Billy the Kid movies are a Hollywood western favorite. The Left Handed Gun, Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, Billy the Kid, Young Guns, Billy the Kid Returns, The Kid from Texas, Young Guns II, Chisum and Billy the Kid vs. Dracula are among the top films.
Henry McCarty (1859-1881) – a.k.a. William H. Bonney, Henry Antrim and Billy the Kid – remains one of the Old West's mythic outlaws. In 1911, the first movie based on his life was released by the General Film Company. Titled Billy the Kid, this early, silent effort was directed by Laurence Trimble and starred Tefft Johnson in the title role.
Here are ten interesting Billy the Kid movies that no western film fan should ever miss. Draw, pardner...
The Left Handed Gun (Warner Bros., 1958)
Handsome, blue-eyed Paul Newman stars as Billy the Kid in this well-received western. Also on hand are John Dehner (Pat Garrett), Lita Milan (Celsa), Hurd Hatfield (Moultrie), James Congdon (Charlie Boudre), James Best (Tom Folliard), Colin Keith-Johnston (Tunstall) and John Dierkes (McSween). The movie, centered in New Mexico Territory during the Lincoln County War, provides a sympathetic portrayal of Billy the Kid, who after his mentor is murdered vows revenge against the killers. Originally set to star was the ill-fated James Dean, who was killed in an automobile crash on September 30, 1955. Newman had earlier played Billy the Kid on TV in "The Death of Billy the Kid," telecast on The Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse (7/24/55).
Director: Arthur Penn
Review: "The Left Handed Gun is another look at Billy the Kid, probably America's most constantly celebrated juvenile delinquent. In this version he's Billy, the crazy, mixed-up Kid. The picture is a smart and exciting western paced by Paul Newman's intense portrayal." - Variety (1958)
On DVD: The Paul Newman Collection (Warner, 2006)
Promotional still: Paul Newman as Billy the Kid in The Left Handed Gun (1958)
Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (MGM, 1973)
Kris Kristofferson plays Billy the Kid opposite James Coburn's Sheriff Pat Garrett in this violent oater. Set in New Mexico Territory in 1881, the movie centers on Pat Garrett's attempt to bring in the escaped Billy, who was once the lawman's saddle buddy. The final confrontation comes at Fort Sumner, where Billy falls to Garrett's gun. Richard Jaeckel (Sheriff Kip McKinney), Katy Jurado (Mrs. Baker), Chill Wills (Lemuel), Barry Sullivan (Chisum), Jason Robards (Governor Wallace) and Bob Dylan (Alias) also grace the production. "How's Jesus look to you now, Bob?" the Kid asks, aiming a loaded shotgun at R.G. Armstrong's Ollinger character.
Director: San Peckinpah
Review: "Sam Peckinpah attempted to have his name removed from 'Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.' I sympathized with him. If this wasn't entirely his work, he shouldn't have had to take the blame. And even if it was, the less said the better. It's a movie that exists almost entirely on one note – a low, melancholy one – and achieves what I thought would have been impossible for him Peckinpah: he's boring." - Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times (5/23/73)
On DVD: Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid Two-Disc Special Edition (Warner, 2006)
Billy the Kid (MGM, 1941)
A rather mature-looking Robert Taylor stars as Billy Bonney, a budding gunslinger who seeks revenge when his beloved employer is killed in New Mexico Territory. Also on hand are Ian Hunter (Eric Keating), Brian Donlevy (Jim Sherwood), Mary Howard (Edith Keating), Gene Lockhart (Dan Hickey) and Lon Chaney Jr. (Spike Hudson). Billy the Kid earned an Oscar nomination for Best Color Cinematography. The movie ends with the epilogue: "Thus, as the ways of law came to the last frontier, the last of the men of violence found his peace." Translation: Crime doesn't pay.
