Film / Young Guns

Young Guns is a 1988 Western action film featuring an All-Star Cast in a dramatized retelling of the adventures of Billy the Kid during the Lincoln County War, which took place in New Mexico in 1877-1878.

William "Billy The Kid" Bonney (Emilio Estevez) is a young man who's hired by a cattle rancher named John Tunstall in Lincoln County, New Mexico, to protect his property. After a disagreement with a fellow rancher named Murphy (Jack Palance) results in Tunstall's death, Billy and several other men working at the farm, including Richard Brewer (Charlie Sheen), Gordon "Doc" Spurlock (Kiefer Sutherland), Jose Chavez (Lou Diamond Phillips), "Dirty" Steve Stephens (Dermot Mulroney) and Charlie Bowdre (Casey Siemaszko) convince a lawyer friend to deputize them and let them get revenge on one of Murphy's men.

The newfound group of deputies handle the situation by shooting Murphy's man and a group of his men without arresting them. What follows is a collision course as the six men run afoul of the local law enforcement, Murphy himself and the army, while the populace grows to respect and idolize their exploits. Many of the newfound outlaws die along the way as they try to evade the authorities and carve out an existence for themselves.

The film proved popular enough to warrant a sequel, Young Guns II, which was released in 1990. After Doc and Chavez are captured by law enforcement and set to be executed, Billy springs back into action to rescue them before the trio head south to Mexico. Just after they escape, a local cattle baron who was wronged by the group pays one of Billy's former partners, Pat Garrett, to hunt and kill him, setting off an explosive series of confrontations.

Though the films played very fast and loose with a lot of the details of the Lincoln County War and Billy's role in it, they are nonetheless held up as one of the better retellings in modern times.

