Who’s Your Favorite Movie Wyatt Earp?

Henry Fonda, Burt Lancaster, Kurt Russell and Kevin Costner are among the actors who have played frontier lawman Wyatt Earp in movies. This week’s poll asks for your pick for the best big-screen Wyatt.

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  • edwardfrebow

    Great movie poll.

  • ganderson

    Before I even begin, I have to confess an almost disqualifying bias regarding Wyatt Earp and the O K Corral. I’m a dedicated student of the Old West in general and the O K Corral in particular; that background makes it difficult to pick a portrayal of Earp based on cinematic standards alone, absent historical accuracy. Now don’t get me wrong, I have long since come to peace with the notion that the movies are entitled and even required to take (sometimes considerable) liberties with the facts. If you want history, read a book or watch a documentary and if you want to be entertained, watch a movie. I’m all right with that concept and even embrace it at times.
    The sentimental favorite for the ‘best Wyatt Earp’ would almost certainly be Henry Fonda, but the story line in ‘My Darling Clementine’ is such an aggravatingly inaccurate fantasy that I can’t give any credence to Fonda’s performance. I don’t think there is a single line or scene in that film that has any relationship with reality. It’s been said that John Ford didn’t tell the story of the O K Corral as it happened, but ‘as it should have happened.’ Bogus. The facts about Tombstone and Earp present a compelling and cinematic saga with no embellishment by Hollywood. I’m a big fan of John Ford, but I can’t watch ‘Clementine’ without gritting my teeth.
    I give my vote enthusiastically to Kurt Russell and ‘Tombstone.’ The screenplay is solidly historical, including the dramatic dialog leading up to and during the shoot-out, as are the costumes and sets (okay, I acknowledge that there really was no ‘Buntline Special’ at the gunfight). But, moreover, the acting is top-notch and the story-line engaging. Kurt Russell captures a nuanced treatment of Earp that doesn’t diminish the fact that Earp was no white-hatted good guy. And don’t get me started on Val Kilmer’s astounding portrayal of Doc Holliday.
    The quality of ‘Tombstone’ is especially note-worthy in comparison with its competition, ‘Wyatt Earp,’ with Kevin Costner. The Costner film was supposed to be a Motion Picture Event, while Tombstone was just a low-brow popcorn flick. Also bogus. ‘Tombstone’ blew away its competitor on almost every front, including the acting and presence of the two leads. (I do give a lot of credit, however, to Dennis Quaid as Holliday – a masterful performance.)
    So, though I suspect Fonda will take the biscuit, I’m voting for Kurt Russell.

  • david hartzog

    Gotta agree that Tombstone is the most accurate depiction, but Hour of the Gun was close. I went with James Garner as my favorite, but most of the others did well enough. I really disliked Clementine.

    • ganderson

      I always like James Garner and there’s an interesting ‘it might have been’ in his two portrayals of Wyatt Earp. In ‘Hour of the Gun’ a 39-year-old Garner plays Earp during the events just following the O K Corral and in ‘Sunset’, a 60-year-old Garner plays an aging Earp in Hollywood (in 1929, the year Earp died). ‘Sunset’ has several flash-backs to the gunfight, but in all of them it’s the older Garner playing a much younger Earp. How fun would it have been if the producers had secured the rights to include scenes from ‘Hour of the Gun’ as the flashbacks. Maybe too much money for the rights or disagreements between the studios, or maybe nobody ever thought of it. It might have been a bit like the opening sequence in John Wayne’s ‘The Shootist’ when the flashbacks are of a much younger Duke in several of his previous Western roles.

      • david hartzog

        That is interesting, thanks.

        • Charles M Lee

          Actually David Tombstone was not the most accurate portrayal. This movie portrayed Wyatt Earp being reluctant to get involved in the law in the town. That is far from accurate. Earp had no hesitation in becoming the town lawman. It also portray the Earps as not really wanting the fight at the Okay Coral. Again, according to all that I have read, it was the Earps that forced the action that day. The knew they had the advantage at that time and they were not about to let the opportunity slip away. Also Earp and Holiday never really had a show down. There is nothing – that I have read – the backs the notion that Ringo was killed by Holiday. Johnny RIngo was found dead in Turkey Creek Canyon and his death was ruled a suicide. Again this is according to what I read, I don’t really know as I wasn’t there. :-) Tombstone does, however get the nod from me as the best.

  • Richard Finn

    I must agree with G Anderson as he sounds knowledgeable about the subject. I’ve been to Tombstone a few times (lived in Tucson for several years), and the site of the actual gunfight was not large. But I happen to like Fonda’s performance and My Darling Clementine remains one of my all time favorites. Maybe that was because when I 1st saw the movie sometime in the late 1950′s, I was watching it on TV with my dad.

  • jbourne5181

    Tombstone no doubt, with that incredible cast and terrific action is one of my all time favorite movies. Val Kilmer played Doc Holliday better than anyone before him and likely anyone who tries to do it again, although that would be a mistake. and it’s also unlikely that you could ever get a cast together like that again. it would be like trying to make a sequel to Silverado without the surviving original cast members – can’t be done – should’nt be done.

  • mike

    I thought that Burt Lancaster’s was the best portrayal of Wyatt Earp in Gunfight at OK Corral.

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  • Charles M Lee

    Kurt Russel in Tombstone hands down as far as entertainment value. As far as historical accuracy it would be Kevin Costner.

    • Butch Knouse

      Tombstone had the best Earp moment when the saloon bully came gunning for Earp and Doc Holliday introduced him to the bully as Wyatt Earp. The guy all but fainted.

      • Charles M Lee

        Yes that was Billy Bob Thornton. My favorite was when Johnny Ringo (Michael Bein) twirled the pistol and then Doc Holiday twirled a cup.