Dances with Wolves (1990)

PG-13 | 181 mins | Western | 21 November 1990

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HISTORY


       According to a 25 Mar 1991 NYT article, writer Michael Blake met producer Jim Wilson in 1977 at the University of California at Berkeley, where they both studied film. In 1983, the two collaborated on a direct-to-video release, Stacy’s Knights, which starred their friend, Kevin Costner, in one of his early roles. Over the next few years, Michael Blake struggled, writing something like fifteen unproduced screenplays until he came up with the idea for Dances with Wolves, inspired by his longtime interest in American Indian history, Dee Brown’s book Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (New York, 1971), and a true story about a real-life teamster who was sent to resupply a U.S. Army fort on the frontier only to find it abandoned. In 1986, Blake pitched the idea to Kevin Costner, who expressed interest in the story but suggested writing it as a novel instead of a screenplay to increase its chances of selling. Blake, who was living out of his car at the time, wrote the novel in nine months. However, he had a difficult time selling it and left Los Angeles for Bisbee, AZ, where he took a job as a dishwasher. Meanwhile, Wilson urged his contacts at the William Morris Agency to read Blake’s manuscript. A William Morris agent eventually agreed to represent Blake and the novel was sold to Fawcett Books for $6,500. Costner optioned film rights before the book’s release, and commissioned Blake, still living in Bisbee, to return to Los Angeles and adapt the novel into a screenplay. In 1988, Fawcett released Dances with Wolves in paperback, as stated in a ... More Less


       According to a 25 Mar 1991 NYT article, writer Michael Blake met producer Jim Wilson in 1977 at the University of California at Berkeley, where they both studied film. In 1983, the two collaborated on a direct-to-video release, Stacy’s Knights, which starred their friend, Kevin Costner, in one of his early roles. Over the next few years, Michael Blake struggled, writing something like fifteen unproduced screenplays until he came up with the idea for Dances with Wolves, inspired by his longtime interest in American Indian history, Dee Brown’s book Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (New York, 1971), and a true story about a real-life teamster who was sent to resupply a U.S. Army fort on the frontier only to find it abandoned. In 1986, Blake pitched the idea to Kevin Costner, who expressed interest in the story but suggested writing it as a novel instead of a screenplay to increase its chances of selling. Blake, who was living out of his car at the time, wrote the novel in nine months. However, he had a difficult time selling it and left Los Angeles for Bisbee, AZ, where he took a job as a dishwasher. Meanwhile, Wilson urged his contacts at the William Morris Agency to read Blake’s manuscript. A William Morris agent eventually agreed to represent Blake and the novel was sold to Fawcett Books for $6,500. Costner optioned film rights before the book’s release, and commissioned Blake, still living in Bisbee, to return to Los Angeles and adapt the novel into a screenplay. In 1988, Fawcett released Dances with Wolves in paperback, as stated in a 2 Feb 1991 LAT article, with an initial print run of 30,000 copies.
       Using $70,000 of their own money, Kevin Costner and Jim Wilson developed the project under their newly formed company, Tig Productions. Costner did not initially plan to direct, as stated in a 16 Aug 1989 Screen International article, but eventually took on the role as a first-time director. A 28 Oct 1990 LAT article stated that two major film studios turned down the project based on Costner’s insistence that a third of the dialogue be in the Lakota Sioux language, with subtitles in English, while the 2 Nov 1990 Austin American Statesman stated that three “near-deals” fell apart before Canadian film financier Jake Eberts joined the project as executive producer. Eberts reimbursed Costner’s “initial upfront investment” and helped acquire European funding through Majestic Pictures, which raised $9 million in foreign pre-sales. Meanwhile, the 19 Mar 1991 LAT reported that overseas distribution rights would be owned by Kevin Costner’s children in perpetuity. Although Island Pictures was originally set as domestic distributor, the company backed out, allowing Orion Pictures Corp. to come on board with a $10.5 million investment. Costner’s salary was said to be $3 million, $2.5 of which he contributed to the film’s budget. Costner later reported conflicting numbers in a 23 Jan 2011 LAT interview, stating that, in addition to the $9 million in foreign pre-sales, Orion provided $4 million, and Costner contributed $3 million toward a $16 million budget. Varying contemporary sources listed budgets ranging from $15-19 million.