This film contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Abnormal Ammo: Billy uses a rifle loaded with eighteen dimes instead of bullets to dispatch a bounty hunter in the sequel.
    Billy: That was the best dollar-eighty I ever spent.
  • Age Lift: Tunstall is depicted as an older British gent (Terence Stamp in this version), when in fact, he was 24 when ambushed and killed. He was 4 years older than William Bonney.
  • Ambiguously Brown: Chavez, who is Mexican-Navajo, played by Lou Diamond Phillips, who is of Filipino, Spanish, and Cherokee descent.
  • Anachronism Stew: In the opening sequence of the original film, at least two characters are seen brandishing Smith and Wesson Model 1899 double action revolvers. That model of revolver wouldn't be made for another 21 years after the events shown in the film.
  • Anyone Can Die: To the extent that the number of major characters who survive to the end of the second film can be counted on one hand.
  • Artistic License History:
    • In the second movie, the character "William Henry French" is a composite of two real life members of the Regulators (Jim French and Henry Brown), though he bears little resemblance to either one of them.
    • In real life, Alexander McSween died in the middle of a furious shootout, while the movie shows him being gunned down by US army soldiers for no apparent reason at a time when there was no other shooting by anyone.
    • Lawrence Murphy was not present at the actual final battle of the Lincoln County War, nor was he shot by Billy the Kid as the movie depicted. In fact, he was in extremely poor health at the time, and died of cancer a few months later.]]
    • Doc and Chavez both die in the second movie. In real life, both of them survived their exploits with Billy the Kid and went on to live full lives, both passing away from natural causes in the 1920s. Chavez died in 1924 at age 73, while Doc died in 1929 at 80. Oddly enough, the end of the first movie actually gets it right, explaining what they both went on to do after the Lincoln County War, but the sequel decides to change course and kill them off for some inexplicable reason.
  • Ascended Fanboy: Tom in the sequel.
  • Bad Ass Crew: The Regulators.
  • Bad Ass Long Coat: Many characters wear one, of the Old West "Duster" variety.
  • Band of Brothers: Though the group itself uses the term "pals" to mean the same thing.
    William Bonney: "If you got three or four good pals, why, then you got yourself a tribe. Ain't nothin' stronger than that."
  • Battle Cry: "Regulators!" Notably, Chavez yells it when he arrives with the additional horses at the end of the final shootout.
  • Bittersweet Ending: How the second film ends. Billy is still alive as an old man, but laments how many of his friends are dead and gone, and how he only has scars and his memories to show for it.
  • Boom, Headshot: How Billy kills Murphy at the end of the original film.
  • Bounty Hunter: An exceptionally badass and old one named Buckshot Roberts takes on Billy the Kid's entire gang by himself.
    Dick Brewer: We've got a warrant for you, old man.
    Buckshot Roberts: I ain't got no business with that war no more, peckerhead son of a bitch. I'm on my own. I've come to pick up the 150 dollars Sheriff Brady has put out for the Kid. The rest of you little shits're only worth about 110, but I'll take it.
    Doc: What a sweet disposition.
    Buckshot Roberts: All right, let's dance. (starts shooting)
  • But for Me, It Was Tuesday: Pat Garrett has an establishing moment when he finds a helpless enemy who says he knows him. After Garrett asks what the man's name is, he identifies himself as "Travers, from Tula Rosa". After Garrett thinks about this for a moment, he admits he has no idea who the man is and coldly executes him.
  • The Cameo: Country musician Randy Travis had an uncredited cameo in the original film as the gatling gun operator stationed in front of McSween's farm.
  • Catch Phrase: "Yoohoo! I'll make you famous..."
  • Cynicism Catalyst: Charlie goes through one long case of this throughout the original film, having realized that the group's actions will inevitably lead to their messy deaths. By the time they're trapped at the [McSween farm, he eventually realizes the futility of the situation and decides to act recklessly to save his friends.
  • Dead Star Walking: As the main cast were comprised of well-known young stars (the Brat Pack), the films run headlong into this trope.
    • In the original, Charlie Sheen's character, Richard "Dick" Brewer, shows up just long enough to establish friction with Billy before being ruthlessly gunned down by an assassin soon after the group's formation.
    • The sequel has [[Doc (Kiefer Sutherland)]], who dies before the halfway point of the film.
  • Death by Adaptation: While several of the outlaws who participated in the Lincoln County War survived and went on to live for many more years, they are killed off in the films to provide narrative weight. In real life, Charlie Bowdre died during the Stinking Springs shootout, but he dies in the first film in the final shootout at the McSween farm. Meanwhile, Doc Spurlock (who died of natural causes in real life) takes Bowdre's place in the sequel by sacrificing himself at Stinking Springs.
  • Death by Cameo:
    • Tom Cruise appears in an uncredited role in the original film, as one of Murphy's men who's shot by Charlie as he's running down the outdoor stairs during the final shootout.
    • In addition to performing the lead track for the sequel, Jon Bon Jovi appears in a small cameo as a chained prisoner who escapes (and is subsequently shot when he pulls a revolver on a deputy) during Billy's rescue of Doc and Chavez.
  • Death Faked for You: The second film concludes with Garrett and Billy's posse holding a fake funeral for him, and letting the world believe he's dead. Billy goes on to live the rest of his life under a fake identity.
  • Decoy Protagonist: Dick Brewer in the first film. After establishing him as the moral voice of the group, he appears long enough to create the Regulators but dies after an assassin ambushes him. He doesn't even live long enough to see the group become famous.
  • Distant Finale: The sequel ends with the Framing Device of Billy as an old man, who drives away a curious visitor before reflecting on the scars he's gained and the things he's seen before walking into the sunset.
  • Dressing as the Enemy: In the sequel, Billy and the other Regulators dress up as members of the lynch mob in order to rescue Doc and Chavez, by bluffing the town sheriff into releasing them into their care.
  • The Dying Walk: As a gut-shot Chavez is near death in the second movie, he suddenly gets up and walks away from the outlaw hideout, but soon collapses alone and by himself in the town.
  • Famed In-Story: By the time Young Guns 2 rolls around, Billy has acquired quite a bit of notoriety, with stories of his exploits being written and released in proto-comic book form; the stories may be period-appropriate Fan Fic at best, but the trope itself is Truth in Television.
  • Gilligan Cut: Used when Doc is briefly back in Lincoln to visit Yen Sun while the rest of the pals are elsewhere and discussing whether Doc is really coming back, as he's been gone a long time.
    Billy: He'll come back. Doc likes me.
    Doc: I can't stand him.
  • Great Escape: One thing Billy was great at: breaking out of jail or getting out of death traps.
  • The Gunfighter Wannabe: Charlie.
