The film was made for television, prior to Kilmer's own rise to fame as an actor. While receiving little general attention, the TV-movie was acclaimed by fans of the western genre due to its comparative historical fidelity. Kilmer was praised for his portrayal based on his extensive work to not only physically resemble William Bonney as much as possible, but also to capture his personality as related in historical accounts. This contributed to the film being widely recognised as one of the most historically accurate "Billy the Kid" films ever made. Vidal said in his memoirs that he had written the original teleplay for The Left Handed Gun, starring Paul Newman as Billy the Kid, decades earlier, and always felt the studio had butchered the material when his television play was used as the basis for a theatrical movie, so he wanted to return to the story for a more accurate rendition.