Dances with Wolves is an epic 1990 Western film starring and directed by Kevin Costner that won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1991.

The film, like the eponymous 1988 novel by Michael Blake (who has also written the screenplay for the film), the story of a Civil War-era United States Army lieutenant who travels to the American frontier to find a military post and eventually befriends a local Sioux tribe. The movie has won seven Academy Awards.

It is fourth-highest grossing film of 1990, and is the highest-grossing film for Orion Pictures. It is one of the only three Western films to win the Oscar for Best Picture, the other two being Cimarron (1931) and Unforgiven (1992).

Blake intended to make a sequel film, as he already did with his second novel, The Holy Land, published 2001, and it takes place 11 years after Dances with Wolves, where John Dunbar is still married to Stands with a Fist, and they have three children. Stands with a Fist and one of the children are kidnapped by a party of white rangers, and Dances with Wolves must mount a rescue mission. Starting in 2007, Blake was writing the script for its film adaptation, but Costner didn't want to continue production for Blake, hence why a second film wasn't created. Moreover, The Great Mystery wanted to write a third novel titled The Great Mystery but died.


Lt. John Dunbar is dubbed a hero after he accidentally leads Union troops to a victory during the Civil War. He requests a position on the western frontier, but finds it deserted. He soon finds out he is not alone, but meets a wolf he dubs "Two-socks" and a curious Indian tribe. Dunbar quickly makes friends with the tribe, and discovers a white woman who was raised by the Indians. He gradually earns the respect of these native people, and sheds his white-man's ways. Not long after, the frontier becomes the frontier no more, and as the US army advances on the plains, John must make a decision that will not only affect him, but also the lives of the natives he now calls his people.


Cast Character Lakota name (if available)
Kevin Costner Lt. John J. Dunbar/Dances with Wolves Šuŋgmánitu Tȟáŋka Ób Wačhí
Mary McDonnell Stands with a Fist/Christine Gunther Napépȟeča Nážiŋ Wiŋ
Graham Greene Kicking Bird Ziŋtká Nagwáka
Rodney A. Grant Wind in His Hair Pȟehíŋ Otȟáte
Floyd Red Crow Westerman Chief Ten Bears Matȟó Wikčémna
Tantoo Cardinal Black Shawl Šiná Sápa Wiŋ
Jimmy Herman Stone Calf Íŋyaŋ Ptehíŋčala
Nathan Lee Chasing His Horse Smiles a Lot Iȟá S'a
Michael Spears Otter Ptáŋ
Jason R. Lone Hill Worm Waglúla
Charles Rocket Lt. Elgin
Robert Pastorelli Timmons
Tony Pierce Spivey
Larry Joshua Bauer
Kirk Baltz Edwards
Tom Everett Sergeant Pepper
Maury Chaykin Major Fambrough
Wes Studi Toughest Pawnee
Wayne Grace The Major
Michael Horton Captain Cargill (extended version)
Doris Leader Charge Pretty Shield, Chief Ten Bears' wife
Donald Hotton General Tide
Frank P. Costanza Tucker
Annie Costner Christine Gunther (a child)
Otakuye Conroy Kicking Bird's daughter
Jim Wilson Doctor (uncredited)


The eponymous original soundtrack was composed by John Barry. It was issued in 1990 initially and again in 1995 with a few bonus tracks and in 2004 with the score "in its entirety". Moreover, Peter Buffett scored the "Fire Dance" scene. Below is the list of tracks in the 1990 release.

  1. "Main Title – Looks Like a Suicide" – 3:59
  2. "The John Dunbar Theme" – 2:16
  3. "Journey to Fort Sedgewick" – 3:25
  4. "Ride to Fort Hays" – 2:00
  5. "The Death of Timmons" – 2:24
  6. "Two Socks – The Wolf Theme" – 1:30
  7. "Pawnee Attack" – 3:49
  8. "Kicking Bird's Gift" – 2:10
  9. "Journey to the Buffalo Killing Ground" – 3:43
  10. "The Buffalo Hunt" – 2:42
  11. "Stands with a Fist Remembers" – 2:09
  12. "The Love Theme" – 3:46
  13. "The John Dunbar Theme" – 2:04
  14. "Two Socks at Play" – 1:59
  15. "The Death of Cisco" – 2:14
  16. "Rescue of Dances with Wolves" – 2:09
  17. "The Loss of the Journal and the Return to Winter Camp" – 2:09
  18. "Farewell and End Title" – 8:50


It was distributed by Orion Pictures and it premiered at Uptown Theater on October 19, 1990, before being released in theaters in the rest of the United States on November 9, 1990.

The film was later on released in the form of home video in the United States in September 1991, and this film has beaten the rental record set by the 1990 film Ghost, renting 649,000 units. It was later on released on Blu-ray and DVD on January 11, 2011, and was re-released on Blu-ray on January 13, 2015 and again on November 13, 2018.


This film has won seven Academy Awards in 1991, one of them for example being for best picture. It also received the Golden Globe Award for best drama. A few of its nominations include the best lead actor (Kevin Costner), best supporting actor (Graham Greene), best supporting actress (Mary McDonnell), and one for best costume design. It has received awards for best picture, best cinematography, best direction, best editing, best music, best sound, and best screenplay.


  • This film is not based on a true story. However, the life of the indigenous people depicted in this film has a lot of similarities with real-life.
  • The Native American characters are played by real indigenou people who have relearned Sioux language.
  • Doris Leader Charge, a South Dakota-based Lakota language teacher, translated the script from English to her native language.
  • While the time for shooting the film was scheduled to last for 60 days, it ended up lasting 48 more days, forcing Costner to pay a good quarter of the budget himself, to finish the film.
  • An extended version of the film, titled Dances with Wolves: The Special Edition, was released around a year after the release of the original film. It had an extra 52 minutes, which were removed because a film shouldn't legally be longer than 3 hours.