Billy the Kid Week 2010: Young Guns turns 22 years old this month

Billy the Kid Week

Welcome to Day 4 of Billy the Kid Week. I’ve been reviewing Billy the Kid movies every day. Here are the previous days’ reviews:

Day 0: Young Guns II 20th birthday
Day 1: Howard Hughes’ The Outlaw
Day 2: The Left Handed Gun starring Paul Newman
Day 3: Sam Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid

Which now brings us to today’s movie review, Young Guns, which also celebrates its 22nd birthday today.

Young Guns movie ad

Young Guns was released on Aug 12, 1988.  I was fourteen years old.  I didn’t see it on the day of release, I saw it later that year.  I didn’t know that much about the movie going into it, only that it was a western starring Emilio Estevez.  I decided to see it on a lark towards the end of the movie’s run.

When I was done watching it, I was blown away.  I had no expectations going in so this movie blew me out of the back of the theater.  I loved it.  I was especially in love with Emilio’s portrayal of Billy the Kid.  He played the living sh*t out of that character.  Also, the movie was full of action and snappy dialogue.  I loved the movie so much I started reading everything I could get my hands on about Billy the Kid.  I checked out library books about real life gunslingers and started reading western fiction including titles like The First Fast Draw by Louis L’Amour and other Billy the Kid titles like Anything for Billy by Larry McMurtry.  It really shaped some of my interests during high school.  I was even Emilio Estevez’s version of Billy the Kid for Halloween one year.

Young Guns poster

So, for the 22nd anniversary I sat down with my wife and watched this movie for the first time in probably 9-10 years. It was the first time ever for my wife to watch it.  When I watched this movie last I remember thinking that I had started liking Young Guns II better, I thought it was more fun.  I remember thinking that Young Guns was a little more boring than I remembered.  Well, I’m here to say that my 10 years ago self was full of crap.  This movie is anything BUT boring.  I still love it.

Young Guns cast Young Guns cast

Everyone in this movie plays a great part.  Obviously, Estevez shines as Billy but Sheen and Sutherland also have great characters.  I was also surprised at the sheer number of famous faces in this movie.  I’d forgotten half of them.  Terence Stamp played John Tunstall.  Jack Palance was Murphy.  Terry O’Quinn (Lost’s John Locke) was Alex McSween.  Hell, even John Wayne’s son Patrick played the part of Pat Garrett.  This is a star studded affair.  But it wasn’t just the talent, it was the story.

Considering how much I’ve read up on Billy, I was also surprised to see how much the writer, John Fusco, took from the actual life of Billy and incorporated it into the fictional movie’s story.  Pretty much everything in the movie happened, however the events may have been out of order or dramatized for the sake of the movie.  Nearly every one of these characters were involved in the real Billy’s life at some point.  There are even two or three characters left out of the movie, but Fusco would include these missing characters in the sequel two years later. Also, several characters die in this movie that didn’t die at the same time in Billy’s real life. The character of Charlie Bowdre dies during the escape from the McSween house in this movie but in real life Bowdre wouldn’t die until the assault on Stinking Springs which is depicted in the second movie, when Doc Scurlock dies. No doubt this happened because Fusco didn’t expect to write a sequel to this first movie as it very clearly has an ending.

Billy and John Tunstall

This movie is just great.  It’s a fantastic fictional representation of Billy the Kid’s life with just enough real life history to make it interesting and just the right amount of action/dramatization to make it fun.  Emilio plays an incredibly likeable, yet also frustratingly single-minded and stubborn, Billy and the end of this movie makes me want to immediately watch Young Guns II to revisit these fun characters.

I’m glad I can highly recommend this movie 22 years after it first premiered.  I can’t say that about very many other movies.

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4 Responses to “Billy the Kid Week 2010: Young Guns turns 22 years old this month”

  1. What a great featured series, Pax!

    I had virtually forgotten what a great film Young Guns was, but after reading this article I’m dying to see it again. I also read the books of Louis L’Amour, whom my father of all people recommended to me when I was in middle school. I read a few of them, they were good but generally the same. Thanks for re-igniting the outlaw in me- yee-haa!

  2. I’ve never seen it. Did Steph like it?

    • Steph did like it, but she didn’t love it like I love it. She thought Emilio as Billy was a bit irritating, which is why I must divorce her. However she admitted that was a personal thing and that the dialogue was good and the movie was good, but not great.

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