       Although an 8 Jan 1989 LAT brief reported that principal photography would begin in Mexico in Mar 1989, filming did not take place in Mexico and the start date was pushed back to 17 or 18 Jul 1989, as noted in various sources including production notes in AMPAS library files, the 7 Jun 1989 HR and DV, and the 7 Jul 1989 HR. After scouting nine states from Canada to Mexico, filmmakers chose South Dakota, where production headquarters were set up in Rapid City. According to the 7 Jul 1989 HR, local stockbroker Guy Edwards claimed to have persuaded filmmakers to shoot in South Dakota instead of Valentine, NB. A 26 Oct 1990 HR item stated that Dances with Wolves contributed $10 million to the state’s economy, making it the largest feature film to be made there, to that time.
       Thousands of American Indian actors were auditioned for roles and roughly 150 Sioux from the Rosebud Reservation in Rosebud, SD, were hired as extras, as noted in the 28 Oct 1990 LAT. Filmmakers strove for authenticity, therefore no American Indian parts were played by white actors. Sioux costumes were made from real deerskin, while buffalo skin, feathers and beads were used to create accessories. Cathy Smith, a nineteenth-century plains Indian expert from Black Hills, SD, was brought in to consult on costumes and production design. One of the few inaccuracies portrayed in the film, as noted by actors Tantoo Cardinal and Rodney Grant, was a line of dialogue spoken by one of the Sioux children, who fears his father will “break a bow over his back” as a punishment. Cardinal and Grant emphasized that the Sioux Indians would never beat a child.
       In a 2 Dec 1990 NYT interview, actress Mary McDonnell stated that she sepnt a month on set before her scenes began filming. During that time, she spent several hours a day learning Lakota from instructor Doris Leader Charge, who also appeared in the film as “Pretty Shield.” Charge gave all Lakota-speaking cast members a three-week crash course in the language prior to the start of principal photography. She also translated the screenplay into Lakota, with Albert White Hat, a fellow instructor at the Rosebud Reservation’s Sinte Gleska College. Production notes stated that Charge and White Hat simplified the Lakota dialogue so that actors could more easily learn their lines. Charge stated in the Nov 1990 issue of Interview magazine that the American Indian actors were the hardest to teach, because the language had been forbidden by the U.S. government when they were school-aged and they had developed a “mental block” when it came to speaking their native tongue. According to a 26 Nov 1990 Newsweek item, Costner’s character, “Lieutenant John J. Dunbar,” used feminine Lakota words because he received language lessons from his female love interest, "Stands With A Fist." His way of speaking was apparently noted in a line of dialogue in which an elder tribesman tells Dunbar, “You speak funny.” Doris Leader Charge also served as an advisor during filming, showing filmmakers how to rig teepees and clarifying the rules of Indian etiquette.
       The 2 Nov 1990 Austin American Statesman stated that filming took place in twenty-seven South Dakota locations. The production required 300 horses, 250 American Indian actors, forty-eight speaking roles, 150 cavalry, and 3,500 buffalo, provided by the Triple U Ranch, which boasted the largest privately owned buffalo herd in the world. The ranch, located just west of Pierre, SD, served as the location for nearly half the film. In addition to Triple U’s buffalo, “Cody” and “Mammoth,” two tame buffalo owned by singer-songwriter Neil Young, were used to portray two buffalo hit by arrows during the hunt scene. Meanwhile, “articulated buffalo” made from wire and fur were used to depict buffalo that were trampled.
       Kevin Reynolds, who received “Special Thanks” in onscreen credits, directed second-unit footage according to a 26 Mar 1991 DV brief. After rumors spread that Reynolds came in to help Costner because he was “in over his head,” editor Neil Travis defended Costner, insisting that Reynolds never once directed an actor or a line of dialogue, and Costner storyboarded all of the second unit scenes he shot. According to different reports, the production went twenty-three to thirty days over schedule, and early snowfall necessitated the erection of a teepee inside a Quonset hut. A 26 Nov 1989 LAT item noted that the film had earned the nickname “Kevin’s Gate,” which referred to the notoriously problematic production of Heaven’s Gate (1981, see entry). Although filmmakers went over budget by roughly $1.8 million, costs were kept down by using non-union crewmembers, although some members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) union, including cinematographer Dean Semler and editor Neil Travis, were involved in the production. IATSE subsequently wrote a letter of complaint regarding Dances with Wolves, as stated in a 1 May 1991 DV item, but no further information about the complaint was found in AMPAS library files.
