Critic's Picks: Kevin Costner's 10 Best Performances

7:00 AM 6/20/2018

by Stephen Dalton

In honor of Costner's first series television lead on 'Yellowstone,' a THR film critic ranked the star's most indelible turns.

'Dances With Wolves,' 'Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves' and 'Field of Dreams'
'Dances With Wolves,' 'Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves' and 'Field of Dreams'
Courtesy of Photofest

  1. 10
    10

    The Bodyguard

    1992

    Costner adopts an implacable, granite-faced tough-guy front as the personal minder to Whitney Houston’s superstar damsel in distress in Mick Jackson’s romantic action thriller. Critics were lukewarm but box office was stratospheric. Costner later claimed his minimalist performance was a veiled homage to Steve McQueen, for whom the project was originally conceived many years before. 

  2. 9
    10

    Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves

    1991

    Photofest

    With tongue at least partially in cheek, Costner reinvents Sherwood Forest’s legendary guerrilla leader as a medieval action hero with an unashamedly American accent. Maintaining an agreeably light-hearted tone, Costner generously shares the limelight with a scene-stealing Alan Rickman and, in a surprise cameo, former Untouchables co-star Sean Connery.

  3. 8
    10

    No Way Out

    1987

    Orion/Photofest

    Set in Washington DC at the end of the Cold War, director Roger Donaldson’s glossy film noir remake stars Costner as a dashing young Navy officer who is framed for murder by crooked politicians under the pretext of flushing out an undercover KGB spy. Costner exudes a calculated, cold-blooded sexiness that suits an anti-heroic leading man whose motives only become clear in the twist-heavy final act.

  4. 7
    10

    Hatfield & McCoys

    2012

    Feeling at times like a 19th-century version of Duck Dynasty, the History Channel’s high-rating docudrama miniseries chronicles the notorious real-life blood feud between rival hillbilly clans on the Kentucky-Virginia border. Relishing the expanded range offered by a rare TV role, Costner’s flavorsome, full-blooded turn as bushy-bearded patriarch Anderson Hatfield earned him a Screen Actors Guild award and an Emmy.

  5. 6
    10

    Field of Dreams

    1989

    Photofest

    Costner was at the peak of his wholesome matinee idol phase when he starred in Phil Alden Robinson’s heart-tugging supernatural fairy tale about an Iowa farmer who obeys a ghostly voice to build a baseball diamond on his land. Boyish and affable, Costner brings some much-needed straight-talking Midwestern credibility to a fanciful yarn swimming in syrupy sentimentality.

  6. 5
    10

    The Untouchables

    1987

    Courtesy of Photofest

    Costner’s wholesome boy-scout persona is a good fit for Brian De Palma’s lavish period crime thriller about Elliot Ness, the incorruptible special agent who methodically brought down Chicago crime boss Al Capone. Costner shows Ness evolving from clean-cut rookie to wily street fighter, his buttoned-down performance nicely counterbalanced by an Oscar-winning Sean Connery as his boisterous, two-fisted sidekick Jim Malone. 

  7. 4
    10

    A Perfect World

    1993

    Courtesy of Photofest

    Set in 1963, Clint Eastwood’s tear-jerking chase thriller stars Costner as Butch Haynes, an escaped convict who kidnaps a young hostage as he flees across Texas, only to develop a fatherly affection for the boy on the open road. Taking on a role originally intended for Denzel Washington, Costner invests the anti-heroic Butch with rough-diamond tenderness and mischievous charm.

  8. 3
    10

    JFK

    1991

    Courtesy of Photofest

    Oliver Stone’s powerhouse essay on the mother of all conspiracy theories is an overcooked banquet of feverish speculation and brazen fabrication. But Costner provides the film’s calm, grounded center as New Orleans DA Jim Garrison, the only man ever to try and legally prove an assassination plot against John F. Kennedy. Costner’s polished performance conveys the piercing intelligence behind Garrison’s loquacious, old-school manners.

  9. 2
    10

    Bull Durham

    1988

    Courtesy of Photofest

    Former minor-league baseball player turned writer-director Ron Shelton crafted a career-making showcase for Costner in this bittersweet sports-themed love-triangle drama. Costner plays Crash Davis, a hard-drinking, burned-out baseball veteran trying to mold a gifted but volatile young pitcher for the big leagues. Tim Robbins and especially Susan Sarandon lend high-caliber support but it is Costner’s salty, sardonic screen presence that hits a home run.

  10. 1
    10

    Dances With Wolves

    1990

    Costner’s visually ravishing directorial debut remains a landmark achievement, a three-hour revisionist western which earned huge box office returns and won seven Oscars, including best director and best picture. After years of carefully shepherding the project from page to screen, Costner gives a measured and gracious star performance as a frontier cavalry officer who forms a rare bond with the Lakota Sioux people.