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John Wayne

Every John Ford & John Wayne Western, Ranked

Director John Ford made some of the most legendary western films in cinematic history, and his frequent collaborator John Wayne often added his cowboy star power to those classics. Highly respected by his contemporaries for his lavish camerawork and on-location shooting style, Ford’s 50-year career in cinema earned him four Best Director Oscars among a slew of other accolades. Similarly, Wayne’s massive movie and TV catalog earned him a reputation as one of the Golden Age of Hollywood’s biggest movie stars, and he won the Best Actor Oscar for his turn in the film True Grit towards the end of his career in 1970.
Starting with 1939’s Stagecoach, the actor-director pair would collaborate for a total of 14 feature films, with nine of them being their signature westerns. Though Wayne attempted to break away from westerns at one point in his career, his cowboy roles were what made him famous, and Ford helped to make him a movie star. Unlike most cookie-cutter westerns of Old Hollywood, the works of Ford usually contained richer themes that not only explored the outer world of the West, but also the inner worlds of the hardened cowboys and cavalrymen that made up the cast of characters.
9Rio Grande (1950)

John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara pose for a promo image for Rio Grande

1950’s Rio Grande was the finale of the “Cavalry Trilogy” and saw Wayne reprise his role as Kirby Yorke who had been promoted to Lt. Colonel in the years since 1948’s Fort Apache. The film followed Yorke as his estranged son (Claude Jarman Jr.) arrived as a soldier in his regiment, and the return of Yorke’s wife (Maureen O’Hara) further complicated matters. Though it was the worst of Ford’s “Cavalry Trilogy”, Rio Grande was nevertheless a serviceable western in its own right. What the film lacked was deeper meaning, and its well-tread plot was devoid of the themes and subtlety of other Ford westerns.
8The Horse Soldiers (1959)

John Wayne stands among his men in The Horse Soldiers

Though a western to its core, 1959’s The Horse Soldiers was set in the American South during the Civil War. The film followed Colonel John Marlowe (Wayne), as he led his Union soldiers during a raid on a raid in Mississippi. Wayne played his usual swaggering hero who kissed the girl at the end, and the movie’s exploration of the psychology of war was left to William Holden’s character, Major Kendall. While it was considered by some to be a great Civil War movie, The Horse Soldiers did grossly oversimplify the historical events represented in the film. While Holden and Wayne were both stars, the former outshone the latter.
73 Godfathers (1948)

Three men look out over the landscape in 3 Godfathers

Ford wasn’t known for his by-the-numbers westerns, but aspects of 3 Godfathers from 1948, didn’t ring true. In the film, a trio of desperadoes (Wayne, Pedro Armendáriz, and Harry Carey Jr.) go on the lam after robbing a bank but gain custody of a newborn baby that they swear to protect. Eschewing action sequences, the film relied on the characters to shine and they did so somewhat. Elements of humor spiced up the story at times, but the cheesy ending smacked of the Hollywood gloss that Ford’s films typically didn’t have. Ultimately, 3 Godfathers‘ references to the biblical story of the Three Wise Men were too conspicuously hammered home.
6How The West Was Won (1962)

John Wayne smokes a cigar in How the West Was Won

A favorite western of filmmakers like John Carpenter, How the West Was Won from 1962 was Ford and Wayne’s last collaboration, and it was also their grandest in terms of scale. The nearly three-hour epic featured six short stories that chronicled the American settlement of the West. Wayne starred in the Civil War portion that was directed by Ford, where he played Union General William Tecumseh Sherman in a small role. More of a cameo than Wayne’s usual starring parts, his turn as the legendary Union General allowed his name to be added to the film’s impressive ensemble cast, but it did little else.
How the West Was Won was a true Hollywood epic, and it was shot on three-lens Cinerama with the intention of it being played on a large curved screen. Though the classic movie theater gimmick didn’t stand the test of time, the film itself was a summation of the western genre and covered everything from cowboy outlaws to ruddy pioneers. Ford and Wayne’s contributions to the film were relatively small, but it still managed to earn a total of eight Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, and won for Best Writing, Best Sound, and Best Editing.
5She Wore A Yellow Ribbon (1949)

John Wayne shouts on horseback from She Wore a Yellow Ribbon

The second film in the “Cavalry Trilogy” saw Wayne in an entirely different role as Cavalry Captain Nathan Brittles. 1949’s She Wore a Yellow Ribbon featured Captain Brittles on the eve of retirement, as he is given a final mission to stop the outbreak of another bloody plains war. Like the previous film in the trilogy, Fort Apache, the movie’s depiction of Native Americans was a notch above the stereotypical portrayals in most classic westerns. The best western movie protagonists were usually all about fighting, but Brittles was unique in that he actively wanted to avoid a war.
Not only did Brittles treat his Indigenous acquaintances with dignity, but he had learned from the horrors of other wars and didn’t wish to repeat them. She Wore a Yellow Ribbon was somewhat more lighthearted than its predecessor, and it allowed Wayne to be more than the gun-toting cowboy that he had been typecast as. Visually, the movie was a stunning representation of the range of Technicolor film, and cinematographer Winton C. Hoch won the Oscar for Best Cinematography, Color, for his stylish and sweeping use of the camera.
4Fort Apache (1948)

John Wayne, Henry Fonda and Shirley Temple in Fort Apache.

