Legends of the Fall
Theatrical release poster
Directed byEdward Zwick
Screenplay by
Based onLegends of the Fall
by Jim Harrison
Produced by
CinematographyJohn Toll
Edited bySteven Rosenblum
Music byJames Horner
Distributed bySony Pictures Releasing
Release date
  • December 23, 1994 (1994-12-23)
Running time
133 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$30 million[1]
Box office$160.6 million[2]

Legends of the Fall is a 1994 American epic Western drama film directed by Edward Zwick, and starring Brad Pitt, Anthony Hopkins, Aidan Quinn, Julia Ormond and Henry Thomas Based on the 1979 novella of the same title by Jim Harrison, the film is about three brothers and their father living in the wilderness and plains of Montana in the early 20th century and how their lives are affected by nature, history, war, and love. The film's time frame spans nearly 50 years from the early 20th century; World War I, through the Prohibition era, and ending with a brief scene set in 1963. The film was nominated for three Academy Awards and won for Best Cinematography (John Toll).[3] Both the film and book contain occasional Cornish language terms, the Ludlows being a Cornish immigrant family.[4]


Sick of betrayals the US government perpetrated on Native Americans, Colonel William Ludlow leaves the Army, moving to a remote part of Montana. Along with One Stab, a Cree friend, he builds a ranch and raises his family. Accompanying them are hired hand and former outlaw Decker with his Cree wife Pet, and daughter Isabel Two. William has three sons: Alfred, the eldest; Tristan, the middle son; and Samuel, the youngest.

William's wife Isabel does not adapt to the harsh Montana winters, so moves to the East Coast; Tristan vows never to speak of her. At age 12, Tristan touches a sleeping grizzly bear. The bear awakens and injures him, but he cuts off a claw.

Years later, Samuel returns from Harvard University with his fiancée, Susannah. She finds Tristan captivating but loves Samuel. Before they can marry, he announces his intention to join the Canadian Expeditionary Force and aid Britain in the fight against Germany in World War I. Much to their father's displeasure, Alfred also joins. Although Tristan does not want to join, he does so after swearing to Susannah to protect Samuel.

The brothers find themselves in the 10th Battalion, CEF. Alfred, commissioned as an officer, leads a charge into no man's land. The attack results in heavy casualties and he is wounded. While visiting Alfred in the field hospital, Tristan learns that Samuel volunteered for a dangerous reconnaissance mission. He rushes off to protect his brother but arrives too late. Tristan holds Samuel until he dies, then cuts out his brother's heart and sends it home to be buried at the ranch.

Tristan single-handedly raids the German lines and returns to camp with the scalps of German soldiers hanging around his neck, horrifying his fellow soldiers. He is discharged but does not go home. Alfred returns to Montana and proposes to Susannah, but she declines.

Tristan returns home, where Susannah finds him weeping over Samuel's grave. She comforts him and they become lovers. A jealous Alfred confronts Tristan before leaving to make his name in Helena. Tristan is plagued with guilt over Samuel's death and feels responsible for driving Alfred away; he leaves Montana for several years.

Susannah vows to wait for Tristan, but eventually receives a letter from him telling her to marry someone else. Alfred comforts her, and when William finds them together, it leads to a falling out between father and son. William later suffers a stroke, does not speak for years and the ranch deteriorates. Susannah marries Alfred, now a congressman. Alfred's business and politics cause him to get involved with the O'Banion brothers, Irish bootleggers and gangsters.

Tristan returns during Prohibition, bringing life back to the ranch and to his father. He falls in love with Isabel Two and they marry and have two children. Tristan becomes involved in small-scale rum-running, finding himself at odds with the O'Banions. Isabel Two is accidentally killed by a corrupt police officer working for the gangsters. In a fit of grief, Tristan beats the officer nearly to death and is jailed.

Susannah visits Tristan, still having feelings for him, but he refuses her advances. After his release, he and Decker kill those responsible for Isabel's death, including one of the O'Banion brothers.

Unable to live without Tristan, Susannah commits suicide. The remaining O'Banion brother, along with the sheriff and another police officer, come after Tristan. At the ranch, William and Alfred kill the attackers. Alfred reconciles with his father and brother.

The family realizes that Tristan will be blamed for the deaths, prompting him to ask Alfred to take care of his children. One Stab's narration explains that they buried the bodies and dumped the car in the Missouri River. He reflects that rather than dying young as One Stab expected, Tristan lived to watch his children and grandchildren grow. One Stab observes that it was the people Tristan loved and wanted to protect most that died young.

In 1963, Tristan, now an old man living in the North Country, investigates an animal carcass and is confronted by a grizzly bear. He draws his knife and fights it. As they struggle, One Stab narrates, "It was a good death.".