       In the 23 Jan 2011 LAT, Costner stated the picture entailed only one special-effects shot, in which animatronic buffalo were used to augment a scene depicting grazing buffalo.
       A five-hour rough-cut of the film was edited down to 181 minutes, as noted in a 30 Dec 1990 LAT article. Editor Neil Travis claimed the most difficult scene to cut was the “Broken Forest scene,” in which Dunbar and “Kicking Bird” ride through a beautiful forest filmed in the Grand Tetons of Wyoming, only to find an area littered with dead trees and animal carcasses left by white trappers.
       Sneak previews took place mid-May 1990 in Seattle, WA, and Phoenix, AZ, according to a 16 May 1990 DV item. The current edit, roughly ten minutes shorter than the final theatrical version, received a majority of “excellent” cards, as noted in the 29 May 1990 DV. Advance screenings were also held in Nov 1990, benefitting the Nature Conservancy, as noted in a 29 Oct 1990 Var brief. In addition, the 31 Oct 1990 HR stated that Costner would film public service announcements for the Nature Conservancy.
       Orion’s promotional campaign included “a considerable media commitment,” according to a 5 Nov 1990 Var brief, although the company would not disclose its advertising budget. In addition to a direct-mail campaign, radio advertisements in Lakota were aired on Native American radio stations, and Orion arranged a cross-promotion with the Discovery Channel series, Quest for America’s Frontier, which addressed topics raised by the film. Discovery and Orion co-sponsored a sweepstakes, which ran 12 Nov—6 Dec 1990 and awarded five Discovery Channel viewers a seven-day vacation touring Native American pueblos in the American Southwest. A 6 Dec 1990 HR item noted that The Making of Dances with Wolves, a documentary syndicated by Golden Gate Productions, aired on various television stations through the end of Dec 1990, and proved a “valuable marketing tool” for Orion, according to David Forbes, the company’s president of distribution.
       According to the 16 Aug 1989 Screen International, an Aug 1990 release was initially slated. However, the world premiere did not take place until 19 Oct 1990 in Washington, D.C., as noted in a 15 Oct 1990 Var brief. The event raised funds for the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of the Native American. Later, a 4 Nov 1990 Los Angeles premiere hosted by Costner’s then-wife, Cindy Costner, raised $500,000 for the charities Tripod and Futures for Children, as noted in a 6 Nov 1990 DV news item. Another benefit premiere took place in Rapid City, SD, on 18 Nov 1990, with proceeds going toward dropout prevention programs for at-risk youth in South Dakota, specifically American Indians.
       The film opened in limited release on 9 Nov 1990 in nine cities, including Los Angeles; Chicago, IL; San Francisco, CA; Toronto, Canada; Washington, D.C.; Seattle, WA; Dallas, TX; and New York City. A nationwide release followed on 21 Nov 1990, expanding to 750-800 screens, according to various contemporary sources including the 5 Nov 1990 HR.
       Both a critical and box-office success, Dances with Wolves marked the first time that a film starring Kevin Costner reached the $100 million mark in domestic box-office grosses, as stated in the 19 Mar 1991 LAT. On 8 Apr 1991, Var reported that the cumulative box-office earnings had reached $147 million, surpassing Platoon (1986, see entry) to become Orion’s highest-grossing film to that time. The 11 Feb 1991 DV stated that the earnings were even more impressive because the picture’s three-hour length limited its number of daily showings to three or four per day instead of five or six.
