Silverado (1985): The Best Movie You Never Saw

We take a look at the classic 1985 western Silverado, starring Kevin Kline, Scott Glenn, Danny Glover and a young Kevin Costner.

Last Updated on March 15, 2024

Long before Kevin Costner ever set foot onto the Yellowstone Ranch or danced with wolves, he became a rising star with Lawrence Kasdan’s Silverado!

THE STORY: Fresh off a five year stint in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, Emmett (Scott Glenn), a cowboy, heads to a small town called Silverado to pick up his kind-hearted but deadly younger brother, Jake (Kevin Costner), picking up a gambler, Paden (Kevin Kline) and a black cowboy named Mal (Danny Glover) along the way. Once in Silverado, they realize the town is being ruled by Emmett’s old nemesis, who’s in-league with a former friend of Paden’s – the town sheriff – Cobb (Brian Dennehy). Eager to settle down, all four men find themselves challenged by the ruthless factions that run the town, and will have to unite to save the day.

THE PLAYERS: Starring: Kevin Kline, Scott Glenn, Kevin Costner, Danny Glover, John Cleese, Jeff Goldblum, Jeff Fahey, Rosanna Arquette, Linda Hunt & Brian Dennehy. Music by Bruce Broughton. Written by Lawrence Kasdan & Mark Kasdan. Directed by Lawrence Kasdan.

THE HISTORY: The spaghetti western movement of the late sixties was, arguably, the genre on its last legs. Throughout the seventies, unless it starred Clint Eastwood, westerns sank like a stone at the box office, but that didn’t mean Hollywood didn’t try to revive the genre. The Missouri Breaks enlisted Jack Nicholson and Marlon Brando, but the results were disastrous, and the SAME STUDIO made an even bigger western bomb a few years later, Heaven’s Gate, which almost killed the genre for good. Even Eastwood stopped making westerns.

“Westerns were very much out of style at that time and generally have had a very spotty commerical record since, with a few exceptions. But we wanted to remind people of the pleasures that we had had from westerns growing up…it’s a post-modern western in that its very much aware of it’s antecedents and tries to use them in ways that are fun and interesting.” – Lawrence Kasdan – “The Making of SILVERADO

Yet, in 1985, a mini-revival of sorts took place. Eastwood returned to the genre with his Pale Rider, while writer-director Lawrence Kasdan, riding high off the success of Body Heat and The Big Chill (not to mention his work on the screenplays for The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi and Raiders of the Lost Ark), made his own western epic. Very much in the mold of golden age, John Ford-era westerns, Silverado took the fun-loving, high adventure vibe Kasdan brought to his Lucasfilm classics, and adapted it to the genre, making a throughly entertaining oater that should have been a hit. Instead, it did very modest business, grossing $32 million on a $23 million budget – not a disaster, but not a hit either – unfortunately opening the same weekend as Back to the Future. Nowadays, it’s best remembered as Kevin Costner’s first big role.

WHY IT’S GREAT: Silverado is so much fun that it’s insane to think that the movie never spawned a western franchise that would have sustained a whole series of films. Kasdan should still be making Silverado adventures thirty years later. For one thing, this was Kasdan in his prime, so the writing and craftsmanship is right-on, right from the opening, which finds Scott Glenn’s Emmett descended upon by a gang of hired killers, who he makes short work of. After dispatching them, he opens the door to display the grandeur of John Bailey’s scope cinematography, leading us on an adventure that doesn’t let up for over two hours.

“That was written for me. I was doing a movie in Germany at the time that was… not my favorite. [Laughs.] And Larry Kasdan sent that script and said, “I hope you do this film. I wrote the part of Emmett for you.” And I literally led out a “yee-ha!” when I finished it. And I called up my agent, and I said, “Do not fuck this one up. I’m doing this. This is like… I mean, what a gift!” And the whole experience of working on that film was just phenomenal. It really was a great adventure.” – Scott Glenn – Random Roles– AV Club

Beautifully cast, Scott Glenn makes a case for himself as one of the great screen cowboys, playing the Henry Fonda-like Emmett, a moral, upstanding hero (a stark contrast to the Spaghetti Western anti-heroes that were more in-vogue) who can always be relied upon to do what’s right. He’s ably supported by an atypically cast Kevin Kline, as the smart-mouthed gambling man who’s constantly at war with his own good nature, making him the one with the real hero’s quest. Kline rarely did action, but he looked cool as a cowboy, and, like Glenn, seemed born for the role he wound up playing. Ditto Kevin Costner, who was actually cast in this by Kasdan as a way of making up for excising his role from The Big Chill (he’s the corpse being dressed in the first scene). What a favor he did for him, as you couldn’t pick a better star-making part than this, with Jake the live-wire young hero, with more energy than brains, but also a kindly nature that makes him easy to root for (he also gets the coolest antagonist – Jeff Fahey’s Tyree) It’s no wonder Silverado led to him being cast in The Untouchables, which instantly established him as a megastar. The western genre has been good to Kevin Costner, with him currently riding high on Yellowstone. Well, for now anyway.

The heroic foursome is rounded out by Danny Glover as a black cowboy (still a rare figure in American films) who winds up being the deadliest of them all, with him having a grudge against Jeff Goldblum’s diabolical card-sharp, leading to a cool moment of vengeance that, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised, must have paved the way for his eventual casting in Lethal Weapon. The supporting cast is just as strong, with Brian Dennehy an oddly likable villain (he kills a young(ish) Richard Jenkins early in the film), John Cleese, atypically cast as an old-west sheriff (and not half-bad), the always cool James Gammon, and more. Of the cast, only the female roles get short-shifted a bit, with it seeming like Rosanna Arquette’s role wound-up on the cutting room floor. Oh well.

“We developed a script for a sequel, but I gotta tell you, my heart was never in it. Despite having written THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and RETURN OF THE JEDI, I’m not the world’s greatest believer in sequels. I think you outta just make one good movie and move on.” – Lawrence Kasdan – “The Making of SILVERADO

One also needs to single out the amazing score by Bruce Broughton, with it helping make him the defacto western composer of his day (with Tombstone being another of his great western scores). Kasdan would eventually get a chance to return to the genre with star Kevin Costner in Wyatt Earp, but despite some good moments, it doesn’t hold a candle to the great Silverado.

SEE IT: Silverado is available to rent/buy on most digital services, and on Blu-ray/DVD with some good special features. If you’ve never seen this one but like the cast or genre, this is worthy of a blind buy.

PARTING SHOT: While it never spawned a franchise, Silverado remains a western classic just aching to be rediscovered, and hopefully those of you who haven’t seen it will give it a watch. It’s a real gem, and especially worth watching if you’re a newcomer to the charms of Yellowstone now that CBS is airing the first and second season in primetime.


About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.