Directed by Michael Cimino (who got a Golden Raspberry for worst director for this film), the film starred Kris Kristofferson, Christopher Walken, Isabelle Huppert, Jeff Bridges, John Hurt, Sam Waterston, Brad Dourif, Joseph Cotten, Geoffrey Lewis, Richard Masur, Terry Quinn, Mickey Rourke, and Willem Dafoe.
Cimino had just won an Academy Award for The Deer Hunter, so United Artists had every reason to believe he was creating magic on location in Wyoming. But after months of delays and unforgivable cost overruns, Cimino finally delivered his masterpiece—a 5-hour version of Heaven\'s Gate. The studio balked and sent him back to recut it to a more managable length. His recut version was still 3 hours and 40 minutes. The Cimino version was pulled from release after only one screening: its premiere in New York City on November 19, 1980. It surfaced six months later with 70 minutes cut by the studio in a desperate attempt to recoup some of its losses, but it was too late. The adverse publicity was largely responsible for a dismal box-office take.
The plot of Heaven's Gate is easy enough to follow. The film opens up in 1870 as Kris Kristofferson graduates from Harvard University and makes his way West. This seems to go on forever, and in the end has nothing to do with the rest of the story. The 1890 scenes which take up the bulk of the running time tend to show off Cimino's attempts at cinematic mastery. The epilogue takes place in 1903.
Even though Cimino uses subtitles when non-English characters are speaking in their native tongue, some of the English dialogue is totally obscured by blaring music or sound effects.