The Movie John Wayne Considered His Worst
John Wayne made over 180 movies in his career, but here’s the 1957 romantic drama he personally labeled as one of his absolute worst films.
John Wayne appeared in over 180 movies throughout his career, but here’s why he considered Jet Pilot one of – if not the – worst. Wayne had fronted dozens of b-movie Westerns before the success of 1939’s Stagecoach elevated him to stardom. He would go on to front many more Westerns, including Red River, True Grit, The Searchers and the unofficial Rio Bravo trilogy. The enduring cinematic image of Wayne is that of a cowboy, but he made films in many other genres throughout his 50-year career.
1952’s The Quiet Man is probably his most famous, and while elements of that movie have aged poorly – such as its stereotyping of the Irish – it’s still considered a classic. Wayne also fronted war movies like Sands Of Iwa Jima, the adventure movie Hatari! or even romantic drama The Barbarian And The Geisha. Wayne was famously blunt when it came to the quality of his own work, especially with some of his final films like Cahill U.S. Marshal or Rooster Cogburn – his only sequel.
One film he was particularly unhappy with was Jet Pilot, a cold war romance where Wayne’s Air Force Colonel Shannon falls in love with a Soviet defector, played by Psycho’s Janet Leigh. The background of Jet Pilot is more interesting than the actual movie, which was produced by reclusive millionaire Howard Hughes. Jet Pilot started filming in 1949, with the film being intended by Hughes to be a showcase for the latest aircraft, but Hughes’ obsession with re-editing the film – especially the aerial sequences – meant it didn’t see release until 1957.
Why Wayne Considered Jet Pilot One Of His Worst Movies
John Wayne signed on to Jet Pilot despite reservations over the quality of the screenplay because he liked its political themes. His concerns over the story would prove well founded, with reviews of Jet Pilot lambasting its inconsistent tone and sheer goofiness. Wayne – who was nicknamed “Duke” after his childhood pet – himself would later state of the film that “It is undoubtedly one of my worst movies ever.” By the time the film hit theaters, all of the Air Force aircraft it was produced to display were outdated models too.
If nothing else, Jet Pilot features some impressive aerial photography, and the cast commits to their roles amid the melodrama and forced romance of the screenplay. However, it ranks alongside other John Wayne films like The Conqueror – where he was infamously miscast as Genghis Khan – as the actor’s worst efforts and has been essentially forgotten in the years since its release. Given how tough Wayne was on his own filmography – even critiquing True Grit, the film that won him his sole Oscar – labeling Jet Pilot his worst is almost a badge of honor.