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John Wayne

John Wayne movies: 25 greatest films ranked worst to best

Oscar winner John Wayne, better known as “The Duke” to his fans, starred in over 165 movies throughout his career, oftentimes playing the swaggering, macho hero of westerns and war epics. But how many of his titles remain classics? Let’s take a look back at 25 of his greatest films, ranked worst to best.
Born in 1907 as Marion Robert Morrison, Wayne worked his way up from bit player to leading man, appearing in a number of poverty row, Z-grade westerns throughout the 1930s. He shot to stardom with his role in John Ford‘s “Stagecoach” (1939), which brought new shades of nuance and artistry to the Cowboys and Indians genre. It also kicked off a lucrative, decades-long partnership between the director and star, who would make over two dozen films together, including “The Quiet Man” (1952), “The Searchers” (1956) and “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” (1962).
Despite being one of the top box office draws for most of his career, Wayne only received two Oscar nominations as Best Actor: one for “Sands of Iwo Jima” (1949), another for “True Grit” (1969). The latter, in which he played the drunken, one-eyed Texas Ranger Rooster Cogburn, won him his long-overdue prize, as well as a Golden Globe. He also competed in Best Picture for producing “The Alamo” (1960), which he directed and starred in. He received the Cecil B. DeMille prize in 1966.
Tour our photo gallery of Wayne’s 25 greatest films, including some of the titles listed above, as well as “Red River” (1948), “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon” (1949), “Rio Bravo” (1959) and more.
– Original text and gallery published in May 2019.


Photo : Bernie Abramson/United Artists/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock
25. THE ALAMO (1960)

Directed by John Wayne. Written by James Edward Grant. Starring John Wayne, Richard Widmark, Laurence Harvey, Frankie Avalon, Patrick Wayne, Linda Cristal, Joan O’Brien, Chill Wills, Joseph Calleia, Richard Boone.
“The Alamo” was a passion project for the Duke, who first decided to direct and star in it all the way back in 1945. The results are a lumbering, interminable epic that contains momentary excitements surrounded by long-winded elocutions. Wayne casts himself as Col. Davy Crockett, who helped lead a small group of soldiers in their defense against Gen. Santa Anna in the Battle of the Alamo. The climactic fight is quiet spectacular, but the journey there is a long one. Though reviews were mixed, the film scored a surprising seven Oscar nominations, including Best Picture for Wayne (who lobbied the Academy hard) over such worthy contenders as “Psycho” and “Spartacus.” (It won for its sound.)


Photo : Fox Films/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock
24. THE BIG TRAIL (1930)

Directed by Raoul Walsh. Story by Hal G. Evarts. Starring John Wayne, Marguerite Churchill, Tyrone Power, Sr., El Brendel.
Although he became a star with John Ford’s “Stagecoach,” Wayne’s first leading role came with this epic western from Raoul Walsh. (Ford was reportedly so angry at Wayne for accepting the role that he refused to work with him again for nearly a decade, having groomed him as a bit player in several films.) Though dated in many aspects, “The Big Trail” is still a rousing entertainment about a young trapper (Wayne) leading a Wagon Train through perilous terrain from the Mississippi River to the West. Walsh shot in 70mm Grandeur film, an early widescreen format, giving the film an epic scale. Following its release, Wayne would slum in poverty row, z-grade westerns for nine years before reuniting for Ford.


Photo : Snap/REX/Shutterstock
23. 3 GODFATHERS (1948)

Directed by John Ford. Screenplay by Laurence Stallings and Frank S. Nugent, story by Robert Nathan, based on the novelette Peter B. Kyne. Starring John Wayne, Harry Carey, Jr., Pedro Armendariz, Mildred Natwick, Ward Bond, Mae Marsh, Jane Darwell, Ben Johnson.
A lesser known entry in the canon of films from Wayne and his favorite director, John Ford, “3 Godfathers” is a sweet, sentimental fable about three outlaws (Wayne, Harry Carey, Jr., and Pedro Armendariz) who come across a dying woman giving birth in the desert. They vow to protect and care for the child, risking their lives as they bring the infant to the nearest town. This was Ford’s second rendition of Peter B. Kyne’s novelette following 1919’s “Marked Men,” which starred Harry Carey, whose son appears in this version (this one is dedicated to the late actor’s memory). At times beautiful, funny, and heartbreaking, it shows a softer side to Wayne’s hard-edged persona.


Photo : Malabar/Cinema Center/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock
22. RIO LOBO (1970)

Directed by Howard Hawks. Screenplay by Leigh Brackett and Burton Wohl, story by Wohl. Starring John Wayne, Jorge Rivero, Jennifer O’Neill, Jack Elam, Victory French, Susana Deosmantes, Christopher Mitchum, Mike Henry.
“Rio Lobo” was the last film directed by Howard Hawks, and it reunited him with frequent leading man Wayne, who appeared in his westerns “Red River” and “Rio Bravo.” Though this one fails to live up to their previous collaborations, it’s still a fitting farewell from one of Hollywood’s pioneering filmmakers. Wayne stars as an ex-Union officer who teams up with some former Confederates (Jorge Rivero and Christopher Mitchum) to track down the traitor who sold information to the South during the Civil War, causing the death of his close friend. Their quest leads them to Rio Lobo, a town run like a dictatorship by the very outlaw (Mike Henry) they’re searching for.


