Despite being made in 1993, Tombstone has earned a place among the greatest westerns of all time. With a star-studded cast, a career-defining performance from Val Kilmer and perhaps the most accurate depiction of the O.K. Corral shootout ever committed to film, it’s a classic. The movie didn’t have an easy birth, though, and there’s plenty of on-set stories which would make even the most committed fan utter an “I’ll be damned” or two.
20. Richard Gere and Mickey Rourke could have been the leads
It’s hard to imagine Tombstone without Kurt Russell and Michael Biehn – two of the most iconic actors of their time – playing opposite each other as Earp and Ringo. The now iconic pairing almost didn’t happen, however, as Richard Gere and Mickey Rourke were both offered the respective roles but didn’t take them.
19. Robert Mitchum was meant to have been more than a narrator
Tombstone is narrated by film noir legend Robert Mitchum, but he was supposed to have been a lot more heavily involved in the production. Mitchum was initially cast as Old Man Clanton, an elderly casualty of the shootout, but he fell off his horse during shooting and was consequently unable to play the part.
18. The actors all grew their own mustaches
In the Old West, a fuzzy upper lip was pretty much commonplace, and Tombstone decided to do it authentically. All the actors’ mustaches were totally legit, which was probably easier to pull off for some actors than others. It’s hard to imagine Sam Elliott without one.
17. Kurt Russell turned his hand to directing
Originally, Kevin Jarre was the man who took on directing duties for Tombstone, as he had penned the script. But shortly after production began, Jarre was axed. George Cosmatos was then hired to finish the film, but Kurt Russell has since revealed that he did the lion’s share of the directing after Jarre left.
16. The film’s most famous line was really uttered
Shortly after the O.K. Corral is peppered with hot lead, one of the outlaws says to Doc Holiday, “I got you now, you son of a bitch!” And he responds, “You’re a daisy if you do.” That phrase was actually spoken at the real-life event and even made it into the local newspaper – The Arizona Weekly Citizen – when the fight was reported.
15. The actors had to suffer for their art
Authenticity was the name of the game when Tombstone was being shot. So much so, in fact, that the actors all had to be kitted out in era-appropriate wool outfits. But while the costumes were undoubtedly convincing, they weren’t exactly ideal in the roasting Arizona sun.
14. Willem Dafoe was too controversial to play Doc Holiday
Val Kilmer’s turn as Doc Holiday remains his most fondly remembered role, but Willem Dafoe was originally tipped for the part. Disney put a stop to that casting, however. The studio had agreed to put the film out through Buena Vista, but it wouldn’t go ahead if the star of The Last Temptation of Christ was involved.
13. Sylvester Stallone had a hand in the movie
Once Kevin Jarre was sacked, the search for a new director began. George Cosmatos had worked with Sylvester Stallone on Rambo: First Blood Part II, and it was Stallone who actually recommended him to Kurt Russell. It’s probably just as well Stallone didn’t put his own name forward.
12. Stephen Lang was drunk for much of the shooting
Stephen Lang played one of the more colorful characters in the film – the crazed, cowardly outlaw Ike Clanton. And if he seems drunk in many of his scenes, it’s because he allegedly was. According to Cosmatos, Lang spent much of his time on set under the influence. Perhaps he was method acting.
11. Val Kilmer shot his death scene on a bed of ice
Doc Holiday is stricken with tuberculosis for much of the film, and in the end, it ultimately claims his life. Acting this bit was especially challenging for Kilmer, however, and so he decided to try something a bit different to aid the scene’s authenticity. He lay atop a sheet of ice so that the cold would make him tremble and appear more uncomfortable. Now that’s commitment to the job.
10. Billy Bob Thornton improvised in his scene
The sheer volume of acting talent in Tombstone is mind-boggling. In fact, even massive actors like Charlton Heston and Billy Bob Thornton had bit parts. Thornton played an unpleasant card player, and his lines weren’t even scripted; instead, he was just instructed to act like a “bully.”
9. Kurt Russell whacked Sam Elliott’s head
After taking a bullet, Sam Elliott’s Virgil returns to the saloon, only to collapse from the pain. And in the film, you see Wyatt helping to place him on the ground. What you don’t see, however, is Russell accidentally whacking Elliot’s skull against the edge of the bar while he does it.
8. The climactic shootout happened almost exactly as it is shown
While the O.K. Corral is a well-documented piece of American history, another true-to-life gunfight made it into Tombstone. Earp’s face-off with Ringo’s outlaws at the creek near the film’s end really happened, although historians still debate whether or not Curly Bill did indeed die that day.
7. The film stars one of Wyatt Earp’s actual ancestors
The vast majority of what happens in Tombstone is based on fact, and nearly all the characters in the movie really existed. Wyatt Earp remains one of the most recognized names from the frontier days, and his legacy lives on today. But did you know that his real-life fifth cousin, Glen Wyatt Earp (who just goes by Wyatt Earp), actually appears in the film as Billy Claiborne? He’s one of the outlaws who can be seen at the O.K. Corral gun battle.
6. Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer bought each other presents after finishing the film
Russell and Kilmer became firm pals on the set of Tombstone, which likely came in handy since their characters were meant to have been pretty tight, too. In fact, the actors even exchanged some quite bizarre gifts at the end of filming – one bought the other a grave slot, and the other gifted him with some property in the real-life city of Tombstone.
5. The movie suffered some pretty major time constraints
Things weren’t exactly smooth after Jarre was sacked. The cast had only three months to finish the film after that, and a lot of footage was lost. Most of the actors had to sacrifice scenes, but it was necessary for the film to be finished on time, or at all.
4. The script rights originally belonged to Kevin Costner
Kevin Costner was the person who first wanted to make a new film about Wyatt Earp and Tombstone, and he originally had the rights to Jarre’s screenplay. In the end, however, he sold them on so that he could make the more historically accurate Wyatt Earp. More fool him.
3. A sex scene featuring Kurt Russell was cut from the film
The developing romance between Wyatt Earp and Josephine is one of the central plot lines in Tombstone, but there was originally a bit more to it. If you noticed that the horse-racing scene between the two characters ends somewhat abruptly, it’s because it was originally bookended with a sex scene.
2. Michael Biehn had a “face-off” with Charlton Heston
A great deal of footage had to be sacrificed so the film could be completed, much to the disappointment of the cast. For Michael Biehn, however, the most tragic loss was a scene in which he went, in his own words, “nose to nose” with the legendary Charlton Heston.
1. The card game in Doc Holiday’s death scene was Val Kilmer’s idea
Really, there was no better way for Wyatt Earp to say farewell to Doc than with a classic card game. However, this scene was originally scripted as a five-page monolog, but Kilmer couldn’t get through it without laughing. And so he suggested that Holiday and Earp should play cards instead, and the scene is far more moving for it.