Maverick (film)

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Maverick movie.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Richard Donner[1]
Produced by Bruce Davey
Richard Donner
Written by William Goldman
Based on Maverick
by Roy Huggins
Music by Randy Newman
Cinematography Vilmos Zsigmond
Edited by Stuart Baird
Mike Kelly
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date
  • May 20, 1994 (1994-05-20)
Running time
127 minutes[2]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $75 million[3]
Box office $183 million[4]

Maverick is a 1994 American Western comedy film directed by Richard Donner and written by William Goldman, based on the 1950s television series of the same name created by Roy Huggins. The film stars Mel Gibson as Bret Maverick, a card player and con artist collecting money to enter a high-stakes poker game. He is joined in his adventure by Annabelle Bransford (Jodie Foster), another con artist, and lawman Marshall Zane Cooper (James Garner). The supporting cast features Graham Greene, James Coburn, Alfred Molina and a large number of cameo appearances by Western film actors, country music stars and other actors.

The film received a favorable critical reception for its light-hearted charm, and was financially successful, earning over $180 million during its theatrical run. Costume designer April Ferry was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Costume Design.


The story, set in the American Old West, is a first-person account by wisecracking gambler Bret Maverick (Mel Gibson) of his misadventures on the way to a major five-card draw poker tournament. Besides wanting to win the tournament for the prize money, he also wants to prove, once and for all, that he is the best card player of his time.

Maverick rides into the fictional town of Crystal River intending to collect money owed to him, as he is $3,000 short of the tournament entry fee of $25,000. While in Crystal River, he encounters three people: an ill-tempered gambler named Angel (Alfred Molina), a young con artist calling herself Mrs. Annabelle Bransford (Jodie Foster), and lawman Marshal Zane Cooper (James Garner). The first two are also rival poker players.

Maverick, Bransford and Cooper share a stagecoach, the driver of which dies at the reins at full gallop. They later help a wagon train of migrant evangelist settlers who have been waylaid by ruffians. The settlers offer Maverick a percentage of the money they have collected to start a mission, but Maverick cannot bring himself to accept it. The three are later headed off by a troop of Indians led by Joseph (Graham Greene). Unknown to his companions, Joseph and Maverick are good friends, and Maverick allows himself to be "captured." Joseph is another one of his unreliable debtors, and in and around his tribal grounds they collaborate on a scheme to swindle a Russian Grand Duke, with Maverick collecting the $1,000 that Joseph owes him.

Angel receives a mysterious telegram ordering him to stop Maverick from reaching the tournament. He also learns that Maverick had conned him in Crystal River. Angel catches up with Maverick, beats him up, and attempts to hang him from a tree. Maverick escapes after the tree branch breaks under his weight, and makes it to the poker tournament aboard the paddle steamer Lauren Belle. Angel already has a seat in the game, while Cooper has been engaged to oversee its security. Learning that Bransford is still short $4,000 of the entry fee, and still being $2,000 short himself, Maverick finds the Grand Duke on board and cons him out of the money they both need.

After the others are eliminated, the four finalists are Maverick, Bransford, Angel, and Commodore Duvall (James Coburn), the boat's owner and the tournament organizer. Maverick almost fails to reach the final table by the 5:00 AM deadline, having had his stateroom door chained shut (by an unknown person) after a tryst with Bransford. The game proceeds, with Bransford the first eliminated. A "fixed" hand is dealt to the three remaining players: four eights to Duvall, a low straight flush to Angel, and Maverick needing either the nine of spades to complete a king high straight flush, or the ace of spades to complete an unbeatable royal flush. Noticing that the dealer has bottom-dealt to the other two on the discard, Maverick protests, then agrees to accept one card dealt by Angel from the top of the deck. Duvall and Angel each bet "all in," and Maverick calls without looking at his new card. When the three reveal their hands, that card turns out to be the ace of spades, giving Maverick the championship. An enraged Angel (who thinks Maverick cheated) draws his gun, but he and his stooges in the audience are gunned down by Cooper and Maverick.

