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"It's getting dangerous to be poor in this country."
John L. Bridges

Heaven's Gate, starring Kris Kristofferson, Christopher Walken and Jeff Bridges, is best known as the film that destroyed the career of its director and writer Michael Cimino. Cimino went way over budget on the movie, and the movie itself did so poorly at the box office that the combined effect of the high budget and low income sent the studio (United Artists) into deep financial trouble. It saw a very limited release in 1980 before going wider in 1981. Some critics have suggested that the film's real problem was its "naturalistic" sound mixing, which caused a lot of important dialogue to be swamped by background noise.

The film itself tells the tale of two Wyoming men, Sheriff James Averill and gunslinger Nathan Champion. Averill's lawful duty is to keep the peace between immigrants and rich farmers, while Champion is the farmers' means of lethal property protection. Both are in love with the same woman, a madam who falls on the farmers' "hit list." As a result, they end up opposing the farmers and join the immigrants' side in the subsequent Johnson County War. Let's just say this battle is a long one.

Not to be confused with the infamous cult.


Tropes used in Heaven's Gate (film) include:
  • Creator Killer: Killed both Cimino's reputation and contributed to the collapse of United Artists.
  • The Danza: Jeff Bridges as John L. Bridges
  • Distant Finale: The last scene shows Averill on his yacht off the coast of Rhode Island 13 years later.
  • Doing It for the Art: One of the few examples that just wasn't worth it.
  • Downer Ending: The immigrants lose, and Ella, Nate, and Bridges die.
  • Epic Movie: Cimino clearly wanted this to be his Ben-Hur.
  • Executive Meddling: The only successful instance was the studio brass forcing Cimino to trim the film from its initial runtime of just over five hours to around three hours, forty-five minutes for its one-week run in New York. The theatrical cut ran about two-and-a-half-hours, and somehow managed to be far worse. (Today, the most frequently screened version is the three hour-plus cut.) All other attempts to enforce this trope were either considered, but later dropped, or rebuffed by Michael Cimino.
    • The studio brass did consider sacking Cimino and replace him with Norman Jewison (or even David Lean, as hinted in the Book "Final Cut"). However, Jewison wanted nothing to do with the film, so that never happened.
      • The theatrical cut is not quite an example of executive meddling...it was Cimino himself who asked that the film be withdrawn and re-edited after the disastrous New York opening.
  • Final Speech: Nathan Champion writes a letter containing this to his friends in a burning cabin. No need to guess what exactly is wrong with that.
    • Attacked by contemporary critics as unrealistic, ironically this is one of the few elements true to the historical events on which the film was loosely based.
  • Follow Up Failure: Keep in mind that Cimino had just won two Oscars out of the five for The Deer Hunter.
  • Genre Killer: Effectively destroyed the artistic credibility of The Western. In addition, this, and quite a few other films, marked the end of the "New Hollywood" era, causing studios to keep a much closer eye on directors to ensure they didn't go drastically over budget.
  • Leave the Camera Running: Constantly, and to a degree never seen before or since in the history of film. In particular, the original cut of the movie includes one long continuous battle sequence that lasts over an hour.
  • Magnum Opus Dissonance: Perhaps the definitive example; it's not only one of the biggest box office flops of all time, but widely considered one of the worst films of all time.
  • No Animals Were Harmed - Caused a huge stink that led to this being a required part of all movie end credits. The American Humane Association brought numerous cases against the movie asserting horses were mistreated, bled, and in one instance BLOWN UP ON CAMERA.
  • Oscar Bait: Oh yeah, after all that, it managed a single nomination for Art Direction.
  • Real Is Brown: Especially in some of the earlier scenes. Naturally this doesn't improve the quality of shots where the frame is dominated by dust and smoke.
  • Scenery Porn: The cinematography is lavish, but spoiled by the directly above-mentioned trope.
  • Shown Their Work: One of the reasons the film cost so much was that Cimino was obsessed with getting all the period details right.
    • In fact, a promotional tie-in with Kodak film quoted him as saying, "If you don't get it right, what's the point?"
    • Of course, this trope was so abundant that people refused to accept its little quirks as "real" at all. Cimino tended to abandon generic verisimilitude in favour of being "accurate", in turn ignoring a lot of things that people expect (or want) to see in a western. See Final Speech above for a good example, as well as the widespread criticism regarding the infamous roller skate dance scene.
  • Troubled Production: Originally budgeted at $11 million or so, events occurred that shot its budget up to around $35 million (although some claim it could be as high as $44 million!) Adjusting for inflation, that's over $100 million. For example, after an entire set of a town's main street was built to his exact specifications, Cimino decided that the street looked too narrow. He ordered the buildings on each side torn down and rebuilt three feet back from where they were, even after one crew member pointed out that it would be easier and cheaper to just tear one side down and rebuild it six feet back. The cost of this decision alone? $550,000. You know that something's wrong when, after six days of filming, the project's five days behind schedule.
    • Though as something of an exception, tensions reportedly weren't high on set at all and in fact a lot of people had good things to say about Cimino, some even commending him for his "artistic" efforts. Part of the problem however was that Cimino had closed sets off from the press. Eventually an undercover reporter wrote an article on how things were going having snuck in, choosing to paint a picture of chaos. Many consider the article a big Take That at Cimino that inevitably harmed the reputation of the film itself.
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