The 14 Best Kevin Costner Movies, Ranked

You might not know this if you're under 25, but Kevin Costner was a huge movie star before he was the world's biggest TV star. Yep, before playing the borderline psychopathic patriarch John Dutton in Taylor Sheridan's insanely popular "Yellowstone," Costner starred in many of the 1980s and '90s' biggest movies. 

Costner first showed up on the silver screen in bit parts in the early 1980s. He started stealing scenes in supporting parts, quickly establishing himself as one of his era's most bankable "everyman" leading men, alongside Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, and Tom Hanks. Costner's legendary run as an A-list movie star included Academy Award winners, bonafide blockbusters, cinematic classics, and, yes, some of the biggest bombs of all time. I'm not going to talk (much) about those. Instead, I'm going to count down Costner's 14 best movies ever. If you're planning your own personal Costner movie marathon, check out this list.

14. Waterworld

Kicking things off with some Kevin Costner controversy. There are two types of people: Those who despise "Waterworld" and those who have actually seen it. "'Waterworld' is awful!" is one of the most well-established myths in pop culture, right next to "Marilyn Manson played Paul in 'The Wonder Years.'" It's also wrong. Yes, "Waterworld" has mediocre critical scores and bombed with $264 million worldwide on a $175 million budget. (Just don't say that around Costner.) You know what else? It's also extremely fun. Maybe I've been numbed by decades of paint-by-numbers IP churned out by corporate content factories, but "Waterworld" is a wild, wicked ride due for a reappraisal. 

Watching "Waterworld" leaves you wondering, "what were they thinking?" in the best way. No, it's not "so bad, it's good," it's just plain good. It's "Mad Max Beyond Seaworld," with Costner killing it as the stoic hero and Dennis Hopper chewing scenery like a sea urchin munching kelp. They just don't make movies like "Waterworld" anymore, probably because of "Waterworld." As fun as it is, "Waterworld" is far from perfect. Its reach often exceeds its grasp, while its impressive action scenes and ambitious storytelling are frequently marred by eye-rolling silliness. I'll defend putting "Waterworld" on my list, but it definitely belongs at the bottom. 

13. Fandango

While Kevin Costner is pretty much "America's Dad" in "Yellowstone" — which says frightening things about us, but whatever — we get to see Costner as a young whipper-snapper in "Fandango." (Which, before you ask, isn't about the internet ticket-buying service.) "Fandango" is Costner's first lead role, and he shows glimpses of the talent that would shoot him to superstardom just a few years later. It's always fun watching "before they were famous" movies after the fact, like watching high school highlight reels of pro athletes. It makes you wonder if people watching "Fandango" in 1985 thought, "That Kevin Costner kid is going places." 

In the film, Costner plays a recent college grad who takes a road trip with his buddies (played by Judd Nelson and Sam Robards) to the Rio Grande. Along the way, they do what young men do in movies set in the early 1970s; muse about girls, adulthood, and the Vietnam War. You can't ask for a better breakout role, but Costner still had a ways to go as a leading man. Besides, he does his best work in grown-up roles. "Fandango" is a good road trip film that's worth seeing once, but we've seen plenty of movies like this before. While I put it at the bottom of my list, it's still a must-see for Costner fans.

12. Silverado

Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood spent the 1960s and '70s deconstructing the Old West myth, while Eastwood put a bullet in it in 1992's "Unforgiven." In the middle comes 1985's "Silverado." Directed by "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Raiders of the Lost Ark" scribe Lawrence Kasdan, "Silverado" is a throwback to the rootin'-tootin' cowboy flicks of days gone by. No shades of gray or moral ambiguities here. The good guys are good and the bad guys are bad. 

Costner plays the youngest member of a group of cowboys — including Kevin Kline, Scott Glenn, and Danny Glover — who must save the town of Silverado from a crooked sheriff and greedy rancher. Basically like every other western from the 1940s-1950s. Y'know what ... so what? "Silverado" is a lot of fun to watch because you can tell everybody involved had a blast making it. Especially Costner, who nearly steals the show yee-hawing as the headstrong young buck with a heart of gold, but not a lick of sense. As fun as "Silverado" is, it didn't do for westerns what "Star Wars" did for sci-fi or "Indiana Jones" did for adventure. Unlike those two, "Silverado" is an entertaining movie, not a great one. While it's not Costner's best, and not even Costner's best western, "Silverado" is still well worth saddling up for.

