing. But Dances With Wolves (the name given to Dunbar by the Sioux) is magnificently told, as enchanting a Western that has ever been made. It boasts everything needed to make a first class Oater. The story may be simple but it's rich on detail, the characters have real depth and it never sags, not even in its magnificent elongated directors cut that runs 236 minutes. The credit has to go to Costner, who in his debut as director lest we forget, has managed to blend everything together in the style of one of the old masters from the classic Western period. Every tonal avenue ventured down pays off handsome rewards, it all goes somewhere, awash with wistfulness, romanticism and elegiac poetry. The action sequences are expertly crafted, with a buffalo hunt particularly breath taking; no CGI here, the odd animatronic for a close encounter, but mainly the real deal, as are the wolves and the Lakota Sioux, too, who are played by Native Americans. Its humorous too, with its fun being intentional and aiding the flow of the friendships forming.

As most Western fans will tell you, a lyrical horse opera needs great location work and a score to match. Thankfully Dances With Wolves has both, as both Semler & Barry produce work that picked up the Golden Baldy on Oscar night. Lensed predominantly in South Dakota around the Black Hills & Badlands regions, Semler infuses the film with natural landscapes that send the frontier bursting thru the screen, his framing explains things better than words can in this environment. While Barry's score, lifting nicely from A View To A Kill at times, is suitably grand, deft in touch for the main theme and blood pumping for the buffalo hunt and the Pawnee attacks. Acting wise the award nominations received for Costner, Greene & McDonnell were richly deserved. The boys are quiet and undemonstrative, at one with the essence of the story and infusing it with a sincerity so lacking in many epics. Playing Stands With A Fist, a white woman raised by the Sioux after her family were slaughtered when she was a child, McDonnell has to reach different character levels as the story unfolds, and she delivers emotional depth on every level. No nomination for Grant, but his work is top dollar also, his latter scenes with Costner really nail the shift in tone.

There's some historical missteps that will no doubt annoy the purists, like I don't believe the Pawnee were the aggressors they are painted as here. While the central romance between Costner & McDonnell is delicate but not fully formed; tho it does improve in the directors cut. But it's hard to criticise little itches when such vision and ambition comes together as well as it does here. Structured with precision and showing respect for tradition, this is a movie about loving people for people lovers. And one can quite easily believe that some genre legends up in the sky were looking down and nodding approvingly. 10/10

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