Photo : Snap/REX/Shutterstock
21. DONOVAN’S REEF (1963)

Directed by John Ford. Screenplay by James Edward Grant and Frank S. Nugent, based on a story by Edmund Beloin. Starring John Wayne, Lee Marvin, Elizabeth Allen, Jack Warden, Cesar Romero, Dick Foran, Dorothy Lamour.
“Donovan’s Reef” was the final collaboration between Wayne and John Ford, who made nearly two dozen films together. It’s far from a career highlight for either man, but it’s a nice sendoff for one of the great actor-director pairings in cinema history. Wayne stars as Col. Cord McNally, a World War II hero living on an island with fellow veterans Lee Marvin and Jack Warden. When Warden’s adult daughter (Elizabeth Allen) arrives, Wayne falls head-over-heels in love with her. This is just plain fun, with a message of racial harmony between the Polynesian natives and their white visitors sewn in. Ford’s own ship, the USS Araner, makes an appearance.


Photo : Paramount/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock
20. EL DORADO (1967)

Directed by Howard Hawks. Screenplay by Leigh Brackett, based on the novel ‘The Stars in Their Courses’ by Harry Brown. Starring John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, James Caan, Charlene Holt, Paul Fix, Arthur Hunnicutt, Michele Carey.
Wayne reunited with director Howard Hawks for this spiritual sequel to their western classic “Rio Bravo.” “El Dorado” casts the Duke as Cole Thornton, a gun-for-hire who teams up with his old pal, drunken sheriff J.P. Hara (Robert Mitchum), to help a rancher family fight off a rival trying to steal their water. James Caan pops up as the gambler Mississippi. With a crackling script by Leigh Brackett (who also penned “Rio Bravo”), Hawks creates yet another expert blending of excitement and laughs, featuring two of Hollywood’s golden age veterans turning in outstanding late-career work. A third semi-sequel, “Rio Lobo,” followed in 1970.


Photo : 20th Century Fox/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock
19. THE LONGEST DAY (1962)

Directed by Ken Annakin, Andrew Marton, Bernhard Wicki. Screenplay by Cornelius Ryan, based on his book. Starring John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Robert Mitchum, Sean Connery, Eddie Albert, Curd Jurgens, Richard Todd, Richard Burton, Peter Lawford, Rod Steiger, Irina Demick, Gert Frobe, Edmond O’Brien, Kenneth More.
Wayne is one of many A-list celebrities from around the globe crammed into this WWII epic that recounts the harrowing events of D-Day, told from the point-of-view of both the Allied and German soldiers. He plays Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin H. Vandervoort, a real life CO in 2nd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment. Shot docudrama style in black-and-white and recreating the battle on a massive scale, “The Longest Day” set a high water mark for war epics to come. The film received a Best Picture Oscar nomination and won prizes for its cinematography and special effects.


Photo : Mgm/Cinerama/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

Directed by John Ford, Henry Hathaway, George Marshall. Written by James R. Webb. Starring Carol Baker, Walter Brennan, Lee J. Cobb, Andy Devine, Henry Fonda, Carolyn Jones, Karl Malden, Agnes Moorehead, Harry Morgan, Gregory Peck, George Peppard, Robert Preston, Debbie Reynolds, Thelma Ritter, James Stewart, Eli Wallach, John Wayne, Richard Widmark, narrated by Spencer Tracy.
There wasn’t a movie star alive in the early 1960s who didn’t make an appearance in “How the West Was Won,” a sprawling, lumbering epic tracing America’s Westward expansion. Divided into five sections — “The Rivers,” “The Plains,” “The Civil War,” “The Railroad,” and “The Outlaws” — it centers on a family through four generations from 1839 to 1889 who experience every landmark moment of history during that period. Wayne appears in “The Civil War” (directed by frequent collaborator John Ford) as Union General William Tecumseh Sherman. More famous for its scope than its content (it was one of only two fictional films shot in the three projector Cinerama process), it’s an impressive feat nonetheless. Oscars went to its screenplay, sound and editing.


Photo : Snap/REX/Shutterstock
17. RIO GRANDE (1950)

Directed by John Ford. Screenplay by James Kevin McGuinness, based on the short story ‘Mission With No Record’ by James Warner Bellah. Starring John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara, Ben Johnson, Claude Jarman, Jr., Harry Carey, Jr., Chill Wills, J. Carrol Naish, Victor McLaglen, Grant Withers.
“Rio Grande” was the third and final film in John Ford’s cavalry trilogy (following 1948’s “Fort Apache” and 1949’s “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon”), and while it can’t match the greatness of the first two entries, it’s still an under-appreciated gem. Wayne stars as Col. Kirby York, a cavalryman tasked with protecting an outpost on the Rio Grande from murderous Apaches. At the same time, he’s dealing with his son (Claude Jarman, Jr.), a daring young recruit, and his estranged wife (Maureen O’Hara), both of whom have come second to his devotion to duty. The film features lovely folk songs by Sons of the Pioneers.


