Heaven's Gate movie cover Movie Locations Guide

Where was Heaven's Gate filmed?

1980

About Heaven's Gate

Heaven's Gate is an American Western-style film based on the Johnson County War in the 1890s. It is based on the land dispute between European immigrants and the land barons in Wyoming. The movie was directed and written by Michael Cimino and was released in 1980 with a running time of 219 minutes.

The story starts with two young men graduating from Harvard College. The graduation ceremony is conducted with full pomp and aplomb. James 'Jim' Averill (Kris Kristofferson) and William 'Bill' Irvine (John Hurt) are close friends with bright futures ahead of them. They both are fond of drinking, dancing, and women, and Averill also meets a young lady at the graduation dance who catches his eye.

Twenty years later, Jim is a Marshall passing through Casper, Wyoming, when he realizes European immigrants in the area are in direct conflict with the cattle barons. The destitute European immigrants keep stealing cattle for food. Nate Champion (portrayed by Christopher Walken), an enforcer, kills an immigrant for cattle theft to dissuade others from doing the same.

The head of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, Frank Canton (Sam Waterson), announces to fellow association members (including Irvine) the plan to murder 125 settlers who are suspected anarchists and thieves. Irvine finds Averill and tells him about this plan. Averill and Canton fight and Canton still recruits men to kill the settlers.

At Heaven's Gate, the local roller-skating rink owned by entrepreneur John Bridges (Jeff Bridges), Averill reads out the names of the settlers on the Association's death list. Averill is accompanied by Ella Watson (Isabelle Hupper), who runs a bordello and accepts stolen cattle in lieu of her girls' services.

During the battle between the settlers and landowners, Ella Watson, John Bridges, and many others are killed, leaving Averill feeling bereft and conflicted.

What follows is a story about friendships, morals, besieged mercenaries, and endless grief. However, it is also a story about liberation and a fight for justice.

City Locations

Glacier National Park, Montana, Rhode Island, Wallace, Idaho, Oxford, England

Location Types

American, Colonial, House, Naturescapes, Ranch, Retro, Rustic, Building, Police/ Jail, Colleges

Location Styles

Americana, Colonial, Construction, Dated, Retro, Dilapidated, Federal Building, Racing, Southwestern, Rustic

Heaven's Gate Locations

The Heaven's Gate locations are wide and varied. Spanning 2 countries, Cimino decided to shoot all the Harvard scenes at Oxford University in Oxfordshire, UK. The graduation ceremony and the speeches by Bill Irvine and the Reverend Doctor were held at the Sheldonian Theater at Oxford, with the graduation march rolling over the famous Bridge of Sighs in Oxfordshire. Only the graduate's dance sequence was filmed at Mansfield College, Oxford because the production team needed the extra lawn space for the dance routines that moved in concentric circles.

The rest of the movie (apart from the graduation sequences) was filmed in the United States. While the original Johnson County War was in Wyoming, most of the town and surrounding areas were filmed in Montana and Idaho. The change in geography did not deter the film's authenticity or overall storyline. In fact, many of the filming locations, including the remote Trail Creek for the battle, were perfect for the movie.

Teaser: The last scene of the movie, when James Averill is walking the deck of his yacht, is shot at Newport, Rhode Island. Besides the filming locations in Montana and Idaho, movie fans should also consider visiting Rhode Island, which has been an instrumental location for other films like Meet Joe Black, The Great Gatsby, and the Gilded Age.

Fun fact:

The cast of Heaven's Gate took several lessons in horse-riding, cock fighting lessons, roller skating, and even classes in the Yugoslavian language. Michael Cimino wanted to ensure all the scenes looked authentic, with actors doing most of the action and drama sequences.

The Reverend Doctor and Bill Irvine give speeches at graduation ceremony in Heaven's Gate

The Sheldonian Theater, Broad St, Oxford, UK

The graduation speech by the Reverend Doctor (Joseph Cotten) was about the importance of a cultivated mind against an uncultivated mind. The gentlemen graduating from the class were told about the mandate, imperative duty, and the need for a proper education. The Reverend Doctor drones on for a while about "the influence we may exert… a high ideal… education of a nation" and so on.

After the Reverend Doctor's speech is finished, William 'Bill' Irvine (John Hurt), the class orator, is invited to speak on stage. Bill talks at length and says, "There is a story told by an ancient author of a young man, who, being noticed by his friend to look dejected, was questioned by him concerning his troubled appearance." Bill narrates the story with his irreverent views that are opposite to the Reverend Doctor's.

The graduation speeches were filmed in a theater. The Sheldonian Theater on Broad St at Oxford, England, was chosen for this Heaven's Gate film scene. The theater (now refurbished) is slightly different from how it is in the film. However, fans can still visit, click selfies, and maybe even catch a show. The Sheldonian Theater is accessible via the X3 City bus to Queens Lane (Stop J3). The theater is a 7-minute walk from the stop.

The new graduates' dance scene in Heaven's Gate

Mansfield College, Oxford, Oxfordshire, UK

The students at Harvard have just graduated. At the Graduation Dance, James 'Jim' Averill (Kris Kristofferson) is dancing with his partner but constantly looking at another impressionable young lady dancing with someone else. Suddenly Bill yells from near him, "James! Hey James!" Jim ignores Bill and instead rudely leaves his current dancing partner and interrupts the other couple. He pulls the young lady towards him and says to her, "God! You are beautiful!" She responds, "So are you." Jim is mesmerized by her and asks, "Are you alone?" She doesn't respond and, instead, only laughs.

They continue dancing, and for many, it seems like several relationships will bloom from this one encounter. Plenty of couples are dancing and gazing into each other's eyes with admiration and awe. Since the young men have just graduated, the next logical step is for them to seek a wife and settle down.

