John Wayne Hated This $50 Million Oscar Bait Flop (and Lost an Oscar to It)

John Wayne Hated This $50 Million Oscar Bait Flop (and Lost an Oscar to It)
Image credit: Warner Bros., Columbia Pictures, Legion-Media

Unlike some of his best movies, many of John Wayne's comments have not aged well.


  • John Wayne shot from both hips when it came to dissing other movies.
  • The western star hated All the King's Men and actually turned down a role in the original.
  • He would have loved to see how badly the remake flopped.

When it was revealed a few years ago that John Wayne was a racist homophobe, was anyone really surprised? The True Grit actor, who died in 1979, had been the epitome of what was deemed to be masculinity for much of the previous three decades.

Never a man to shy away from speaking his mind, he was always willing to pass judgment on the work of others. But he had a particular hatred for Robert Rossen's 1949 film All the King's Men.

Wayne thought the movie was unpatriotic

John Wayne lost to All the King's Men at the Oscars. Rossen's film was based on Robert Penn Warren's 1946 novel of the same name. It follows Willie Stark, an honest lawyer and aspiring politician who learns that corruption is the only way to the top.

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Despite its release in the late 40s, the film was surprisingly well received. But not by John Wayne, who was initially offered the lead role but turned it down. Wayne thought it was unpatriotic and chose to star in The Sands of Iwo Jima instead. Interestingly, the movie he chose depicted an event that was widely used for propaganda at the time, but actually resulted in heavy casualties for the US Army.

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To make matters worse, it was the little-known Broderick Crawford (who took the lead in All the King's Men after Wayne turned it down) who won the Best Actor Oscar in 1950.

John Wayne didn't take being overlooked for the Oscar very well

It's easy to see why John Wayne might have expected a clear path to the Oscar. He was the big star of the day in a movie that checked all the boxes of post-war patriotism. And that may be why he was so scathing in his attack on All the King's Men.

Far Out magazine reports that he said: 'I wouldn't have minded losing so much if anyone else had won.' Adding, '[All the King's Men] smears the machinery of government for no purpose of humour or enlightenment… degrades all relationships… and throws acid on the American way of life.'

John Wayne would have enjoyed seeing how badly the reboot flopped

In 2006, Steve Zaillian, produced and directed a remake of All the King's Men. He attracted big stars including Sean Penn, Anthony Hookins, Jude Law and Kate Winslet. There was even a part for James Gandolfini following his rise to fame as Tony Soprano.

To say the movie was a flop would be an understatement. It scored only 11% on Rotten Tomatoes and made $9.5 million at the box office against a budget of $55 million, not that the subject matter had anything to do with its utter failure.

Before the movie was released, there was even talk of it being an Oscar hit. Once critics and audiences saw it, all such plans were put on hold. It was confusing, disjointed, and pretentious. Nothing quite worked, and it felt like it took itself too seriously, almost to the point of being a parody of itself.

The subject matter was never really criticized, just the way it was presented. Still, it would undoubtedly have brought a smile to the Duke's face.