- 1993's Tombstone turned 30 in 2023.
- It features an ensemble cast of some of the most respected and popular actors of the day.
- Directed by leading man Kurt Russell on the sneak tip, Tombstone is a beloved film that has captivated fans for decades.
- The movie featured actors who would go on to have massive careers in roles that didn't pack that much screen time, like Billy Bob Thornton, Billy Zane, and Stephen Lang.
Why Johnny Tyler! You madcap!
Shout that line out to any Tombstone fan and watch their face light up with glee. There's no shortage of great western flicks that have come out of Hollywood over the years, and even though flicks about gunslingers tend to get lumped up into one amorphous blob, anyone who's watched a decent amount of westerns know that they're about as different as Space Jam and Loonatics Unleashed.
But there is something inherently special about Tombstone and the way the flick plays out. Sure, it tells the stories of the Earp family coming into a town and cleaning up the place while making some money for themselves. And yes, it's got an amazing ensemble cast and plenty of Wild West action along with some dastardly villains and tense showdowns.
But there's something about this flick that's just unique: the feel of it, then fun of it without being overly whimsical or self-indulgent; it's just Tombstone, and how this movie came to be such a beloved western probably lies in the story of how the film actually got made: being ghost-written by Val Kilmer and Kurt Russell and practically directed by Russell himself.
Even though the it has a ton of memorable moments, beautifully directed scenes, and excellent one-liners, a lot of its success can ultimately be attributed to the stellar cast that was assembled for it. Let's take a look at the movie's characters and what they're doing now.
Kurt Russell — Wyatt Earp
"No! No!" Seeing Earp go into berserker mode, wading through a river after he's had it up to here with William Brocius's gang of bandits wreaking havoc wherever they want and becoming a shotgun God, is one of many memorable scenes in Tombstone — his relationship with Doc Holliday (Kilmer) and his family, along with struggling to be there for his laudanum-addicted wife gave Russell an intriguing character to play.
Kurt is an American cinematic icon who's enjoyed a career that's lasted several decades: in recent years he's played Mr. Nobody in the ninth Fast and Furious flick, played Ego is Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and voiced the same celestial being in What If...?, and acted alongside his son Wyatt in the Apple TV Plus series about Godzilla titled Monarch: Legacy of Monsters.
Val Kilmer — Doc Holliday
"I'll be your Huckleberry." If you were to ever ask an actor if they wanted to play a fast-drawing gunslinger dying of tuberculosis who travels with a prostitute entirely devoted to him who has a penchant for gambling and, despite being pale and ill all the time, can outshoot anyone in a stand-off, they'd probably kiss your feet for the opportunity to do so.
While there's plenty to enjoy Tombstone for, the relationship between Earp and Holliday is certainly one of its biggest highlights. In one of the movie's most memorable scenes, Kilmer is asked why he's going through such great lengths to help Earp in his grudge against Brocius's boys. Holliday says simply and with such heartbreaking conviction: "Wyatt Earp is my friend."
Kilmer battled with throat cancer for six years and is today cancer-free. He detailed his experiences with the illness in his 2020 memoir I'm Your Huckleberry and in his 2021 documentary film Val. And in 2022 he appeared in Top Gun: Maverick, where he reprised his role as Ice Man.
Sam Elliott — Virgil Earp
Elliott's had a heck of a film career that dates back (officially) to 1969. In Tombstone he played the elder Earp brother, Virgil, who, is ultimately handicapped in his right arm after a battle and unable to fight any longer, forcing him to get out of dodge, which is analogous to real-life events.
In recent years, he played Bradley Cooper's elder brother in the Oscar darling A Star Is Born and played Beau Bennett in 80 episodes of The Ranch, Shea Brennan in 10 episodes of 1883, and Perry in the MacGruber series.
His trademark low-register voice is also utilized in animated films like the 2019 Lady and Tramp reboot, Robot Chicken, and Family Guy.
Michael Biehn — Johnny Ringo
The film's other feared gunslinger — audiences are introduced to Johnny Ringo under some pretty gnarly circumstances: after massacring a bunch of innocent folks at a wedding and being confronted by a priest for their heinous deeds, Ringo immediately puts a bullet in padre in order to keep him quiet.
Biehn's been a part of some massively popular franchises: he played the lead in the first Terminator, played Corporal Hicks in Aliens, and was more recently featured in an episode of Law and Order: Organized Crime, The Walking Dead, and The Mandalorian.
Bill Paxton — Morgan Earp
Bill was featured in another one of the film's more memorable scenes when his character, Morgan, is shot and killed and discusses the not-so-mysterious side of dying. His character famously talks about there not being a light at the end of the tunnel as he shuffles toward nothingness, leaving his brothers with a somber memory of his final moments.
Paxton unfortunately passed away on February 2017 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, 11 day after he underwent heart surgery. He leaves behind a redoubtable body of work: he co-starred alongside Biehn in Aliens and resonated with audiences with his "Game over man!" line. One of his final roles was at Detective Frank Rourke in the Training Day series, and he skeeved out audiences opposite Jake Gyllenhaal with his turn as Joe Loder in Nightcrawler.
In the same year, he starred opposite Tom Cruise as Master Sergeant Farell in Edge of Tomorrow, worked with Steven Soderbergh in the Gina Carano action/spy flick Haywire, and creeped viewers out in the 2001 religious-themed thriller Frailty with Matthew McConaughey. Titanic fans will also remember Paxton as Brock Lovett, and he worked with Steven Spielberg in the critically acclaimed Apollo 13 and countless other beloved films.
Powers Boothe — William Brocius
Powers's tall stature, gravelly voice, and demeanor made him a shoo-in for darker, villain type roles on the silver screen, and he certainly made an impression for his role as William Brocius in Tombstone, cackling at Wyatt Earp about being stuck in "crossfire" during the infamous "No!" scene and getting drunk, firing his pistol at the moon.
Boothe passed away shortly after Paxton on May 14, 2017, from a heart attack in his Los Angeles home. One of his last roles was as Gideon Malick in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and he was also featured in 26 episodes of Nashville. He voiced Travis in the Hitman: Absolution video game, was featured as a member of the World Security council in 2012's The Avengers, and voiced various characters in other popular animated series like Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated and Ben 10.
Deadwood fans will remember Powers's turn as Cy Tolliver, and he also acted alongside Paxton in Frailty four years before he gave this incredible monologue as Senator Roark in the 2005 vignette flick Sin City.
The aforementioned actors had most of the screen time in Tombstone, but there are tons of other talents featured in the film who would go on to have impressive careers: Billy Bob Thornton, Billy Zane, Jason Priestly (of Beverly Hills, 9021 fame), Michael Rooker, Thomas Haden Church (yes, of Sideways and Spider-Man Sandman fame), and Stephen Lang, just to name a few.
If you haven't seen the 1993 film or want to remind yourself of how awesome it is, Tombstone is currently streaming on MGM Plus and Hulu as part of a subscription with the application.