Three Amigos (stylized as ¡Three Amigos!) is a 1986 American Western comedy film directed by John Landis and written by Lorne Michaels, Steve Martin, and Randy Newman, who wrote the songs for the film. Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, and Martin Short star as the title characters, three silent film stars who are mistaken for real heroes by the suffering people of a small Mexican village. They must find a way to live up to their reputation and stop a malevolent bandit.
In 1916, the bandit "El Guapo" and his gang collect protection money from the Mexican village of Santo Poco. Carmen, daughter of the village leader, searches for anyone who can rescue her townspeople. Visiting a village church, she sees a silent film featuring "The Three Amigos", a trio of gunfighters who protect the vulnerable from villains. Believing them to be real heroes, Carmen sends a telegram asking them to come and stop El Guapo.
Lucky Day, Dusty Bottoms, and Ned Nederlander are actors from LA, who portray the Amigos on screen. They get fired when they demand a salary increase. Shortly afterward, they receive Carmen's telegram, misinterpreting it as a job offer to perform a show in Santo Poco.
They break into the studio to retrieve their costumes, and Amigos head for Mexico. Stopping at a cantina near Santo Poco, they are mistaken for associates of a fast-shooting German pilot, who arrived just before they did, also in search of El Guapo. Performing "My Little Buttercup" at the cantina, the locals are left confused. The German's real associates arrive at the cantina, proving themselves lethal with their pistols when everybody laughs at them. A relieved Carmen picks up the Amigos and takes them to the village, where they stay in the best house in town and are pampered.
The next morning, when three of El Guapo's men raid the village, the Amigos do a Hollywood-style stunt show that leaves the men bemused. The bandits ride off, making the villagers think they have defeated the enemy. In reality, the men inform El Guapo of what has happened, and he decides to return the next day to kill the Amigos.
The village throws a victory party for the Amigos. The next morning, El Guapo and his gang come to Santo Poco and call them out, but they think it's another show. After Lucky gets shot, they realize they are real bandits and beg for mercy. El Guapo allows the Amigos to live, then lets his men loot the village and kidnaps Carmen. They leave Santo Poco in humiliation.
Ned persuades Lucky and Dusty to go after El Guapo, as they have nothing worth going back to in America and this is their chance to be real heroes. They spot a plane and follow it; it is flown by the German, who has brought a shipment of rifles for the gang. El Guapo's 40th birthday party is being prepared, and he plans to bed Carmen that night. The Amigos try to sneak into the hideout: Lucky is captured and chained up in a dungeon, Dusty crashes into Carmen's room, and Ned ends up suspended from a piñata.
Lucky frees himself, but Dusty and Ned are held hostage. The German, having idolized Ned's quick-draw and gun spinning pistol skills in childhood, challenges him to a shootout. Ned kills the German, and Lucky holds El Guapo at gunpoint long enough for Carmen and the Amigos to escape in the German's plane.
Returning to Santo Poco with El Guapo's army in pursuit, the Amigos rally the villagers to stand up for themselves. Drawing inspiration from one of their old films, they have the villagers create improvised Amigos costumes. The bandits arrive and are shot at by Amigos from all sides and fall into hidden trenches. El Guapo's men either ride off or are shot, and he takes a fatal wound. Before he dies the villagers, all dressed as Amigos, step out to confront him. El Guapo congratulates them, then shoots Lucky in the foot and dies.
The villagers offer to give the Amigos all the money they have, but the Amigos refuse it with: "Our reward is that justice has been done." They then ride off into the sunset.
The film was written by Martin, Michaels, and Randy Newman. According to Michaels, Martin approached him with the idea of the film and asked him to co-write it with him. Martin originally had the working title of Three Cabelleros, the same as the Disney cartoon.
Newman contributed three original songs: "The Ballad of the Three Amigos," "My Little Buttercup," and "Blue Shadows," while the musical score was composed by Elmer Bernstein. It was shot outside Grants, New Mexico as well as in Simi Valley, California; Coronado National Forest; Old Tucson Studios; and Hollywood.
The production went through many cast changes before filming. Since he is a co-screenwriter, Martin had been attached to the project since 1980 and he, Dan Aykroyd, and John Belushi were originally going to play the Three Amigos. At one point, Steven Spielberg was slated to direct; he wanted Martin, Bill Murray, and Robin Williams to portray Lucky, Dusty and Ned, respectively. Landis has said that Rick Moranis would have been cast as Ned, had Short been unavailable. When Aykroyd became unavailable, Chase replaced him. John Candy was set for the role originally intended for Belushi, as he did in the movie Armed and Dangerous, but he was too large to ride the horse. It was Candy who recommended Martin Short to Steve Martin, as they had worked together at SCTV. It was the first movie for Short, and he and Martin became close friends, and continue to perform together. Candy would prominently be seen later riding a horse in the 1991 film Delirious.
Martin developed tinnitus after filming a pistol-shooting scene. However, in an interview with Pitchfork, he clarified that the tinnitus was from years of listening to loud music and performing in front of noisy crowds.
There were difficulties between the main actors and Landis. Most famously, it included a scene where Chase refused to tell a joke because he thought it would make his character look like a "moron." Chase agreed to do the line after he threatened to give it to Short instead.
Several deleted scenes were included in the Blu-ray release. An alternate opening featured the peaceful village of Santo Poco being rampaged upon by El Guapo and his men, prompting Carmen's search for help. Extended sequences of the Three Amigos at the studio mansion and backlot lead into another deleted subplot involving an up-and-coming rival actress at the studio, Miss Rene (Fran Drescher).
Elmer Bernstein wrote the score for Three Amigos and Randy Newman wrote the songs.
Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 45% of 42 film critics gave the film a positive review, with an average rating of 5.2/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Three Amigos! stars a trio of gifted comedians and has an agreeably silly sense of humor, but they're often adrift in a dawdling story with too few laugh-out-loud moments." Film critic Roger Ebert awarded the film one out of four stars and said, "The ideas to make Three Amigos into a good comedy are here, but the madness is missing." Janet Maslin of The New York Times wrote that it was "likable" but lacked a "distinctive style", though certain jokes are crafted with "enjoyable sophistication". Caroline Wetsbrook of Empire awarded the film three out of five stars and wrote that it was "good-natured enough to sustain its ultimately thin premise".
Despite this, the film has since been reviewed more favorably and has become a cult classic. Neil McNally of the website Den of Geek noted that the film was "unfairly overlooked" when first released, and praised the performances of Martin, Chase, and Short; the comedic scriptwriting of Landis; and the "sweeping, majestic" score by Bernstein. The film was ranked #79 on Bravo's list of the "100 Funniest Movies".