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5 Kevin Costner Movies, From Best To Best

He was in some good stuff before TV’s ‘Yellowstone’…

5. ‘The Untouchables’ (1987)

Kevin Costner’s first lead role was in Brian DePalma’s stylish gangster movie The Untouchables and it remains one of his most essential performances. As heroic FBI agent Eliot Ness, Coster is everything that will make him a big star — he’s bashful and brave, an all-American good guy. The Untouchables is probably one of the best film adaptations of a TV show, and DePalma directs the hell out of it, with the help of Robert DeNiro as legendary mob boss Al Capone, and Sean Connery as a beat cop who has Ness’ back, a role that won him his first and only Oscar. The macho playwright David Mamet also gave DePalma a couple of tough guy scenes that can’t be beaten. But without Costner’s inherent decency and gee-shucks charm, The Untouchables is just cops and robbers killing each other. Thanks to him, though, The Untouchables is a slick morality play with a moral center and a killer monologue from Connery about what it takes to defeat bad guys.

4. ‘Open Range’ (2003)

Dances with Wolves was Costner's directorial debut and he won an Oscar for it. That epic western about the relationship between a Civil War soldier and a tribe of indigenous people has diminished in stature over the years, an example of the “white savior movie” that Hollywood loved once upon a time. While this is true, it is still a very respectful and compassionate movie. Costner is a disciplined, thoughtful director with an eye for America’s wild beauty. Thirteen years later, he directed this smaller, more compact, western starring one of the greats, Robert Duvall. The movie moves like a herd of cattle, slowly until a stampede of a climax. Costner plays the loyal, soft-spoken partner of Duvall’s elder cowboy. The two men share a strong bond, even though Duvall’s character doesn’t know his quiet friend has a bloody past. Open Range’s plot is as straight as a rifle’s barrel: ranchers hate frontiersmen who don’t respect fences. Open Range is an example of a director and star in full control of his craft. It’s a movie with romance and action and well-drawn, three-dimensional characters you can’t help but care about. Costner is set to direct a new western titled Horizon soon, his first since Open Range. I cannot wait.

3. ‘Bull Durham’ (1988)

This is the best baseball movie ever made, and there have been some excellent baseball movies — Bad News Bears, The Natural, Moneyball. It’s one of my favorite genres. But this love letter to not taking life too seriously wins the pennant. Bull Durham is a romantic comedy about the love of the game. It stars Susan Sarandon as a brilliant, quirky, unbelievably sexy minor league baseball fanatic who spends her summers watching grown men play a child’s game and making love to the players. She even combines her two passions: she teaches her flings how to improve their pitching and swings. She takes a young dumb hotshot played by Tim Robbins under her wing but it’s pretty clear from the moment they meet that she is destined to fall for Kevin Costner’s character Crash Davis, an over-the-hill ballplayer who is too smart for his own good. Costner is sexy and melancholy and legitimately hilarious. The sex scene between him and Sarandon is sweaty and clumsy and adult. They are middle-aged but still passionate. Of all of Costner's characters, Davis is the one I hope is still enjoying his life, cheering, playing, taking baths with Susan Sarandon’s character. If Bull Durham has a message it's that love is the only game worth winning, but baseball is pretty great, too.

2. ‘Waterworld’ (1995)

This bloated would-be blockbuster has become a cultural punchline, which is unfair. I must have seen this flick twice in the movie theaters, and then on VHS, over and over again. Directed by Kevin Reynolds, who teamed-up with Costner on the terrible but also amazing Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Waterworld was the most expensive movie ever made at the time, and it underperformed at the box office, and that’s why its reputation is what it is. But this action-packed sci-fi movie rules hard in every way. Waterworld is Mad Max meets Aquaman. What is not to love? It was also ahead of its time, a pioneering climate change dystopia about an Earth drowned by melted icecaps. Not enough? Waterworld is a western, too, and Costner’s character is a mutant with no name, a wandering merman who wants nothing to do with human civilization, which is mostly a handful of dying primates clinging to ancient junk and flotsam. Costner has gills! And super-strength! And the coolest, gadget-filled boat in cinematic history! Costner works hard in Waterworld and so does the late, great Dennis Hopper as a chainsmoking pirate. Hopper rants with the power of three villains. Costner tries not to be likable in Waterworld but that only makes him more likable. He’s humorless and cranky and mean to little girls. But guess who has a big ol’ fish heart? That’s right. If you haven’t seen this movie because ha-ha it’s bad then get right with the Lord and watch it. It’s better than, I’d say, half of Marvel’s big-budget superhero movies. Maybe more.

1. ‘The Bodyguard’ (1992)

The chemistry between Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston in this excellent romantic thriller is combustible, to say the least. When they kiss on-screen, it’s like a fuse meeting a lit match. Houston is at the height of her pop-culture powers in this star vehicle where she unleashes her immortal voice while also proving she’s not a bad actor. In fact, she’s wonderful. But the movie rests on Costner’s relaxed shoulders. The Bodyguard is about a superstar stalked by a psycho and the white man she hires to protect her and her family, a white man who also happens to be The Sexiest and The Most Badass. It literally hurts my heart to think about the arc of Houston’s career and her tragic death. She is one of the greats and she and Costner should have made more movies together, or, hell, The Bodyguard 2: Diehard But There’s Lots More Kissing. Costner is one of the most laid-back movie stars of all time, an actor who doesn’t need to be there but is absolutely vital to the success of the story being told. Houston isn’t exactly a damsel in distress in The Bodyguard and hangdog Costner isn’t really a knight in shining armor. He has a job to do and he does it well and, slowly but surely, he falls in love as only Costner can, with a warm smirk and just a little bit of world-weariness.




by John DeVore

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John DeVore

John DeVore

I created Humungus, a blog about pop culture, politics, and feelings. Support the madness:

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