Legends of the Fall was primarily filmed on location in Alberta and British Columbia, Canada. Principal photography began in mid-July 1993.[5] The World War I battlefield scenes took two weeks to film and were shot near Morley, Alberta, with hundreds of locals and a few Canadian Forces soldiers recruited as extras.[6] The Ghost River Wilderness Area in Alberta served as the filming location for the Ludlow ranch; additional outdoor scenes, as well as the funeral and cemetery scenes, were shot at the Bow River near Banff National Park. A historic harbour area in Vancouver called Gastown was augmented with period building facades for the Helena, Montana, street scenes. Hotel scenes were shot at the Hotel Europe at 43 Powell Street in Vancouver. Additional scenes were shot at Maple Tree Square in Gastown, Vancouver, and Ocho Rios in Saint Ann, Jamaica. Filming wrapped up around January 1994.[7]

in 2024, Zwick released his memoir, Hits, Flops, and Other Illusions: My Fortysomething Years in Hollywood, in which he talked about his difficult experiences working with Brad Pitt, whom he described as volatile. Zwick claimed that they clashed over their visions for the film, and that Pitt was upset about the final cut.[8][9][10][11]


Box office

The film opened in limited release on December 23, 1994, and expanded to a wide release on January 13, 1995. During its first weekend in wide release, which was a four-day weekend due to Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the film reached number one at the domestic box office after grossing $14 million.[12] After its initial run, the film brought in a final box office total of $160,638,883.[2] Against its $30 million budget, the film was a financial success.

Critical response

Review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reports that 59% of 58 film critics have given the film a positive review, with a rating average of 5.90/10. The site's consensus states: "Featuring a swoon-worthy star turn by Brad Pitt, Legends of the Fall's painterly photography and epic sweep often compensate for its lack of narrative momentum and glut of melodramatic twists."[13] Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average score out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, gives the film a score of 45 based on 23 reviews, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[14]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times described the film as "pretty good ... with full-blooded performances and heartfelt melodrama".[15] Peter Travers of Rolling Stone particularly praised Pitt's performance saying, "Though the admirable Quinn has the toughest role, Pitt carries the picture. The blue-eyed boy who seemed a bit lost in Interview with the Vampire proves himself a bona fide movie star, stealing every scene he's in."[16] Comparatively, Chris Hicks of Deseret News noted, "Pitt is the hunk of the moment, and Legends of the Fall will only further cement his big-screen, romantic leading-man status. And he is satisfying as the internalized, rebellious Tristan (look for that name to be given to more than a few babies over the next few years). Even if the character seems only a slight twist on the similar role he played in A River Runs Through It. (He even becomes a bootlegger!)"[3] Multiple critics compared the plot of the Ludlow brothers to films like East of Eden and Giant.[17][18][16][15]

On the other hand, Rita Kempley of The Washington Post stated that the film's "yarn doesn't so much sweep as sprawl across the screen in all its panoramic idiocy".[19] While some critics praised the film's performances and cinematography, they also felt the plot takes on much more than it can handle and might be better suited for a miniseries.[20][21] John Hartl of The Seattle Times wrote, "The actors fit their roles exceptionally well, but Zwick rarely allows them the kinds of crucial, intimate moments that establish how the characters feel about each other. Occasionally the story grips, suggesting what might have been if the actors had been playing people instead of archetypes."[22] The film's script and its propensity for melodrama was also critiqued, with some saying the story reaches soap opera-like heights and leaves its characters underdeveloped.[23][17][24][25] Variety wrote, "As densely plotted as Legends of the Fall is, it’s to the credit of the performers and craftsmen that the film escapes the abyss of melodrama and sentimentality. Zwick imbues the story with an easy, poetic quality that mostly sidesteps the precious. The actors, working as an ensemble, are near perfect in the service of the material."[26] In contrast, Terrence Rafferty of The New Yorker described the film as a "father-and-sons saga" that "gets sillier as it goes".[27]

Janet Maslin of The New York Times commented, "Before it turns exhaustingly hollow, this film shows the potential for bringing Mr. Harrison's tough, brooding tale to life. And the actors may have captured the spirit of the story, but that's impossible to know."[28] She concluded, "These are performances that lost too much in the editing room, smothered by music and overshadowed by a picture-postcard vision of the American West."[28] In The Baltimore Sun, Stephen Hunter wrote, "What 'Legends of the Fall' lacks is any spirit of rigor. It buys into -- indeed, is selling -- the oldest of guff: the idea that the violence of banal men is beautiful and righteous. It honors male anger...[it] worships the red shift of men gone nuts on vengeance. It romanticizes gunplay. It's a big movie that's so small on the inside it's not there."[29]

Year-end lists


Award Category Recipient Result Ref.
Academy Awards Best Cinematography John Toll Won [3][32]
Best Art Direction Lilly Kilvert, Dorree Cooper Nominated
Best Sound Paul Massey, David E. Campbell,
Christopher David and Douglas Ganton
Golden Globe Awards Best Motion Picture – Drama Nominated [33]
Best Director Edward Zwick Nominated
Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama Brad Pitt Nominated
Best Original Score James Horner Nominated

Home media

Legends of the Fall was first released on DVD on April 29, 1997. A special edition DVD was released on October 17, 2000 with bonus content including two audio commentaries, deleted scenes with optional commentary and two behind-the-scenes featurettes.[34] On November 29, 2005, a deluxe edition DVD was released.[35] On February 8, 2011, the film was released on Blu-ray.[36]


