John Wayne: What Was the Most Money the Cowboy Icon Ever Made to Appear in a Movie?

by Josh Lanier

For 50 years, John Wayne was one of Hollywood’s most bankable stars. He made more than 200 movies during that time frame with more than three-fourths of them earning more than $350 million at the box office, without adjusting for inflation.

And considering that some movie stars can fetch $20 million or more for the big, CGI-filled summer blockbusters, The Duke — you would think — would have a commiserate payday. But it’s not even close.

According to several sources, including the New York Times, the most Wayne ever made for a film was $666,000 (without adjusting for inflation). It’s unclear what movie led to his biggest payday, however. That’s still a very large sum of cash. Just not near the tens of millions some actors rake in for giant flops. It’s also odd considering box office returns mostly increased throughout his lifetime.

Wayne died in 1979 from complications of cancer. He was 72 years old. He had 7 children and 15 grandchildren.

It’s estimated John Wayne was worth $7 million when he died, including his many properties. That figure has ballooned to about $25 million since his death as his estate continues to rake in residuals from his films and other passive income streams like licensing his name for products.

John Wayne Didn’t Think He’d Ever Win an Oscar

Also, despite being one of Hollywood’s most famous faces, John Wayne was never a critical darling. He’d been nominated three times. And by the third — for 1969’s True Grit — he told Roger Ebert he had given up hope of ever winning the golden statue.

“Well, whether or not I win an Oscar, I’m proud of the performance,” Wayne told the famed critic. “I’d be pleased to win one, of course, although I imagine these things mean more to the public than to us. There are a lot of old standbys who don’t have one. That comedian… what the hell is his name? Gary Grant. He never won one, and he’s been a mainstay of this business.”

He would never have to worry about that. Wayne won Best Actor for his role as the one-eyed Rooster Cogburn in the film.

In his acceptance speech, as he wiped away tears of joy, he joked “if I’d known that, I would have put that patch on 35 years earlier.”