       Michael Blake went on to establish Seven Wolves Publishing, with the company’s first release set to be an unabridged, audiobook version of Dances with Wolves. The paperback was re-issued by Fawcett, with 800,000 copies printed, and an eighty-page book on the making of the film was released by Newmarket Press. A four-hour cut of the film was screened at a West End theater in London, England, according to a 20 Dec 1991 LAT item, which listed the following scenes as added material: the “Broken Forest” scene as detailed in the 30 Dec 1990 LAT ; the slaughter of buffalo by white hunters, which informs Dunbar’s decision to return to white society; additional scenes between Dunbar and Stands With A Fist, emphasizing their cultural gap; and scenes in which the Sioux appear more brutal. In 1993, the extended version of the film aired as a miniseries on ABC (American Broadcasting Company). An even longer, letterboxed director’s cut, with ten minutes of additional unseen footage, was set to be released on home video in late Aug 1994, as stated in a 10 Jun 1994 LAT article. The “Limited Collector’s Edition” video package would include The Making of Dances with Wolves, a “22-minute, behind-the-scenes, never-before-released video” (which may have been Golden Gate Productions’ syndicated version aired on television in 1990), and the Newmarket Press book, Dances with Wolves: The Illustrated Story of the Epic Film (New York, 1990).
       An 11 Feb 1991 LAT “Morning Report” column noted that an original script with Costner’s notes and a peace pipe used in the film sold at a Lake Tahoe, NV, celebrity auction for $6,000. Proceeds went toward the Starlight Foundation.
       On 8 Apr 1991, LAT announced that commercials for Ivar’s Restaurants and Seafood Bars were taken off the air at the insistence of Orion when the company discovered that Ivar’s had spoofed Dances with Wolves in its commercials and newspaper advertisements. The advertisements showed a Kevin Costner lookalike dancing with a man in a clam costume, and the commercial contained the following dialogue: “He is a newcomer. He has not yet learned our ways, but soon he will eat at Ivar’s.”
       Dances with Wolves received numerous accolades, including twelve Academy Award nominations. It received the following seven Academy Awards: Best Picture; Directing; Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium; Original Score; Cinematography; Film Editing; and Sound. The film received Golden Globe Awards for Best Motion Picture – Drama, Best Director, and Best Screenplay – Motion Picture, and the National Board of Review’s (NBR) Best Director award, as well as its D. W. Griffith Award for Best Picture. Michael Blake won the Writers Guild of America (WGA) Award for Best Screenplay Adaptation; Kevin Costner won the Directors Guild of America (DGA) Award for Best Director; Neil Travis won the American Cinema Editors (ACE) Award for Best Edited Feature Film; Dean Semler won the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) Best Cinematography Award; and the Producers Guild of America (PGA) gave Jim Wilson and Kevin Costner the Daryl F. Zanuck Producers of the Year Award. Costner also received a Special Silver Bear Award at the Berlin Film Festival, and was inducted into the South Dakota Hall of Fame. The Rosebud Sioux Tribal Nation adopted Costner, Jim Wilson, Mary McDonnell and Michael Blake for “outstanding representation of the Lakota Sioux Nation,” and presented the honor in a Hunka Ceremony performed outside the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., on 19 Oct 1990, as noted in a 15 Oct 1990 Var item. The film was named Best Movie at the National Cowboy Hall of Fame’s 30th Western Heritage Awards, as reported in a 1 Feb 1991 LAT brief, and listed as #75 on AFI’s 1998 “100 Years…100 Movies” list, and #59 on AFI’s “100 Years…100 Cheers” list released in 2006.
      The following written epilogue precedes end credits: “Thirteen years later, their homes destroyed, their buffalo gone, the last band of free Sioux submitted to white authority at Fort Robinson, Nebraska. The great horse culture of the plains was gone and the American frontier was soon to pass into history.” End credits include “Special Thanks” to: “The Spirited People of South Dakota who helped make this film possible; Roy Houck and Kay Ingles – Triple U Standing Butte Ranch; 777 Bison Ranch; Sioux Indian Nation; The Honorable Governor and Mrs. George S. Mickelson; Gary Keller and the South Dakota Film Commission; Black Hills National Forest; Homestake Mining Company; South Dakota Law Enforcement; South Dakota Department of Game, Fish & Parks; Badlands National Park; Indian Learning Center; Storm Mountain Center; South Dakota Job Services; Pierre and Rapid City Chambers of Commerce; Verendrye Museum; Institute of Range and the American Mustang; Mule Utility Vehicles by Kawasaki U.S.A.; West River Video Productions; and Kevin Reynolds.” End credits also include the statement, “Every effort was made to ensure the safety of all the animals depicted in the film. All the featured animals were trained and handled by professional animal specialists.”