Photo : Warner Bros/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

Directed by William A. Wellman. Screenplay by Ernest K. Gann, based on his novel. Starring John Wayne, Claire Trevor, Laraine Day, Robert Stack, Jan Sterling, Phil Harris, Robert Newton, David Brian.
A predecessor for the highly lucrative disaster movie genre, “The High and the Mighty” is high gloss, highly entertaining trash. A sort of “Grand Hotel” for the air, it finds a large cast of characters aboard a trans-Pacific flight that undergoes the one-two punch of engine failure and a nervous pilot. Luckily, copilot Wayne is there to save the day. Director William A. Wellman ratchets up the tension by playing with the aircraft’s confined space, while the ensemble cast hams it up with glee. The film earned six Oscar nominations, including Best Director and Supporting Actress bids for Claire Trevor and Jan Sterling, winning for its score. Surprisingly, it was snubbed in Best Picture and Best Actor.


Photo : Warner Bros/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock
15. HONDO (1953)

Directed by John Farrow. Screenplay by James Edward Grant, based on the story ‘The Gift of Cochise’ by Louis L’Amour. Starring John Wayne, Geraldine Page, Ward Bond, Michael Pate, James Arness, Leo Gordon, Lee Aaker.
John Farrow’s “Hondo” is one of the quintessential Wayne westerns, showing new shades of the actor’s macho screen persona. He plays the title character, an army dispatch rider who comes across a widow (Supporting Actress nominee Geraldine Page) and her son (Lee Aaker) living in the wilderness, unaware of the impending threat by the Apaches. Hondo hangs around to protect them, forging a paternal bond with the young boy. Originally shown in 3-D, allowing the Duke to literally jump off the screen at you. Louis L’Amour earned an Oscar nomination for his original story, which first appeared in Collier’s magazine, leading to an eligibility dispute that caused the bid to be disqualified.


Photo : Paramount/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock
14. THE SHOOTIST (1976)

Directed by Don Siegel. Screenplay by Miles Hood Swarthout and Scott Hale, based on the novel by Glendon Swarthout. Starring John Wayne, Lauren Bacall, Ron Howard, James Stewart, Richard Boone, John Carradine, Scatman Crothers, Richard Lenz, Harry Morgan, Sheree North, Hugh O’Brian.
Wayne’s cinematic swan song features one of his very best performances. Don Siegel’s “The Shootist” casts him as a cancer-ridden gunfighter hoping to die with dignity. But no matter how hard he tries, he can’t escape his past. Lauren Bacall costars as a widow who rents the dying man a room in her boarding house, and frets when her teenage son (Ron Howard) starts looking up to him as a father figure. The film is both an effective drama and an ode to the Duke’s career, even featuring an opening montage comprised of clips from some of his earlier westerns. James Stewart, his costar in “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” shows up as a kindly doctor.


Photo : Republic/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock
13. SANDS OF IWO JIMA (1949)

Directed by Allan Dwan. Written by Harry Brown and James Edward Grant. Starring John Wayne, John Agar, Forrest Tucker, Adele Mara.
While many of his Hollywood contemporaries were fighting overseas, Wayne kept the masses entertained at home playing America’s favorite WWII hero (a distinction that director John Ford, who served in the Navy, would forever ridicule the actor for). In “Sands of Iwo Jima,” Wayne plays an heroic sergeant in the historic battle in the Pacific. Low on originality (especially after countless other war pictures), it’s nevertheless an exciting, rousing tribute to the real life soldiers who fought and died at Iwo Jima. The role brought Wayne his first Oscar nomination as Best Actor, which he lost to Broderick Crawford (“All the King’s Men”). It earned additional bids for its writing, editing and sound.


Photo : Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock
12. HATARI! (1962)

Directed by Howard Hawks. Screenplay by Leigh Brackett, story by Harry Kurnitz. Starring John Wayne, Else Martinelli, Hardy Kruger, Red Buttons, Bruce Cabot, Valentin de Vargas, Michele Girardon.
“Hatari!” has a little bit of everything: comedy, adventure, romance, and some exotic animals. Wayne stars as the devil-may-care leader of a group of wild game trappers (including Hardy Kruger and Red Buttons) who round up beasts for export to zoos. Their all-boys club is shaken up by the arrival of a female photographer (Else Martinelli) who spars with Wayne before falling in love with him. Director Howard Hawks once again proves a master of blending tone and pacing (at two-and-a-half hours, the film breezes right by). An Oscar nominee for its vibrant Technicolor cinematography by Russell Harlan.


Photo : Rko/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock
11. FORT APACHE (1948)

Directed by John Ford. Screenplay by Frank S. Nugent, based on the short story ‘Massacre’ by James Warner Bellah. Starring John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Shirley Temple, Victor McLaglen, Pedro Armendariz, John Agar.
The first of John Ford’s “cavalry trilogy” (followed by “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon” and “Rio Grande”), “Fort Apache” creates such an authentic portrait of frontier life, you’d think you were transported back to the 1860s. Henry Fonda plays against type as Lt. Col. Owen Thursday, who is placed in charge of a U.S. cavalry post over the honorable veteran Capt. Kirby York (Wayne). York soon finds himself at odds with Thursday, who thirsts for glory and despises the local Native American tribe. Though the film gives the director an opportunity to explore some of the western’s darker themes, he still finds time for some laughter and romance in carefully observed vignettes.


