Heaven's Gate (lost workprint cut of Western film; 1980)

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The film's hyper-perfectionist director, Michael Cimino.

Status: Lost

Heaven's Gate is an American Western film directed by Michael Cimino. The movie is infamous for the fact that it was an extreme critical and box office bomb, grossing only $3.5 million dollars against its $44 million dollar budget.[1] It is also notorious for being considered one of the worst films of all time at one point (however, modern critics have lightened up to the film), and also for the film's hyper-perfectionist director, Michael Cimino.[2]


In April 1979, filming began for the film.[3] However, by the sixth day of filming, the film was already five days behind schedule. This is due to Cimino's infamously extreme attention-to-detail way of directing. An example is where Cimino had a street built exactly to his precise spefications torn down because it didn't look right to him. He wanted it to be six feet wider. The construction boss said it would be a lot cheaper to tear down one side of the street and move it back six feet, but Cimino forced the construction workers to tear down both sides of the street and move them three feet.[4] Another example of his crazy perfectionism is where he demanded up to 50 takes of individual scenes, and delaying filming of one scene until a cloud he liked went across the sky.[5]

Cimino made more than 220 hours (1.3 million feet) of film, costing United Artists $220,000 per day in location, salary and acting fees.[6]

Most of the footage was obviously cut down for theaters. By March 1980, Heaven's Gate had finished filming. Allegedly, during post-production, Michael Cimino locked the doors to the studio's editing room and changed the lock, preventing United Artists executives from seeing the cut until he was finished, although Cimino denied doing this.[7]


The film came in around 325 minutes (five hours and twenty-five minutes). The United Artists executives refused to release the film at this excessively long length, and contemplated firing Cimino. However, Cimino promised the executives that he would re-edit the film, and he did so over the summer of 1980, with the film coming in at 3 hours and 39 minutes. The film's December 1979 release date was already long past, so UA and Cimino eventually set a November 1980 release date for the film.[8]

The film flopped spectacularly, grossing way below its budget,[9] and receiving extremely negative reviews from critics initially.[10] It ended up making UA go out of business, and from that point on, Michael Cimino's career was officially ruined due to public perception of his films being tainted thanks to Heaven's Gate. Every film Cimino made after Heaven's Gate was a critical or commercial failure, or both.[11] Cimino died on July 2nd, 2016.[12]

The workprint cut of the film has not surfaced since. It may even no longer exist due to it being directly edited on for a 149-minute version of the film.[13] The chances are extremely slim that another copy of the workprint exists. Due to this, these many missing scenes of this infamous film may be lost forever.