10 Movies That Were Supposedly Cursed


'The Conqueror'

Susan Hayward, John Wayne and assorted other actors in "The Conqueror" RKO Radio Pictures/Getty Images
Susan Hayward, John Wayne and assorted other actors in "The Conqueror" RKO Radio Pictures/Getty Images

"The Conqueror" might be the only movie on this list that was truly, genuinely cursed -- by atomic bombs. Its plot centered on Genghis Khan and a woman named Bortai, whom he kidnaps and forces to marry him. The movie came with an astonishingly terrible script and starred John Wayne, who played Khan and isn't remotely Mongolian.

But none of that is really why "The Conqueror" was cursed. Filmed in Utah, the location was less than 150 miles (241 kilometers) from the Nevada Test Site, where the U.S. government had set off 11 above-ground nuclear bombs the year before. Fallout from those blasts could have lingered, and the canyons where they filmed would have funneled wind-driven fallout, trapping much of it in the heavy dust and dirt. During shooting, actors and crew were constantly caked in dust blown by the wind. Later on, producer Howard Hughes shipped 60 tons (54 metric tons) of the radioactive dirt back to RKO studios for reshoots [source: Jackovich and Sennet].

In the years after the film's release, at least 91 members of the cast and crew (out of 220 total) were diagnosed with cancer. Pedro Armendariz beat kidney cancer and then killed himself when a new form of cancer was found. Wayne died after battling a variety of cancers (lung and stomach, primarily). Agnes Moorehead died of uterine cancer. Jeanne Gerson had skin cancer, then breast cancer. Susan Hayward died of brain cancer. Director Dick Powell died of lung cancer. Even some actors' children who visited the set dealt with cancer later in life.

Statistically, it seems that the film's crew suffered above average cancer rates. People magazine reported on "The Conqueror" cancer connection in 1980, when they quoted Dr. Robert C. Pendleton, director of radiological health at the University of Utah: "With these numbers, this case could qualify as an epidemic ... in a group this size you'd expect only 30-some cancers to develop. With 91, I think the tie-in to their exposure on the set of "The Conqueror" would hold up even in a court of law."

If we assume that more cancer cases occurred after People's 1980 exposé, it would seem that "The Conqueror" was truly a deadly movie to people who spent only a few months working on it. Imagine the effects on the people who lived there.