Instead of presenting the $500,000 grand prize to Maverick, Cooper steals it and escapes from the boat; Maverick stops Duvall from shooting him. During a nighttime meeting in the woods, Cooper and Duvall discuss the scheme they have just carried out: Angel was working for Duvall, and Cooper's job was to steal the money and split it with Duvall and Angel if anyone except either of those two won the tournament. Duvall overpowers Cooper and prepares to shoot him, but they are interrupted by Maverick, who steals the money back and leaves them with a single gun to settle their argument. It turns out to be unloaded; Cooper beats up Duvall, but stops short of killing him and sets out after Maverick.

Later, in a bathhouse, Cooper catches up to a relaxing Maverick and briefly threatens to shoot him. The two then drop their pretense, acknowledging each other openly as father and son; they had in fact conspired all along to get the $500,000. As Cooper enjoys a bath of his own, Bransford enters and robs the two, having surmised the relationship from their similar mannerisms. After she escapes, Maverick tells Cooper that she only got half the money, the rest being hidden in his boots. He admits that he allowed Bransford to steal from him so that he can enjoy chasing her down to recover that money.


There are multiple cameo appearances in the film from Western actors, people who have formerly worked with Donner, Gibson, Foster, or Garner, and other celebrities including Danny Glover (uncredited), Hal Ketchum and Corey Feldman as bank robbers; Read Morgan and Steve Kahan as card dealers; Dub Taylor as a room clerk at the opening game;[5] Art LaFleur and Leo Gordon as poker players at Maverick's first game; Paul Brinegar as the stagecoach driver; Denver Pyle as a cheating old gambler;[5] Robert Fuller, Doug McClure, Henry Darrow, William Smith and Charles Dierkop as riverboat poker players; Dan Hedaya as Twitchy, another Riverboat poker player; William Marshall as a riverboat poker player defeated by Angel; Dennis Fimple as Stuttering, a player beaten by the Commodore; Bert Remsen as an elderly riverboat gambler beaten by Maverick;[5] and Margot Kidder as missionary Margaret Mary in an uncredited appearance.[6]

Leo Gordon had played a semi-regular supporting character in seasons one and two of the original Maverick TV show: gambler Big Mike McComb. Gordon also later wrote a few episodes of the show. Margot Kidder had been Garner's co-star in the short-lived western TV series Nichols. Danny Glover's cameo appearance references Donner's Lethal Weapon film series starring Glover and Gibson as cop partners. Their meeting in Maverick sees them share a moment of recognition,[7] and as he leaves, Glover says Roger Murtaugh's catchphrase: "I'm getting too old for this shit."

Country singers also cameo including Carlene Carter as a waitress, Waylon Jennings and Kathy Mattea as a gambling couple with concealed guns, Reba McEntire, Clint Black as a sweet-faced gambler thrown overboard for cheating, and Vince Gill and his then-wife Janis Gill as spectators.


The steamboat used in the film—dubbed the Lauren Belle—was the Portland, the last remaining sternwheel tugboat in the US; at the time it belonged to the Oregon Maritime Museum in Portland. Over several weeks, the boat was decorated to alter its appearance to resemble a Mississippi-style gambling boat, including the addition of two decorative chimneys.[8] In August 1993, the production requested permission to film scenes of the riverboat along the Columbia River in Washington State. The artificial smoke released by the boat's chimney was considered to violate air-quality laws in Washington and Oregon and required approval for the scenes before their scheduled filming date in September 1993.[9] After filming concluded, the decorations were removed and the boat was returned to its original state.[8]

In Five Screenplays with Essays, Goldman describes an earlier version of the script, in which Maverick explains he has a magic ability to call the card he needs out of the deck. Although he is not able to do so successfully, the old hermit he attempts to demonstrate it for tells him that he really does have the magic in him.[10] This scene was shot with Linda Hunt playing the hermit but it was felt it did not work on the context of the rest of the movie and was cut.[11]


