Civil War Wiki
Dances with Wolves
Directed by Kevin Costner
Produced by Jim Wilson
Kevin Costner
Written by Michael Blake
Narrated by Kevin Costner
Starring Kevin Costner
Mary McDonnell
Graham Greene
Rodney A. Grant
Music by John Barry
Cinematography Dean Semler
Editing by Neil Travis
Distributed by Orion Pictures
Release date(s) November 21, 1990
Running time Theatrical:
181 min.
Director's Cut:
236 min.
Country United States
United Kingdom
Language English
Budget US$18,000,000 (estimated)
Gross revenue $424,208,848

Dances with Wolves is a 1990 American epic western film based on the book of the same name which tells the story of a Civil War-era United States Army lieutenant who travels to the American frontier to find a military post, and his dealings with a group of Lakota.

Developed by director/star Kevin Costner over five years, with a budget of only $18 million, the film has high production values[1] and won 7 Academy Awards including Best Picture and the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture - Drama.[2] Much of the dialogue is in the Lakota language with English subtitles. It was shot in South Dakota and Wyoming.

In 2007, Dances with Wolves was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."[3]


The film opens during the American Civil War. In a United States Army field hospital, First Lieutenant John J. Dunbar (Kevin Costner) learns that his injured leg is to be amputated. Seeing the plight of fellow soldiers with amputated legs, Dunbar leaves the hospital, steals a cavalry horse, and attempts suicide by riding across the no man's land between the opposing Union and Confederate positions. His action unexpectedly rallies the Union soldiers, who storm the Confederate defenses to win the battle. Impressed by Dunbar's actions, the commanding general of the Union forces, Major General Tide (Donald Hotton), summons his personal surgeon to save Dunbar's leg. Tide declares Dunbar to be a hero and awards him Cisco, the horse who carried him in battle as well as offering Dunbar his choice of posting. Dunbar requests a transfer to the western frontier and soon after his leg heals he arrives at a fort which is a gateway to the west. This is where he begins to record his frontier experiences in a journal read in voice over.

Dunbar meets Major Fambrough (Maury Chaykin). The Major has slipped into alcohol-fueled delusions of grandeur (apparently believing he is a king and Dunbar a medieval knight). Fambrough scribbles out Dunbar's orders to report to Captain Cargill at Fort Sedgwick and pairs him off with an uncouth drayage teamster named Timmons (Robert Pastorelli), who is to convey him to his post. After they depart, Fambrough shoots himself in the head.

After a journey across the South Dakota plains, Dunbar and Timmons arrive at the desolate Fort Sedgwick. Timmons leaves, and Dunbar is left by himself at the outpost, with a lone wolf that he befriends and dubs Two Socks. The deaths of Fambrough and Timmons, who is ambushed and scalped by Pawnee Indians, prevent the rest of the army from knowing of Dunbar's isolated assignment.

Dunbar initially encounters Sioux neighbors when the tribe's Holy man, Kicking Bird (Graham Greene) attempts to capture Dunbar's horse, Cisco, but he is scared off by Dunbar's unexpected reappearance. Later some of the tribe's youths, Smiles A Lot and Otter (Nathan Lee Chasing His Horse and Michael Spears), capture and attempt to break Cisco. Later still, some of the tribe's mature warriors, led by an aggressive warrior named Wind in His Hair (Rodney A. Grant), are likewise thwarted. The Sioux decide that Cisco is not worth the effort and leave him alone; the horse returns to Dunbar's fort.

In response to these interactions, Dunbar seeks out the Sioux camp. On his way, he comes across Stands With A Fist (Mary McDonnell), the white, adopted daughter of Kicking Bird. She is a recent widow who has just slit her wrists. Dunbar returns her to the Indian camp to be treated, which dramatically changes the Sioux' attitude about Dunbar. Eventually, Dunbar establishes a rapport with Kicking Bird, though the language barrier frustrates them; eventually Stands With A Fist acts as a translator. Since her parents were slaughtered by the Pawnee, she has been assimilated to Sioux culture and she fears that Dunbar will try to return her to the whites.

