Kevin Costner’s $100 Million Western Film Looks Like an Even Bigger Gamble After New Revelations

Kevin Costner’s upcoming Western film, Horizon: An American Saga, was already a risky project, but a new reveal has only made it more audacious. Costner originally planned the story for Horizon in the late 1980s, when he was arguably at the height of his commercial success. In the early 1990s, Costner directed and starred in Dances with Wolves, one of the best Western films ever made, which won Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Over three decades later, Costner has finally made progress with Horizon.

The 69-year-old actor has done something few movie stars have: resurface as a popular icon late in their careers. Costner’s role in the Western television drama Yellowstone reintroduced him to the genre, with the popular series demonstrating that there is still a large market for well-made Western epics. Taking advantage of his newfound fame, he’s finally completing his 30-year dream project as producer, director, and lead actor. Costner still had to invest his own money in Horizon to make the film, so he is taking on a significant amount of personal risk.

Horizon’s three-hour runtime is a huge gamble for Kevin Costner

Horizon: An American Saga has a risky release schedule to begin with, with the film debuting on June 28 and a sequel following shortly thereafter on August 16. After the first two Horizon films, Costner intends to make more, but he will need to raise funds based on their commercial success. The combined budget for the first two films is $100 million, which is a reasonable amount to make back, but it will most likely rely on rave reviews to bring people to the theaters.

According to Deadline, Horizon is a “3-hour Western,” which raises the stakes because audiences will now have to commit to an epic-length timeframe for a genre that hasn’t been particularly successful in recent years. Of course, 2023’s Oppenheimer serves as precedent for Horizon, and there have been plenty of other box office hits that last longer than three hours, but it will have to be a one-of-a-kind film to generate buzz. The unique release format could be appealing as a summer event movie in 2024, similar to “Barbenheimer” in 2023, with the promise of an exciting sequel coming soon.

Horizon’s lengthy runtime makes Part 2 a difficult box office sell

Horizon’s success is as dependent on Part 2 as it is on Part 1. Part 1 must not only attract audiences to the theaters, but it must also be compelling enough to keep them there for Part 2. The 3-hour duration complicates matters because it must maintain entertainment value throughout its runtime in order to be appealing to audiences six weeks later. While the Horizon trailers look great, this is still a daunting task that even the most popular franchises may struggle with.

Since fans can become burnt out, big franchises like Marvel and James Bond have done best when there is a gap between projects. Whether burnout will apply to the Horizon formula is difficult to predict because it has never been used before. On the other hand, films that are sequels, like Dune: Part Two, have outperformed their predecessors because they have built anticipation over years through the release of the first film on streaming services. If they miss Horizon Part 1 in theaters, they probably won’t have much time to watch the digital version before the sequel comes out.

Horizon’s three-hour runtime is not unusual for Western movies

In terms of a Western epic, three hours isn’t too long. Some of the best Western films ever made, from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly to Once Upon a Time in the West, are massive productions that make excellent use of their time. Not to mention that Dances with Wolves, Costner’s Best Picture-winning film, ran for three hours. Other Best Picture winners in the historical drama genre, such as The Godfather and Oppenheimer, were massive box office hits over long periods of time. There is certainly precedent for a film like Horizon to succeed, but the release schedule makes it difficult.

Finally, Horizon may succeed commercially despite the two-film release plan failing if Part 1 is a huge hit but Part 2 flops. Kevin Costner’s plan for Horizon: An American Saga is extremely risky, but there are several ways it could succeed, and $100 million isn’t the most difficult budget to overcome. Yellowstone’s popularity demonstrates that there is a sizable audience that enjoys watching Costner, but this may not necessarily translate into box office success.

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