MCM: Val Kilmer

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I’ve always thought of Val Kilmer as America’s answer to Daniel Day Lewis. Handsome, talented, Method to the point of not only driving themselves insane, but everyone else around them… Not an easy guy to work with, to be sure, but you can’t argue that his movies disappoint. So, today we’re taking some time out to reflect on Val’s body of historical filmwork over the course of his 35-year career.

And to quote some guy I know, “Never not be Doc Holliday.”

 

The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1986)

Adapted from the short story by Edgar Allen Poe, Kilmer plays Philippe Huron, a character not actually in the original story, but hey, he’s eye-candy.

 

The Man Who Broke 1,000 Chains (1987)

Set in 1922, Kilmer is cast as Robert Elliot Burns, a WWI vet who gets arrested and thrown in a Georgia prison and forced to work under horrific conditions on a chain gang. Kind of sounds like “Cool Hand Luke” with a happy ending.

 

Willow (1988)

Oh, Mad Martigan, you roguish charmer, you.

 

Billy the Kid (1989)

The first in a long list of Westerns for Kilmer.

 

The Doors (1991)

I remember seeing this movie when it came out and having a hard time separating Kilmer’s depiction of Jim Morrison with the actual Jim Morrison.

 

Tombstone (1993)

I’m going to just come right out and say it: Doc Holliday is probably Kilmer’s best role. Fight me.

 

Wings of Courage (1995)

He’s only in the film for a hot second, as Jean Mermoz, pioneering French aviator.

The Ghost and the Darkness (1996)

An adaptation of the 1907 book, The Man-eaters of Tsavo, by John Henry Patterson (who Kilmer plays in the film). Man-eating lions terrorize the workers building the Uganda-Mombasa Railway in Kenya. Screenplay was by William Goldman and I remember it being a good flick.

George and the Dragon (2004)

Another hot second appearance by Kilmer in this historical fantasy flick.

 

Alexander (2004)

Kilmer plays King Phillip, father of Alexander the Great.

 

Comanche Moon (2008)

I have to admit, the costumes have me intrigued, even though I am generally not a fan of Westerns.

 

Wyatt Earp’s Revenge (2012)

A return to the story of Wyatt Earp, this time taking place during Earp’s time in as a deputy in Dodge City, Kansas. Kilmer plays the older Earp who tells the story of the murder of Dora Hand to a reporter some thirty or so years later.

 

The Spoils of Babylon (2014)

I find it interesting that I had never heard of this miniseries until I started researching Kilmer’s historical film roles. A spoof of an “epic TV miniseries”. and as a general rule, I love anything that takes the piss out of Hollywood.

 

Tom Sawyer & Huckleberry Finn (2014) / Cinema Twain (2016) / Mark Twain and Mary Baker Eddy (2020?)

Mark Twain appears to be a role that Val Kilmer can’t get enough of. He’s done one film as the legendary writer, a one-man stage show that he wrote, produced, and starred in, and now a third film is post-production that appears to be an expansion of a 2007 short film he produced on the relationship between Twain and Mary Baker Eddy.

 

What’s your favorite Val Kilmer historical costume film role?

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About the author

Sarah Lorraine

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Sarah discovered her dual passion for history and costume right around the age of twelve. Dragged kicking and screaming to her first Renaissance Faire at Black Point, she was convinced she was going to hate it, but to her surprise, she fell head over heels in love with the world of reenactment and dress up immediately. Her undergraduate degree is in Clothing & Textile Design, and she has a Master's in Art History and Visual Culture. When she’s not hauling crap to SCA events and ren faires, Sarah enjoys reading true crime books, writing fiction, and sewing historical clothing from the Middle Ages through the 20th-century. One of these days, she might even start updating her old costuming blog again.

25 Responses

  1. Stephani Miller

    I adore Val Kilmer’s Doc Holiday! It was his best historical role, IMO: swaggery, devil-may-care, impetuous, violent, self-destructive, but reflective and devoted to his one and only friend. It was a nuanced interpretation.
    Must watch Tombstone tonight.

    Reply
  2. Kay

    Tombstone is one of my favorite movies of all time. Frock Flicks needs to do a post on it. Personally, I find it one of the best costumed Westerns. Kate and Josie have some fantastic bustle dresses. And Kate is actually shown wearing a chemise under her corset. Plus the differences in clothing style between the rancher type Cowboys and urban type Earps and Behan is interesting.