Director: David Miller, Frank Borzage (uncredited)
Review: "The magnificence of Robert Taylor, which is always something special to behold, falls into pale inconsequence alongside the glories of the great outdoors in Metro's flashy Technicolored Western, "Billy the Kid," which hit the Capitol yesterday. Apparently, this is not exactly as it was intended to be, for a great deal more is seen of Mr. Taylor than of anything else in this film—Mr. Taylor in a forbiddingly black and shiny cowboy suit; Mr. Taylor at medium distance flashing a roguish smile; Mr. Taylor's face in intimate closeup with his power-blue jaw set firm and his steely eyes looking about sharply for any movements at all untoward. But somehow a lot of Mr. Taylor is scarcely able to compare with even a moderate amount of stunning outdoor scenery—with the coral and copper-colored monoliths of Monument Valley, their tops wreathed in billowing mists; with deserts stretching off into pink distance and red cattle grazing on the rolling plains. And the scenery is by far the most spectacular part of this bulging film." - Bosley Crowther, The New York Times (6/20/41)
On DVD: Billy the Kid (MGM, 2009)
Reissue one sheet movie poster from 1955: Billy the Kid (1941)
Young Guns (Twentieth Century-Fox, 1988)
Emilio Estevez plays Billy the Kid, the leader of a band of "young guns" who are out to avenge the murder of their benefactor in New Mexico Territory. Riding with Billy are Kiefer Sutherland (Doc Scurlock), Lou Diamond Phillips (Jose Chavez), Charlie Sheen (Dick Brewer), Dermot Mulroney (Dirty Steve Stephens) and Casey Siemaszko (Charley Bowdre). Also on hand are Terence Stamp (John Tunstall), Terry O'Quinn (Alex McSween), Jack Palance (Lawrence G. Murphy) and Patrick Wayne (Pat Garrett). Western movie fans will love the shootouts in this picture, along with the great New Mexico scenery. Young Guns won a Bronze Wrangler from Western Heritage Awards for Best Theatrical Motion Picture.
Director: Christopher Cain
Review: "The clubby atmosphere of 'Young Guns,' the new Brat Pack western, is so thick as to be almost suffocating. Directed by Christopher Cain, it's like a Western-style dress-up party for Hollywood kiddies, horses and guns included." - Hal Hinson, Washington Post (8/16/88)
On DVD: Young Guns Special Edition (Lions Gate, 2003)
Billy the Kid Returns (Republic, 1938)
Roy Rogers has a dual role in this one, playing himself and the reincarnated double of Billy the Kid. The storyline has Wade Boteler's Sheriff Pat Garrett, who just disposed of the real Kid, asking Roy to take the deceased's place in a range war pitting homesteaders against fat cat ranchers. Roy's sidekick Smiley Burnette as Frog Millhouse is along for the ride, with the two singing a few western tunes, including "Trail Blazin'," "Sing a Little Song About Anything," "Born to the Saddle" and "When the Sun Is Setting on the Prairie." Billy the Kid Returns premiered at Los Angeles' Orpheum Theater on September 5, 1938, with Roy Rogers himself in attendance.
Director: Joseph Kane
Review: "Roy plays himself and the famous "kid" with whom he is confused. Lots of songs in this one." Ed Stephan, fullmoviereview.com (2010)
On DVD: Roy Rogers 20 Movie Pack (Mill Creek Entertainment, 2006)
The Kid from Texas (Universal, 1950)
Audie Murphy, America's most decorated soldier of World War II, plays Billy the Kid in this fictionalized version of the Old West legend. Gale Storm (Irene Kain), Albert Dekker (Alexander Kain), Shepperd Strudwick (Roger Jameson), Will Geer (O'Fallon), William Talman (Minninger) and Frank Wilcox (Sheriff Pat Garrett) are also in the mix. The baby-faced Murphy's a bit uncomfortable before the cameras, but he carries off the role as well as could be expected.
Director: Kurt Neumann
Review: "An excellent but none-too-accurate story, given strong production, and featuring Audie Murphy, in his first starring role. Murphy's a bit wooden, but he delivers. Entertaining." - Wrangler, The Internet Movie Database (10/10/98)
On DVD: Not commercially available
Young Guns II (Twentieth Century-Fox, 1990)
In this sequel to Young Guns (1988), Emilio Estevez reprises his role as Billy the Kid, with Kiefer Sutherland and Lou Diamond Phillips also returning. In this outing, Billy sets his two cohorts free and they head to Mexico with the law hot on their trail. "Just remember, Pat. You'll never be me. You'll always be the man who shot Billy the Kid!" Estevez tells William Petersen's Pat Garrett.