The film has received generally favorable reviews.[7] The film garnered a 67% approval rating from 52 critics – an average rating of 6 out of 10 – on the review-aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes, which said, "It isn't terribly deep, but it's witty and undeniably charming, and the cast is obviously having fun."[12]

James Berardinelli, from, gave the film three and a half stars out of four. He stated, "The strength of Maverick is the ease with which it switches from comedy to action, and back's refreshing to find something that satisfies expectations."[13] Reviewing it for the Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert gave the film three stars out of a possible four, writing: "The first lighthearted, laugh-oriented family Western in a long time, and one of the nice things about it is, it doesn't feel the need to justify its existence. It acts like it's the most natural thing in the world to be a Western."[5]

Box office[edit]

The film earned $101,631,272 (55.5%) in North America and $81,400,000 (44.5%) elsewhere for a worldwide total of $183,031,272.[4] This gross made it the number 12 highest-grossing film in North America and the number 15 highest-grossing film worldwide of 1994. As of 2013, the film is the number 6 highest grossing Western film in North America.[4]

Pre-release tracking showed that the film would open strongly,.[7] During its opening weekend in North America, Maverick earned $17.2 million million from 2,537 theaters – an average of $6,798 per theater – ranking as the number 1 film of the weekend,[4] and took a total of $41.8 million over its first two weeks of release.[7]

The movie was a box office success as it grossed over $183 million worldwide.[14][15]


The soundtrack featured three chart singles: "Renegades, Rebels and Rogues" by Tracy Lawrence,[16] "A Good Run of Bad Luck" by Clint Black (which also appeared on his album No Time to Kill),[17] and "Something Already Gone" by Carlene Carter. Also included on the album was an all-star rendition of "Amazing Grace", from which all royalties were donated to the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation.[18]


  1. ^ Hall, Carla (May 15, 1994). "SUMMER SNEAKS '94 : Was, Is and Always a Maverick : His signatures are Rockford and Maverick--can anybody in Hollywood do cool and canny better than James Garner?". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 23, 2010. 
  2. ^ "Maverick". British Board of Film Classification. May 26, 1994. Retrieved August 31, 2012. 
  3. ^ Box Office Information for Maverick. The Wrap. Retrieved April 4, 2013.
  4. ^ a b c d "Maverick". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved August 31, 2012. 
  5. ^ a b c d Ebert, Roger (May 20, 1994). "Maverick". Chicago Sun-Times. Sun-Times Media Group. Retrieved September 3, 2012. 
  6. ^ Full Cast & Crew on IMDb (cited 9 April 2014)
  7. ^ a b c d Weinraub, Bernard (June 23, 1994). "At The `Maverick' Helm". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved September 2, 2012. 
  8. ^ a b "National Register of Historic Places Registration Form: Portland, Steam Tug" (pdf). National Park Service. June 25, 1997. Archived from the original on February 2, 2013. Retrieved February 1, 2013. 
  9. ^ "'Maverick' Scene Hinges On Approval". Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved October 24, 2010. 
  10. ^ Goldman, William (2000). William Goldman: Five Screenplays with Essays. Hal Leonard Corporation. pp. 474–479. ISBN 978-1-55783-362-4. 
  11. ^ Goldman, William, Which Lie Did I Tell?, Bloomsbury, 2000 p 68
  12. ^ "Maverick (1994)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved September 2, 2012. 
  13. ^ "James Berardinelli review of Maverick". Retrieved February 12, 2010. 
  14. ^ Fox, David J. (May 23, 1994). "Maverick Wins Big Pot at Box Office : Movies: An estimated $17.2-million take for the weekend is the biggest opening this year.". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 23, 2010. 
  15. ^ Fox, David J. (June 1, 1994). "Memorial Day Weekend Box Office : A Mighty Big Take at the Cash Register". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 23, 2010. 
  16. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2008). Hot Country Songs 1944 to 2008. Record Research, Inc. pp. 232–233. ISBN 0-89820-177-2. 
  17. ^ Whitburn, pp. 50-51
  18. ^ Maverick (CD booklet). Various artists. Atlantic Records. 1994. 82595. 

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