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Young Guns (film)

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Young Guns
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 International Group (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 Western action film[2] directed and produced by Christopher Cain and written by John Fusco. The film dramatizes the adventures of Billy the Kid during the Lincoln County War, which took place in New Mexico in 1877–78. It stars Emilio Estevez as Billy, and Kiefer Sutherland, Lou Diamond Phillips, Charlie Sheen, Dermot Mulroney and Casey Siemaszko as the other Lincoln County Regulators. The supporting cast features Terence Stamp, Terry O'Quinn, Brian Keith, and Jack Palance.[1]

The first film to be produced by Morgan Creek Productions, Young Guns opened at number one at the US box office and eventually grossed $56 million against an $11-million budget. Because of the film’s cast, it is often associated with the “Brat Pack” set of 1980’s.[3] Historian Paul Hutton called Young Guns the most historically accurate of all Billy the Kid films as of June 1990.[4]

A sequel, Young Guns II, was released in August 1990, with the principal cast reprising their roles.


In 1870s Lincoln County, New Mexico, English cattleman John Tunstall hires a wayward young gunman named William “Billy the Kid” Bonney to join the "Regulators" who live and work on his ranch: Doc Scurlock, Jose Chavez y Chavez, Dick Brewer, "Dirty" Steve Stephens, and Charlie Bowdre. Tunstall tries to educate and civilize the young men in his employ, and clashes with rival rancher Lawrence Murphy, a well-connected Irishman in league with the corrupt House.

One of Murphy's hired hands, McCloskey, joins up with Tunstall, while Doc attempts to court Murphy's Chinese ward, Yen Sun. Murphy's men kill Tunstall, leading his lawyer friend Alexander McSween to arrange for the Regulators to be deputized and given warrants for the killers' arrest. Hotheaded Billy challenges Dick's authority as the group's foreman, as the Regulators attempt to take Murphy's henchmen in alive. Instead, Billy guns down several unarmed men, including McCloskey, whom he suspects of still working for Murphy. Newspapers paint the Regulators as a deadly gang headed by a larger-than-life outlaw, "Billy the Kid".

With bounty hunters seeking them all over the West and unsure where to go, Chavez leads the others on a peyote trip. One of the men on their warrants, Buckshot Roberts, tracks them down and a shootout ensues. Roberts barricades himself in an outhouse and kills Dick, and as a reaction, the rest of the Regulators shoot up the outhouse. This lead the others to go on the run, while an injured Doc goes his own way. Chavez reveals that Murphy's corruption led to the deaths of his mother and her Navajo tribe, and urges the others to abandon their need for bloodshed, but Billy takes charge as their new leader, determined to avenge Tunstall.

Doc visits Yen Sun before rejoining the gang, and they kill the corrupt Sheriff William J. Brady and his men. They meet with a furious Alex, who explains that their badges have been revoked. Though they are now wanted men, Billy insists that their actions will bring attention to Murphy's corruption. While Charlie revisits a brothel, Billy kills an arrogant bounty hunter, and the gang escapes to Mexico, where Charlie marries a local woman. Soon-to-be-sheriff Pat Garrett warns Billy that Murphy's men will make an attempt on Alex's life the following day.

At Alex's house in Lincoln, the gang is surrounded by Murphy's men and famed outlaw John Kinney. Realizing that they were lured into a trap, the Regulators survive an entire day's shootout. U.S. Army troops on the Houses take arrive, as does Murphy himself with Yen, who runs inside and is reunited with Doc. Murphy orders the soldiers to set fire to the house, while Alex's wife leaves unharmed and Chavez slips away. Trapped in the burning attic, the gang throws Alex's possessions out of the window, including a trunk with Billy inside, allowing him to surprise their attackers.

In the chaos, Chavez returns with their rescued horses, and Charlie and Kinney shoot each other dead. Doc and Yen ride away, and Steve gets a wounded Chavez onto the remaining horse to ride away at the cost of being gunned down himself. Alex is gunned down by a Gatling gun, and Billy escapes after shooting Murphy between the eyes. An epilogue from Doc reveals that Chavez took work at a farm in California, Doc moved east and married Yen Sun, Alex's widow became one of the most prominent cattlewomen of all time, and Murphy's ring of corruption collapsed. Billy continued to ride until he was killed by Garrett and buried next to Charlie at Fort Sumner, where someone later carved the epitaph: "PALS".


Other cast members include Danny Kamin as Sheriff William J. Brady; the corrupt Sheriff of Lincoln County on Murphy's payroll, Lisa Banes as Mallory, Pat Finn-Lee as Janey, Allen Keller as John Kinney, Victor Izay as Judge John B. Wilson, Craig Erickson as George Peppin, Jeremy Lepard as James Dolan, and Gary Kanin as Nathan Dudley.

In addition, Tom Cruise briefly appears in a nonspeaking cameo role as one of Murphy's henchmen that is shot and killed by Charlie during the climatic shootout.[5][6][7] Cruise made the appearance while visiting friends on the set.[8] Country musician Randy Travis has a cameo as a Gatling gunner.[8]


Screenwriter John Fusco developed an interest in Billy the Kid and the Lincoln County War while living in the American Southwest in the 1970’s.[8] He spent five months in New Mexico researching the incident and Billy’s life.[8] He first met director Christopher Cain on while working as a script doctor on his film The Principal. Cain committed to the project after reading just sixteen pages of Fusco’s first draft, and suggested Emilio Estevez for the leading role, following their collaboration on That Was Then... This Is Now.

