Bruce Willis almost took on John Wayne’s role in a science fiction reimagining of the legendary actor’s most iconic Western. With perhaps the exception of Clint Eastwood, no other actor is more closely associated with the Western than the Duke. Waynes’s work in the genre seems like hallowed ground.
However, remakes of films that seem like the exclusive domain of John Wayne aren’t unheard of. The most famous remake is the Coen Brothers’ True Grit, with Jeff Bridges taking on the role of Rooster Cogburn previously played by Wayne. Wayne won his only Oscar for Best Actor in the original 1969 film. It’s also the only role the Duke reprised in 1975’s Rooster Cogburn, which was one of his final movies. While 1960’s The Alamo might be one of Wayne’s passion projects, that didn’t stop Billy Bob Thorton from playing Davy Crockett in a 2004 version of the story.
There’s one Jon Wayne film that still might be seen as untouchable, though. 1956’s The Searchers is directed by John Ford and written by Frank S. Nugent. Based on Alan Le May’s 1954 novel. The Duke plays a middle-aged Civil War veteran who spends years searching for his abducted niece (Natalie Wood), accompanied by his adopted nephew (Jeffrey Hunter).
John Wayne’s The Searchers is widely regarded as showcasing his finest performance and standing as his ultimate Western masterpiece. Praised as a cinematic gem, it has garnered acclaim from luminaries such as Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese, the latter of whom loosely adapted it into Taxi Driver. Even George Lucas paid homage to the film with an iconic shot in Star Wars.
How Bruce Willis Was Considered For an Iconic John Wayne Role
Still, in the 90s, Bruce Willis nearly embodied John Wayne’s The Searchers role. In 1997, Warner Bros announced plans to remake The Searchers as The Trail, with director Phillip Noyce.
During an episode of the Best Movies Never Made podcast, screenwriter Richard Jefferies unveiled that the setting of The Trail was an extraterrestrial world where humanity had established its dominance. However, the space aliens aren’t taking too kindly to the human colonizers.
The Trail was poised to become a major studio production, led by director Noyce who had previously achieved success with hits like Clear and Present Danger. Warner Bros reportedly had their sights set on Bruce Willis for the lead. However, it was not to be. The Trail was probably shelved after Warner Bros faced a string of expensive failures in 1998.
It’s another one of those cinematic “what-ifs”. Willis may have brought a different energy to the role, and the sci-fi spin would have been fresh. The Trail may have added to the legacy of both Willis and Wayne.
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