Kevin Costner is one of the all-time great American actors. His style of acting is timeless in the eyes of his fans but he has fallen out of favour with critics in recent years, leaving him criminally under-cast .
Costner tends to play clear-cut heroes seeking justice, or reluctant heroes overcoming their personal flaws to make good.
He has had many great roles, all of a high and worthy standard and too many to list them all so here are 10 particularly exceptional examples of his best work.
10 Tin Cup – Roy McAvoy
Tin Cup’s (Shelton, 1996, US) Roy (Costner) is a talented golfer who could have gone pro but prefers to spend his time drinking and teaching golf to desperate housewives.
He gives a lesson to psychologist Molly (Rene Russo) but discovers she is dating his arch Golfing rival Simms. Roy enters the U.S. Open in an attempt to prove himself and win Molly’s heart.
Costner is the perfect romantic lead with his charming, nonchalant attitude. He and Russo have plenty of chemistry and know how to deliver a line.
Love rival Simms is sufficiently self-satisfied for us to root for Costner all the way to the final hole.
9 A Perfect World – Robert ‘Butch’ Haynes
Escaped convict Butch (Costner) kidnaps a young boy, Philip, to facilitate his getaway. On the run across Texas, they develop a father-son relationship and learn many things. Police chief Red (Eastwood) is in hot pursuit.
Costner and Eastwood are two sides of a coin yet come to realize that justice is not so clear-cut.
As Butch in A Perfect World (Eastwood, 1993, US) Costner is protective of Philip but struggles to tell the difference between right and wrong with tragic consequences.
Regardless of the overall quality of the movie, it is hard not to be brought to tears by Butch and Philips friendship.
8 Bull Durham – Crash Davis
Bull Durham (Shelton, 1988, US) is a romantic baseball movie. Crash (Costner) is teaching rookie ‘Nuke’ (Tim Robbins) how to improve his game.
Annie is teaching Nuke technique of another kind but quickly falls for the self-assured Crash, sparking a passionate love triangle.
Costner’s cute attitude helps to earn him his romantic leading man status. Costner and Sarandon’s relationship sets the screen on fire, possibly because Sarandon’s relationship with Robbins does the same. (The pair went on to date)
The trio makes a very convincing love triangle. Costner’s love of baseball also shines through in this role.
7 The War – Stephen Simmons
In The War (Avnet, 1994, US) Nam vet Stephen Simmons returns to his wife and kids a changed man. He suffers from mental health problems and finds it hard to hold down a job and support his family.
The Simmons kids deal with their dad’s withdrawal by re-enacting a War of their own over a tree house they have built with the other neighbourhood children.
Costner gives a subtle and convincing performance as a man doing his best under pressure. The War is really about the children’s experiences but Costner’s presence pervades the entire action.
He rebuilds his life through his kids, teaching them important lessons in this tearjerker.
6 Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves – Robin of Locksley
Prince of Thieves (Reynolds, 1991, US) is a classic retelling of Robin Hood except that half the cast, including Costner, have American accents and historical/geographical accuracy is sacrificed in the name of entertainment.
Costner is wise enough to take everything seriously except himself which is why the whole thing works.
There are two types of people; those who think Prince of Thieves is one of the greatest films of all time and those who are mistaken.
This film did for the historical action genre in the 90’s what Star Wars did for sci-fi in the 70’s paving the way for historical actioners like Braveheart.
5 Dances with Wolves – Lt Dunbar
Lt Dunbar (Costner) finds himself protecting a fort on the Western frontier alone. He has a few run-ins with the local Sioux tribe but uses diplomacy to integrate and work together with them.
Through a series of unfortunate circumstances the army mistake him for a deserter and threaten the tribe.
You will be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t agree that Dances with Wolves (Costner, 1990, US) was a groundbreaking classic, influencing modern ‘frontier’ movies like The Revenant.
It is Costner’s ability to bring lightness to the characters he plays that easily translates serious situations and themes across to a wider audience.
4 The Bodyguard – Frank Farmer
Bodyguard Farmer takes on superstar singer/actress Rachel Marron (Whitney Houston) as a client after she receives chilling death threats.
She initially objects to his approach as he turns her life upside-down but soon finds him a reassuring presence and they begin a love affair.
The Bodyguard (M. Jackson, 1992, US) is one of the all-time great romantic noir-thrillers.
Costner and Huston’s relationship in the film was an important step forward for onscreen diversity; their love faces many challenges but at no point is race the issue.
Costner plays Frank as a straight arrow bound to a code of ethics like the Samurai in the movies he watches.
3 Field of Dreams – Ray Kinsella
“If you build it he will come,” is the mysterious message Ray Kinsella hears spoken by a voice in his crop field after the death of his father.
The voice prompts Kinsella to cut down his corn and build a baseball pitch in its place. Kinsella must discover the purpose of his empty baseball field to save his farm from ruin.
Field of Dreams (P. A. Robinson, 1989, US) is a magical and heart-warming movie.
Costner is perfect as an everyman holding on to a crazy dream in the face of many pressures to give up and conform for the sake of financial stability.
2 The Untouchables – Eliot Ness
Costner is Eliot Ness, the Prohibition Agent who took on Al Capone and won. Corruption in the Chicago police department makes it impossible to get charged against Capone to stick.
Ness puts together a small team of ‘untouchable’ agents who are above corruption to take him on.
The Untouchables (De Palma, 1987, US) is one of the great American crime movies. As Ness, Costner is an honest man looking for redemption in a broken system.
Of course, Costner is perfect in the role of single-minded, unwavering and clean-cut Ness who finds that justice comes at a heavy price.
1 JFK – DA Jim Garrison
Costner is DA Jim Garrison, the man who investigated the Kennedy assassination after becoming suspicious of the Government’s official account of what happened.
Garrison attempts to unravel what he increasingly believes to be a conspiracy and cover-up.
In JFK (Stone, 1991, US) Costner’s personal likability undoubtedly lent an air of respectability to what the mainstream media saw as stretching believability.
His gravitas in the role led his courtroom scenes to become much quoted and often parodied in popular culture. (“Back, and to the left.”)
Thanks to interest generated by the film and a law passed by George Bush Sr. the Kennedy files are due for release in October 2017.
Do you agree with our list of Kevin Costner’s best movies? What are your favorites?