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Five Fascinating Lessons from ‘Horizon’s’ Sluggish Start

Kevin Costner's ambitious oater gets some tough love at the box office

Kevin Costner isn’t a gambler by trade, but he went all in with “Horizon.”

The “Yellowstone” alum sunk millions into a film he directed, co-wrote and co-starred in. He even dubbed the oater “An American Saga.”

Audiences begged to differ.

Horizon: An American Saga | Trailer 1

The film hauled in just $11 million in its opening frame, casting a chill over plans to produce a third and fourth film in the saga. The second installment is already in the proverbial can and opens next month.

The final installments? We’ll have to wait and see.

The lessons tied to the film are both cruel and instructive.

Movie Stars Don’t Move the Needle

Costner recharged his star power with “Yellowstone,” the cable sensation that spawned a western universe. He didn’t technically need the boost, at least on paper. Few can rival Costner’s Hollywood resume, from popcorn fare (“The Bodyguard,” “Man of Steel”) to unabashed classics (“Bull Durham,” “Field of Dreams,” “The Untouchables”).

That impressive resume couldn’t rally fans to his side.

Famous faces no longer guarantee box-office success. Superstars like Brad Pitt, Tom Hanks, Will Smith and Angelina Jolie have learned that lesson the hard way.

Counter-programming Is Even Riskier in Summer

“Horizon” offers something different for movie goers. No splashy CGI or beloved IP tie-ins. It’s a long meditation on the western genre, a story that promises three more films to complete its arc.

Some counter-programming moves soar beyond anyone’s expectations. The buoyant musical “Once” ran in indie theaters all summer long back in 2007, powered by impressive word of mouth.

Last year, “Sound of Freedom” shocked, well, everyone by earning $180 million stateside despite its heavy subject matter.

Counter programming can work, but it’s as risky as sinking millions from your own coffers into a four-part western.

Audiences Are More Discerning than Ever

Movie lovers have come back to the cineplex following the pandemic, but they’re not supporting any ol’ film. Crowds are increasingly selective about the movies they line up to see. That’s left populist titles like “The Fall Guy” and “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga” scrambling to make a profit this summer.

“Horizon” earned brutal reviews out of the Cannes Film Festival, signaling to many they’re better off waiting for the film to hit VOD cyber-shelves.

Had critics rallied behind “Horizon,” it could have coaxed some curiosity seekers to give it a try. As is, the film’s 42 percent “rotten” rating, plus the young demographic’s western wariness, sunk the film’s opening weekend.

Don’t ignore Red State America gleefully noted the film did better in the Heartland than in urban centers. That’s to be expected, given Costner’s fan base and the genre in play.

So why didn’t Costner court conservative media?

This reporter requested a phone with the superstar with The Blaze with no success. He worked the media aggressively in recent weeks, even appearing on “The View.” He didn’t chat with Dan Bongino, Ben Shapiro or other right-leaning heavyweights.

Costner May Have the Last Laugh

The superstar may never get a return on his investment, but he’s made an original, engrossing film that reminds us why audiences will never tire of the western.

The film may have legs at the box office, especially given how radically different it is given the usual summer competition.

Or not.

The actor has been dreaming about “Horizon” for decades. Now, given his extreme wealth, connections and talent, it’s playing at a theater near you.

We don’t know if he’ll gather the resources to complete the saga as envisioned, but it’s rare for an artist to risk so much and share that vision with the world.

It’s exactly what Costner did, and he can rest easily knowing he did it on his terms.


  1. I love Westerns – always have. My wife talked me into seeing this today. We had 30 people in the theater (Indiana) – all about my age (60). I had seen several reviews talk about the cinematography (which was amazing on a lot of levels). The movie also contained one of the longest and most brutal Indian attacks ever put on film. It also has to be the longest – it seemed like 45 minutes of the film’s running time. My wife and agreed that if the first arrows had flown, and we saw the kid ride to the fort (which was brilliant and well-done) and the army arrived too late. All taking about 10 minutes. We got the message – some Indians are bad. We sort of already knew that. There is also another one of the scummy white guys doing the same thing to an Indian village. I wanted to yell, “Kevin, we’ve seen “Dances With Wolves” – we get it.”
    That was not even the worst part, there is an actual seen where Costner’s character says he is going to go down into a town below – the next day – and he and the girl and baby he was traveling with would find what they needed to know. Story changes to another arc, and when we return to this one, some dude is talking to the girl like we not only know who he is but how the two of them have been together for some time and are wanting to get away from Costner’s character! I could almost hear the Critical Drinker’s “What the F…?!”
    When we left the theater my wife said, “I’m sorry I dragged you to see this.” I said, “No, Costner dragged all of us to see this.” It was not bad, it just did not really have a plot!

  2. Horizon is rated R. That is a massive issue not discussed as it means Horizon is not a family movie. Who is the audience for this movie? Costner tried to promote this to left wing liberals and made it R rated. Well, left wing liberals don’t go to Westerns.

  3. I’m mad at the contention between Cosner and Sheridan. Too much press. Too many teases. To tie up loose Yellowstone ends, 5 pt 2 could begin with John’s funeral; or since it IS a soaper, Cosner could be replaced with someone like Richard Jenkins, great actor who’s not all over the place.

    1. Cosner can not be “Replaced” there is no one quite like him. A Unique and proven actor who is well loved. If you mean replace him in Yellow Stone with a different actor. Well the series would never
      Be the same and it would kill following and viewership. And slowly sprial down until its drained. There have been many popular tv series’s that totally tanked because a key actor was replaced. Story may remain the same, but the feel of it wouldnt be the same. Replacing a key actor historical ruins the characters developed and presence and often KILLS the story and viewer interest. They can’t take the story seriously afterwards.

  4. In addition to audiences being hesitant about a four-part movie where the first is three-hours, as a theatre owner, I didn’t book ‘Horizon’ and told my customers to go to the next town over to see it. We’re in the Heartland that loves westerns, but I cannot take a risk on something that’s going to gobble up at least four weeks of my one-screen cinema.

  5. Western fan and Costner fan here. However, with a 3 hour running time in theaters, who is the movie going audience for this? Aging boomers waiting till it streams or short attention span tik-tok generation?

  6. I hesitated to go because it’s a four-parter. That’s a serious investment of time and money for an unknown story. Plus, I don’t like going to a movie with no resolution and waiting for the next installment–and now multiply that by three. On top of that, who knows if all four parts will even be produced? So my inclination is to wait for it to be available streaming when I can watch it all at once or stop if I don’t like the first part.

  7. Wasn’t really impressed. The film was filled with the usual tired “modern western” tropes: psychotic long-haired blonde guy, everyone’s evil except certain native elders, there’s even an “evil corporation.” It’s like Costner hung around Taylor Sheridan too long.

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