The Incredible 3-Hour Western Epic That United John Wayne, James Stewart & Henry Fonda


A 1962 Western put together an impressive cast that elevated the film and made it an instant classic that would also become a box office champion and a critically acclaimed hit. Casting has always been one major factor in a movie’s success, not just in terms of what the actors can deliver, but also the star power that comes with them. It was no different for Westerns, a genre that shaped some of the greatest actors of all time. Likewise, the works of actors like John Wayne, James Stewart, and Henry Fonda contributed to the longstanding impact of the Western genre.

It’s common for Westerns to be associated with lone wolf heroes – characters who ride alone and do not need a lot of friends to save the day. For example, “John Wayne Western” became a genre of its own, just like Clint Eastwood was front and center in dozens of films. This is why it can be surprising to revisit a Western whose cast included multiple major stars, most of which were used to lead their own films as the sole protagonist.

How The West Was Won’s Cast Featured Multiple Major Hollywood Stars

How The West Was Won’s Cast Was Incredible

In 1962, How the West Was Won premiered to great acclaim, and a major part of the film’s success was its ensemble cast. The main cast included names that are still relevant today, including Western movie star John Wayne, Henry Fonda, James Stewart, Debbie Reynolds, and Gregory Peck. However, the film did not stop there. Even the supporting actors were shining stars in Hollywood, like Agnes Moorehead, Harry Morgan, Walter Brennan, and Thelma Ritter. By crafting a cast of notable names and talented newcomers, How the West Was Won was a movie audiences would not want to miss.

With so many hugely skilled actors, How the West Was Won could have run the risk of some actors being overshadowed by others. A movie can have many characters, but there can only be so many protagonists. As it turns out, this 1962 movie had the ideal setup for their cast. How the West Was Won was broken up into five different stories following the same family throughout different periods and events. In this way, each segment had its own “main character,” and essentially its own tiny cast. Therefore, each star has its big moment to shine.


What How The West Was Won Is About

How the West Was Won Follows The Prescotts

How the West Was Won tells the story of the Prescott family over several decades. The movie begins in 1839 and ends five decades later, in 1889. During this time, the Prescott ancestors come into contact with various dangers and obstacles that are common to the Western genre, including the Civil War, outlaws, and nature. Overall, there are five stories within How the West Was Won. They include “The Rivers,” “The Plains,” “The Civil War,” “The Railroad,” and “The Outlaws.” The story mostly revolves around the years before, during, and after the birth of Zeb Prescott.

Essentially, each part of How the West Was Won depicts exactly what its title suggests, through the lens of the Prescott family. In “The Rivers,” the Prescotts attempt to travel down the Erie Canal. In “The Plains,” one of the Prescotts makes a trip across the American West, through the Plains. “The Civil War” depicts a Prescott family member joining the Union Army. Later, in “The Railroad,” a Prescott witnesses the construction of the iconic American railroads. Finally, “The Outlaws” sees a final battle between the Prescotts and an outlaw with a deep-rooted history.

How The West Was Won Was A Major Success

How The West Was Won Was A Critical & Commercial Hit

Ultimately, How the West Was Won was a massive hit. On a budget of $15 million, the movie grossed $50 million. This made it the second-highest-grossing movie of 1963. It was also nominated for eight Academy Awards, of which it won three: Best Story and Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen, Best Sound, and Best Film Editing. Nowadays, the film has been preserved by the United States National Film Registry due to its lasting cultural legacy.

Though there are many reasons for the success of How the West Was Won, it is safe to say that the cast helped the 1962 Western achieve icon status. Without names like John Wayne and Henry Fonda, audiences may not have been as invested in this epic story as they were. That is not to mention the marketing impact of having so many stars lined up in the poster. Between the financial success and the awards it received, How the West Was Won lived up to its cast.