Photo : Mgm/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

Directed by John Ford. Screenplay by Frank Wead, based on the book by William Lindsay White. Starring Robert Montgomery, John Wayne, Donna Reed, Jack Holt, Ward Bond.
John Ford returned from his WWII service and made one of the most realistic and grim examinations of warfare ever committed to film. “They Were Expendable” recounts the futile efforts of a U.S. Navy PT unit to combat a Japanese invasion of the Philippines. Real life war hero Robert Montgomery stars as the commander, Wayne as his second-in-command. During shooting, Ford ridiculed Wayne for his lack of actual military service, often pointing to Montgomery as an example of how to act (when Montgomery confronted the director about his behavior, Ford allegedly broke down in tears). On-set tension aside, this trio created an enduring classic that stands above more simplistic combat films of the period.


Photo : United Artists/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

Directed by John Ford. Screenplay by Dudley Nichols, based on four ‘Sea Plays’ by Eugene O’Neill. Starring John Wayne, Thomas Mitchell, Ian Hunter, Barry Fitzgerald, Wilfrid Lawson, John Qualen, Mildred Natwick, Ward Bond.
John Ford long dreamed of being a sailor, serving in the Navy during WWII and often taking his friends out to sea on his boat, the USS Araner, for some alcohol-fueled fun. So it’s not surprising that this adaptation of four Eugene O’Neill “Sea Plays” feels so personal to him and it’s star, Wayne. “The Long Voyage Home” centers on the ragtag crew of a British tramp steamer who embark on a perilous journey from the West Indies to Boston and finally to England. The story unfolds in a series of beautifully contained scenes exploring the camaraderie of the men, shot in moody black-and-white by cinematographer Gregg Toland. Ford pulled off the rare feat of earning two Best Picture nominations in one year: one for this, the other for “The Grapes of Wrath.”


Photo : Ned Scott/United Artists/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock
8. STAGECOACH (1939)

Directed by John Ford. Screenplay by Dudley Nichols, based on ‘The Stage to Lordsburg’ by Ernest Haycock. Starring Claire Trevor, John Wayne, Thomas Mitchell, John Carradine, Andy Devine, George Bancroft.
The western exists in two realms: one before “Stagecoach,” the other after. Before, it was simply B-grade entertainment meant to play on the second half of a double bill. After, it was one of the great American genres. It also launched Wayne from Poverty Row bit player to A-list leading man, kicking off an enduring partnership between him and John Ford. He plays the Ringo Kid, a wanted murderer who joins a motley group of passengers traveling through treacherous terrain via a horse-drawn coach. It’s clear Ford knew he had a leading man in his midst, and he introduces him as such with a dramatic push-in that signals Wayne’s arrival in the movies. The film won two Oscar, including Best Supporting Actor for Thomas Mitchell as a drunken doctor traveling aboard the stagecoach.


Photo : Rko/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

Directed by John Ford. Screenplay by Frank S. Nugent and Laurence Stallings, based on ‘The Saturday Evening Post’ stories ‘The Big Hunt’ and ‘War Party’ by James Warner Bellah. Starring John Wayne, Joanne Dru, John Agar, Ben Johnson, Harry Carey Jr., Victor McLaglen, Mildred Natwick, George O’Brien, Arthur Shields.
“She Wore a Yellow Ribbon” was the second film in John Ford’s “cavalry trilogy” — proceeded by “Fort Apache” and followed by “Rio Grande” — and it’s by far the best. Wayne gives one of his best performances (aided by some heavy makeup) as Nathan Brittles, a retiring US Cavalry Captain tasked with protecting his troops from an impeding Indian attack. Haunted by the defeat of General Custer, Brittles does all he can to prevent a violent confrontation and protect the many women on the base. The film won an Oscar for Winston C. Hoch’s vibrant Technicolor cinematography. Wayne reaped a Best Actor bid that year for “Sands of Iwo Jima,” though he really should’ve competed for this role.


Photo : Paramount/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

Directed by John Ford. Screenplay by James Warner Bellah and Willis Goldbeck, based on the short story by Dorothy M. Johnson. Starring James Stewart, John Wayne, Vera Miles, Lee Marvin, Edmond O’Brien, Andy Devine, Ken Murray.
With this late-career masterpiece, John Ford created his most thoughtful and nuanced examination of the differences between myth and truth. It’s also one of the great American westerns, with Wayne and James Stewart finding new shades in characters they’ve often played. “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” centers on a U.S. Senator (Stewart) who became famous for killing an outlaw (Lee Marvin). When he returns to his hometown to bury an old friend (Wayne), the facts about the legendary event that binds them become clearer though flashbacks. The film earned a lone Oscar nomination for Edith Head’s costumes, though both Wayne and Stewart were deserving.