    Reply
  3. mjsamuelson

    How did I not know about most of these?! Also, yes, absolutely, Doc Holliday is Val Kilmer’s best role (also, however historically inaccurate, it’s the definitive portrayal of Holliday IMHO, since that whole episode of American Western history is more myth than fact anyway).

    And mmmm, Mad Martigan.

    Reply
  4. Mary Louise Wood

    I was a huge Val Kilmer fan back in the day. I remember many of these roles. But I adored him as Doc Holliday, however historically inaccurate. He played the Gilded Age Southern Gentleman to a T! Who can forget his iconic line: “I’m your Huckleberry!”? (amongst others). He stole the movie!

    I liked him in The Ghost and The Darkness. I enjoyed the film because it portrayed one of the darker sides of the British Empire no matter how romanticized it was. This wasn’t Oscar Wilde. It was a nice change to the British Costume dramas that were being released at that time. Michael Douglas was in it which was an added bonus.

    Thank you for giving Val his due. I hope he comes to Hartford, CT to the Mark Twain House with that film!

    Reply
  5. Kendra

    Willow is so not period, but, IT WAS PIVOTAL TO MY ADOLESCENT SEXUALITY SOMEDAY YOU AND I NEED TO WATCH THIS TOGETHER GRRRRRRR

    Reply
    • Lynn

      YYYYAAAAASSSSSSSS!!! Maybe a MST3K style Youtube with Patreon supporters so we can ALL relive our nascent sexuality?

      Reply
    • Kate D

      Yesss! Real Genius is a cult classic in my family. We quote it constantly. And now we’re pretty much all engineers…

      Reply
  6. Al Don

    Always thought of him as an undervalued talent. Likewise not a fan of Westerns but love Tombstone and find it endlessly quotable. Every time I introduce it to a new group of people they’ll spend the next week doing Doc Holiday impressions.

    Great entry!

    Reply
  7. Susan Pola Staples

    Who can forget Mad Morrigan? Especially the scene in which he’s high and does a car toy bobble when looking at Sorcha?

    I’m not a fan of Westerns – unless John Wayne and Maureen OHara’s in them. But Tombstone looks good.

    And he was the only good thing about Top Gun.

    Reply
  8. Susan Pola Staples

    How can I turn off autocorrect? it did it’s abomination It Mad Martigan.

    Reply
  9. ctrent29

    Yes, Doc Holliday was Kilmer’s best role. I heartily agree. And “Tombstone” is one of the better Westerns I have seen.

    I believe “The Man Who Broke 1,000 Chains” is another version of the story about Robert E. Burns. The earlier version is 1932’s “I Was a Fugitive From a Chain Gang”.

    Reply
  10. eldalorien

    The Spoils of Babylon and its companion/sequel series the Spoils Before Dying are utterly delightful, completely stupid, and absolutely perfect spoofs with great casts. Y’all should definitely check them out!

    Reply
  11. Andrew Schroeder

    I am loving the coincidence of Joanne Whalley being in the header image for Friday’s article right next to this one.

    Reply
  12. Caroline Harper

    Madmartigan was my first celebrity crush. My mom has a friend whose husband reminded me a ton of Madmartigan in the looks department (minus the long hair); consequently, had a huge crush on him as well as a 10 year old.

    Reply
  13. JHGunn

    I really enjoyed The Ghost and the Darkness, not only for Val, of course, but for the rest of the cast. And I love the music, but who can’t love Jerry Goldsmith?!?

    Reply
  14. JHGUnn

    And I have to say, I’m so glad you chose Val for MCM. He’s been through a lot recently with his throat cancer, and its nice to see him recognised for his amazing work, instead of his health troubles.

    Reply
  15. Italia C Brewer

    His best role is Doc Holliday in Tombstone. But I also liked him in Comanche Moon. I was reading everything ever written by Larry Mcmurtry during this time and I watched all the movies based on his books. Val Kilmer was great in Comanche Moon too.

    Reply
  16. Damnitz

    Kilmer was perfect for the role of Doc Holiday.
    And he was maybe the best actor in “Alexander”. I didn’t liked the film when it was in the Theater, but I can remember, that Val Kilmer was absolutely ingenius as the king Philipp.

    Reply
  17. Lily Lotus Rose

    Oh, my! Val Kilmer as a Man Candy Monday choice is an absolute surprise and a delectable treat. THIS to the entire post and all the comments! Slight difference: Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison was critical to my adolescent sexuality! Thanks for the trip down memory lane!

    Reply

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