The Graduates' dance is one of the best scenes in Heaven's Gate. Since the team did not get permission to film at Harvard, the location was shifted to Mansfield College grounds in Oxford, England. Mansfield College is easily accessible via the number 6 city bus to Radcliffe Observatory Quarter. From the Radcliffe Observatory stop, the college is within a 15-minute walking distance.

The young graduates marching behind the band scene in Heaven's Gate

Bridge of Sighs - Hertford Bridge, New College Ln, Oxford, UK

As the graduating class of Harvard is walking towards their graduation ceremony, the band is playing the Battle Hymn of the Republic. This signifies a new beginning for the class. All the young men graduating must march with the band and head to their graduation ceremony, but many are late to the march.

As they hear the band playing, they start running towards it and join the march with their fellow classmates. Since the graduation sequence is a considerable achievement, all the men are dressed in formal clothing with top hats. Jim Averill is one of the students graduating and finds himself running to cover the distance. He gets in the marching lineup and meets his friend, Bill Irvine. When Bill sees Jim, he exclaims, "James! She let you go, then?"

This filming location of Heaven's Gate was the Bridge of Sighs, Hertford Bridge at Oxford, in England. The graduation sequence was filmed here with great pomp. To get to the Bridge of Sighs, catch bus number 280 to Queens Lane and walk for 4 minutes to reach the filming location. Since this bridge is open to the public, you must ensure you do not trouble others who are also sightseeing.

Bill tries to speak to James while walking to the ceremony scene in Heaven's Gate

Oxford University, Oxford, Oxfordshire, UK

As the young men reach the Harvard entrance, they are overwhelmed with the response. While walking behind the band, Bill tells James, "I wish you could see into my heart and know that tonight I am going to repent all my sins." While Bill is speaking to James, James is more interested in looking out for all the pretty girls who have come to wish the young men at their graduation ceremony.

While Bill tries to initiate a conversation, James looks extremely distracted and irreverent to the entire thing. He seems more interested in the frivolous parts of the graduation than the actual ceremony. While James observes everything around him, several other young men are running to ensure they can attend the graduation ceremony. Considering that the walk to the graduation ceremony is quite long, the men must run a long distance to get in with their classmates.

The Heaven's Gate production team chose the iconic Oxford University campus to film the Harvard University scene. Getting to Oxford University is the easiest if you hop onto bus number 1 and get off at High Street (Stop L2). From this stop, the university is within a minute's walking distance.

Ella and James enter the town with the carriage scene in Heaven's Gate

Two Medicine Lake, Glacier National Park, Montana

Ella and James get a carriage and are on their way to the town. As they are nearing it, James tells Ella, "Turn up before you get to the town, I don't want anybody to see me." Ella yells at James over the din of the horses, "I want them to see me! What good is it if nobody sees me?"

As they get closer to the town, the townsfolk are gathered before the church to click a photograph. Since there are too many people, the photographer is trying to get everyone together in a single frame and constantly giving instructions in the Yugoslavian language. As everyone huddles closer for the photograph, they suddenly hear the thundering sounds of horses and turn to see Ella and James entering the town limits in the carriage. Seeing them, everyone starts cheering loudly.

The horse-drawn carriage sequence is one of the few ordinary scenes in the movie. Considering the violence and bloodshed in the film, this scene is relatively peaceful. Fans should visit the Heaven's Gate location of Two Medicine Lake at Glacier National Park in Montana. The quickest way to get to this location is by catching the US-2 E onto 2 Medicine Rd until you reach Two Medicine Lake's picturesque shores.

The battle scene in Heaven's Gate

Trail Creek, Montana

The constant skirmishes between the settlers, landowners, and mercenaries culminate in a battle for the land, also known as the Johnson County War. Everyone runs to fight with their firearms. Some are running, some on horses, and others in carriages. While crossing a bridge, a carriage gets upturned and falls into the river below.

James rallies the people and yells, "Stay together, stay tight!" Men and women from the nearby town come to fight. Over the constant sounds of gunfire and bombs, suddenly a man screams, "Deborah! Stay down!" James rides up to Ella Watson (Isabelle Huppert) and shouts, "Get the h*ll out of here!" She ignores him and continues riding toward the battlefield. He desperately tries to give her some cover from the shootings yet loses track of her. When he finds her, she's riding straight towards Canton's (Sam Waterson's) men. Seeing Watson recklessly riding, James screams, "Get down, damm*t!" while he finally catches up to her.

This Heaven's Gate filming location is the remote area of Trail Creek in Montana. The cast and crew had to wake up at 3.30 am each day and travel 3 hours to reach the shooting location. Getting here is possible only via US-93 N and Trail Creek Rd. Fans should follow Trail Creek Rd to Price Homestead Rd in Flathead County to reach the filming site.

Conclusion

Heaven's Gate was an extremely controversial film because of its long time. The movie's run time is more than 3 and a half hours, with some pretty unnecessary scenes. However, the actors have done a fabulous job rallying around the script and sticking to their parts and roles wholeheartedly. While many dialogues are muffled, the basic gist of all being said and portrayed is quite clear.

What the film lacks in concrete substance, it makes up for with the gorgeous filming locations. Considering the original storyline, the production team found the best areas and places to shoot.

The Heaven's Gate action scenes, emotional scenes, and some dialogues are lengthy, but that is expected from a significant movie.

While the premise of the movie was sound, the making, long filming times, remote locations, and overall flow of the film were heavily criticized by movie lovers all over. In fact, many film critics dubbed it one of Hollywood's most significant failures, which led to strict laws and regulations regarding acting times, hours, production budgets, costing, and accident covers.