              Foley mixer Tim Hoggatt’s name is misspelled “Tim Hoggat” in end credits. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Austin American Statesman
2 Nov 1990
Weekend, p. 14.
Daily Variety
27 Feb 1989.
---
Daily Variety
7 Jun 1989.
---
Daily Variety
16 May 1990.
---
Daily Variety
29 May 1990.
---
Daily Variety
5 Nov 1990
p. 2, 12.
Daily Variety
6 Nov 1990.
---
Daily Variety
11 Feb 1991.
---
Daily Variety
26 Mar 1991.
---
Daily Variety
1 May 1991
p. 1, 14.
Hollywood Reporter
7 Jun 1989.
---
Hollywood Reporter
7 Jul 1989.
---
Hollywood Reporter
5 Oct 1990.
---
Hollywood Reporter
26 Oct 1990.
---
Hollywood Reporter
31 Oct 1990.
---
Hollywood Reporter
31 Oct 1990
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
5 Nov 1990.
---
Hollywood Reporter
5 Nov 1990
p. 5, 34.
Hollywood Reporter
6 Dec 1990.
---
Interview
Nov 1990.
---
Los Angeles Times
8 Jan 1989
Calendar, p. 22.
Los Angeles Times
26 Nov 1989
Section O, p. 29.
Los Angeles Times
28 Oct 1990
Calendar, p. 5.
Los Angeles Times
9 Nov 1990
p. 1.
Los Angeles Times
30 Dec 1990
Calendar, p. 30.
Los Angeles Times
1 Feb 1991.
---
Los Angeles Times
2 Feb 1991
Calendar, p. 1.
Los Angeles Times
11 Feb 1991.
---
Los Angeles Times
19 Mar 1991
Calendar, p. 1, 5.
Los Angeles Times
8 Apr 1991
Calendar, p. 2.
Los Angeles Times
20 Dec 1991
Calendar, p. 30.
Los Angeles Times
10 Jun 1994
Calendar, p. 21.
Los Angeles Times
23 Jan 2011
Calendar, p. 3.
New York Times
9 Nov 1990
p. 1.
New York Times
2 Dec 1990
Section A, p. 26.
New York Times
25 Mar 1991
Section C, p. 13.
Newsweek
26 Nov 1990.
---
People
6 Aug 1990.
---
Screen International
16 Aug 1989.
---
Screen International
25 Nov 1989.
---
Variety
15 Oct 1990.
---
Variety
29 Oct 1990.
---
Variety
5 Nov 1990.
---
Variety
12 Nov 1990
p. 61.
Variety
4 Feb 1991.
---
Variety
8 Apr 1991.
---
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
An Orion® Pictures Release
Tig Productions Presents
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
2d 2d asst dir
DGA trainee
2d unit dir by
2d unit dir by
PRODUCERS
Prod
Line prod
Assoc prod
Exec prod
WRITER
Scr
based on his novel
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Still photog
Cam op
1st asst cam
1st asst cam
2d asst cam
Shotmaker op
Steadicam cine
Video playback op
Buffalo hunt cam crew
Buffalo hunt cam crew
Buffalo hunt cam crew
Buffalo hunt cam crew
Buffalo hunt cam crew
Buffalo hunt cam crew
Buffalo hunt cam crew
Buffalo hunt cam crew
2d unit dir of photog
2d unit dir of photog
Addl cam op
Asst cam
Asst cam
Asst cam
Asst cam
Gaffer
Best boy elec
Best boy grip
Dolly grip
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
Illustrator
Illustrator
FILM EDITORS
Apprentice ed
Negative cutter
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Set dresser
Set dresser
On set dresser
On set dresser
Swing gang foreman
Swing gang
Swing gang
Swing gang
Greens supv
Greens laborer
Greens laborer
Standby greens
Prop master
Asst prop master
2d asst propmaster
2d asst propmaster
Props asst
Model maker
Const coord
Const foreman
Const foreman
Shop foreman
Crew boss
Foreman - Fort Hayes
Foreman - Fort Hayes
Local foreman
Local foreman
Mill man
Labor foreman
Carpenter
