Better on DVD: The Blu-Ray release is the version restored closest to Cimino's original vision.
Broken Base: Either it's one of the worst films of the 1980's or a misunderstood masterpiece.
Designated Hero: Several viewers have found themselves rooting for the Association, as the immigrants, what with their lack of Character Development and rather annoying voices, come across as less likable.
Ending Fatigue: With a runtime of three hours and 46 minutes, this is one of the biggest complaints, as the plot isn't especially viewed to be enough to fill out the running time. In particular, the epilogue is viewed as extraneous and could have been cut.
Many people consider this as the film that ended the New Hollywood and scapegoated the entire generation as Prima Donna Directors. In actual fact, at the time of the film's release, funding was already drying up for ambitious projects and the film industry was already bought out by corporations who sought to follow the trend of Star Wars.
Other observers point out that the similarly Troubled ProductionApocalypse Now was a box-office success and that Heaven's Gate was also accompanied by other expensive films like Steven Spielberg's 1941 and Warren Beatty's Reds, the former being a critical failure, an out of control production and a modest success, while the latter being successful and preserving Beatty's reputation. Spielberg himself enjoyed a couple of expensive flops in The '80s and The '90s such as Hook and Empire of the Sun yet his career did not quite sink as drastically as Cimino's. In many ways, Cimino's behavior was not especially excessive for his time, and he had success with The Deer Hunter to justify his ambition and grit, yet this one failure ruined his Hollywood career for good.
There's also the argument that the film's failure was a result of negative publicity about the film's production reported in news reports before the film's release. Negative publicity had damaged the reception of Ishtar (a late-80s Box Office Bomb that like Heaven's Gate is now seen in a better light) and this in turn put more pressure on the producers who released a cut-down version to critics which didn't make sense, and only made things worse. This practice of cutting down and sabotaging releases also led to other instances in The '80s such as Blade Runner and Brazil whose Re-Cut version released later proved to be successful.
Protection from Editors: The main reason why the film's budget spiralled so ludicrously out of control; Cimino's contract said that short of outright firing him, the producers could not interfere with the film's writing or filming process in any way. The contract did allow the producers to make and release their own cut (which they ultimately did), but Cimino ended up creating such a long, dense plot that the producer's cut turned out to be a barely comprehensible mess.
Romantic Plot Tumor: The Love Triangle between Averill, Champion, and Ella takes up a great deal of the movie; detractors point out what little chemistry she has with both men.
Signature Scene: The Roller Skate dance sequence, complete with David Mansfield introducing the dance by skating around with the violin.
So Okay, It's Average: What some viewers now see the film as. While the cinematography, sets, and production design are generally seen as absolutely beautiful, the story and characters aren't viewed as being relatable or all that interesting.
Vindicated by Video: The landmark cable event happened when the Z-Channel showed it a few months after release and Vincent Canby's withering, almost personal attacks on the film to prove it was actually pretty good. Then, after VHS and DVD releases, the film has acquired a bit of a cult following and is seeing a margin of critical revision postulating that it isn't really that bad. In particular, the 2013 re-release of the Director's Cut has been met with critical praise.
What Do You Mean, It's Not Political?: Michael Cimino argued that he simply wanted to make a compelling story, not a political one. That didn't stop some critics from calling him a Communist and the film left-wing propaganda. Granted, the film was about poor immigrants being unfairly slaughtered by rich elitists with full support from the American government; surely Cimino must have known how politically-charged that subject matter is. It didn't help when he gave an interview around the time of the edited version's release saying that he wanted to show the birth of the American mentality that ultimately led to Vietnam.
WTH, Casting Agency?: This was the producers' initial response to Cimino wanting to cast French actress Isabelle Huppert as the female (American) lead. Few people would argue that Huppert is in any way a bad actress, but her role in this film is probably the one that divides critics the most; in particular, the producers and many critics shared the opinion that her dialogue is fairly incomprehensible at times. Of course, one of the producers tried Executive Meddling. Cimino's response? "Go fuck yourself." According to Final Cut, the book Steven Bach wrote on the making of it, the executives fought him every step of the way against casting Huppert, finally giving up when they realized that he was infatuated with her and that if they didn't agree, he would walk.