John Wayne’s Oscar-Nominated Movie Was Remade and Completely Bombed


The Big Picture

  • John Wayne’s 1960 film The Alamo successfully transformed a minor historical battle into a larger-than-life narrative about brave rebels fighting for liberty.
  • Wayne’s film capitalized on the battle’s cultural significance and earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture.
  • The 2004 remake of The Alamo failed at the box office because it lacked the appeal of John Wayne and attempted a more serious and detailed approach to the historical events, which didn’t resonate with audiences.

Ever since the early days of cinema, filmmakers have turned to inspiring stories from history as a source of inspiration. Classic films like Ben-Hur, Spartacus, Cleopatra, How The West Was Won, and Lawrence of Arabia took important historical events and used them as the basis for dramatic storytelling. Among the most popular “epics” of this era was John Wayne’s 1960 Western classic The Alamo. Although Wayne starred in countless Western adventure films, The Alamo attempted to recount the most famous battle in Texas history and pay tribute to the men who died fighting the Centralist Republic of Mexico. There was clearly a special touch that Wayne had that other filmmakers simply could not replicate. When Patrick Wilson, Billy Bob Thorton, and Dennis Quaid attempted to star in a 2004 remake, it became one of the biggest bombs at the box office.

The Alamo (1960)

In 1836, a small band of soldiers sacrifice their lives in hopeless combat against a massive army in order to prevent a tyrant from smashing the new Republic of Texas.

Release Date
October 27, 1960

John Wayne , Richard Widmark , Laurence Harvey , Frankie Avalon

162 minutes

John Wayne’s ‘The Alamo’ Isn’t Historically Accurate

What’s ironic about the Battle of the Alamo itself is that the event itself has little historical significance. In 1836, a group of radical colonists who had settled the land in Texas attempted to declare independence from the centralized Mexican government amidst the Texas Revolution. The Texan Army, which consisted primarily of settlers from the United States, had successfully purged soldiers from the Mexican Army out of the territory a few months prior to the Alamo conflict. A stronger legion of troops serving under the Mexican President, General Antonio López de Santa Anna, led an offensive campaign and seized a mission known as “The Alamo” that had been fortified by Texan troops. While the events have been mythologized by popular culture, the battle itself was a bloodbath in which the entire Texan defending force was massacred over the course of a 13-day siege. The heroism of iconic historical figures like Davy Crockett is mostly a result of legend.

However, truth has never been something that has mattered to filmmakers when telling historical stories; the lack of legitimate facts within historical films like Napoleon and Braveheart didn’t make them any less entertaining. Wayne took advantage of the battle’s cultural significance and crafted a larger-than-life story of brave rebels resisting a larger-than-life villainous invading force. While in actuality Crockett’s service at the Alamo was mostly fiction, he had become a more popular historical icon as a result of a series of Walt Disney adventure films about his life. It made sense that Wayne would cast himself as this eccentric Tennessee frontiersman. His version of The Alamo attempted to transform the battle into a narrative about Crockett’s “one-man war” fighting for liberty.

While John Wayne’s politics and the film’s depiction of Mexican characters have not aged well, 1960’s The Alamo was relatively successful during its initial release. At that point in his career, Wayne had yet to earn any Academy Award nominations, but The Alamo earned him a nomination (as a producer) for Best Picture. The film also earned nominations for Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score, Best Original Song (“The Green Leaves Of Summer”), Best Supporting Actor (Chill Wills), and a win for Best Sound. It marked a significant improvement for Wayne as a director and led him to direct further classics such as 1968’s The Green Berets and 1971’s Big Jake. The Alamo isn’t a film that any history teacher should ever show, nor should it be taken literally given the problematic nature of John Wayne’s framing of the conflict. Nonetheless, The Alamo works as a piece of blockbuster entertainment, which isn’t something that the 2004 version could say.

Billy Bob Thornton and Patrick Wilson’s ‘The Alamo’ Was Doomed From Conception

Billy Bob Thornton and Patrick Wilson in 2004's remake of the Alamo
Image via Touchstone Pictures

The 2004 version of The Alamo wasn’t a direct remake of the John Wayne movie, but rather another historical epic about the same events. However, Wayne had forever associated himself with the battle due to the success of his film, and thus it became impossible to not compare the two projects. On paper, making a new version of The Alamo made sense. Wayne’s classic films continued to have great brand value, and the success of recent historical epics like Gladiator and Braveheart (both of which won the Academy Award for Best Picture) had shown studios that audiences were willing to sit down for long, action-packed films about major historical battles.

What Buena Vista Distribution didn’t take into consideration is that the reason Wayne’s films were so successful was because of John Wayne. The international market for a fact-based film about a minor battle in Texan history was largely non-existent, and there was little interest from American audiences as well. While there certainly would be a significant audience that would be interested in seeing a new action-adventure war film starring Wayne, there wasn’t necessarily the same appeal for a more grounded, serious historical drama starring Patrick Wilson, Billy Bob Thornton, and Dennis Quaid. 2004’s The Alamo is far more detailed in its approach to historical events, and as a result, it felt more like a history lesson than a rousing adventure film.


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Billy Bob Thornton Was Miscast in John Wayne’s ‘The Alamo’ Role

2004’s The Alamo attempted to shed light on what actually happened, and as a result, the problematic nature of the conflict only stood out more. Wayne’s film had been so silly in its approach that it was hard to take it seriously, but The Alamo’s framing of the Mexican Army as ruthless savages felt particularly racist, and the film never makes the case for the Texans’ plight as being legitimate. The few attempts that the film made to capture the same inspirational quality that the 1960 movie had felt oddly out of place. While Thorton’s performance as Crockett is certainly entertaining, his eccentricity stuck out like a sore thumb in a film that was otherwise fairly serious.

With a production budget of $100 million and an opening weekend gross of less than $10 million, 2004’s The Alamo proved that audiences had turned out to see the original film because of Wayne, and not because they had any interest in Texas history. It’s hard to fault actors like Patrick Wilson, Billy Bob Thornton, or Dennis Quaid for their performances. In actuality, simply making a Battle of the Alamo movie after John Wayne’s Oscar-nominated one was a doomed prospect from the beginning.

The Alamo (1960) is available to stream on Tubi in the U.S.

Watch on Tubi


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