Carpenter
Carpenter
Standby carpenter
Standby carpenter
Head scenic painter
Lead painter
Scenic painter
Scenic painter
Standby scenic painter
COSTUMES
Cost des
Set costumer
Cost const
Cost supv
Asst cost supv
Cost asst
MUSIC
Mus comp and cond
Mus supv
Mus ed
Mus scoring mixer
Scoring rec
Addl mus "Fire Dance"
Traditional mus by
SOUND
Prod sd mixer
Prod sd mixer
Boom op
Cableman
Sd ed
Supv sd ed
Supv sd ed
Sd ed
Sd ed
Sd ed
Supv ADR ed
ADR ed
Asst ADR ed
Group ADR coord
ADR mixer
Foley artist
Foley artist
Foley mixer
Foley ed
Foley ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Supv re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
VISUAL EFFECTS
Chief spec eff
1st asst spec eff
Spec eff asst
Spec eff asst
Mechanical animal eff created by
Buffalo eff supv
Buffalo eff supv
Buffalo eff supv
Buffalo eff supv
Matte painting crew
Matte painting crew
Matte cam crew
Matte cam crew
Main title artwork
Titles and opt eff by
Title des
Title des
MAKEUP
Chief makeup
Key makeup
1st asst makeup
Asst makeup
Asst makeup
Asst makeup
Asst makeup
Chief hairstylist
Key hairstylist
Hairstylist
Asst hairstylist
Asst hairstylist
Asst hairstylist
Asst hairstylist
Asst hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Asst to Kevin Costner
Asst to Kevin Costner
Staff asst
Staff asst
Scr supv
Prod coord
Prod secy
Asst prod coord
2d unit scr supv
Loc mgr
Asst loc mgr
Asst loc mgr
Wagon master
Head wrangler/Trainer
Wrangler
Wrangler
Wrangler
Wrangler
Wrangler
Wrangler
Small animal wrangler
Small animal wrangler
Wolf trainer
Wolf trainer
Addl wolf trainer
Addl wolf trainer, "Living Legends"
Addl wolf trainer, "Living Legends"
Bison consultant
Bison consultant
Casting asst
Extras casting
Extras casting asst
Extras casting asst
Historic re-enactment coord
Transportation coord
Transportation capt
Transportation co-capt
Unit pub
International pub
Prod accountant
Asst accountant
Asst accountant
Post prod accounting
Post prod accounting
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Craft service
Craft service
Craft service
First aid
First aid
Lakota translator/Dial coach
Lakota translator/Dial coach
Video documentarian
Tech adv
Tech adv
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Helicopter pilot
Completion guarantee provided by
STAND INS
Stunt coord
Stuntman
Stuntman
Stuntman
Stuntman
Stuntman
Stuntman
Stuntman
Stuntman
Stuntman
Stuntman
Stuntman
Stuntman
Stuntman
Stuntman
Stuntman
Stuntman
Stuntman
Buffalo hunting stunts
Buffalo hunting stunts
Buffalo hunting stunts
Buffalo hunting stunts
Buffalo hunting stunts
Buffalo hunting stunts
Buffalo hunting stunts
Buffalo hunting stunts
Buffalo hunting stunts
Buffalo hunting stunts
Stunt double for Mr. Costner
Stand-in
Stand-in
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col by
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel Dances with Wolves by Michael Blake (New York, 1988).
AUTHOR
DETAILS
Release Date:
21 November 1990
Premiere Information:
Washington, D.C. premiere: 19 October 1990
Los Angeles premiere: 4 November 1990
Los Angeles and New York openings: 9 November 1990
Production Date:
17 or 18 July--21 or 23 November 1989
Copyright Claimant:
TIG Productions, Inc.
