John Wayne Once Turned Down Role, Urged Steven Spielberg Not to Make World War II Comedy ‘1941’

by Joe Rutland

Stephen Spielberg has a successful record when it comes to movies. He wanted John Wayne to play in “1941” but Wayne wasn’t interested.

Now “1941” was a period piece film set in World War II. Spielberg wanted Wayne to play alongside John Belushi.

Wayne, who had a lot of respect for the United States military, felt the movie was making fun of that period of time. He looked at the script, though, and sent it back.

In an interview with “Entertainment Weekly,” Spielberg said Wayne was “really curious” about the movie. He said he sent Wayne the script.

John Wayne Calls ‘1941’ A ‘Very Un-American Movie’

“He called me the next day and said he felt it was a very un-American movie,” Spielberg said, “and I shouldn’t waste my time making it.

“He said, ‘You know, that was an important war, and you’re making fun of a war that cost thousands of lives at Pearl Harbor. Don’t joke about World War II,'” Spielberg said. It should be noted that John Wayne died in June 1979, so he might not have made it through movie production.

Still, “The Duke” maintained a loyalty to those who served and lost their lives on the battlefields.

When “1941” was initially released, the movie didn’t receive the critical or box office acclaim of other Spielberg films. Besides Belushi, other cast members included his “Saturday Night Live” costar Dan Aykroyd, Ned Beatty, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton, Tim Matheson, Robert Stack, and Penny Marshall.

John Williams provided the soundtrack for the movie. It didn’t matter, though, as it made $94.9 million at the box office. Some critics at the time, like the late Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune, didn’t like “1941” very much.

Movie Studios Ordered Spielberg Film Cut Down

Both Universal Pictures and Columbia Pictures felt like the movie was too long in its original 146-minute run time. They ordered the movie cut back against Spielberg’s wishes. It was released and earned initially $23.4 million in the United States and Canada.

The movie didn’t earn what other Spielberg releases like “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” had done. Those numbers for “1941” pale in comparison, yet it was not a total bomb.

The studios have received a lot of income from the extended version released first on VHS and later DVD. “1941” has become a cult movie hit in later years, bringing new generations in to watch the film.

Ultimately, “1941” became just one of a handful of movies John Belushi made in his lifetime. Others included, obviously, “National Lampoon’s Animal House,” “The Blues Brothers,” “Continental Divide,” and “Neighbors.”

Yes, “1941” is no “E.T.” for Spielberg purists. But there are fans who, for their reasons, find this movie entertaining.