Instead, Dunbar finds himself drawn to the lifestyle and customs of the tribe, and constantly looks forward to their company. He becomes a hero among the Sioux and is accepted as an honored guest after he locates a migrating herd of buffalo. During the ensuing buffalo hunt, he saves Smiles A Lot from a rampaging bull, and at last Wind In His Hair accepts him as a friend.

When he returns to the soldier fort, Dunbar's thoughts dwell on the Indian camp. He makes an impromptu visit, but is dismayed to find Two Socks following him. Irritated, he dismounts and orders the wolf to return home, but Two Socks playfully trips him up. The exchange is observed by Kicking Bird, Stone Calf, and Wind in His Hair, who decide to rename Dunbar as Šuŋgmánitu Tȟaŋka Ob'wačhi (the eponymous "Dances with Wolves").

During this visit, Dunbar finds that most of the warriors in the camp are preparing to go on a raid against a rival Pawnee tribe. Kicking Bird refuses to admit him into the war party, but leaves him behind to care for his family. During this time, Stands With A Fist tutors him in Lakota and they fall in love. Unfortunately, the relationship is made taboo by the recent death of Stands With A Fist's husband, so they are forced to keep their intimacy a secret.

As the weeks wear on, the war party still has not returned, but scouts pick up word of a large Pawnee war party approaching the camp. No longer worried about maintaining the army's stockpile of rifles, Dunbar opens his surplus stores of ammunition to defend the settlement against the Pawnee, saving the village (except for Stone Calf, who is slain). Kicking Bird and Wind In His Hair return to find that the tribe has accepted Dunbar as a full-fledged member. With this accomplished, Dances With Wolves eventually wins Kicking Bird's approval to marry Stands With A Fist, and he abandons Fort Sedgwick forever.

Dunbar's idyll ends when he tells Kicking Bird that white men will continue to invade their land. They tell Chief Ten Bears (Floyd Red Crow Westerman), who decides it is time to move the village to its winter camp. As the packing finishes, Dunbar realizes that his journal, left behind at the deserted fort, is a blueprint for finding the tribe, as well as evidence of his abandoning his assignment. He returns to the outpost to retrieve it, but finds Fort Sedgwick has finally been re-occupied by army troops. Because Dunbar is dressed in Lakota wear, the soldiers do not recognize him as an officer, and shoot at him, killing Cisco. As Dunbar weeps over the body of his fallen horse, the soldiers kick and beat him, arresting him as a traitor.

In an abusive interrogation, Dunbar explains to the unsympathetic Major (Wayne Grace) in command and Lt. Elgin that he had a journal with orders about his posting to Fort Sedgwick. Corporal Spivey (Tony Pierce) denies the existence of this journal, but actually has it in his pocket. After Dunbar declares in the Lakota language that he is now Dances With Wolves, the officers set out to deliver Dunbar to Fort Hays, Kansas for execution on a charge of treason. When they happen upon Two Socks, Spivey, Edwards (Kirk Baltz), and the other soldiers shoot at the wolf, who refuses to leave Dunbar. Despite Dunbar's attempts to intervene, Two Socks is killed by Edwards, then the convoy moves off. However, a band of Sioux braves are close on their trail.

Wind In His Hair and other Sioux warriors attack the convoy and rescue Dunbar. Smiles A Lot retrieves Dunbar's journal floating in a brook, where Spivey has lost it. After returning to the winter camp, Dunbar realizes that as a deserter and murderer, he is now a fugitive and will continue to draw the Army's attention, endangering the tribe. Despite the protests of his Sioux friends, Dunbar decides that he must leave the tribe. Stands With A Fist decides to accompany him. Before they depart, Smiles A Lot returns his journal. Dunbar and Kicking Bird also exchange gifts.

As Dances With Wolves and Stands With A Fist leave the camp, Wind In His Hair cries out that Dances With Wolves will always be his friend. Soon after, a column of US Cavalry and Pawnee army scouts arrive to find the former Sioux camp site empty. Before the end credits, a note explains that thirteen years later the last remnants of free Sioux were subjugated to the U.S. Government, ending the conquest of the Western frontier states.


