Young Guns (film)

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Young Guns
Young Guns (1988 film) poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byChristopher Cain
Written byJohn Fusco
Produced byChristopher Cain
Joe Roth
CinematographyDean Semler
Edited byJack Hofstra
Music byAnthony Marinelli
Brian Banks
Distributed by20th Century Fox (North America)
Vestron Pictures (International)
Release date
  • August 12, 1988 (1988-08-12)
Running time
103 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$11 million[1]
Box office$56 million

Young Guns is a 1988 American biographical Western film directed by Christopher Cain and written by John Fusco. The film is the first to be produced by Morgan Creek Productions. The film stars Emilio Estevez, Kiefer Sutherland, Lou Diamond Phillips, Charlie Sheen, Dermot Mulroney, Casey Siemaszko, Terence Stamp, Terry O'Quinn, Brian Keith, a brief cameo by Tom Cruise, and Jack Palance.[1]

The film is a retelling of the adventures of Billy the Kid during the Lincoln County War, which took place in New Mexico during 1877–78. It was filmed in and around New Mexico. Historian Paul Hutton called Young Guns the most historically accurate of all Billy the Kid films as of June 1990.[2] It opened number one at the box office and eventually grossed $56 million against an $11 million budget. A sequel, Young Guns II, was released in August 1990.


John Tunstall (Stamp), an educated Englishman and cattle rancher in Lincoln County, New Mexico, hires wayward young gunmen to live and work on his ranch. Tunstall is in heavy competition with a well-connected Irishman named Lawrence Murphy (Palance), who owns a large ranch; their men clash on a regular basis. Tunstall recruits Billy (Estevez) and advises him to renounce violence, saying, "He who sows the wind will reap the whirlwind." Tensions escalate between the two camps, resulting in the murder of Tunstall. Billy, Doc Scurlock (Sutherland), Jose Chavez y Chavez (Phillips), Richard M. "Dick" Brewer (Sheen), "Dirty" Steve Stephens (Mulroney), and Charlie Bowdre (Siemaszko), consult their lawyer friend Alexander McSween (O'Quinn), who manages to get them deputized and given warrants for the arrest of Murphy's murderous henchmen.

Billy quickly challenges Dick's authority as leader, vowing revenge against Murphy and the men responsible for killing Tunstall. The men dub themselves The Regulators and arrest some of the murderers, but hot-headed Billy is unable to wait for justice. He guns down unarmed men and goes on to kill one of his fellow Regulators (later arrival J. McCloskey) in the paranoid (but correct) belief that he was still in league with Murphy. The men learn from a newspaper that they have been stripped of their badges. That same paper also confuses Dick for Billy, showing a picture of Dick labeled Billy the Kid, a nickname to which Billy takes an immediate liking.

While the local authorities begin their hunt for Billy and the boys, the Regulators argue about continuing with their warrants or to go on the run. One of the men on their list of warrants, Buckshot Roberts (Keith), tracks them down and barricades himself in an outhouse, and Dick dies in an intense shootout. Billy appoints himself as the new leader, the gang becomes famous, and the U.S. Army is charged with bringing them to justice under Murphy's corrupt political influence.

The gang eludes attention for some time, and Charlie gets married in Mexico. While attending the wedding, Billy meets Pat Garrett (Patrick Wayne), who is not yet a sheriff, but warns Billy of an attempt on Alex's life by Murphy's men that will happen the next day. Thus, the gang packs up and heads off to save Alex.

Back in Lincoln, Murphy's men, led by George W. Peppin, surround Alex's house, trapping the Regulators, and a shootout begins. A ceasefire is called for the night. In the morning, accompanied by Murphy, the army comes in and torches the house, but Chavez escapes out the back. While the house is burning, the men come up with an escape plan. They begin throwing Alex's possessions out the windows of the second floor. Billy places himself inside of a large trunk, and when it lands in front of the house, he leaps out and begins to open fire.

Meanwhile, Doc bursts out of the side stairway, followed by Charlie and Steve. Everyone makes it to the lawn, but Billy is shot twice in his arms. Charlie challenges the bounty hunter John Kinney (Allen Keller); Kinney shoots Charlie and Charlie fires back, killing each other.

Chavez comes from behind the army on horseback, and jumps the barricade to get extra horses to the Regulators. Billy jumps on one horse, but Doc is shot trying to get on another. Doc still manages to pick up his girlfriend Yen Sun (Alice Carter), Murphy's Chinese sex-slave, and they ride off. Chavez tries to get Steve on a horse, but is wounded and falls to the ground. Steve helps Chavez onto a horse, but is left alone and unarmed. The Army and Murphy's men shoot and kill Steve.

Alex cheers on the boys as they ride away. The army opens fire on him with a Gatling gun and he is killed. As the remaining men ride away, Murphy hurls threats and curses after them, but is stunned when Billy turns back and shoots Murphy right between the eyes, killing him.