  • Guns Akimbo: During the final shootout at McSween's farm, Billy duel-wields revolvers and fires them at the same time after jumping out from the chest.
  • The Gunslinger: Billy, though notable for using treachery rather than a fast draw to get the drop on opponents.
  • Happy Ending Override: The "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue of the first film explains that Doc and Chavez went on to live happy and full lives after the Lincoln County War, and survived their exploits with Billy. Come the second film, their fates were changed so that Chavez dies from a lingering gunshot wound after an offscreen battle with Pat Garrett and his men, and Doc sacrifices himself so that the group can escape Garrett's ambush at Stinking Springs.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Doc Spurlock.
  • Hidden Depths: Billy shows he is quite adept at reading current events. Something the other Regulators were implied to be taught how to do so.
  • Human Shield: Doc Spurlock dies in this way, taking the full impact of multiple rounds fired at him by Garrett and his men while the rest of the group uses his body as cover as they run around a corner.
  • I Let You Win: The sequel implies that Garrett intentionally allows Billy to escape from ambushes several times, and even decides not to shoot him with a rifle when he has him directly in his sights.
  • Impaled Palm: In the sequel, Chavez gets stabbed in the hand with a knife. He then proceeds to knock the fuck out of the guy who stabbed him, one of the other young guns, and casually asks if the fight is over and offers the knife back. By pulling it out.
  • Infant Immortality: Subverted. The first person in Billy's gang to die in the second film is Tommy.
  • Intoxication Ensues: "Did you see the size of that chicken?"
  • The Irish Mob: A western variation of it: Murphy's organization - which monopolized a lot of businesses and ranching throughout Lincoln County - is pretty much made up of gangsters in dusters and cowboy boots. When Brit Tunstall shows up looking to compete in the markets, Irishman Murphy doesn't take it very well...
  • It Works Better with Bullets: Billy the Kid does this to a bounty hunter in the first. Pretending to be awestruck by the bounty hunter's boasts, he asks if he can touch the gun with which the hunter plans to kill Billy the Kid. The bounty hunter hands it to him, and Billy secretly unloads it before handing it back. Billy then reveals his true identity. The bounty hunter tries firing several times with the empty gun before Billy shoots him down.
  • Kill 'em All: By the end of the second film, the only survivors are Dave (who gets beheaded when he reaches Mexico), Hendry, and Billy (allegedly)]].
  • Knife Nut: Chavez, who wields a dagger which he throws at enemies and uses their bodies to wipe the blood off.
  • Large Ham: A good amount of scenery chewing takes place by Estevez, but Palance as mob boss Murphy outclasses even that.
  • Meaningful Echo: After Billy springs Doc and Chavez from their planned execution in the sequel, he convinces the former to get involved and fight by telling an old story Tunstall relayed sometime during the events of the original, concluding with the phrase, "I shall finish the game, Doc." When Doc performs his Heroic Sacrifice to allow the others to escape Stinking Springs, he interrupts Billy by saying, "Let's finish the game."
  • Miss Kitty: Jane in the sequel.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Doc has several moments of self-reflection where he laments what's happened, especially after the Regulators kill a turncoat and the man they were sent to arrest, and Doc looks on in shock at the lifeless corpses in the area. This motivates his eventual decision to reform for a time and become a teacher.
  • Noble Savage: Chavez, who's referred to as "the Indian" a few times, is portrayed as "the wise one" of the bunch and acts as a de facto shaman during the peyote sequence, bordering on Magical Native American.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Doc gives one to Billy in the sequel, accusing him of being so enamored with what the newspapers write about him that he's become reckless, which in turn caused Tommy's death.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Painfully subverted in the sequel. Once Billy admits that there is no "Mexican Blackbird" trail, Doc tells him he's fed up with him and decides to leave. As soon as he steps out of the abode, he's shot by one of Pat Garrett's men, and only holds out for a few moments before sacrificing himself to get the rest of the group to safety.
  • Small Role, Big Impact: For a one-scene character, Buckshot Roberts gets one of the best speeches in the original film, single-handedly holds off the entire group and kills Brewer. Even when the group fires several rounds into the outhouse he's hiding in, they are forced to run and can't confirm if he actually died, leaving his fate ambiguous.
  • Sociopathic Hero: Billy consistently behaves as one. He is excited every time there is bloodshed, and kills perhaps more people than any of his companions, often ignoring the original plan they agreed on just so he can kill more opponents. He pretty much single-handedly screws up Henry Hill's arrest by gunning him point-blank instead of arresting him, and leads to six more deaths on the spot, and makes the Regulators outlaws.
    Billy: By the way, you're under arrest! (Chuckle)
    • He begins to change in the sequel after Tommy dies.
  • Taking You with Me: During the final shootout, Charlie takes out Kinney with his dying breath before collapsing dead on the ground.
  • Tempting Fate: The premise that kicks off the sequel. Billy, Doc and Chavez could have just headed down to Mexico and waited for things to blow over, but the former instead decides to antagonize a cattle baron and force him to pay an uncollected debt before they leave. As a result, the baron hires Billy's old partner to track him down and kill him.
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: Murphy and his men use a gatling gun to unload more than 30 rounds into Alex Mc Sween, even though the gang has already escaped and the character has made no violent action towards them.
  • Too Dumb to Live: A sheriff in the second film tries to shoot Billy, even though Billy already has a gun on him and warns him several times not to. Guess what happens.
    Billy: "That was stupid, Bill."
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Although wildly embellishing a lot of the details of the Lincoln County War and Billy the Kid's part in it, both films were relatively better at sticking to the facts than a lot of earlier re-tellings.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?:
    • While the real-life Buckshot Roberts died the day after killing Dick Brewer (due to sustained injuries), the film version is left in ambiguous circmstances. The Regulators are forced to retreat after Brewer dies, and can't check to see if Roberts is dead inside the outhouse he's hiding in because Murphy's posse are already on their way and they don't want to risk more casualties.
    • Yen Sun disappears between the first and second films after riding off with Doc, and her whereabouts are never explained. Though Doc does mention that he has a wife and son in II, he never refers to her by name and her reaction to his death at Stinking Springs is never shown.
  • Young Gun: The Movie

Alternative Title(s): Young Guns II