Copyright Date:
6 December 1990
Copyright Number:
PA488872
Physical Properties:
Sound
Spectral Recording Dolby Stereo SR™ in selected theatres
Color
Lenses
Filmed in Panavision®
Duration(in mins):
181
MPAA Rating:
PG-13
Countries:
United Kingdom, United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
30300
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In 1863 Tennessee, wounded Union Army Lieutenant John J. Dunbar overhears that his foot is about to be amputated and escapes the hospital tent. He returns to the battlefield, where Union soldiers have reached a stalemate with the Confederates. Mounting a horse named Cisco, Dunbar embarks on a suicide mission by riding along the Confederate front lines. The enemy soldiers shoot at him, but he survives. While the Confederates are distracted, the Union soldiers attack and put the Confederates to rout. For his heroism, Dunbar is decorated and awarded the horse. He also receives the medical treatment necessary to save his foot. Given the choice of any post, Dunbar opts for the western frontier. A crass wagon driver named Timmons leads him to the remote post of Ft. Sedgwick, where he is to report to Captain Cargill. However, they find the post abandoned and in disrepair. Although Timmons does not want to abandon him, Dunbar insists on staying there alone. He spends his days cleaning up the fort, writing in his journal, and admiring the beautiful terrain. Soon after, Pawnee Indians see Timmons traveling on his own and kill him. Nearly a month passes with no sign of Cargill. A wolf with white paws begins to make regular visits to the fort and Dunbar names it “Two Socks.” One day, Dunbar returns from bathing in the river to find “Kicking Bird,” a Sioux Indian, inspecting the fort. Dunbar approaches, and Kicking Bird retreats in fear. Dunbar writes about the encounter in his journal, and decides to bury his armaments so they do not fall into enemy hands. Back at the Sioux village, Kicking Bird discusses Dunbar with the ... +


In 1863 Tennessee, wounded Union Army Lieutenant John J. Dunbar overhears that his foot is about to be amputated and escapes the hospital tent. He returns to the battlefield, where Union soldiers have reached a stalemate with the Confederates. Mounting a horse named Cisco, Dunbar embarks on a suicide mission by riding along the Confederate front lines. The enemy soldiers shoot at him, but he survives. While the Confederates are distracted, the Union soldiers attack and put the Confederates to rout. For his heroism, Dunbar is decorated and awarded the horse. He also receives the medical treatment necessary to save his foot. Given the choice of any post, Dunbar opts for the western frontier. A crass wagon driver named Timmons leads him to the remote post of Ft. Sedgwick, where he is to report to Captain Cargill. However, they find the post abandoned and in disrepair. Although Timmons does not want to abandon him, Dunbar insists on staying there alone. He spends his days cleaning up the fort, writing in his journal, and admiring the beautiful terrain. Soon after, Pawnee Indians see Timmons traveling on his own and kill him. Nearly a month passes with no sign of Cargill. A wolf with white paws begins to make regular visits to the fort and Dunbar names it “Two Socks.” One day, Dunbar returns from bathing in the river to find “Kicking Bird,” a Sioux Indian, inspecting the fort. Dunbar approaches, and Kicking Bird retreats in fear. Dunbar writes about the encounter in his journal, and decides to bury his armaments so they do not fall into enemy hands. Back at the Sioux village, Kicking Bird discusses Dunbar with the tribe in Lakota, their native language. Although a younger Indian named “Wind In His Hair” denounces all white men and doubts Dunbar’s ability to survive on his own, Kicking Bird is impressed by Dunbar’s independence and believes he might be peaceable. Wind In His Hair leads a group of Sioux to steal Cisco, but the horse breaks free and returns to Ft. Sedgwick. Dunbar dons his army uniform and sets out to visit the Sioux village. On the way, he comes upon a white woman in Sioux garb, who is bleeding from a self-inflicted wound. The woman screams when she sees Dunbar, but passes out. He takes her back to the village and tells the Sioux, “She’s hurt,” but they do not understand. Wind In His Hair takes the woman, and Kicking Bird discourages other Sioux from attacking, promising that Dunbar did not come to fight. Later, at the behest of their chief, “Ten Bears,” Kicking Bird and Wind In His Hair make the first of many friendly visits to Ft. Sedgwick. Dunbar gives them coffee and sugar, and attempts to communicate using gestures. He learns they are in search of buffalo, but assures them he has not seen any. Kicking Bird asks Stands With A Fist, the white woman Dunbar rescued, to act as translator, but she claims the white man’s language has died inside her. She recalls her childhood on the frontier, when she narrowly escaped an Indian attack on her family. After Kicking Bird and Wind In