Photo : Republic/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock
5. THE QUIET MAN (1952)

Directed by John Ford. Screenplay by Frank S. Nugent, based on the ‘Saturday Evening Post’ story by Maurice Walsh. Starring John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara, Barry Fitzgerald, Ward Bond, Victor McLaglen, Mildred Natwick, Francis Ford.
“The Quiet Man” was a longtime passion project for John Ford, a romantic, sentimental journey back to his Irish roots. It was also a major departure for the director and his favorite leading man, better known for their more macho collaborations. Adapted from a short story by Maurice Walsh, the film centers on an ex-boxer (Wayne) who leaves America and returns to the little village of his birth, where he falls in love with a fiery red head (Maureen O’Hara). Most viewers probably remember this one for the climactic fist-fight between the Duke and Victor McLaglen, who plays O’Hara’s loutish brother. Ford won his fourth Oscar as Best Director, while Winston C. Hoch and Archie Stout were also recognized for their luminous color cinematography. Shockingly, Wayne was snubbed in Best Actor.


Photo : Warner Bros/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock
4. RIO BRAVO (1959)

Directed by Howard Hawks. Screenplay by Jules Furthman and Leigh Brackett, based on the short story by B. H. McCampbell. Starring John Wayne, Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson, Angie Dickinson, Walter Brennan, Ward Bond, John Russell.
“Rio Bravo” is one of the great entertainments, a seamless blending of action and comedy, music and romance. Directed with expert skill by Howard Hawks, it’s the quintessential western, a rousing story about a small-town sheriff (Wayne) who’s gotta fend off some tough outlaws trying to get a murderer out of his jail. He rounds up a ragtag group to help him, including the town drunk (Dean Martin), an aging deputy (Walter Brennan), a young crooner (Ricky Nelson), and a beautiful gambler (Angie Dickinson). There isn’t a wasted moment in the film’s 141 minute runtime, which allows room for some character development within the action. Dismissed in its time, the film has now been recognized as a classic, with filmmakers like Martin Scorsese, John Carpenter, and Quentin Tarantino counting it amongst their favorites.


Photo : Moviestore Collection/REX/Shutterstock
3. TRUE GRIT (1969)

Directed by Henry Hathaway. Screenplay by Marguerite Roberts, based on the novel by Charles Portis. Starring John Wayne, Kim Darby, Glen Campbell, Robert Duvall, Jeff Corey, Dennis Hopper, Strother Martin, John Fiedler.
After 43 years in the business and over 150 movies, Wayne clinched his long overdue Best Actor Oscar for this rousing western entertainment. “True Grit” casts him as “Rooster” Cogburn, a craggy U.S. Marshall hired by a 14-year-old girl (Kim Darby) to track down the malicious Tom Chaney (Jeff Corey) for killing her father. They soon find him holed up with a posse of violent baddies, including Robert Duvall and Dennis Hopper. Though they’re a tough bunch, it’s nothing that the Duke — even with an eye patch and a pot belly — can’t handle. In addition to the Oscar, Wayne also won a Golden Globe for his performance. He reprised the role in a 1975 sequel, “Rooster Cogburn,” and a 2010 Coen Brothers remake starring Jeff Bridges followed.


Photo : SNAP/REX/Shutterstock
2. RED RIVER (1948)

Directed by Howard Hawks. Screenplay by Borden Chase and Charles Schnee, based on ‘The Saturday Evening Post’ story ‘The Chisholm Trail’ by Chase. Starring John Wayne, Montgomery Clift, Walter Brennan, Joanne Dru, John Ireland, Noah Berry, Jr., Paul Fix, Coleen Gray, Harry Carey, Jr., Harry Carey, Sr., Chief Yowlatchie, Hank Worden.
Legend has it that when John Ford watched “Red River,” a western starring his favorite leading man and directed by one of his few rivals in the business, Howard Hawks, he proclaimed, “I never knew the big son of a bitch could act!” And indeed, he could. Wayne dons heavy makeup to play Tom Dunson, an aging, headstrong rancher who spars with his adoptive son, Matt Garth (Montgomery Clift in his movie debut) during a cattle drive. Tom’s tyrannical behavior leads to a mutiny and a bitter rivalry between the two. The film is notable for its buried gay subtext between Matt and the rambunctious cowboy Cherry Valance (John Ireland). (“You know, there are only two things more beautiful than a good gun,” says Cherry to Matt, “a Swiss watch or a woman from anywhere. You ever had a Swiss watch?”) More emotionally and psychologically complex than your average shoot-‘em-up, this is one for the ages.


