John Wayne defined the western genre with his grit and gun-slinging abilities, and he is still a film industry hero. Whether it was his continual collaboration with supporting character actors, his children’s cameos, or using the same horse for at least seven movies towards the conclusion of his career, Wayne’s lengthy filmography amassed a strong fan base throughout the course of his five-decade career.
Top 10 John Wayne Movies Of All Time
During the Golden Age of Hollywood, Wayne, dubbed “the Duke,” collaborated in front of and behind the camera with other cinematic legends and titans of industry.
Instead of rummaging for a dusty VHS bin or a badly remastered DVD edition, viewers may now stream a variety of films from the Duke. There’s no shortage of movies to watch (and revisit) when you’re craving an old picture, with fan favorites like McLintock, El Dorado, The War Wagon, and others. Here are the some movies.
1) ‘True Grit’ (1969)
True Grit’s “one-eyed fat man,” Rooster Cogburn, wins the top spot on the list of most rewatchable characters. After her father is murdered, Mattie Ross (Kim Darby) enlists the services of a drunken US Marshall Rooster Cogburn (Wayne) and a Texas ranger (Glen Campbell) to track down the man responsible as he travels across perilous area with a band of legendary criminals.
Wayne would earn his lone Best Actor Oscar for this role a decade before his death. Cogburn’s immoral and unusual tactics for tracking down criminals clash with Ross’s honesty and by-the-book disposition. Fans adored Cogburn so much that Wayne returned to the role in 1975 with Rooster Cogburn, co-starring with Katherine Hepburn. True Grit is a timeless classic that has withstood the test of time and even successful remake efforts.
2) ‘The Shootist’ (1976)
Wayne plays J. B. Books in his final role, an old gunfighter who devises a scheme to escape dying a slow, agonizing malignant death. Books meets folks with questionable intents after borrowing a room from the widowed Bond Rogers (Lauren Bacall) and her son Gillom (Ron Howard).
Books, like Wayne, refuses to go gently into the night despite his fatal cancer diagnosis, which ultimately led to his death in 1979. Wayne would pair up with major personalities like James Stewart and Lauren Bacall for the final time to provide spectators a film to remember. When recalling John Wayne, The Shootist is an easy choice.
3) ‘The Cowboys’ (1972)
The Cowboys, maybe the western genre’s most legendary villain and the Duke’s most memorable death, is at the top of the list of films to watch over and over. Wil Andersen (Wayne), an elderly rancher, enlists the help of a bunch of schoolboys to transport his cattle to market. Things take a turn for the worst when a gang of cattle rustlers and thieves led by Bruce Dern pursues the herd and eventually clashes with it.
Wil Andersen’s death at the hands of Dern’s character, one of the few films in which Hollywood’s hero dies, demonized Dern throughout the industry and caused career challenges since no one wanted to cast the man who shot the Duke in the back. The Cowboys, which is supported by a group of young actors, portrays Wayne in a fatherly light, heightening the shock of his death.
4) ‘The Quiet Man’ (1952)
Wayne co-stars with leading lady Maureen O’Hara as retired American boxer Sean Thornton, who retires to his family’s property in Ireland and falls in love with Mary Kate (O’Hara) against her brother’s opposition. The Quiet Man, an acclaimed romance by critics and moviegoers alike, with outstanding performances by O’Hara and Wayne.
Nominated for seven Academy Awards, the film won two: Best Director (John Ford) and Best Cinematography. The film is yet another triumphant cooperation between Ford and Wayne. The Quiet Man, as the title suggests, is a quiet, reserved break for Wayne’s vast fan base, shifting the focus from conquering the wild west to love and serenity.
5) ‘The Searchers’ (1956)
In The Searchers, director John Ford establishes his presence in the Duke’s cinematic legacy by directing yet another noteworthy film starring the Hollywood classic. Wayne plays Ethan Edwards, a Civil War soldier trying to rescue his niece Debbie (Natalie Wood) after she is kidnapped by a Comanche tribe after her family is murdered.