11. Open Range

Kevin Costner's reputation as an actor and director took a major sock to the jaw with "The Postman." The 1997 post-apocalyptic pic was his biggest box office bomb by far, and made "Waterworld" look like "Titanic." It was six years before Costner was handed the director's chair again. For his third film, "Open Range," Costner wisely returned to his western roots (and the studio smartly capped the budget at $26 million). This was a good thing, as "Open Range" feels as comfy as a pair of old boots. 

The setup is simple: Robert Duvall (always a plus) and Costner are a pair of cattle drivers who have to rescue their fellow cowboy when he runs afoul of a wealthy landowner. Throw in Annette Bening for a gray romance with Costner and Michael Gambon in a very un-Dumbledore-like performance as the greedy landowner, and you've got a terrific western. Yes, the big-screen western is still mostly dead, and no, "Open Range" didn't save it. However, it sure does feel good to be back in the saddle. Unlike some westerns after "Unforgiven," Costner's film doesn't want to deconstruct the Old West — it just wants to tell a solid story in the west. While its story is far too familiar for the film to be a masterpiece, "Open Range" does make you wish Costner directed more movies like this. Better westerns came after it, and much better westerns came before it, but "Open Range" deserves a warm welcome from the genre's lovers.

10. Thirteen Days

Kevin Costner's career can be summed up by three words: cowboys, baseball, and Kennedy. Hey, the dude knows what he likes and what he's good at. "Thirteen Days" tells the harrowing story of the Cuban Missile Crisis from the frontlines of the men making the decisions in the Oval Office. Despite getting top billing, Costner plays the one participant you probably haven't heard of (unless you're a major JFK stan): Kenneth O'Donnell. 

The name of JFK's special assistant and appointments secretary may have been mostly lost to history, but "Thirteen Days" gives O'Donnell his due, showing the critical role he played in Kennedy's inner circle. However, "Thirteen Days" is an ensemble film, with each actor revealing the humanity of their historical character without ever descending into caricature. Truly, at times "Thirteen Days" feels like a play, with the confines of the Oval Office acting almost like a prison that nobody can escape. It's compelling, but troubling, to watch the fate of the world rest in just a few men's hands. Spoiler alert: The world didn't get blown up in 1962, but not due to a lack of trying. It's the skill of "Thirteen Days" and its actors that you're still held in edge-of-your-seat suspense when you already know the ending.

9. The Upside of Anger

"The Upside of Anger" really belongs on a "Best of Joan Allen" list, but it's still one of my favorite Kevin Costner movies. In the 2005 dramedy, Allen plays a well-off wife whose life falls into shambles when her husband seemingly abandons her and their four daughters for his much-younger secretary. You know, the classic bad dad move. Coming to her rescue is her next-door neighbor, played by Costner, who used to be a baseball player. 

As I said, this is more of an Allen movie, as she carries the film as a woman on the edge striving for grace under fire. Yet, Costner helps anchor the "suburban chick flick" with characteristic charisma and charm. Following the massive late-'90s failures of "The Postman" and "For Love of the Game" (where he also portrayed a baseball player), Costner mostly retreated to supporting actor status in the 2000s. It was the best thing for him. Whether lead or supporting, Costner thrives in "grownup" movies like this. "The Upside of Anger" is a hidden gem that deserves to be rediscovered. With a short, but sweet, runtime and commanded by high-caliber performances across the board, there is plenty of upside to watching "The Upside of Anger."

8. A Perfect World

Kevin Costner was the actor-director who won Oscars in 1991 for the western, "Dances with Wolves." Clint Eastwood was the actor-director who took home gold for 1992's western, "Unforgiven." The actor-director duo came together for 1993's "A Perfect World," a 1963-set western. The results are as impressive as you'd expect. Eastwood's film stars Costner as an escaped prisoner who kidnaps a boy and takes him hostage on a road trip across the American southwest, with Eastwood playing the Texas Ranger on his trail. Along the way, Costner's character forms a bond with the boy, while revealing there's more than meets the eye to this criminal.

"A Perfect World" was probably overshadowed by the far-better "man-on-the-run" movie from 1993, "The Fugitive," but it's a completely different movie. "The Fugitive" is pure suspense from start to finish, while "A Perfect World" is a deliberately paced, thoughtful meditation on manhood and justice. "A Perfect World" is not perfect, though its formulaic script is elevated by Eastwood's direction and Costner's performance, which makes you wish the two worked together more. It's neither man's best movie, but that says more about the quality of their respective filmographies than it does about "A Perfect World."

