Kevin Costner really can do it all, can’t he? Bodyguarding. Check. Baseball playing. Check. Baseball playing with dead guys. Check. Dances With Wolves (1990) showed that Costner could also direct and produce, as well as speak Lakota.
Union officer John Dunbar (Costner) is facing amputation, but chooses suicide instead, riding his horse across the Union-Confederate line. This inadvertently sets off a battle which the Union won, and Dunbar is declared a hero. As a reward, he gets his foot fixed and is offered a post anywhere he wants. He chooses Middle-of-Nowhere, because he wants to see it before it becomes Somewhere.
After he’s dropped off, the only people who know of his whereabouts all die, so he is left all alone for quite some time, except for the wolf with two white feet who he names Two Socks. Dunbar sets off to have a conversation with a Sioux tribe that he had encountered when they tried to steal his horse. On his way, he finds Stands With A Fist (Mary McDonnell), a white woman who was adopted by the Sioux after her family was killed. She is mourning the death of her husband, and she reaches back into her memory to piece together enough English to serve as a translator.
Dunbar admires the lifestyle of the tribe, and by helping them find a herd of buffalo and defending them against a rival tribe, he becomes a hero to the Sioux. He is eventually treated as a full member of the tribe, and they name him Dances with Wolves, after watching him interact with Two-Socks.
Dances with Wolves and Stands With A Fist fall in love, at first in secret, and eventually their love earns the approval of the tribe. This is about the time that Dances with Wolves realizes that the journal he left at the fort is essentially a blueprint for finding the Sioux. He goes back to retrieve it, only to find U.S. soldiers already there. Since Dances with Wolves is wearing Sioux clothing, the soldiers assume he is a Native American and capture him.
Once they discover he is white, they treat him as a deserter. He tells them about the journal that will prove he’s supposed to be at that post, but one of the soldiers has hidden the journal and claims it isn’t real. They take him to be executed, and some Sioux warriors come to the rescue and save Dances with Wolves. He decides that as a deserter and fugitive he will always be a liability for the tribe, and he must leave. Stands With A Fist goes with him, and they live happily ever after.
Who does not live happily ever after, you ask? Did you not pay attention in history class? It’s the Sioux. The movie ends with a scrolling title mentioning that 13 years later the rest of the free Sioux were under the control of the United States, ending the livelihoods of the plains tribes.
Dances with Wolves earned a lot of accolades and a lot of money for its portrayal of a white man respecting the Sioux way of life. It earned $424 million in total sales worldwide, and won the Academy Award for Best Picture. Costner took home an Oscar for Best Director, and he was nominated for Best Actor. Dances with Wolves also had nominations for best supporting actor (Graham Greene) and best supporting actress (Mary McDonnell). In total, it was nominated for 12 Oscars, winning seven.
Watch the Dances with Wolves trailer