Director: Geoff Murphy
Review: "'Young Guns II' is yet another revisionist version of the Billy the Kid legend, which has taken on mythic qualities in such films as 'Gunfight at the O.K. Corral,' 'The Left-Handed Gun' and 'Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid,' not to mention an opera by Aaron Copland... As played by Emilio Estevez, Billy is a fresh-faced innocent who looks youthful even in the company of his fellow gang members, who include Kiefer Sutherland, Lou Diamond Phillips and Christian Slater." - Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times (8/1/90)
On DVD: Young Guns II (Warner, 2009)
One sheet movie poster: Young Guns II (1990)
Billy the Kid (MGM, 1930)
Former University of Alabama football star-turned-actor Johnny Mack Brown stars as Billy the Kid in this early sound western, with Wallace Beery (Pat Garrett), Kay Johnson (Claire Randall), Karl Dane (Swenson), Wyndham Standing (Jack Tunston) and Russell Simpson (Angus McSween) also in the cast. Filmed in New Mexico, Arizona and California, this version once again has the Kid avenging the murder of his boss, with Pat Garrett on his trail. Of special note are the pistols used by Brown in the movie, which were the actual guns owned by the real Billy the Kid. They were on loan from the private collection of legendary western film star William S. Hart.
Director: King Vidor
Review: "This early version of the violent legend includes some comic characters and bears only occasional resemblance to the controversial life of the young man who killed men in revenge for the murder of his employers Tunston and later McSween." - Sanderson Beck, Movie Mirrors (2000
On DVD: Not commercially available
Chisum (Warner Bros., 1970)
Geoffrey Deuel – in his motion picture debut – plays Billy the Kid in this big western starring John Wayne in the title role. Wayne as John Chisum gets caught up in New Mexico's Lincoln County War, hooking up with both the Kid and Glenn Corbett's Pat Garrett. Also on hand are Forrest Tucker (Lawrence Murphy), Christopher George (Dan Nodeen), Ben Johnson (James Pepper), Andrew Prine (Alex McSween), Bruce Cabot (Sheriff Brady) and Patric Knowles (Henry Tunstall). "I made you a promise, Mr. Tunstall. Now I'm making myself a promise. It says in the Bible, 'The candle of the wicked shall be put out.'" a vengeful Billy the Kid declares. And that means gunplay, pardners.
Director: Andrew V. McLaglen
Review: "Young Geoffrey Deuel cuts a personable swath as Billy the kid, and several other hardies such as Ben Johnson, Glenn Corbett and Richard Jaeckel pitch in accordingly, with Pamela McMyler and Lynda Day as fetching ornaments." - Howard Thompson, The New York Times (7/30/70)
On DVD: Chisum (Warner, 2007)
Billy the Kid vs. Dracula (Embassy, 1966)
Chuck Courtney plays Billy the Kid opposite John Carradine's Count Dracula in this camp classic filmed at the Ray Corrigan Ranch in Simi Valley, California. Also on board for the Old West/Gothic bloodbath are Melinda Plowman (Betty Bentley), Virginia Christine (Eva Oster), Harry Carey Jr. (Ben Dooley), Bing Russell (Red Thorpe) and Roy Barcroft (Sheriff Griffin). This one was double-billed with another far-out Embassy Pictures entry, Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter (1966), starring John Lupton and Narda Onyx. Gunslingers, vampires, lawmen – can't we all just get along?
Director: William Beaudine
Review: "Neither this movie or its companion piece (Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter) are considered classic, but this one is generally considered something of a camp classic and the other is considered a tiresome bore. Actually, this one would probably be considered a tiresome bore as well if it weren't for the presence of John Carradine, who had last assayed the role of Dracula in two Universal movies from the forties." - Dave Sindelar, Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings (3/7/06)
On DVD: Billy the Kid vs. Dracula (Cheezy Flicks, 2005)
One sheet movie poster: Billy the Kid vs. Dracula (1966)
Five More Billy the Kid Movie Favorites
- Billy the Kid in Texas (1940)
- I Shot Billy the Kid (1950)
- The Law vs. Billy the Kid (1954)
- Billy the Kid Outlawed (1940)
- Billy the Kid Wanted (1941)
- All images courtesy Heritage Auction Galleries, Dallas, Texas
- Top image: Lobby card: Kris Kristofferson, center, as Billy the Kid in Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973)