Ethan Edwards, who lacks the customary Wayne-cowboy demeanor, plays an ominous role in which he spends a significant portion of his life after the war seeking for Debbie. Audiences rallied around this 1956 film, which was surrounded by frequent Wayne-film cast members, making it a watershed moment for both Wayne and the genre.
6) ‘The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance’ (1962)
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is one of cinema’s most revered westerns, with a triple threat cast of Hollywood’s finest leading men and another Wayne leading lady. When Senator Stoddard (James Stewart) goes home to attend a funeral with his wife Hallie (Vera Miles), an enquiring newspaper questions Stoddard’s presence in town. The story of Stoddard’s surprising friendship with Tom Doniphon (Wayne) unfolds through flashbacks as Stoddard describes their involvement with and pursuit for justice against local outlaw, Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin).
During the height of his career, John Ford directed this film, which brought together Hollywood’s finest as the three of Wayne, Stewart, and Marvin flowed flawlessly throughout the film. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is a fantastic picture to unpack and revisit whenever you have a yearning for a good old-fashioned Hollywood western.
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7) ‘Hondo’ (1953)
Based on the novel by Louis L’Amour, Hondo follows the adventure of the eponymous character, Hondo Lane (Wayne), who befriends a woman and her small kid after her husband abandons them during an Apache raid. As Angie (Geraldine Page) refuses to leave their homestead, the three form a deep friendship.
Page’s performance earned her a nomination for Best Actress in a Supporting Role at the Academy Awards. In 1955, director John Farrow collaborated with Wayne again for The Sea Chase. Hondo depicts a younger Wayne, yet he still wears his signature vest and bandana. The film received widespread acclaim at the time and continues to do so today.
8) ‘Chisum’ (1970)
Another cattle-baron role for Wayne, Chisum sees him play John Chisum and pair up with historical figures Billy the Kid (Geoffrey Deuel) and Pat Garrett (Glenn Corbett) as a land developer and a corrupt sheriff attempt to acquire Chisum’s ranch in Lincoln County, New Mexico. Chisum receives positive feedback from all audiences for its recognized character names and historical context of the Lincoln County Land War of 1878.
Wayne would, as usual, bring back recognizable faces from his earlier films, such as Cabot, Faulkner, and Hank Worden (The Searchers). Fans will like Chisum’s wiser, more fatherly role, allowing this film to rank high on a John Wayne movie marathon.
9) ‘Sands of Iwo Jima’ (1949)
Marine Sgt. John Stryker, a darker, less likable character than moviegoers are accustomed to, is another excellent role Wayne brought to the film. Stryker’s disposition is despised by his men until their boots strike the beach and they are thrown into one of the Pacific’s bloodiest engagements of World War II, the Battle of Iwo Jima in 1945.
Wayne received his first Oscar nomination for the part, and the film received four nominations in total including his candidacy. Despite his Oscar loss to Broderick Crawford in All the King’s Men, critics and audiences regard this character as one of Wayne’s best. Wayne would go on to feature in other war pictures, but Sands of Iwo Jima is an excellent pick for a retrospective.
10) ‘Hellfighters’ (1968)
Despite being a critical flop, this furious film managed to win over Wayne’s devoted supporters. With his marriage on the rocks, international oil rig firefighter Chance Buckman delegated the action to his partner Greg Parker (Jim Hutton). When a fire in Venezuela becomes out of control, Greg is compelled to rehire Chance.
The picture stars Katharine Ross (The Graduate) as Chance’s daughter, Tish, who eventually falls for Greg. In classic Duke fashion, recognizable figures costarring include Vera Miles (Psycho), Bruce Cabot (King Kong), and Edward Faulkner (McLintock!)—all of whom have appeared in many Wayne films throughout the course of his career. Hellfighters is a worthy revisit for any die-hard fan, even if it isn’t a guns-blazing western.
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