7. Hidden Figures

Costner's choices as a leading man have been, let's say, questionable: "Mr. Brooks." "Dragonfly." "The Postman." However, as a supporting character actor, his choices have been ...  also questionable. "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit." Seriously, Kevin? Still, it's movies like "Hidden Figures" that remind us what a great actor he can be. Ironically (and appropriately), it's Costner who's the hidden figure in "Hidden Figures." Instead, the focus is on the three leads — Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe — in this true story about the Black female NASA employees who helped get astronaut John Glenn into orbit. 

Costner plays Al Harrison, a fictional character who blends the real-life Space Task Group director Robert Gilruth and other members of NASA leadership. "Hidden Figures" could have very easily been a groan-inducing cheese-fest straight out of a Hallmark Original. However, the film never surrenders to saccharine sentiment or crowd-pleasing cliché but is genuinely moving and inspiring. What about Costner's performance? Sometimes the best acting is being generous to your fellow actors. Costner's performance honors the real-life figure(s) he plays, without ever getting in the way of the film's real stars. Easier said than done for an A-list actor, which is why one of Costner's smallest roles is in one of his best films.

6. No Way Out

Kevin Costner had a banner year in 1987. While 1985's "Fandango" and "Silverado" showed he had scene-stealing charisma, 1987's "The Untouchables" and "No Way Out" made him an A-list movie star. In "No Way Out," Costner plays a Navy officer who has an affair with the mistress (Sean Young) of the secretary of defense, played by Gene Hackman. When she's mysteriously murdered, Costner becomes a suspect and quickly finds there's ... "No Way Out!" 

But seriously, "No Way Out" is the kind of fast-paced, old-school thriller that Hollywood quit making long ago in favor of men in tights. This is too bad, as "No Way Out" boasts some of the best Tomatometer scores of Costner's career. As terrific as "No Way Out" is, it only succeeds thanks to Costner's career-making performance. What "Raiders of the Lost Ark" was to Harrison Ford, "Die Hard" was to Bruce Willis, and "Top Gun" was for Tom Cruise, "No Way Out" was to Costner. So why isn't it in my top five? Because, unlike those other career-making movies, "No Way Out" arguably isn't "essential viewing." Alas, "No Way Out" just hasn't captured a permanent place in our pop culture canon. "No Way Out" is a near-perfect suspense film, but my top five aren't just great flicks; they're must-watch movies.

5. The Untouchables

You know your filmography is strong when "The Untouchables" is only number five. Released in 1987, "The Untouchables" is based on the 1950s TV show of this same name, which itself was based (mostly) on the true-life story of Prohibition agent Eliot Ness. Costner stars as Ness, leading an all-star cast, including Andy Garcia, Robert De Niro, and Sean Connery, in an Oscar-winning supporting role. Connery got the gold and De Niro got to ham it up as Al Capone (his "I want him dead" monologue is the movie's most famous). However, these veteran thesps got to let it all hang out because Costner anchored the film. This feat is even more impressive considering this was Costner's first major lead role atop a big-budget studio programmer. 

Lesser would-be movie stars have sunk under that pressure, but Costner thrived in the spotlight. Being a movie star demands different skills than being a "great" actor. As the lead, Costner creates a hero you love to root for, holding you in suspense as the stakes grow ever higher. "The Untouchables" feels so much like a 1930s Warner Brothers gangster picture, you half expect to see Jimmy Cagney show up. Instead, you get some of the best actors of their era in a suspenseful drama, led by a commanding lead performance by Costner.

4. JFK

"JFK" is definitely an acquired taste. It's the Oliver Stoniest of Oliver Stone movies, which is saying something. Despite the title, this isn't a biopic of the former U.S. President, but a suspenseful investigation of his assassination. Costner plays a New Orleans DA who suspects foul play and starts to unravel a massive conspiracy. Okay, so I strongly recommend you don't use "JFK" as a primary source for your book report on the Kennedy Assassination, as it's less history and more History Channel. Seriously, the theories sound like something you'd see on a documentary airing at 2 a.m. or find in a paperback at your uncle's garage sale. 

