5 Ways Tombstone Is The Best Western Of The ’90S (& 5 Ways It’S Unforgiven)


The Western genre has long been a mainstay of American pop culture. It was arguably the dominant movie genre of the ’50s and ’60s, giving the public pop culture icons like John Wayne and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Like all film genres that had their time, the Western eventually waned in popularity and all but disappeared in the ’70s and ’80s.

However, a funny thing happened in the early ’90s, and the Western was suddenly popular again. It failed to reach the pop culture dominance it achieved throughout the ’50s and ’60s, but they were popular and they were good. And Tombstone and Unforgiven are two of the best.

Tombstone: The History

Tombstone was quite lucky in that it carried with it one of the most popular historical stories of the Old West. Tombstone, Arizona, was one of the last Frontier cities, and it became famous for the shootout at the O.K. Corral.

Taking place on October 26, 1881, the gunfight occurred between a gang of outlaws and law enforcement officials Wyatt, Morgan, and Virgil Earp, with the help of Doc Holliday. Tombstone is rooted in interesting history, and most of the film builds towards this iconic moment in American lore.

Unforgiven: The Cinematography

Tombstone is a good movie, but Unforgiven is a beautiful one. Most Westerns are inherently beautiful owing to their settings, ranging from snowy mountains to barren landscapes of dirt, dust, and cactus. But Unforgiven’s cinematography, care of Jack N. Green, is nothing short of magnificent.

In fact, it received an Academy Award nomination for Best Cinematography, losing to A River Runs Through It. Unforgiven is arguably the most gorgeous Western ever shot, and the beautiful 4K Blu-ray comes highly recommended.

Tombstone: The Setting

As beautiful as Unforgiven looks, it lacks a memorable setting. Most of it takes place in the barren landscape of the West before climaxing in a small, unassuming Western town called Big Whiskey. The setting of Tombstone is far more memorable.

Tombstone, Arizona, is an iconic place in American history, and it remains, to this day, a very popular tourist destination – especially for Old West enthusiasts. It is lovingly captured here, complete with iconic locations like the O.K. Corral and the Bird Cage Theater.

Unforgiven: The Writing

Tombstone, undoubtedly, contains a great historical story, but it’s told in a rather sloppy manner. The writing can prove itself quite flawed, complete with clunky exposition, silly and unnecessary subplots (like the one between Wyatt Earp and Josephine Marcus), and some awkward dialogue.

On the other hand, Unforgiven is a masterfully written movie, with the screenplay from David Webb Peoples receiving an Academy Award nomination.

Tombstone: The Production Value

Unforgiven had a budget of $14.5 million. The budget of Tombstone was $25 million, and the difference shows on screen. If nothing else, Tombstone is a magnificently produced movie, accurately and convincingly capturing the Old West on a modern screen. The costumes, hair, and makeup are outstanding, the props suitably old school, and the sets are both glorious and epic in scope.


There’s nothing wrong with the production value of Unforgiven, but in terms of sheer cinematic spectacle, it’s hard to beat Tombstone.

Unforgiven: The Subversion

Tombstone attempted to subvert the Western genre, but Unforgiven actually did it. Unforgiven is typically referred to as an “anti-Western” or “revisionist Western,” as it plays with many of the genre’s long-established tropes.

Clint Eastwood is a Western legend (having played The Man with No Name), but here, he’s an old, washed up cowboy who can’t even shoot. The bad guy is a town sheriff and the hero a murderer. Violence is depicted as harsh and brutal rather than “fun” or commendable, and the gung-ho Schofield Kid flees from his life as a gunslinger after getting a taste. It’s all wonderfully subversive and refreshing.

Tombstone: The Cast

Unforgiven is quite a small-scale movie, and it contains a suitably small cast. Those who are there are mostly legends, but it’s quite a small cast, regardless. On the other hand, Tombstone is stacked with A-list performers.

On the main poster alone are Kurt Russell, Val Kilmer, Sam Elliott, and Bill Paxton, but that doesn’t even include Powers Boothe, Michael Biehn, Billy Bob Thornton, and Charlton Heston.

Unforgiven: The Acting

Despite the incredible nature of the cast itself, most performers are disappointingly underutilized. Val Kilmer is obviously great (more on that later), but many performers – most noticeably Kurt Russell – are weirdly flat and wooden. The acting throughout Tombstone leaves a lot to be desired.

Unforgiven is, by far, the better movie in terms of acting, complete with two Oscar nominations for Clint Eastwood (Best Actor) and Gene Hackman (Best Supporting Actor).

Tombstone: Val Kilmer

What Unforgiven doesn’t have is Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday. Holliday is one of the leading figures in Old West mythology, and he is wonderfully portrayed here by Kilmer.

Kilmer is simply exceptional in the role, donning his unique “cowboy voice” and imbuing Holliday with just the right amount of effortless coolness, badassery, and ultimate pity.

Unforgiven: The Dialogue

This entry goes hand-in-hand with the “writing,” but the dialogue of Unforgiven deserves special and explicit mention. It’s simply iconic.

Many of the movie’s lines have become iconic pieces of movie history, including “Deserve’s got nothing to do with it,” “He should have armed himself if he’s going to decorate his saloon with my friend,” “It’s a hell of a thing, killin’ a man,” and “I’ll see you in Hell, William Munny.” The script for this movie is truly something else.