Photo : Warner Bros/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

Directed by John Ford. Screenplay by Frank S. Nugent, based on the novel by Alan Le May. Starring John Wayne, Jeffrey Hunter, Vera Miles, Wad Bond, Natalie Wood.
With “The Searchers,” Wayne and John Ford took a long, hard look at the darkness lurking beneath the genre that made them famous, creating perhaps the greatest of all westerns. Wayne gives the performance of a lifetime as Ethan Edwards, a lonely, angry Civil War veteran with a rabid hatred of Native Americans. When a band of Comanches kidnap his niece (Natalie Wood) and burn down her family’s home, he embarks on an obsessive search to find her. But this is not a rescue mission: rather, it’s a quest to kill her because she’s lived with Indians for too long to be pure. Ford’s beloved Monument Valley has never looked more magnificent than it does here, thanks to Winston C. Hoch’s Technicolor, VistaVision cinematography. The moral ambiguity at the center of its hero’s journey has continued to inspire filmmakers decades later (most notably Martin Scorsese and Paul Schrader with “Taxi Driver”).

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John Wayne

John Wayne Had One Big Problem With Being Part Of Plays

John Wayne gets a bit of a bad rap as an actor. Yes, he mostly made star vehicles after his breakthrough performance in John Wayne’s “Stagecoach,” but he was willing to challenge himself (and his audience) by playing unlikable protagonists in Howard Hawks’ “Red River” and Ford’s “The Searchers.” He had an acute understanding of film acting, and, according to Ron Howard (who worked alongside the Duke in his final film, Don Siegel’s”The Shootist”), could make minor adjustments on the fly that would turn an otherwise ordinary scene into a classic Wayne moment.
But did anyone want to see John Wayne play King Lear on Broadway? Not particularly. At least, not because they thought it would be good.
Wayne was not a classically trained actor. He found his way to motion pictures because Tom Mix owed a favor to legendary USC football coach Howard Jones. When Wayne was forced to quit the team, Mix and Ford brought the young man into their extended company. Even then, Wayne acted opposite many of his era’s finest performers: James Stewart, Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda, all of whom got their start on the boards. Did any of their zeal for the theater rub off on Wayne?
The Duke’s theatrical career was… not to be20th Century FoxDuring a wide-ranging 1976 Q&A on “The Phil Donahue Show,” Wayne was asked if he’d ever performed on stage, and, if not, did he have any inclination to do so.
“Well, I was in high school plays and that sort of thing,” said Wayne. “And we did a charity thing of [Maxwell Anderson and Laurence Stalling’s play] ‘What Price Glory?’ earlier in my career, where all the stars in Hollywood did parts.” Wayne, however, was scarred by an oratory contest in his youth, where he recited Shakespeare, and couldn’t remember his lines. From that point forward, it was only movies for the Duke. “I kind of like it the way it is,” he said. “You get another chance if you blow a line.”
Given Wayne’s Irish ancestry, he might’ve been worth seeing in a Sean O’Casey play, or a filmed adaptation of one. His mentor Ford directed a movie of O’Casey’s masterpiece “The Plough and the Stars” in 1935, but opted for Preston Foster to star opposite Stanwyck. This production was a miserable experience for Ford, so it was probably best for Wayne to steer clear, especially since he had yet to make the leap from Poverty Row Westerns to the gunslinging big time in “Stagecoach.”
If, however, you’re curious as to what Wayne’s Macbeth might’ve sounded like, Robin Williams gave us an amusing glimpse in “Dead Poets Society.”

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John Wayne

Furious John Wayne blasted ‘degrading’ film by his biggest Hollywood rival

Wayne had famously turned the lead role of Will Kane in High Noon down. He believed the story of an honourable former marshal forced to stand alone against vicious outlaws after the cowardly townsfolk abandon him was a thinly veiled attack on Hollywood for failing to stand behind the many who were being accused of communist ties and blacklisted.Wayne was a vocal supporter of blacklists and took pleasure and some credit later for High Noon writer (and former communist party member) Carl Foreman being charged and immigrating to Britain in 1952 after making the film.
The Duke called High Noon “the most un-American thing I’ve ever seen in my whole life,” but showed grace by agreeing to accept Cooper’s Oscar for him with a pointed but charming speech.

At that time Cooper had not publicly come out against blacklists and they were friends, but his stance would change through the 1950s, putting him on the opposite side of the battle from John Wayne.
He pursued morally ambiguous roles with tortured central characters in films like 1958’s Man of the West, themes that were anathema to straight-laced, straight-shooting Wayne. In 1959, he formed his own production company and further explored characters seeking redemption.
One film, in particular, enraged Wayne, specifically because of his devotion to his idealised view of the US military.
DON’T MISS‘Outraged’ John Wayne was restrained during Marlon Brando’s Oscar winJohn Wayne’s wife almost shot him in jealous rageJohn Wayne shot co-star in the back and was reminded of it in his will

Gary Cooper and Rita Hayworth on the set of They Came to Cordura

Gary Cooper and Rita Hayworth on the set of They Came to Cordura (Image: GETTY)In 1959’s They Came to Cordura, Cooper played an army Major disgraced and charged with cowardice who must accompany a group of soldiers who will be honoured with the Congressional Medal of Honour for extreme valour. The film, however, questions their honour and merit and Wayne was horrified.

Wayne raged: “How they got Gary Cooper to do that one! To me, at least, it simply degrades the Medal of Honour. The whole story makes a mockery of America’s highest award for valour. The whole premise of the story was wrong, illogical, because they don’t pick the type of men the movie picked to win the award, and that can be proved by the very history of the award.”

