Brokeback Mountain was the most honored motion picture of 2005. It is also one of the most honored films in motion picture history.
Brokeback Mountain was written as a short story by Annie Proulx. It was inspired by two incidents she had observed in early 1997 while in northern Wyoming, U.S.A. The short story was published in the October 13, 1997, issue of The New Yorker magazine. It was quickly optioned by screenwriters Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana using their own money. They produced a screenplay, which was widely circulated in Hollywood.
Unfortunately, the subject matter was generally regarded as too controversial for a studio film. During the years that followed, their screenplay became known as “the finest unproducible script in Hollywood.” At various times directors expressed interest in it, including Gus Van Sant and Joel Schumacher, among others. A series of events eventually led producers James Schamus and Diana Ossana to attempt making Brokeback Mountain with Ang Lee as its director. Financial backing was provided by Focus Features and River Road Entertainment in the reported amount of US$15 million. Filming began in Alberta, Canada, in May 2004, and was largely complete by August 2004.
Brokeback Mountain received widespread acclaim following its September 2005 screening at the Venice and Toronto film festivals. It went on to receive Best Picture and Best Director awards from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts , Golden Globe Awards , New York Film Critics Circle, Critics Choice Awards , and Independent Spirit Awards , among many others.
The film was then given “platform” release in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco in December 2005 and instantly began to set box office records.
Critical acclaim for the film was broad and strong. Stephen Holden  in The New York Times wrote:
“The lonesome chill that seeps through Ang Lee’s epic western, “Brokeback Mountain,” is as bone deep as the movie’s heartbreaking story of two cowboys who fall in love almost by accident. It is embedded in the craggy landscape where their idyll begins and ends. It creeps into the farthest corners of the wide-open spaces they share with coyotes, bears and herds of sheep and rises like a stifled cry into the big, empty sky that stretches beyond the horizon.”
Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Kenneth Turan  said:
“Brokeback Mountain is a groundbreaking film because it isn’t. It’s a deeply felt, emotional love story that deals with the uncharted, mysterious ways of the human heart just as so many mainstream films have before it. The two lovers here just happen to be men.
Big star vehicles with homosexual protagonists are, of course, not new; one of them, 1993’s Philadelphia, even won a best actor Oscar for star Tom Hanks. But these films invariably have had an air of earnest special pleading about them, a sense that they’d rather do good in the world than tell a good story. Instead of emphasizing its apartness, Brokeback Mountain insists it is a romance like any other, and that makes all the difference.”
Daniel Mendelsohn  writing in the New York Review of Books said:
“As Brokeback makes so eloquently clear, the tragedy of gay lovers like Ennis and Jack is only secondarily a social tragedy. Their tragedy, which starts well before the lovers ever meet, is primarily a psychological tragedy, a tragedy of psyches scarred from the very first stirrings of an erotic desire which the world around them—beginning in earliest childhood, in the bosom of their families, as Ennis’s grim flashback is meant to remind us—represents as unhealthy, hateful, and deadly. Romeo and Juliet (and we) may hate the outside world, the Capulets and Montagues, may hate Verona; but because they learn to hate homosexuality so early on, young people with homosexual impulses more often than not grow up hating themselves: they believe that there’s something wrong with themselves long before they can understand that there’s something wrong with society.”
Critics were not alone in their enthusiasm. Blogger interest erupted, most notably, Dave Cullen’s Ultimate Brokeback Forum , which enrolled more than 6,000 members.
Positioned and promoted not as a “Gay Cowboy Movie” but as a “Western Romance,” Brokeback Mountain successfully attracted a coveted crossover audience. Gross receipts from domestic and international exhibition of the film have approached US$200 million.
Brokeback Mountain received eight nominations for the 78th Academy Awards , where it eventually won three: Best Director , Best Adapted Screenplay , and Best Original Score . The film was widely considered to be the front-runner for the Academy Award for Best Picture , though it ultimately, and quite surprisingly for many, lost to Crash. Fallout from the Best Picture loss resulted in an unprecedented Daily Variety advertisement in the March 10, 2006, issue paid for by friends and members of the Ultimate Brokeback Forum.
For more information, read Brokeback Mountain - Story to Screenplay by Annie Proulx, Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana (Scribner) ISBN-13: 978-0-7432-9416-4. This book includes the complete text of both the story and the screenplay; also three short essays on the making of Brokeback Mountain by Proulx, McMurtry, Ossana, and photographs by Kimberley French.
Revised 06 December 2017