File:Kevin Costner -Dances with Wolves.jpg

Dances with Wolves illustration featuring Kevin Costner and Rodney A. Grant.

  • Kevin Costner as Lt. John J. Dunbar/Dances With Wolves
  • Mary McDonnell as Stands With A Fist
  • Graham Greene as Kicking Bird
  • Rodney A. Grant as Wind In His Hair
  • Floyd Red Crow Westerman as Chief Ten Bears
  • Tantoo Cardinal as Black Shawl
  • Jimmy Herman as Stone Calf
  • Nathan Lee Chasing His Horse as Smiles A Lot
  • Michael Spears as Otter
  • Jason R. Lone Hill as Worm
  • Charles Rocket as Lt. Elgin
  • Robert Pastorelli as Timmons
  • Larry Joshua as Sgt. Bauer
  • Tony Pierce as Spivey
  • Kirk Baltz as Edwards
  • Tom Everett as Sgt. Pepper
  • Maury Chaykin as Maj. Fambrough
  • Wes Studi as the fiercest Pawnee
  • Wayne Grace as The Major


Originally written as a spec script by Michael Blake, it went unsold in the mid-1980s. It was Kevin Costner who, in early 1986 (when he was relatively unknown), encouraged Blake to turn the screenplay into a novel, to improve its chances of being adapted into a film. The novel manuscript of Dances with Wolves was rejected by numerous publishers but finally published in paperback in 1988. As a novel, the rights were purchased by Costner, with an eye to his directing it.[4] Actual production lasted for four months, from July 18 to November 23, 1989. Most of the movie was filmed on location in South Dakota, mainly near Pierre and Rapid City, with a few scenes filmed in Wyoming. Specific locations included the Badlands National Park, the Black Hills, the Sage Creek Wilderness Area, and the Belle Fourche River area. The buffalo hunt scenes were filmed at the Triple U Buffalo Ranch outside Pierre, South Dakota, as were the Fort Sedgwick scenes, the set being constructed on the property.[5]

Production delays were numerous, due to South Dakota's unpredictable weather, the difficulty of "directing" barely trainable wolves, and the complexity of the Indian battle scenes. Particularly arduous was the film's centerpiece buffalo hunt sequence: this elaborate chase was filmed over three weeks using 100 Indian stunt riders and an actual stampeding herd of several thousand buffalo. During one shot, Costner (who did almost all of his own horseback riding) was "T-boned" by another rider and knocked off his horse, nearly breaking his back. The accident is captured in The Creation of an Epic, the behind-the-scenes documentary on the Dances With Wolves Special Edition DVD.

According to the documentary, none of the buffalo were computer animated (CGI was then in its infancy) and only a few were animatronic or otherwise fabricated. In fact, Costner and crew employed the largest domestically owned buffalo ranch, with two of the domesticated buffalo being borrowed from Neil Young; this was the herd used for the buffalo hunt sequence.

Budget overruns were inevitable, owing to Costner's breaking several unspoken Hollywood "rules" for first-time directors:[citation needed] avoid shooting outside and avoid working with children and animals, as much as possible. As a result, late in the production Costner was forced to personally add $3 million out-of-pocket to the film's original $15-million budget. Referencing the infamous fiasco of Michael Cimino's 1980 Heaven's Gate, considered the most mismanaged Western in film history, Costner's project was satirically dubbed "Kevin's Gate" by Hollywood critics and pundits skeptical of a three-hour, partially subtitled Western by a novice filmmaker.[4]

The film changed the novel's Comanche Indians to Sioux, because of the larger number of Sioux speakers. The language spoken is a fairly accurate, although simplified[citation needed], version of the actual Lakota language. Lakota Sioux language instructor Doris Leader Charge (1931—2001) was the on-set Lakota dialogue coach and also portrayed Pretty Shield, wife of Chief Ten Bears, portrayed by Floyd Red Crow Westerman.[4]

Indian activist and actor Russell Means commented on the movie as follows: "Remember Lawrence of Arabia? That was Lawrence of the Plains. The odd thing about making that movie is, they had a woman teaching the actors the Lakota language. But Lakota has a male-gendered language and a female-gendered language. Some of the Indians and Kevin Costner were speaking in the feminine way. When I went to see it with a bunch of Lakota guys, we were laughing."

