High Road to China

High Road to China (a.k.a. Raiders of the End of the World) is a 1983 American adventure-romance film set in the 1920s starring Tom Selleck in his first major starring role, playing a hard-drinking biplane pilot hired by society heiress Eve "Evie" Tozer (Bess Armstrong) to find her missing father (Wilford Brimley). The supporting cast includes Robert Morley and Brian Blessed. The Golden Harvest film (released by Warner Bros.) is loosely based on a novel of the same name by Jon Cleary. However, little beyond character names and the basic premise of an aerial race to China survived the translation to film.

High Road to China
Directed byBrian G. Hutton
Produced byFred Weintraub
Screenplay bySandra Weintraub
S. Lee Pogostin
Based onHigh Road to China
by Jon Cleary
Music byJohn Barry
CinematographyRonnie Taylor
Edited byJohn Jympson
Golden Harvest Company
City Films
Jadran Film
Pan Pacific Productions
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Umbrella Entertainment
Release date
  • March 18, 1983 (1983-03-18)
Running time
105 minutes
CountryUnited States
Hong Kong
Budget$15 million
Box office$28,445,927

While Brian G. Hutton ended up as the final director, originally, High Road to China was helmed by John Huston, before being replaced by Sidney J. Furie. The musical score was composed by John Barry. It was the 27th highest-grossing film of 1983, bringing in $28,445,927 at the domestic box office.[1]


Eve Tozer (Bess Armstrong) is a society heiress and flapper living the high-life in 1920s Istanbul. She needs to find her father, Bradley Tozer (Wilford Brimley), before he is officially declared dead or risk losing her inheritance to his scheming business partner, Bentik (Robert Morley). She only has 12 days. Eve hires World War I ace pilot Patrick O'Malley (Tom Selleck) and his aircraft. O'Malley is eager to take the job as he needs to leave town rather urgently himself. Eve, also an accomplished pilot, however, is determined to accompany him in his other aircraft, which causes the first of many arguments on the way from Istanbul and China.

Their journey in two biplanes (named "Dorothy" and "Lillian" after the famous Gish silent film star sisters[2]) through six countries leads them to finally find the eccentric Bradley Tozer in China, where he is helping a small village defend itself against a local warlord. O'Malley and Eve help them win the final battle, but their one remaining aircraft is damaged in the process, leaving her seemingly unable to meet her deadline.



High Road to China is regarded as one of the 'imitators' that populated movie theaters in the years following Raiders of the Lost Ark.[3] However, as in the case of Romancing the Stone, another so-called 'imitator', the source material actually predated the aforementioned Lucasfilm production by four years.[4] Rumor has it that it was "given" to Selleck as a sort of consolation prize for having to pass on Raiders of the Lost Ark due to scheduling conflicts with Magnum, P.I.[5]

In early development, the film was slated to star Roger Moore and Jacqueline Bisset under the direction of John Huston.[6] Then Huston and Bissett dropped out and Bo Derek was to co star with Moore. The budget was to be $16 million. Then Derek dropped out because she only wanted to be directed by her husband.[7]

Filming for High Road to China took place in Yugoslavia with a crew of 231 (145 Yugoslavs, 60 British, 15 Italians, 10 Americans, and one Frenchman). They also added 50 Yugoslav actors to the speaking cast and hired 4,000 extras. Headquarters for the film company was in the small Adriatic coastal town of Opatija, Croatia, located on the northwest coast of the Gulf of Rijeka at the foot of Mt. Ucka. It was filmed in Opatija and Istria, Croatia. Scenes set in Afghanistan were shot at Kamenjak near Rijeka, while scenes set in Turkey were filmed at Volosko, and the final battle in China was shot in Boljun.

Originally, Bristol F2B replicas were built by Vernon Ohmert of Ypsilanti, Michigan. This aircraft type was in the novel, but after construction, the replicas were thought to be dangerous to fly at high altitude and were replaced by two Stampe SV-4 biplanes, (G-AZGC and G-AZGE), provided by Bianchi Aviation Film Services.


High Road to China was the only new wide release on the March 18–20 weekend, and debuted atop the box office with $6,156,049.[8] It eventually grossed over $28 million domestically.[1]

Tom Selleck later recalled:

Patrick O'Malley I'm very fond of ... There were actors at that point who had left a series and started a feature career, but there was no one at that point who was trying to do both at the same time. So that was unique. It also made the jury rather tough, because a lot of people didn't see it that way, so I was walking into an arena where that wasn't accepted. But it's a good movie. It holds up.[9]

Aerofiles, a historical aviation website, considered the film as "Strictly mediocre, with substandard action scenes and the flattest dialogue this side of the Great Wall."[10] Aviation film historian Christian Santoir said: "Arriving two years after 'Raiders of the Lost Ark', 'Raiders of the End of the World' was in the same vein, despite certain missing qualities. This, however, could have been the start of another 'Indiana Jones'–type franchise."[2] Film historian Stephen Pendo found High Road to China "... notable mainly for its aviation sequences, for it lacks character and plot development."[11]

C.J. Henderson reviewed High Road to China in The Space Gamer No. 63.[12] Henderson commented that "Unless one is looking for a pleasant, harmless, non-sexy, non-violent, disinteresting film to take the grandparents to its best to pass this one by."[12]


High Road to China was nominated for the 1984 Saturn Award as Best Fantasy Film, while Bess Armstrong was nominated as Best Actress at the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films Festival.[13]

Home media

High Road to China was released on DVD by Umbrella Entertainment in February 2012.[14] In February 2013, Umbrella Entertainment released the film on Blu-ray.[15]



  1. https://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=highroadtochina.htm
  2. Santoir, Christian. "Review: Raiders of the End of the World." Aeromovies, October 18, 2010. Retrieved: December 4, 2015. (In French.)
  3. https://www.denofgeek.com/movies/adventure-movies/28788/how-high-road-to-china-broke-all-the-rules-of-adventure-movies
  4. High Road to China (novel)
  5. Bricken, Rob. "Tom Selleck sets the record straight about him and Indiana Jones." io9.com, March 6, 2014. Retrieved: December 4, 2015.
  6. Warga, Wayne. "Author! Author!: Upwardly Prolific Down Under". Los Angeles Times, July 4, 1980, p. e2.
  7. AT THE MOVIES; THE MAN BEHIND BAD TIMING; The man behind 'Bad Timing.' New York Times19 Sep 1980: C.6.
  8. http://www.boxofficemojo.com/weekend/chart/?view=&yr=1983&wknd=11&p=.htm
  9. Harris, Will. "Tom Selleck on Jesse Stone, Friends, and fighting for Magnum, P.I." avclub.com, October 14, 2015. Retrieved: December 4, 2015.
  10. "Review: 'High Road to China'." Aerofiles. Retrieved: December 4, 2015.
  11. Pendo 1985, p. 31.
  12. Henderson, C.J. (May–June 1983). "Capsule Reviews". The Space Gamer. Steve Jackson Games (63): 38–39.
  13. "Awards: 'High Road to China' (1983)." IMDb. Retrieved: December 4, 2015.
  14. "Dvd: 'High Road to China'." Umbrella Entertainment. Retrieved: December 4, 2015.
  15. "Blu-ray:'High Road to China'." Umbrella Entertainment. Retrieved: December 4, 2015.


  • Pendo, Stephen. Aviation in the Cinema. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1985. ISBN 0-8-1081-746-2.
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