The film was produced by Columbia Pictures and Delphi III Productions, and distributed to theatres by Columbia, and by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment for home media. The original soundtrack, with a score composed by Bruce Broughton, was released by Geffen Records. On November 12, 2005, an expanded two-disc version of the score was released by the Intrada Records label.
Emmett (Scott Glenn) is ambushed by three men while he sleeps in an isolated shack. In a brief gunfight, he kills all of the assailants. As he sets out for the town of Silverado, Emmett finds a man, Paden (Kevin Kline), lying in the desert, having been robbed and left to die.
Emmett and Paden stop in the town of Turley, where it turns out that Emmett's brother, Jake (Kevin Costner), is locked up and awaiting hanging for killing a man in self-defense. Paden is thrown in the same cell after he encounters and kills one of the men who robbed him. Emmett aids them in a breakout with the help of Mal (Danny Glover), a cowboy run out of town by sheriff John Langston (John Cleese).
After helping a wagon train of settlers recover stolen money from thieves, then leading them to Silverado, the four men part ways. Emmett and Jake visit their sister, whose husband, the land agent for the area, informs them that rancher Ethan McKendrick (Ray Baker) is attempting to maintain the open range, which he will dominate with his enormous herds of cattle, by driving all lawful claimants off the land. Emmett had killed McKendrick's father years earlier in a gunfight. Emmett also learns that McKendrick hired the men who attempted to kill him upon his release from prison.
Mal finds his father Ezra (Joe Seneca) left destitute after his home had been burned down and his land overrun by cattle. Mal has a sister, Rae (Lynn Whitfield), who has gone off on her own, taking up with Calvin "Slick" Stanhope, a shifty gambler (Jeff Goldblum) who works for McKendrick.
A ruthless sheriff named Cobb (Brian Dennehy), an old acquaintance of Paden's, is now on McKendrick's payroll. Cobb arranges for Paden to supervise the gambling in a saloon owned by Cobb and managed by Stella (Linda Hunt), an honest woman who despises Cobb and welcomes Paden's presence. Hannah (Rosanna Arquette), a young widow from the wagon train, has also caught Paden's eye.
McKendrick's men murder Ezra, burn the land office, and kidnap Emmett's young nephew Augie (Thomas Wilson Brown), so once again, Paden, Mal, Emmett, and Jake join forces to set things right. They stampede McKendrick's cattle to provide cover for a raid on his ranch, in which most of the bandits are killed and the kidnapped boy is rescued.
The men return to town, where, in a series of encounters, each defeats his own personal enemy. First, Jake is hunted by Tyree (Jeff Fahey), Cobb's right hand, whom he outsmarts and shoots dead. Mal rescues Rae from Slick and stabs him fatally with his own knife. Emmett and McKendrick battle on horseback; when Emmett rams McKendrick and his mount from a higher point, his horse's hoof strikes McKendrick in the head and he falls to his death. Finally, Paden faces off with Cobb in a showdown in the street, and is quicker to the draw.
Emmett and Jake leave for California, their long-stated goal, while Mal and his sister reunite and decide to rebuild their father's homestead. Paden is named the new sheriff of Silverado and settles there.
The film was shot primarily on location in New Mexico. In 1984, Lawrence and Mark Kasdan and crew were out scouting a remote area of New Mexico by helicopter, hoping to find the most suitable place to build the town of Silverado. The location manager appeared at the property of local natives Bill and Marian Cook. At that time they wanted to build only two to three structures, offering Cook a "casual number" as a location fee. "There wasn't any great motivation for me one way or another, but I said okay. It just grew from that into a big budget movie and the Silverado set was built," Cook recalled. The set was appropriately dressed and filmed for towns in four different states, depending on the view from the streets - mountains or prairie or the Galisteo River.
In an interview with Trailer Addict, actor Scott Glenn related how casting profoundly influences directing. In reference to different actors working together, he mentioned how he "really liked" Kevin Costner, and how he thought Kevin was "easy and comfortable" to be around. He exclaimed, "there is real magic going on with that performance." Glenn spent his time kidding around with Costner addressing him by saying, "hey movie star!" during that earlier stage in his career.
Among mainstream critics in the U.S., the film received mostly positive reviews. Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 76% based on reviews from 29 critics, with an average score of 6.8 out of 10. At Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average out of 100 to critics' reviews, the film received a score of 64% based on 14 reviews.
Critic Janet Maslin, writing in The New York Times, said of director Kasdan, "he creates the film's most satisfying moments by communicating his own sheer enjoyment in revitalizing scenes and images that are so well-loved." Impressed, she exclaimed, "Silverado is a sweeping, glorious-looking western that's at least a full generation removed from the classic films it brings to mind." Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times called it "sophisticated" while remarking, "This is a story, you will agree, that has been told before. What distinguishes Kasdan's telling of it is the style and energy he brings to the project." In the San Francisco Chronicle, Peter Stack wrote that the film "delivers elaborate gun-fighting scenes, legions of galloping horses, stampeding cattle, a box canyon, covered wagons, tons of creaking leather and even a High Noonish duel." He openly mused, "How it manages to run the gamut of cowboy movie elements without getting smart-alecky is intriguing." In a mixed review, Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune, said the film was "a completely successful physical attempt at reviving the western, but its script would need a complete rewrite for it to become more than just a small step in a full-scale western revival." Another ambivalent review came from Jay Carr of The Boston Globe. He noted that Silverado "plays like a big-budget regurgitation of old Westerns. What keeps it going is the generosity that flows between Kasdan and his actors. It's got benevolent energies, but not the more primal kind needed to renew the standard Western images and archetypes." In an entirely negative critique, film critic Jay Scott of The Globe and Mail said the all too familiar "manipulative Star Wars-style score is the only novelty on tap in Silverado, which has a plot too drearily complicated and arid to summarize". Left equally unimpressed was Dave Kehr of the Chicago Reader. Commenting on director Kasdan's style, he said his "considerable skills as a plot carpenter seem to desert him as soon as the story moves to the town of the title." As far as the supporting cast was concerned, he dryly noted, "none of them assumes enough authority to carry the moral and dramatic center of the film." Giving Silverado 4 out 5 stars, author Ian Freer of Empire, thought the film was the "kind of picture that makes you want to play cowboys the moment it is over." He exclaimed, "Whereas many of the westerns from the ‘70s try a revisionist take on the genre, Silverado offers a wholehearted embracing of western traditions."