Despite portraying the adopted daughter of Graham Greene's character Kicking Bird, Mary McDonnell, then 37, was actually two months older than Greene, and less than two years younger than Tantoo Cardinal, the actress playing her adoptive mother. In addition, McDonnell was extremely nervous about shooting her sex scene with Kevin Costner, requesting it be toned down to a more modest version than what was scripted.[4]


Defying expectation, Dances with Wolves proved instantly popular at the box office, eventually garnering $184 million in U.S. box office sales, and $424 million in total sales worldwide.[6] The film is often praised for its sympathetic, arguably idealized, portrayal of American Indians, while sometimes criticized for its broadly villainous Union soldier characters. The movie won the Best Picture Academy Award against strong competition, notably including Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas.

Because of the film's popular and lasting impact, the Sioux Nation adopted Costner as an honorary member.[7]

In 2007, the Library of Congress selected Dances with Wolves for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.[3]

Awards and honors[]


  • Academy Award for Best PictureJim Wilson and Kevin Costner
  • Academy Award for Directing — Kevin Costner
  • Academy Award for Writing Adapted Screenplay — Michael Blake
  • Academy Award for Best CinematographyDean Semler
  • Academy Award for Film Editing — Neil Travis
  • Academy Award for Sound Mixing — Russell Williams II, Jeffrey Perkins, Bill W. Benton, and Gregory H. Watkins
  • Academy Award for Original Music ScoreJohn Barry
  • Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture - DramaJim Wilson and Kevin Costner
  • Golden Globe Award for Best Director — Kevin Costner


  • Academy Award for Best Actor — Kevin Costner
  • Academy Award for Best Supporting ActorGraham Greene
  • Academy Award for Best Supporting ActressMary McDonnell
  • Academy Award for Best Art Direction — Jeffrey Beecroft and Lisa Dean
  • Academy Award for Costume Design — Elsa Zamparelli

American Film Institute recognition

  • 1998 AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies #75
  • 2006 AFI's 100 Years... 100 Cheers #59


The Holy Road, a well-received sequel novel by Michael Blake, the author of both the original Dances With Wolves novel and the movie screenplay, was published in 2001.[8] It picks up eleven years after Dances With Wolves. John Dunbar is still married to Stands With A Fist and they have three children. Stands With A Fist and one of the children are kidnapped by a party of white rangers and Dances With Wolves must mount a rescue mission. As of 2007, Blake was writing a film adaptation, although Kevin Costner was not yet attached to the project.[9] In the end, however, Costner stated he would not take part in this production. Viggo Mortensen has been rumored to be attached to the project, playing Dunbar.[10]

Historical references[]

St. David's Field, Tennessee does not exist nor did it in 1863. As the opening battle is a minor portion of the film, it was considered undesirable to name an actual historical battle, which might result in knowledgeable viewers taking exception to fictional events.

Fort Sedgwick, Colorado was erected as Camp Rankin and renamed for General John Sedgwick (1813-1864). General Sedgwick was killed May 9, 1864 at the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, Virginia. Fort Sedgwick served as an army post from July 1864 to May 1871. John Sedgwick did erect a fort in Kansas in 1860.

Fort Hays, Kansas was named for General Alexander Hays (1819-1864). General Hays was killed May 5, 1864 in the Battle of the Wilderness, Virginia. Fort Hays served as an army post from October 11, 1865 to November 8, 1889.

There was a real John Dunbar who worked as a missionary for the Pawnee in the 1830s-1840s, and he even sided with the Indians in a dispute between them and the government farmers and local Indian agent.[11] That said, it is unclear if the name "John Dunbar" was chosen as a corollary to the real historical figure.

