The Mark Wahlberg Movie That Secretly Remade A Classic John Wayne Western


A Mark Wahlberg thriller from the early 2000s is a thinly veiled remake of a classic John Wayne Western from the 1960s. John Wayne starred in 80 Westerns throughout his career, which itself spanned half a century. Of course, he fronted plenty of other kinds of movies from dramas (The Quiet Man) to war epics (Sands of Iwo Jima), but Westerns are where he left an indelible impression. Wayne fronted some of the genre’s most influential films, from Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo to The Searchers, with the latter being particularly influential to “Movie Brats” like George Lucas and Martin Scorsese.

The star made plenty of Western duds too; Wayne’s only sequel Rooster Cogburn from 1975 was a waste of both him and co-star Katharine Hepburn, while Rio Lobo closed Hawks’ directing career on an underwhelming note. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there have been few overt remakes of Wayne’s most famous movies. The star casts a big shadow, and it would take a brave actor to try and make a mark in a role previously played by Wayne.

Mark Wahlberg’s Four Brothers Is A Loose Remake Of John Wayne’s The Sons Of Katie Elder

Four Brothers is a Western in disguise

There was no shortage of Mark Wahlberg action movies during the 2000s, with the former singer regularly appearing in fare like Shooter or Max Payne. One of Wahlberg’s best action films from the 2000s is Four Brothers by the late, great John Singleton. The story sees Wahlberg’s criminal Bobby reuniting with his adopted brothers to find out who killed their mother. Four Brothers may have only earned a 53% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but it was also a solid hit, grossing over $90 million on a $30 million budget (via The Numbers).

Four Brothers is more of a remix of The Sons of Katie Elder than a full-blown remake, though the relationship between the siblings and the basic plot mirror one another.

Fans of Wayne may have noticed Four Brothers’ premise is very close to 1965’s The Sons of Katie Elder. Like the Wahlberg version, this involves four sons reuniting in the wake of their beloved mother’s death to right some wrongs. While not held in as high regard as movies like The Searchers, The Sons of Katie Elder is still a favorite among Wayne devotees, with the star playing the eldest sibling, with Dean Martin (Rio Bravo), Earl Holliman and Michael Anderson Jr. rounding out the titular sons.

Four Brothers is more of a remix of The Sons of Katie Elder than a full-blown remake, though the relationship between the siblings and the basic plot do mirr or one another. Singleton’s movie takes a traditional Western tale but rubs some 1970s-style grit on it too, feeling in parts like a thriller Clint Eastwood or Charles Bronson (Death Wish) could have fronted in their heyday.


How Four Brothers Improves On The Sons Of Katie Elder

Four Brothers is a more complicated take on the story

The Sons of Katie Elder is an “Oater” in the classic sense, and lacks the darkness of the Spaghetti Westerns that were starting to become popular at that time. Viewed today, it’s still a rousing adventure, though it might be too old-fashioned for younger viewers. Four Brothers makes key changes to The Sons of Katie Elder too, with the most crucial being the late matriarch Evelyn (Fionnula Flanagan) is given some screentime. Flanagan makes a major impression despite her limited appearance, and it’s clear why the boys adored her so much.

Katie Elder is already dead when the Wayne version begins, so despite being spoken about in reverential tones, audiences never get to meet her. The dynamic between the siblings in The Sons of Katie Elder lacks the warmth shown in Four Brothers too. Wayne and Martin are obviously the biggest stars and tend to overpower their scenes, but the dynamics seen in the Singleton film – including the macho bonding and petty infighting – are more relatable.

Four Brothers is also a darker film than The Sons of Katie Elder. The latter still has a high bodycount, but the Wahlberg film is more of a vigilante tale that isn’t afraid to make the lead characters anti-heroes. When they kill the men responsible for Evelyn’s murder, it amounts to a cold-blooded execution. The Sons of Katie Elder portrays things in a more black-and-white manner, where the sibling’s actions are always justified.

The Sons Of Katie Elder Isn’t The Only John Wayne Western With A Stealth Remake

Quietly remaking John Wayne movies has been happening for decades

Four Brothers does little to mask its Katie Elder inspirations, but it’s not the only example of a stealth John Wayne remake. The Searchers has been reworked many, many times; Scorsese’s Taxi Driver is a gritty take on the same basic concept, Paul Bettany’s Priest is a sci-fi/horror take on the story and even the original Star Wars copies the Western adventure’s template. Bruce Willis nearly fronted a sci-fi Searchers remake during the 1990s too.

John Carpenter is an avowed Western fan and has called Rio Bravo one of his personal favorites. This is why Carpenter has loosely remade Rio Bravo twice; the first was 1976’s Assault on Precinct 13 with the second being 2001’s Ghosts of Mars. Whereas many of the above films hid their influences with new genre clothing (horror, sci-fi, etc), Four Brothers is upfront about its Sons of Katie Elder homage.