Filming took place mainly on-location in Santa Fe County, New Mexico.[8] The town of Los Cerrillos was redressed to look like an 1870s Lincoln County.[8] Additional filming took place in Arizona.


James Horner, whom director Cain had previously worked with on The Stone Boy (1984) and Where the River Runs Black (1986), was originally hired as the film's composer. His score was rejected however, and was replaced by a new score composed by Brian Banks and Anthony Marinelli shortly before release.[8] Some early promotional materials still list Horner as the composer.

Historical accuracy[edit]

The movie was deemed closer to history in some ways than earlier cinematic incarnations of the Lincoln County War. New Mexico historian Paul Andrew Hutton called Young Guns the most historically accurate of all Billy the Kid films as of June 1990.[9]

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 (though the character does appear in the sequel).[citation needed]

Artistic licenses include the age of John Tunstall, who was 24-years old at death, but is played by then-49-year old Terence Stamp and is depicted as a father figure to the Regulators, when in fact he was only six years older than Billy. Doc Scurlock's romance with Yen Sun is completely fictional, the real Scurlock was married to a Hispanic woman named María Antonia Miguela Herrera before the Lincoln County War started,[10] and Murphy was not known to have a Chinese mistress.

The climactic siege at Alexander McSween's property is truncated for the film, the real event lasted five days while the film only shows two days. Lawrence Murphy is shown killed by Billy during the siege, when in fact he was not present for the battle, and died of cancer several months later.

The film cuts down the number of regulators from the historical eleven to six. The AFI Catalog notes that characteristics of Regulators John Middleton and Yginio Salazar are absorbed into the film’s depictions of Stephens and Chavez.[8]


Home media[edit]

The film was released on VHS by Vestron Home Video on January 4, 1989, and on DVD on March 17, 1998 by Artisan Home Entertainment.[11] This film was released on UMD for PlayStation Portable on October 10, 2005 .[12] On December 5, 2023, Lionsgate Home Video released the film in 4K in a standard edition as well as a Best Buy exclusive Steelbook. Both the standard and Steelbook releases contain two discs: the 4K Blu-ray, along with a remastered in 4K 1080p Blu-ray.


Box office[edit]

The movie was a box-office hit,[13][14] and grossed $45.7 million in the US and Canada.[15] Internationally it grossed $11 million for a worldwide total of $56 million.[16]

Critical response[edit]

The film received mixed reviews from critics.[17][18][19] It holds a 43% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 40 reviews, with an average rating of 4.7/10 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."[20] Metacritic gave the film a score of 50 based on 13 people, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[21] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A-" on an A+ to F scale.[22]


A sequel, titled Young Guns II, was released in 1990. The film focuses on Billy and the surviving Regulators time as outlaws between 1879 and his reported death in 1881. Principal cast members Estevez, Sutherland, and Phillips returned, as did writer John Fusco. William Petersen replaced Patrick Wayne as Pat Garrett. Other new cast members include Christian Slater, Alan Ruck, and James Coburn.

See also[edit]


  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. ^ "Young Guns". British Board of Film Classification.
  3. ^ "The 10 greatest Brat Pack films, from The Breakfast Club to Sixteen Candles". The Independent. June 6, 2020. Retrieved January 12, 2024.
  4. ^ Hutton, Paul (June 1990). "Dreamscape Desperado". New Mexico Magazine (68): 44–57.
  5. ^ Unterberger, Andrew (June 9, 2016). "Kiefer Sutherland Talks Being a Young Gun in Country Music, Shares New 'Can't Stay Away'". Spin. Archived from the original on September 1, 2020. Retrieved November 21, 2020.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ Lowery, Mike (January 18, 2021). "How Jon Bon Jovi's Young Guns II soundtrack came to be". MovieHole. Retrieved September 13, 2022.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h "Young Guns (1988)". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. Retrieved January 12, 2024.
  9. ^ Hutton, Paul (June 1990). "Dreamscape Desperado". New Mexico Magazine (68): 44–57.
  10. ^ "Doc Scurlock Black Sheep in Our Family". Scurlock Farms. October 8, 2016. Retrieved January 12, 2024.
  11. ^ Howard, Brendan (February 3, 2003). "Young Guns Special Edition Due April 22". hive4media.com. Archived from the original on February 15, 2003. Retrieved September 27, 2019.
  12. ^ "Young Guns UMD VIDEO". psp.ign.com. August 8, 2011. Archived from the original on August 23, 2006. Retrieved June 24, 2023.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ 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.
  16. ^ "Morgan Creek Prods. Box Office". Variety. February 15, 1993. p. 46.
  17. ^ 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.
  18. ^ 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.
  19. ^ "Young Guns". Washington Post. August 16, 1988. Archived from the original on November 30, 2017. Retrieved June 5, 2010.
  20. ^ "Young Guns (1988)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Archived from the original on November 30, 2017. Retrieved December 17, 2023.
  21. ^ "Young Guns Reviews". Metacritic. Archived from the original on March 9, 2021. Retrieved January 24, 2020.
  22. ^ "Home". CinemaScore. Retrieved September 7, 2022.

External links[edit]