The staff at Variety reserved praise for the film stating that the real rewards of the picture lie in its "visuals" saying, "rarely has the West appeared so alive, yet unlike what one carries in his mind's eye. Ida Random's production design is thoroughly convincing in detail." Julie Salamon writing for The Wall Street Journal, voiced positive sentiment joyfully exclaiming that Silverado "looks great and moves fast. Mr. Kasdan has packed his action well against the fearsomely long, dusty stretches of Western plain." Describing some pitfalls, David Sterritt of The Christian Science Monitor said, "When pure storytelling takes over after an hour or so, the picture becomes less original and engaging." Sterritt however was quick to admit, "The cinematography by John Bailey is stunning," but he frustratingly noted that "Like the last movie Lawrence Kasdan gave us, The Big Chill, it's best when the carefully chosen cast throws itself into developing characters and building their relationships." Injecting some positive opinion, the staff at Total Film viewed Silverado as a creation of the "Kasdan brothers' ebullient love letter to the horse operas of their youth", while throwing in "every Western cliché imaginable. It's not as rousing as it thinks, despite the efforts of Bruce Broughton's strident score, but looks terrific - all big skies and wide-open spaces."
Richard Corliss of Time didn't find the picture to be compelling, stating how the film "sprays the buckshot of its four or five story lines across the screen with the abandon of a drunken galoot aiming at a barn door. Though the film interrupts its chases and shootouts to let some fine actors stare meaningfully or spit out a little sagebrush wisdom, it rarely allows them to build the camaraderie that an old cowhand like Gabby Hayes exuded with no sweat." He ultimately came to the conclusion that Silverado "proves it takes more than love of the western to make a good one. Maybe the dudes at K-Tell were a mite too slick for the job." Similarly, in an equally pessimistic tone, the staff at TV Guide described how "Lawrence Kasdan bloats the plot with dozens of side stories that, in painfully predictable detail, show how each of our heroes has a reason for being in Silverado and why they decide to stick their necks out. Though much of the running time is devoted to these expository passages, it's all very basic and shallow."
At the 58th Academy Awards, Silverado was nominated for Best Music (Original Score), and Best Sound (Donald O. Mitchell, Rick Kline, Kevin O'Connell and David M. Ronne). In 1986, the film received a nomination for the Artios Award in the category of Best Casting for a Feature Film (Drama) by the Casting Society of America.
The film premiered in cinemas on July 9, 1985 in wide release throughout the United States. During its opening weekend, Silverado opened in 7th place, grossing $3,522,897 at 1,168 locations. The film Back to the Future came in first place during that weekend grossing $10,555,133. The film's revenue increased by 3% in its second week of release, earning $3,631,204. For that particular weekend, it moved up to 5th place screening in 1,190 theaters. Back to the Future remained in first place grossing $10,315,305 in box office revenue. During its final release week in theaters, Silverado opened in a distant 11th place with $741,840 in revenue. It went on to top out domestically at $32,192,570 in total ticket sales through an 11-week theatrical run. For 1985 as a whole, Silverado would cumulatively rank at a box office performance position of 28.
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:2005: AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores – Nominated
2008: AFI's 10 Top 10:
Nominated Western Film
The film was released on RCA CED videodisc format in December 1985 and on Criterion laserdisc in August 1991. It was released on VHS video format on July 8, 1994. A collector's edition VHS featuring a remastered recording was released on June 1, 1999. The Region 1 widescreen edition was released on DVD in the United States on February 3, 2009. Special features include filmographies, the making of Silverado, and subtitles in Chinese (Mandarin Traditional), English, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, and Thai. Additionally, a two-disc Special Edition DVD was also released by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment on April 5, 2005. Special features included A Return to Silverado with Kevin Costner featurette, Along the Silverado Trail: A Western Historian's Commentary, Superbit presentation, "Top Western Shootouts" featurette, talent files, bonus previews, an exclusive 16-page movie scrapbook, and collectible Silverado playing cards.
The widescreen hi-definition Blu-ray Disc version was released on September 8, 2009. Special features: A Return to Silverado with Kevin Costner featurette, the making of Silverado, and Along the Silverado Trail: A Western Historians' commentary. A supplemental viewing option in the media format of Video on demand is available as well.
The original motion picture soundtrack for Silverado was released by Geffen Records in 1985. On November 12, 2005, an expanded two-disc version was released by the Intrada Records music label. The score was composed and conducted by Bruce Broughton and mixed by Donald O. Mitchell. Gene Feldman and Erma Levin edited the music.