  1. ^ "Legends of the Fall (1994) - Financial Information".
  2. ^ a b "Legends of the Fall (1994)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved September 23, 2017.
  3. ^ a b c Hicks, Chris (January 16, 1995). "Film review: Legends of the Fall". Deseret News. Retrieved July 19, 2023.
  4. ^ Tristram, Hildegard L. C. (2007). The Celtic Languages in Contact. Potsdam University Library#Potsdam University Press. p. 204. ISBN 978-3-940793-07-2.
  5. ^ "Hopkins lines up Beethoven role". Reading Eagle. August 27, 1993. p. 51. Retrieved December 11, 2012.
  6. ^ "Reel Adventures Alberta Movie Maps". Alberta SouthWest. pp. 1–9. Archived from the original on September 25, 2012. Retrieved December 11, 2012.
  7. ^ Ansen, David (January 16, 1994). "The Flowering Of A Late Bloomer". The Daily Beast. p. 2. Archived from the original on May 8, 2012. Retrieved December 11, 2012.
  8. ^ "Brad Pitt and the Wild Making of Legends of the Fall". vanityfair.
  9. ^ "Brad Pitt 'wasn't pleased' with Legends of the Fall, says director Ed Zwick". EW.
  10. ^ "Legends of the Fall director reveals 'volatile' and 'edgy' Brad Pitt almost walked away from movie". independent.
  11. ^ "Brad Pitt Wasn't 'Volatile' on Set, Says Source, Slamming Director as 'Desperate for Attention' (Exclusive)". People.com.
  12. ^ "Weekend Box Office Results for January 13-16, 1995". Box Office Mojo. IMDb. Retrieved July 19, 2023.
  13. ^ "Legends of the Fall – Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved November 9, 2023.
  14. ^ "Legends of the Fall". CBS Interactive. Metacritic. Retrieved December 11, 2012.
  15. ^ a b Ebert, Roger (January 13, 1995). "Legends of the Fall". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved April 15, 2019.
  16. ^ a b Travers, Peter (January 13, 1995). "Legends of the Fall | Movie Reviews". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on January 7, 2023. Retrieved December 12, 2012.
  17. ^ a b Turan, Kenneth (December 23, 1994). "MOVIE REVIEW : 'Legends of the Fall': A Giant Film, in More Ways Than One". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on May 12, 2015. Retrieved July 21, 2023.
  18. ^ Schickel, Richard (February 6, 1995). "East of Eden, South of Canada". Time. Archived from the original on October 7, 2010. Retrieved July 21, 2023.
  19. ^ Kempley, Rita (January 13, 1995). "'Legends of the Fall' (R)". The Washington Post. Retrieved December 11, 2012.
  20. ^ Byrge, Duane (January 13, 2019). "'Legends of the Fall': THR's 1994 Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved July 21, 2023.
  21. ^ Thompson, Gary (January 13, 1995). "'Legends' Are Riding For A Fall". Philadelphia Inquirer. Archived from the original on April 8, 2014. Retrieved July 21, 2023.
  22. ^ Hartl, John (January 13, 1995). "Don't Fall For 'Legends'". The Seattle Times. Retrieved July 21, 2023.
  23. ^ Schwarzbaum, Lisa (January 13, 1995). "Legends of the Fall". EW.com. Retrieved July 21, 2023.
  24. ^ Russell, Candice (January 13, 1995). "'Legends Of The Fall' Empty As The Big Sky". Sun-Sentinel. Archived from the original on April 8, 2014. Retrieved July 21, 2023.
  25. ^ Stack, Peter (January 13, 1995). "Brad Pitt's 'Legends' Is an Epic Soap Opera". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved July 21, 2023.
  26. ^ "Legends of the Fall". Variety. January 1, 1994. Retrieved July 21, 2023.
  27. ^ Rafferty, Terrence. "Legends of the Fall". The New Yorker. Archived from the original on December 18, 2008. Retrieved July 21, 2023.
  28. ^ a b Maslin, Janet (December 23, 1994). "Grit vs. Good Looks In the American West". The New York Times. Retrieved December 12, 2012.
  29. ^ Hunter, Stephen (January 13, 1995). "'Legends of the Fall' is hit-and-myth". The Baltimore Sun. Archived from the original on April 7, 2014. Retrieved July 21, 2023.
  30. ^ Ross, Bob (December 30, 1994). "1994 The Year in Entertainment". The Tampa Tribune (Final ed.). p. 18.
  31. ^ Simon, Jeff (January 1, 1995). "Movies: Once More, with Feeling". The Buffalo News. Retrieved July 19, 2020.
  32. ^ "The 67th Academy Awards (1995) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved August 5, 2011.
  33. ^ "Winners & Nominees 1995". GoldenGlobes.com. Retrieved July 19, 2023.
  34. ^ "Legends of the Fall". October 9, 2000. Archived from the original on December 9, 2000. Retrieved April 17, 2012.
  35. ^ "Legends of the Fall - Releases". AllMovie. Retrieved July 23, 2023.
  36. ^ Calonge, Juan (November 29, 2010). "Legends of the Fall Blu-ray Announced, A River Runs through It in Regular Case". Blu-ray.com. Retrieved December 12, 2012.