High Road to China: Tom Selleck resented the film being dismissed as a Raiders clone

In his new book, Tom Selleck recalls nearly playing Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark, but dismisses the notion that High Road to China was a clone.

high road to china movie

One of the most legendary stories of an iconic role almost going to a different actor is when Tom Selleck was initially offered the lead as Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark. He famously nailed his audition (which you can watch here) and was offered the part. However, he had just shot the pilot for Magnum P.I. and when that show was picked up, his opportunity to play the whip-wielding archeologist slipped through his fingers. He eventually got to star in his own period adventure movie in 1983, High Road to China, which is a bit of an unseen gem.

Selleck, who’s never had particularly sour grapes over the casting, writes about his shot at playing Indy in detail in his new memoir, “You Never Know:, lavishing praise on Spielberg, Lucas, Ford, and overall proving to be a good sport about the whole affair. Yet, one thing that did rub him the wrong way was when his 1983 adventure film, High Road to China, was dismissed by critics as an Indiana Jones-clone. As he said, “I did not appreciate the reviews that dismissed the movie as a Raiders knockoff. It wasn’t.”

Indeed, Selleck has a point, as if you’ve seen the movie he plays an alcoholic former WWI pilot haunted by PTSD. While it’s an adventure movie, with him helping a heiress rescue her long-lost father from warlords in China, the only thing about it that makes it similar to Indiana Jones is that it’s a period piece. There are no Nazis, and the action is mostly confined to the aviation scenes, while probably makes it more like old-fashioned Hollywood epics such as Only Angels Have Wings.

While dismissed at the time as a flop, Selleck notes that the movie actually opened at number one at the box office and says it was a solid hit. While the studio that produced it, Golden Harvest, stated it made $28.4 million domestically, in his book notes, “I had a conversation with an enthusiastic member of the Warner Bros distribution team (they distributed the film but did not produce it). He told me our film had grossed somewhere around fifty or sixty million dollars.” Why would Golden Harvest lie? Selleck says his deal included a chunk of the gross, with him calling their official figures “total bullshit.” Selleck’s follow-up movies, Lassiter and the cult classic Runaway (a Best Movie You Never Saw favourite), were flops, but he had a major hit in 1987 with Three Men and a Baby (which was the year’s highest-grossing film).

If you get a chance, definitely check out Selleck’s book. It’s a great read chockful of stories from his career. Buy it HERE. Should I tackle High Road to China for Best Movie You Never Saw? Let me know in the comments!

About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.