Why John Wayne’s First Movie ‘The Big Trail’ Was Considered a Flop
John Wayne starred in many small films before becoming one of Hollywood’s biggest names. He starred in iconic films such as Researchers, The man who shot Liberty Valanceand The real courage. His first movie, The big pathwas an ambitious project which, unfortunately, ended in failure at the box office.
“The Big Trail” had a big production budget
John Wayne started out as a prop guy at Fox Studios. While working there, director Raoul Walsh saw star quality in him and decided to cast John Wayne in The Great Trail, making it her first starring role in any film. The big path was a revolutionary film at the time since it was shot in 70mm. This meant that there were two different versions of the film: one taken in 35mm and another in 70mm widescreen format.
Moreover, the production of The big path was huge, which means it had a big budget. In the book Raoul Walsh: the true adventures of the legendary Hollywood director by Marilyn Ann Moss, the author shared that there were “20,000” extras and thousands of animals on set.
“The production team was equally impressive: a crew of 293 lead actors and 22 cameramen,” Moss wrote via Slash Film. “Then there were the 12 Indian guides and 123 baggage trains that traveled more than 4,300 miles through the seven states used for locations. The 700 barnyard animals in the photo, including dogs, pigs and chickens, were also brought.
John Wayne’s first movie was a huge box office flop
The big path ended up being a flop, but that had almost nothing to do with the quality of the movie. The film was a critical success upon release and currently holds 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. He was also inducted into the United States Library of Congress in 2006.
Unfortunately, most theaters were not equipped to accommodate a film shot in 70mm. Many theaters could not show The big path, leading it to become a disastrous flop for Fox. Exact gross numbers are not reported, but the film had a budget of $1.25 million and did not recoup most of it. Even today, many people haven’t seen it, making it one of the most underrated westerns of all time.
John Wayne made his breakthrough in the movie ‘Stagecoach’
After The big pathJohn Wayne appeared in many other small films up to Diligence gave him his big break. Diligence is a 1939 western directed by John Ford. Wayne plays kid Ringo, an outlaw who is more civilized than he is perceived to be. The western was a major commercial success and is preserved in the US Library of Congress.
After this success, Ford and Wayne became a dynamic duo, working together on more than a dozen westerns, including Researchers, The man who shot Liberty Valance, The long journey home, Fort Apache, Rio Grande, The quiet manand 3 sponsors. The collaboration between Ford and Wayne made Ford an iconic western director while making Wayne a leading man in Hollywood.
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