Have you Seen These Movies Based on This Infamous Shootout?
Arizona’s history is populated by memorable characters and iconic locations. The unforgiving desert climate molded some of the toughest figures in the southwest: Doc Holliday, Ike Clanton, “Curly Bill” Brocius, just to name a few. There’s one event in particular that has sparked the imagination of filmmakers for decades: the shootout at the O.K. Corral.
Our setting for this story: Tombstone, Arizona in the early 1880s. It was a thriving mining town, with the recent discovery of silver nearby. Wyatt, Morgan and Virgil Earp were the town’s primary lawmen, known for their ruthless pursuit of justice. The Earps were good friends with Doc Holliday, a local gambler and dentist. Just outside of town lived the Clanton and McLaury families, a group of rough-around-the-edges cowboys, known for thievery, cattle rustling and even murder.
The two groups had been feuding all summer, and on the fateful afternoon of October 26th, 1881, they met face-to-face in alley a few blocks from the O.K. Corral, a livery and horse corral. A 30-second shootout ensued, during which 30 shots were fired. The clash resulted in the deaths of Billy Clanton and both McLaury brothers. Doc Holliday (who also suffered from tuberculosis) was wounded, alongside Virgil and Morgan Earp. Members of the cowboy gang Ike Clanton, Billy Claiborne and Wes Fuller fled from the fight. Learn more about where Ike Clanton ended up in this blog post.
Little did the Earps, Doc Holliday or the cowboys know that this October fight would provide a wealth of inspiration for an entire genre. Saloon holdups? Yep. Tumbleweeds and circling vultures? Of course. Gun slingin,’ hat tippin,’ mustang wranglin’ outlaws? You got it.
Here are some of the best Wild West movies based on the notorious shootout at the O.K. Corral.
- My Darling Clementine (1946)
This American Western film, directed by John Ford, stars Henry Fonda as Wyatt Earp and Victor Mature as Doc Holliday. It chronicles the events leading up to the shootout, with some creative license. The film takes place in 1882 (a year after the actual shoot out) and includes some fictionalized characters, including Clementine Carter, a supposed love interest for both Holliday and Earp. Toward the end of the film, Doc is dramatically killed during the shootout. Despite My Darling Clementine not representing the shootout with complete accuracy, it is widely regarded as one of the best Western films ever made. It was reportedly Harry Truman’s favorite movie.
- Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957)
Directed by John Sturges, The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral solidified the Tombstone battle as the most iconic shootout in the American West’s history. The film featured some big names like Burt Lancaster as Wyatt Earp and Kirk Douglas as Doc Holliday. There are several obvious inaccuracies: Ike Clanton is portrayed as the leader of the cowboy gang, when in reality, his father, Old Man Clanton called the shots. Further, the film depicts the shooting as a prolonged, heavily armed fight, when in reality it was at much closer range and lasted less than a minute. The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral was nominated for two Academy Awards, and both Lancaster and Douglas were nominated for Golden Laurel in the category of top male action star.
- Hour of the Gun (1967) John Sturges’ follow up to his 1957 film attempts a more accurate recreation of the events at the O.K. Corral in 1881. In the opening credits, an onscreen title appears: “This picture is based on Fact. This is the way it happened.” In this film, Ike Clanton survives the shootout and becomes the film’s primary antagonist thereafter. All the landscapes were shot on location in Arizona to create one of the most visually appealing Westerns out there. Rather than an action-packed drama, Hour of the Gun is considered a melancholy character study, with Wyatt Earp portrayed as a wearied and troubled lawman.
- Tombstone (1993)
A financial and critical success, Tombstone reinvigorated the Wild West genre in the early ‘90s, proving that these characters, stories and settings are truly timeless. Director George P. Cosmatos was particularly focused on accurate historical detail, ensuring all the costumes, props and the Arizona scenery was authentic. Even the mustaches are real. Cosmatos zoomed in on the friendship between Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday, delivering a more intimate portrayal of the two characters’ relationship. Notably, the infamous shoot out is much closer to reality and propels the plot into its true conflict, rather than taking center stage.
The shootout at the O.K. Corral has come to represent a violent, lawless time in Arizona’s history. While Earp, Holliday and Ike Clanton were not well-known during their lifetimes, they have become recurrent characters and immortalized in movies like these.