Happy Accidents #041 - Dances with Wolves

From forgotten script to box office success!

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In the archives of cinema history, few films have achieved the level of success and acclaim that "Dances with Wolves" did.

The movie was a box office hit, grossing $424.2 million worldwide, making it the fourth-highest-grossing film of 1990.

Yet, if it weren’t for two separate Happy Accidents this cinematic masterpiece never would have graced our screens.

Let's dig in, shall we?


This is the part of every Happy Accident story where we see every successful outcome starts with the person putting themselves in a favorable position. They work hard, they try new things, they meet new people. They're not just sitting around 'hoping' to be successful some day.

Before Kevin Costner ventured into directing, he was already a prominent actor in Hollywood, known for his roles in popular films like "The Untouchables" and "Field of Dreams."

Amidst his rising stardom, Costner shared a unique friendship with writer Michael Blake. They were more than just friends; they were comrades navigating the turbulent waters of the entertainment industry.

But Blake, a struggling writer, had grown cynical about Hollywood, and his scripts had faced one rejection after another.

Despite Costner's attempts to help, success remained elusive. With Blake falling on hard times, he eventually moved in with Costner when he had nowhere else to live.

During his stay, Blake embarked on a fresh concept for a story, and Costner's input clearly held significant importance to him. Yet Costner had grown frustrated with Blake’s negatively and refused to read it.

THE HAPPY ACCIDENTS (yes….there are two!)

This is the part of every success story where there's a chance encounter, a serendipitous moment, an unintentional discovery (or Happy Accident) that paves the way for the next steps. In some cases, a Happy Accident can even be disguised as something bad in the moment.

Accident 1: The Reluctance to Read

After some time, when Blake had overstayed his welcome and found another friend to live with, he reached out to Costner again asking him to read the script.

He eventually caved in and reluctantly gave the script a read. That script was Dances with Wolves.

The story followed the journey of John J. Dunbar, a Union Army Lieutenant whose failed suicide attempt is mistaken for bravery and grants him a post to wherever in the US he desires.

Choosing the frontier, wishing to see it before it vanishes forever, Dunbar is sent to Kansas, where he ultimately falls in with a tribe of Native Americans, the Lakota. Attracted to their way of life, Dunbar renounces the American way of life and becomes an honorary tribe member.

Costner was captivated by the story and immediately wanted to turn it into a movie.

(Watch this clip from the Graham Norton Show, starting around the 4:00 minute mark, where Costner talks about his reluctance to read the script 👇)

Accident 2: The Forgotten Manuscript

Another fortuitous twist of fate unfolded when Costner and his business associate, Jim Wilson, sought funding for the project.

They arranged a meeting with Orion Pictures, a prominent studio of the era, to present their film proposal. Within the meeting, the studio executives harbored doubts regarding the project, raising apprehensions about the film's financial constraints and its potential for commercial success.

Luckily, right before the meeting's conclusion, fate intervened when one of the executives inadvertently left behind the script for "Dances with Wolves" in the room. Costner and Wilson only discovered this oversight once the meeting had ended, prompting them to choose to leave the script with the studio (this turned out to be a smart move!).

Following the discovery of the forgotten script, studio executives proceeded to read it and were profoundly impressed by its quality and promising potential.

This serendipitous turn of events ultimately convinced Orion Pictures to grant the project the green light, thereby providing the essential funding needed to bring the film to life.


Just like Happy Accidents don't just fall into your lap (you need to set the stage first), they also don't turn into anything if you don't recognize them and take action. This is the part of every success story where we see people capitalizing on their Happy Accident.

Armed with the manuscript and the green light from Orion, Costner embarked on a remarkable journey to bring "Dances with Wolves" to life.

Two years later, this labor of love graced the silver screen, captivating audiences worldwide.

The film achieved unprecedented critical acclaim and clinched seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay for Michael Blake.

"Dances with Wolves" not only propelled Kevin Costner to the zenith of his career but also breathed new life into the fading Western genre.

And to think, it took two separate happy accidents in order for this script to even see the light of day!

(Here’s a clip of Kevin Costner talking with Johnny Carson on an episode of the Tonight Show. At the 5:44 mark he talks about quitting the job he had before getting into acting. At the 8:45 mark they discuss the movie Dances with Wolves. Check it out👇)

Shout out to Jill Valdez for bringing this incredible story to my attention.


The creation of the iconic film "Dances with Wolves" was almost derailed by Kevin Costner's initial reluctance to read the script and Michael Blake’s industry skepticism.

However, Costner's subsequent decision to give the script a chance and a forgotten manuscript at a pivotal meeting ultimately led to the film's remarkable success, including seven Academy Awards and a revival of the Western genre.

Some fun facts:

  • Kevin Costner not only directed and starred in the film but also co-produced it, showcasing his multifaceted talents.

  • The film's portrayal of Native American culture earned accolades for its authenticity, thanks to the guidance of Lakota Sioux advisor Doris Leader Charge.

  • The movie was a box office hit, grossing $424.2 million worldwide, making it the fourth-highest-grossing film of 1990

  • "Dances with Wolves" stands as the highest-grossing film in the history of Orion Pictures.

  • The movie's success ignited heightened interest in the preservation of the American bison population, a central theme in the film.

The lessons here:

  1. Embrace Serendipity: Extraordinary opportunities often emerge from unexpected sources. Be receptive to the unforeseen.

  2. Believe in Friends: Supporting and believing in your friends' talents and ideas can lead to unexpected brilliance when given a chance.

  3. Persistence Pays Off: Michael Blake's unwavering commitment to his story, despite setbacks, ultimately led to his well-deserved success. Persistence is often the key to achieving dreams.

  4. Take Risks: Kevin Costner ventured into uncharted waters by committing to a story he believed in. Sometimes, bold decisions yield the most significant rewards.

  5. Leave No Stone Unturned: Accidents happen, but sometimes, they are happy accidents. Don't shy away from exploring the unanticipated or seizing unexpected opportunities.

YOUR Happy Accidents

Check out this story from Jordan Pagel about how he accidentally discovered the secret to loosing 100 lbs and keeping it off permanently.

Hey, Dennis Geelen here. Author of the Happy Accidents newsletter.

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