The fictional Lieutenant John Dunbar of 1863 is correctly shown in the film wearing a gold bar on his officer shoulder straps, indicating his rank as a First Lieutenant. From 1836 to 1872, the rank of First Lieutenant was indicated by a gold bar; after 1872, the rank was indicated by a silver bar. Similarly, Captain Cargill is correctly depicted wearing a pair of gold bars, indicating the rank of Captain at that time.[12]

Home video editions[]


The first Laserdisc release of Dances with Wolves was on 15 November, 1991 by Orion Home Video on a 2 disc extended play laserdisc set. The second release was in 1992. The third release was in 1993. The fourth release was in 1994. The fifth and final release was in 1996.


The first Dances with Wolves VHS version was released in 1991. Dances with Wolves has been released to several VHS versions. The limited collector's edition set comes with two VHS tapes, six high gloss 14" x 11" Lobby Photos, Dances With Wolves The Illustrated Story Of The Epic Film book, and an organized collector's edition storage case.


Dances with Wolves has been released to DVD on four occasions. The first on November 17, 1998 on a single disc. The second on February 16, 1999 as a two disc set with a DTS Soundtrack. The third was released on May 20, 2003 as a two disc set (Special Extended Edition). The fourth was released on May 25, 2004 as a single disc in full frame.


Dances with Wolves has been released on Blu-ray in Germany on the 5th of December 2008, in France on the 15th of April 2009 and in the United Kingdom on the 26th of October 2009. Although not advertised as such, the German release is the Director's Cut version of the movie with a run time of 236 minutes. The French Blu-ray release is the Extended Cut of the movie with a run time of 224 minutes, while the British release features the theatrical cut with a run time of 181 minutes.


For more information: Dances with Wolves (soundtrack).
  • John Barry composed the Award-winning score, which became a very popular film score. It was issued in 1990 initially and again in 1995 with bonus tracks and in 2004 with the score "in its entirety."
  • Peter Buffett scored and choreographed the "fire dance" scene.
  • Pope John Paul II once referred to it as among his favorite pieces of music.

See also[]

  • The Last Samurai
  • Avatar



  1. "Dances with Wolves: Overview" (plot/stars/gross, related films), allmovie, 2007, webpage: amovie12092.
  2. "Dances with Wolves", IMDb, 2007.
  3. 3.0 3.1 2007 list of films inducted into the National Film Registry
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 ""Dances with Wolves"". IMDB. Retrieved 2008-03-13. 
  5. "Dances with Wolves" -
  7. Svetkey, Benjamin (1991-03-08). ""Little big movie"". Entertainment Weekly.,,313535,00.html. Retrieved 2008-03-13. 
  8. Blake, Michael (2001). The Holy Road, Random House. ISBN 0-375-76040-7
  9. Blake, Michael. ""The official website of Michael Blake"". Retrieved 2008-03-13. 
  10. """". 2008. Retrieved 2008-05-11. 
  11. Waldo R. Wedel, The Dunbar Allis Letters on the Pawnee (New York: Garland Press, 1985).
  12. US Army Institute of Heraldry - History of Officer Rank Insignia

External links[]

Template:Kevin Costner Template:AcademyAwardBestPicture 1981-2000 Template:GoldenGlobeBestMotionPictureDrama 1981-2000

ar:الرقص مع الذئاب (فيلم) bs:Ples s vukovima ca:Ballant amb llops cs:Tanec s vlky da:Danser med ulve de:Der mit dem Wolf tanzt (Film) es:Dances with Wolves eo:Dances with Wolves eu:Dances with Wolves fa:با گرگ‌ها می‌رقصد (فیلم) fr:Danse avec les loups ko:늑대와 춤을 hr:Ples s vukovima id:Dances with Wolves it:Balla coi lupi he:רוקד עם זאבים lt:Šokis su vilkais hu:Farkasokkal táncoló nl:Dances with Wolves ja:ダンス・ウィズ・ウルブズ no:Danser med ulver pl:Tańczący z wilkami pt:Dances with Wolves ro:Dansând cu lupii ru:Танцы с волками sk:Tanec s vlkmi sr:Плес са вуковима fi:Tanssii susien kanssa sv:Dansar med vargar tl:Dances with Wolves tr:Kurtlarla Dans vi:Khiêu vũ với bầy sói zh:與狼共舞