Cooper’s own company, of course, had actually produced the film. However, there was no time for real animosity between the stars, because Cooper’s life was about to abruptly and tragically end.
On May 13, 1961, the star died, aged just 60. Wayne joined the biggest names in Hollywood including James Stewart, Marlene Dietrich, Frank Sinatra, Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire when he attended the actor’s funeral. So beloved was the star that when news had first spread about his battle with cancer, even Queen Elizabeth II had sent a personal telegram.

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John Wayne

John Wayne’s 10 Best Movies, Ranked According to Rotten Tomatoes

John Wayne was one of Hollywood’s greatest stars and is universally recognized for his iconic roles in films such as Rio Bravo, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and The Shootist. After his breakout role as The Ringo Kid in John Ford‘s 1939 movie, Stagecoach, the Duke became one of the most popular leading men in cinema with tough, masculine characters like Ethan Edward from The Searchers and True Grit‘s Rooster Cogburn.
There are a dozen of non-Western Wayne movies like The Quiet Man and Donovan’s Reef, but a majority of movie fans consider Wayne to be a pioneering Western star who solidified the standards of the classic genre. Out of his extensive career and exceptional filmography, including El Dorado and Sands of Iwo Jima, they are among Wayne’s highest-rated movies, according to Rotten Tomatoes.
10‘The Searchers’ (1956)

Jeffrey Hunter and John Wayne in the desert on horses in The Searchers

Image via Warner Bros

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 94%
Ethan Edwards returns home after the Civil War and learns that his brother and his family were killed by Native Americans. When Ethan receives word that his niece, Debbie (Natalie Wood), is still alive, he and his nephew (Jeffrey Hunter) set out into the dangerous wilderness to bring her back home.
RELATED:The 10 Highest Grossing Westerns Of All Time
Ford’s epic Western, The Searchers, is a signature Duke film as well as a major influence and inspiration for future filmmakers. Director David Lean watched the movie several times to prepare to film landscape scenes in his Oscar-winning movie, Lawrence of Arabia. Other notable directors like Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and Martin Scorsese have also paid tribute to The Searchers in their work.
9‘Rio Bravo’ (1959)

John Wayne sitting and Walter Brennan standing next to him in Rio Bravo

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 96%
When Sheriff John Chance arrests the son of a wealthy ranch owner, Joe Burdette (Claude Akins), for murder, his brother (John Russell) and his men are prepared to break Joe out of jail. With the help of a brave recovering alcoholic (Dean Martin), a young cowboy (Ricky Nelson), and an elderly spitfire (Walter Brennan), Chance defends his post and fights the outlaws off long enough until reinforcements arrive.
Regarded as one of director Howard Hawks‘ finest films, Rio Bravo is a slow-burning Western noted for its extended opening scene with no dialogue. Director and avid Hawks admirer Quentin Tarantino ranks Rio Bravo as his favorite Wayne Western as well as a “hang-out” movie that went on to inspire his underrated heist movie, Jackie Brown. The story and setting of Rio Bravo were also the inspiration behind John Carpenter‘s 1976 movie Assault on Precinct 13.
8‘Stagecoach’ (1939)

John Wayne and John Carradine standing next to each other looking at someone in Stagecoach

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 100%
A group of strangers in Arizona board a stagecoach headed to New Mexico when a notorious outlaw known as the Ringo Kid escapes from prison. With a dangerous criminal on the run, U.S. Marshal Curly Wilcox (George Bancroft) accompanies the stagecoach. Along the way, he finds Ringo, but instead of finding a ruthless gunslinger, Ringo turns out to be a man worthy of a second chance when he helps the marshal protect the stagecoach on its long journey.
According to John Wayne: The Life and Legend by Scott Eyman, Wayne never aspired to be an actor, and originally, he had attended the University of Southern California on a football scholarship to study pre-law, but after a career-ending injury, he lost his scholarship and had to drop out. His coach, Howard Jones, got him a job as a prop boy and extra for a Ford production, and after playing a few small roles, Ford cast the future star in his groundbreaking Western, Stagecoach.
7‘Fort Apache’ (1948)

John Wayne standing alone looking to the side in Fort Apache

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 100%
After the Civil War, Kirby York and his men think he will replace the outgoing commander of Fort Apache, but to their surprise, his replacement is a former general and an arrogant West Point graduate, Owen Thursday (Henry Fonda). Thursday arrives at the fort with his daughter (Shirley Temple), but his ignorance towards the American Indians and desire to reclaim his former glory days cause him to clash with Kirby and his new company.
Fort Apache is another top-tier Western directed by Ford that’s widely regarded as one of the first films to portray an authentic and sympathetic view of Native Americans and their culture. The movie is also the first installment in Ford’s Cavalry Trilogy, including She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and Rio Grande, both starring Wayne.
6‘Red River’ (1948)

John Wayne and Montgomery Clift sitting next to each other on the ground looking forward in Red River

