The extralegal exploits of Henry Carter, a.k.a. “Billy the Kid,” received the treatment of a rock star in 1988 with screenwriter John-Fusco’s western redux, Young Guns. With a cast of brash young actors and a rock n’ roll soundtrack, Christopher Cain created an account of the events surrounding the Lincoln County War in 1877 New Mexico. And while the film was sketchy on some of the facts, it was spot on with wit, humor, and hell-raising gunfire. Breakfast Clubber Emilio Estevez, Stand By Me villain Kiefer Sutherland, La Bamba star Lou Diamond Phillips and Ferris Beuller bad-boy Charlie Sheen comprised the title characters while Superman‘s Terence Stamp, City Slicker Jack Palance, and Lost star Terry O’Quinn shored up the supporting cast.
English cattle rancher John Tunstall (Stamp) hires wayward gunslingers to be his faithful ranch hands. When a rival rancher named Murphy (Palance) has Tunstall murdered, Billy (Estevez), Doc (Sutherland), Chavez (Phillips), and Dick (Sheen) become deputized to find and arrest the men responsible, calling themselves “The Regulators.” But when Billy begins to kill them, the vengeful youths abandon Dick’s leadership in favor of Billy’s.
The deputies quickly become outlaws with the U. S. Army breathing down their necks at they try to deliver their own form of justice on Murphy and his corrupt lawmen. After lying low for a while, they find themselves ambushed. With guns blazing, the Regulators last until the next morning when the cavalry — literally and metaphorically — arrives. When the besieging force sets fire to the house, only Billy’s guns-and-glory attitude can possibly save them from reaping the whirlwind.
While not as appealing to the Western-loving traditionalist, Young Guns managed to find its audience nonetheless among the younger generation and has kept its cult following ever since. Its forty-five million dollars in domestic box office helped to convince 20th Century Fox to take a chance on a profitable sequel, Young Guns II, two years later.
If you have fond memories of this western adventure, we hope you’ll share your Young Guns memories with us in our comments section, as we tip our cowboy hats to this well-remembered 80s film.