96 user 20 critic

Thunderheart (1992)

2:22 | Trailer
A young mixed-blood FBI agent is assigned to work with a cynical veteran investigator on a murder on a poverty-stricken Sioux reservation.


Michael Apted


John Fusco
2 nominations. See more awards »





Cast overview, first billed only:
Val Kilmer ... Ray Levoi
Sam Shepard ... Frank Coutelle
Graham Greene ... Walter Crow Horse
Fred Ward ... Jack Milton
Fred Thompson ... William Dawes (as Fred Dalton Thompson)
Sheila Tousey ... Maggie Eagle Bear
Ted Thin Elk Ted Thin Elk ... Grandpa Sam Reaches (as Chief Ted Thin Elk)
John Trudell ... Jimmy Looks Twice
Julius Drum Julius Drum ... Richard Yellow Hawk
Sarah Brave Sarah Brave ... Maisy Blue Legs
Allan R.J. Joseph Allan R.J. Joseph ... Leo Fast Elk
Sylvan Pumpkin Seed Sylvan Pumpkin Seed ... Hobart
Patrick Massett ... Agent Mackey
Rex Linn ... FBI Agent
Brian A. O'Meara Brian A. O'Meara ... FBI Agent


An FBI man with Sioux background is sent to a reservation to help with a murder investigation, where he has to come to terms with his heritage. Slowly he rejects the intimidating tactics of his fellow FBI agents, who are not so interested in solving the crime as covering up an incriminating situation with the locals, and as he becomes more tuned to his heritage, the locals begin trusting him. Based on actual Reservation occurrences of the '70s. Written by Ed Sutton <esutton@mindspring.com>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Two men from different worlds. Two cops after the same killer. Together they must uncover the secrets. Together they must discover the truth.

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for language, and for some areas of violence | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »

Did You Know?


Jack Milton is based on Dick Wilson, the tribal chairman of the Pine Ridge Reservation from 1972-'76. Traditionalists tried to impeach Wilson in '73. See more »


The original version shows Val Kilmers character drinking peyote; now that scene has been cut and it makes no sense. Why is he freaking out and having visions in the fire. It destroys the whole point of the movie in that the Val Kilmer character couldn't use logic, etc. to solve the case and had to try something else and learn his 'spiritual' background and get help from the 'spirit world' beyond our normal perceptions... Now it's just some guy acting weird because of a fire... It doesn't explain why he pulls his gun and the Indian sheriff tells him 'I know you're scared'... it was because he was having peyote visions; which are now censored, because all you belong in the soul harvester machine and if you dared take peyote you might learn that truth.. See more »


Grandpa Sam Reaches: Come on up and watch TV.
See more »

Alternate Versions

The version prepared by Tristar for commercial television showing featured 270 separate cuts, removing 22 minutes of footage. To shorter the film even further, the film was time-compressed to gain an additional 4 minutes, and the credits speeded-up to lose another 2 minutes. Director Michael Apted asked to have his name removed from the mutilated TV version, or have a disclaimer shown before the title credits, stating that he disowned that version. After legal litigation, Tristar opted to remove Apted's name and credit the TV version to pseudonymous director Alan Smithee. See more »


Featured in Rich Hall's Inventing the Indian (2012) See more »


Written and Performed by Bruce Springsteen
Courtesy of Columbia Records
by arrangement with Sony Music Licensing
See more »

User Reviews

reasons you will love this enlightened modern western
9 September 2010 | by barrwellSee all my reviews

This is one of my personal favorites. I gave it a 9 as I don't think that it's a perfect film, though it is very close. The acting is great and it's heart is in the right place. There are dozens of plot descriptions available here, so i will just tell you why you might love this film....

  • a very honest and realistic portrayal of native Americans (by native Americans, like the excellent Graham Greene from 'Dances with Wolves').

  • excellent location cinematography, it was filmed in the badlands.

  • one of the most satisfying climactic scenes ever....it really feels good.

  • the film has a fairly strong anti-government sentiment to it...(if you're all gung-ho for the US government, this film may not be for you).

  • Thunderheart is based on actual events that happened on Pine Ridge Reservation in the 1970s. John Trudell, who plays Jimmy Looks-twice (the FBIs main suspect), was actually there! He is a real real-life Sioux activist whose character is loosely-based on Leonard Peltier.

Some other quick tidbits, look for David Crosby of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young as a bartender in the bar room scene. I love the allegorical last shot of the film with Ray (Val Kilmer) in his car. Very fitting...which way to go? The whole film fits perfectly and usually I will say that many films wont appeal to every taste, however in the case of Thunderheart I will say this ....I don't know one person whose opinion I value who doesn't like this movie!

further note: If you like this one try watching the 1970 classic 'Little Big Man'.

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Frequently Asked Questions

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English | Sioux

Release Date:

3 April 1992 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Thunderheart See more »


Box Office


$15,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend USA:

$4,507,425, 5 April 1992

Gross USA:


Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Dolby Stereo



Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »

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