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 100%
Thomas Dunson owns a cattle ranch in Texas, and when he needs money after the Civil War, he plans to take his cattle to Missouri, where he can get a better price. With the help of his faithful ranch hand, Groot (Brennan), and his young protégé, Matt (Montgomery Clift), they lead the cattle to their destination, but the strenuous and exhausting journey starts to take a toll on them.
Red River is another Western directed by Hawks, who made a total of five movies with Wayne. While Ford directed Wayne in some of the greatest Westerns, the director was blown away by his performance in Red Riverand jokingly commented, “I didn’t know the big son-of-a-b*tch could act!” Footage from Red River was also used in Wayne’s final film, The Shootist, to establish his character’s backstory.
5‘Sands of Iwo Jima’ (1949)

John Wayne looking to the side while sitting next to a man laying down in the grass in Sands of Iwo Jima-1

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 100%
During World War II, a group of Marines stationed in the Pacific resents their commanding officer, Sergeant John Stryker, and his brutal training methods and coarse attitude. As the fighting progresses, the Marines realize Stryker has been preparing them for the terrifying reality of combat. If they want to survive one of the war’s worst battles, they must follow Stryker and his strategic battle tactics.
Sands of Iwo Jima is a historical film based on one of the bloodiest battles of World War II; the Battle of Iwo Jima. The movie features three surviving Marines of Iwo Jima, including Navy corpsman John Bradley, who was the subject of his son’s book, Flags of Our Fathers. In 2006, the book was adapted into a film of the same title and directed by another Western icon, Clint Eastwood.
4‘The Comancheros’ (1961)

John Wayne and Lee Marvin standing next to each other in The ComancherosImage via 20th Century

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 100%
Texas Ranger, Jake Cutter, is tasked with finding a gambler, Paul Regret (Stuart Whitman), who manages to escape a date with the gallows and return him to Louisiana. Cutter can track Regret down and take him into custody, but along the way, they cross paths with a group of outlaws known as The Comancheros forcing Cutter and Regret to work together to stop the lawless gunslingers.
The Comancheros is based on the 1952 novel written by Paul Wellman that was originally purchased by the director George Stevens who wanted the film to be his next project afterGiant. Stevens became interested in adapting The Diary of Ann Frank and sold The Comancheros rights to Fox. Fox originally wanted Gary Cooper and James Garner, but due to Cooper’s failing health and a conflict between Garner and Warner Bros. Studio head, Jack L. Warner, they were ruled out. Once Wayne was on board, the script was rewritten by the actor’s regular writer, James Edward Grant, who collaborated with Wayne on 12 projects.
3‘The Sons of Katie Elder’ (1965)

John Wayne and Dean Martin standing with a few men talking to a man in a horse and carriage in The Sons of Katie ElderImage via Paramount 

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 100%
Four brothers return home to attend their mother’s funeral and soon discover their father was murdered the night he gambled away the family ranch. The brothers agree to avenge their father and win back their home, but the situation quickly takes a deadly turn into serious trouble with the local sheriff and a rival family, The Hastings.
The Sons of Katie Elder reunited Wayne with Martin six years after starring together in Rio Bravo and also stars Dennis Hopper, George Kennedy, and Jeremy Slate. Before filming, Wayne had been diagnosed with lung cancer and underwent surgery to remove one of his lungs and two of his ribs. Despite the dire diagnosis and operation, the Duke insisted on performing his own stunts.
2‘El Dorado’ (1966)

James Caan standing next to John Wayne in El Dorado

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 100%
Land tycoon Bart Jason (Edward Asner) recruits a group of men to force the MacDonald family out of town to claim their land. The local sheriff, J.P. Harrah (Robert Mitchum), is too deep in a bottle to help the family, and when word about the incident reaches his friend and gunslinger, Cole Thornton, Thornton and his partner, Mississippi (James Caan) travel to El Dorado to help Harrah shape up in time to fight Jason’s group of thugs.
Film critic, Roger Ebert, gave Hawks’ El Dorado three-and-a-half out of four stars, calling it a successful Western that was effortlessly pulled off by three pros of the genre; Wayne, Mitchum, and Hawks. The movie is the second of Hawks that focuses on a sheriff defending his post against ruthless bandits, coming after Rio Bravo and before Rio Lobo, all featuring Wayne in the same similar role.
1‘The War Wagon’ (1967)

John Wayne and Kirk Douglas crouched down behind rocks in The War WagonImage via Universal

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 100%
After being shot by gunslinger Lomax (Kirk Douglas) and serving a sentence for a crime, he didn’t commit; rancher Taw Jackson is released from jail and out for revenge. Instead of hunting Lomax down, he and the gunslinger join forces to rob mining tycoon Frank Pierce (Bruce Cabot), who set Jackson up. The two plan to rob one of Pierce’s gold shipments carried by a heavily guarded stagecoach, and while they know it won’t be an easy task, the half-a-million-dollar payday makes it all worth it.
In 1966, Wayne signed a contract with Universal Studios to star in two films, The War Wagon and The Green Berets. Unlike Wayne’s other characters, he plays a villain for the first time in The War Wagon, but the movie’s considered a rare Western with humor and outstanding performances. The movie also stars Keenan Wynn, the son of character actor Ed Wynn, and Oscar nominee Bruce Dern, who is the father of actress Laura Dern.

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