Yet, it's a cinematic tour de force and a masterclass in frenetic filmmaking. No "point-and-shoot" for Mr. Stone, as the storytelling here is so fast and furious, it'd give Michael Bay motion sickness. "JFK" isn't style over substance, but style in service of substance. Stone's style creates a paranoid environment where nobody is safe, information is coming from all directions, and the moral lines are shades of solid gray. Whatever your opinion of the movie, there's no denying Costner is excellent. For one, he leads a stacked cast — Joe Pesci, Gary Oldman, Sissy Spacek, Tommy Lee Jones, Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Kevin Bacon, what?! But more importantly, his movie star presence and poise provide a source of stability to the utter insanity surrounding him. This may go on the bottom of your Costner list and I can respect that, but I'm putting it near the top of mine.

3. Dances With Wolves

Let's get this out of the way: No, "Dances With Wolves" arguably didn't deserve its Best Picture or Best Director Oscars in 1991. Those belonged to Martin Scorsese's "Goodfellas." However, it's a cinematic sin to dismiss "Dances With Wolves" for that reason. Or that it follows the "White Savior meets Noble Savage" template. Or that director Costner transforms his actor (also Costner) into such a living monument he'd make Mel Gibson in "Braveheart" blush. Man, I'm ragging on a movie in my top five, aren't I? Here's the thing: "Dances With Wolves" is Costner's triumph as a filmmaker for a reason. It's a sweeping, stirring, cinematic spectacle that highlights Costner's deftness as a director, his command as an actor, and his unbridled affection for his subject matter. 

Directing yourself is tough. Directing yourself in a three-hour epic that never surrenders to stodginess or pretension? Pert-near impossible. (And in his directorial debut, no less.) With "Dances With Wolves," Costner seeks to stake his claim beside giants of western cinema like John Ford, George Stevens, and Howard Hawks. While it doesn't land Costner in the Mount Rushmore (or Monument Valley) of great western directors, it's still rewarding to see a story told with such romance and reverence. "Dances With Wolves" probably didn't deserve its Oscar, but it does deserve reappraisal (which seems weird to say about a $424 million worldwide blockbuster, but whatever). Despite its detractors, "Dances With Wolves" is, emphatically, one of Costner's best movies.

2. Field of Dreams

"Build it and they will come" is a movie quote so famous you've probably heard your boss say it countless times to justify bad business decisions. It's also incorrect, as the actual quote is "If you build it, he will come," which landed #39 on the AFI 100 Years ... 100 Movie Quotes list. This is appropriate in a way, as "Field Of Dreams" is about the power of fable. The plot for Costner's classic baseball movie borders on Disney Channel schmaltz: Upon hearing the mysterious phrase above, an Iowa farmer builds a baseball diamond in his backyard, which draws the ghosts of long-gone baseball greats. 

That setup may make you want to gag, but the film will give you a lump in your throat. Like most of Costner's finest films, "Field Of Dreams" is a throwback to a simpler cinematic time. In this case, a Capraesque fantasy that's sweet and sentimental — without being saccharine — and sure to inspire even the most hardened cinematic cynic. It's this quality that landed it #28 on another AFI list, 100 Years ... 100 Cheers. While arguably not quite as stirring as Capra stalwarts Jimmy Stewart and Gary Cooper, Costner gives a genuine performance because he's not acting. He's simply bringing his real-life love of the game to the big screen. "Field Of Dreams" is undoubtedly one of the best baseball movies of all time, and deserves its spot as one of Kevin Costner's greatest films.

1. Bull Durham

"Baseball is a metaphor for life" is probably one of the most overused metaphors ever. Like, what does that even mean? Watch "Bull Durham" to find out. It makes you actually believe it. The 1988 romantic comedy stars Kevin Costner as a washed-up, minor league catcher who has to mentor a reckless, but talented, pitcher (Tim Robbins), with the guidance of a playful, poetry-loving groupie (Susan Sarandon). It's been said that the best sports movies are about the characters, not the sport itself. This is nonsense. Great sports movies know that their character's chosen sport is essential to understanding their personality. 

This is why "Bull Durham" belongs in the same conversation as "The Pride of the Yankees," "Rocky," and "Raging Bull." Yet unlike those, "Bull Durham" is also a hilarious look at love, with insights into the male-female relationship that are as pointed as "Annie Hall." Ron Shelton skillfully directed his own brilliant script, but it's the performances that make "Bull Durham" slide into first. Costner, Robbins, and especially Sarandon give it their all, with the kind of excellent comedic performances that should win Oscars (but never do). Most impressively, watching them trade witty banter straight out of a Howard Hawks screwball comedy convinces you that nobody else could play these parts. "Bull Durham" is one of the top sports movies ever, and my pick for Costner's greatest film.