Kevin Costner Almost Killed Tombstone Before Production Could Even Begin

Multiple movies coming out in quick succession, dealing with similar subject matter, is nothing new in Hollywood. It's a phenomenon called Twin Films, and we're not referring to the shared filmography of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito. 

In 1964, both "Dr. Strangelove" and "Fail Safe" were released, dealing with the threat of nuclear war — though, obviously, one is a satire and the other is a straight drama. More than 30 years later, late '90s movies like "Volcano" and "Dante's Peak," "Armageddon" and "Deep Impact," and "Antz" and "A Bug's Life" carried on this tradition. But in the early '90s, there was a sudden rush to produce movies about legendary American lawman Wyatt Earp with the 1993 film "Tombstone" and, well, "Wyatt Earp," which came out the following year.

These days, the one most people tend to remember is "Tombstone," thanks largely to a scenery-chewing performance from Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday. But believe it or not, the project was nearly killed before it had a chance to get out of the gate. The reason? Kevin Costner.

Costner has never been a stranger to the Western genre, going back to movies like "Silverado" and "Dances With Wolves," and continuing today with his behemoth TV series "Yellowstone." So when he decided he wanted to make a movie about Wyatt Earp, it was a no-brainer. And given his Academy Award success, Western bonafides, and star power, it was only natural for anyone else thinking about doing the same to reconsider. After all, who could compete with Kevin Costner at that stage of his career? The answer, it turns out, was Kurt Russell.

The challenger becomes the champ by being quicker on the draw

Despite the longevity and praise that "Tombstone" has accrued over the years (thanks in large part to a constant presence on cable), "Wyatt Earp" was the film that was expected to be the definitive 1990s take on one of American history's most famous men. In a 1993 article published by Entertainment Weekly, "Tombstone" screenwriter Kevin Jarre was quoted as saying that Kevin Costner's movie was "an attempt to crush my picture." With Costner playing Earp, studios were unconvinced the folks working on "Tombstone" would be able to land a big enough star to make it a worthwhile endeavor. Luckily, a copy of the script found its way into the hands of Kurt Russell, and when he expressed interest in the film, everything fell into place.

Interestingly, Jarre had originally wanted someone else to play the role of Earp in his version of "Tombstone" — Costner himself. As he's quoted in the book "The Making of Tombstone:" 

"After [Kevin Costner] read the script, he called and respectfully declined. He said he had a mini-series he was developing for pay-per-view on the whole life of Earp and we left it at that."

Obviously, Costner's miniseries never came to fruition. Instead, the project was condensed down to a three hour movie. By halving the project, it essentially made the movie both overly long, but still without room to really explore the setting and characters in the same way that "Tombstone," a much less ambitious project, was afforded. By both hitting theaters first and creating a much cleaner, better-paced retelling of Earp's life, "Tombstone" has become a modern Western classic. "Wyatt Earp," on the other hand, has become, well, that other 1990s movie about Wyatt, Doc, and the O.K. Corral.