The final scene is a voice-over of Doc explaining what happened afterwards: Alex's widow caused a congressional investigation into the Lincoln County War. Chavez took work at a farm in California. Doc moved east to New York and married Yen Sun, whom he had saved from Murphy. Billy continued to ride until he was found and shot dead by Pat Garrett. Billy was buried next to Charlie Bowdre at Fort Sumner. A stranger went to the grave of Billy the Kid late one night and made a carving in the headstone. The epitaph read only one word: "PALS".


In addition, Tom Cruise briefly appears in a nonspeaking role as one of Murphy's henchmen.[3][4][5]


Home media[edit]

The film was released on VHS on January 4, 1989 and on DVD on March 17, 1998 by Artisan Home Entertainment.[6]


Box office[edit]

The movie was a box-office hit,[7][8] and grossed $45.7 million in the US and Canada.[9] Internationally it grossed $11 million for a worldwide total of $56 million.[10]

Critical response[edit]

The film received mixed reviews from critics.[11][12][13] It holds a 42% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 38 reviews, with an average rating of 4.6/10 with the consensus: "Young Guns rounds up a posse of attractive young leads, but this cheerfully shallow Brat Pack western ultimately has too much hat and not enough cattle."[14] Metacritic gave the film a score of 50 based on 13 people, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[15] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A-" on an A+ to F scale.[16]

The movie was deemed closer to history in some ways than earlier cinematic incarnations of the Lincoln County War. The relationship between Tunstall and Murphy was particularly close to the historical reality (as it was in Chisum). The killings of Hill and McCloskey are also particularly close to the historical record as well. The portrayals of Josiah Gordon "Doc" Scurlock, Jose Chavez y Chavez, Richard "Dick" Brewer, and Charlie Bowdre, all of whom are not in earlier cinematic versions of the story are praised, whereas the absence of John Chisum is noticeable.[citation needed]


A sequel, titled Young Guns II, was released in 1990.


  1. ^ a b Chase, Donald (May 22, 1988). "Young Guns' Aridin' Thisaway". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on November 1, 2010. Retrieved December 5, 2010.
  2. ^ Hutton, Paul (June 1990). "Dreamscape Desperado". New Mexico Magazine (68): 44–57.
  3. ^ Unterberger, Andrew (June 9, 2016). "Kiefer Sutherland Talks Being a Young Gun in Country Music, Shares New 'Can't Stay Away'". Archived from the original on September 1, 2020. Retrieved November 21, 2020.
  4. ^ Boston, Beasley Media (June 21, 2019). "Kiefer Sutherland Recalls The Time He Shot Jon Bon Jovi". 105.7 WROR: 80s & More!. Retrieved September 13, 2022.
  5. ^ Lowery, Mike (January 18, 2021). "How Jon Bon Jovi's Young Guns II soundtrack came to be". MovieHole. Retrieved September 13, 2022.
  6. ^ Howard, Brendan (February 3, 2003). "Young Guns Special Edition Due April 22". Archived from the original on February 15, 2003. Retrieved September 27, 2019.
  7. ^ Voland, John (August 23, 1988). "WEEKEND BOX OFFICE: Freddy Shreds the Movie Competition". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on September 19, 2011. Retrieved December 7, 2010.
  8. ^ Easton, Nina J. (September 1, 1988). "Summer Box Office Heats Up Despite Higher Ticket Prices, Biggest-Grossing Season Since '84 Seen". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on July 9, 2012. Retrieved December 5, 2010.
  9. ^ Klady, Leonard (January 8, 1989). "Box Office Champs, Chumps : The hero of the bottom line was the 46-year-old 'Bambi'". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on March 26, 2013. Retrieved June 26, 2012.
  10. ^ "Morgan Creek Prods. Box Office". Variety. February 15, 1993. p. 46.
  11. ^ Wilmington, Michael (August 12, 1988). "MOVIE REVIEW : 'Young Guns' Breathes Life Into Old Genre". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on May 28, 2014. Retrieved June 5, 2010.
  12. ^ Maslin, Janet (August 12, 1988). "Review/Film; Hollywood's Youn Bloods in 'Youn Guns,' Tale of Outlawry". The New York Times. Archived from the original on May 12, 2015. Retrieved June 5, 2010.
  13. ^ "Young Guns". Washington Post. August 16, 1988. Archived from the original on November 30, 2017. Retrieved June 5, 2010.
  14. ^ "Young Guns (1988)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Archived from the original on November 30, 2017. Retrieved August 21, 2022.
  15. ^ "Young Guns Reviews". Metacritic. Archived from the original on March 9, 2021. Retrieved January 24, 2020.
  16. ^ "Home". CinemaScore. Retrieved September 7, 2022.

External links[edit]