His Hair deliver a buffalo hide to Dunbar, the soldier writes in his journal that Indians are nothing like the negative stereotypes perpetuated by white people. He is invited to the Sioux village, where Kicking Bird offers him a pipe inside his teepee. Stands With A Fist appears and uses broken English to translate their conversation. Dunbar is not surprised to learn that Kicking Bird is a holy man. Back at Ft. Sedgwick, he awakens to the thunderous sound of a buffalo stampede. He rides to the Sioux village to inform them, then joins in their buffalo hunt. They come upon a field of slain buffalo, killed only for their hides. The Indians lament the wasted animals, and Dunbar feels guilty knowing white hunters must be the culprits. When they catch up to the herd, the Sioux use arrows to kill buffalo, while Dunbar uses his rifle. “Smiles A Lot,” a younger Sioux boy, is knocked off his horse and nearly killed by a buffalo, but Dunbar shoots the animal just in time. The Sioux celebrate the hunt with an all-night party. Wind In His Hair trades his breastplate for Dunbar’s army jacket, and Dunbar proudly wears the traditional garb. He is dropped back off at Ft. Sedgwick, where Two Socks awaits him, but he soon becomes lonely without the Sioux. Three days later, he sets out for an unannounced visit to the village. Two Socks follows, prompting Dunbar to chase the animal away. On their way to visit Dunbar at the same time, a group of Sioux observe as Dunbar and Two Socks run in circles in a field. They offer him his own teepee at the village, and Dunbar settles in there. Kicking Bird asks how many white people are coming, but Dunbar cannot bring himself to admit that the Sioux will soon be outnumbered. A war party is assembled to fight the Pawnee Indians, enemies of the Sioux. Dunbar asks to fight, but Kicking Bird wants him to stay behind and watch over his family. Dunbar agrees, and Kicking Bird calls him by his new name, “Dances With Wolves.” Dunbar learns how to say the name in Lakota, and uses it to identify himself henceforward. While the war party is away, Dances With Wolves and Stands With a Fist get to know each other over language lessons. Stands With A Fist reveals how she came to live with the Sioux at a young age. Dunbar asks why she is not married, but she refuses to answer. He learns from an elder that her husband was killed recently, and Stands With A Fist will be in mourning until Kicking Bird, who rescued her as a young girl, decides she is ready to move on. Later, Stands With A Fist is dismayed to find Dunbar has returned to Ft. Sedgwick. There, he sketches her in his journal and writes that he loves her. Dunbar finally coaxes Two Socks to eat out of his hand, just before Stands With A Fist appears. She kisses him and says they must be careful not to get caught before she is out of mourning. They return to the village and make love in his teepee that night. They are interrupted by a commotion outside. Dunbar learns that the Pawnee are headed to the village, so he retreats to Ft. Sedgwick to retrieve his store of guns. Armed with U.S. army rifles, the Sioux easily defeat the Pawnee. At the urging of his wife, “Black Shawl,” Kicking Bird tells Stands With A Fist that her mourning period is over and officiates her wedding to Dances With Wolves. Dunbar finally reveals to Kicking Bird that droves of white people are bound to overtake the land. The Sioux chief, Ten Bears, says they will continue to fight for their territory, just as they have throughout history. The next day, they migrate to their winter camp. Dances With Wolves returns to Ft. Sedgwick to retrieve his journal, concerned that it may tip off the soldiers to his whereabouts, but he is discovered by Union Lieutenant Elgin’s command and taken prisoner. Accused of treason, Dances With Wolves is severely beaten and sentenced to hanging at Ft. Hayes. Wind In His Hair leads a group to rescue Dances With Wolves. Two Socks follows the soldiers’ trail, as well, but the animal is brutally shot by Dances With Wolves’s captors. At a river crossing, the Sioux attack Lt. Elgin and his men, killing the soldiers and rescuing Dances With Wolves. They arrive at the Sioux winter camp, where Stands With A Fist embraces her husband, and they fall into the snow together. Dances With Wolves informs Ten Bears that the soldiers will continue to search for him now that he is a confirmed traitor. He needs to leave the Sioux and suggests that they move their camp as well. Before he and Stands With A Fist leave, Dances With Wolves receives a gift from Kicking Bird, who observes that they have come a long way. Smiles A Lot surprises Dances With Wolves with his journal, which he retrieved during the skirmish with Lt. Elgin’s men. As U.S. soldiers search the mountains, Dances With Wolves and Stands With A Fist ride away. Watching the couple go, Wind In His Hair calls out that he will always be a friend to Dances With Wolves. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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