Kicking off the “Cavalry Trilogy” with a bang, 1948’s Fort Apache blended the western with the war film in a final product that was surprisingly progressive for a 1940s Hollywood movie. In the film, Captain Kirby York (Wayne) was passed up for command of the titular fort in favor of the arrogant and inexperienced Lt. Colonel Owen Thursday (Henry Fonda) who couldn’t quell tensions with the local Native American tribes. In a brilliant reversal of roles, Fonda was excellent as the infuriatingly strict Lt. Colonel Thursday, and the film’s sympathetic view towards Indigenous people was embodied through Wayne’s portrayal of the somewhat jaded Captain York.
Along with other Hollywood icons like Shirley Temple and John Agar, the cast was robust and star-studded without sacrificing any of the rich themes that subtly ran throughout the story. The clashes between York and Thursday allowed Wayne and Fonda to show why they were chosen as two of the best movie stars by the AFI, and it wasn’t without a fair amount of action either. Though all three films in the “Cavalry Trilogy” were linked by the same themes of anti-war and somewhat progressive attitudes towards Native Americans, Fort Apache excelled at those ideas more so than its successors.
3The Searchers (1956)

John Wayne on horseback in The Searchers

A thread of darkness ran through all of Ford’s westerns, but 1956’s The Searchers was perhaps his most complicated and multilayered film he made with Wayne. The film followed Ethan Edwards (Wayne) who embarked on a years-long quest to recover his niece who had been abducted by Native Americans. Most remembered for its grand scale and breathtaking cinematography, The Searchers was as much about the outward grandeur of the West as it was about the inner struggle within Edwards and his mad quest for revenge. Though Wayne appeared in numerous westerns, no character was as dynamic as his take on Ethan Edwards.
Though modern reassessments of the film have been less forgiving because of its depiction of Indigenous communities as outwardly violent, the film could be seen as more fanciful than factual. Edward’s lengthy quest for revenge mirrored the obsessions of literary figures like Captain Ahab, and there was no doubt that Wayne’s take on the character made him the true villain of the piece. While it was named the greatest American western of all time by the AFI in 2008, The Searchers was certainly Ford’s most flawed masterpiece.
2The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)

James Stewart fires a gun in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

The best Wayne movies allowed “The Duke” to shed his typical cowboy machismo, and his turn in 1962’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance was a nuanced performance. The story was told in flashback as Senator Stoddard (James Stewart) recalled his brush with the outlaw Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin) who terrorized the town of Shinbone years earlier. Ford chose to shoot the movie in black and white as opposed to color, and the monochrome approach shined a spotlight on the acting and stripped away the distractions. The script’s use of flashback was an interesting touch for the western genre, and Stewart’s transition to the Old West was effortless.
Unlike many classic westerns that have lost their luster through modern reassessment, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance only grew in reputation thanks to its clever use of plot devices and its twist ending. Westerns were always somewhat straightforward in their approach to story, but the ending of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valancewas challenging and modern for a film from the early-’60s. Wayne and Stewart received high praise for their performances, and costume designer Edith Head scored an Oscar Nomination for her beautiful work on the film.
1Stagecoach (1939)

Ringo Kid looks out of the stagecoach in Stagecoach

Ford’s first collaboration with Wayne not only made the latter a star, but it launched an artistic partnership that would last for decades. 1939’s Stagecoach followed a group of travelers as they were escorted through the wilderness from Arizona to New Mexico. Truly one of the first westerns to transcend the genre, Stagecoach broke the mold by introducing characters that were more archetypal than literal. Each member of the stagecoach party represented an outcast part of society, and in their mutual struggles for acceptance, they found community in the figurative wasteland.
Wayne’s Ringo Kid was almost a parody of the western movie tropes of the previous decade, but it allowed the young actor to shine with a star-making performance. Not without its modern criticism for its depiction of Native Americans, Stagecoach was very much a product of its time despite being incredibly modern for a 1930s film. The movie was nominated for seven Academy Awards including a Best Director nod for John Ford, and it managed to win two including Best Supporting Actor for Thomas Mitchell. Though he won no awards, John Wayne was the biggest winner in Stagecoach, and Ringo Kid was a role that launched his iconic career.

John Wayne

Here Are the American Film Institute’s Top 10 Westerns of All Time

The American Film Institute decided the top 10 Westerns of all time and we’ve got the 411 on the ones that ranked. People have always loved Westerns, and we’ve listed 8 of the most popular according to AFI.

First up, Cat Ballou, the 1965 Western comedy from Elliot Silverstein. It starred Jane Fonda as Cat and Lee Marvin in a dual role as both the man who killed Cat’s father and the gunslinger who helps her get revenge. Narrated through song by Nat King Cole and Stubby Kaye, what made “Cat Ballou” so special was the female lead, which was rare for a Western.

Next, John Ford’s turning-point 1939 film, Stagecoach. It starred John Wayne and Claire Trevor. The film follows a group of interesting characters as they travel in a stagecoach together, which paved the way for the road trip trope. The passengers have to contend with the Ringo Kid, an outlaw, and the threat of Apache attack as they travel to New Mexico in the 1880s.

McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Robert Altman’s 1971 film, was a Revisionist Western piece starring Warren Beatty and Julie Christie. The film follows gambler John McCabe as he upstarts a successful brothel in a Washington town with Constance Miller’s help. The two strike up a romance, but when a mining company offers to buy his property, McCabe refuses.

No list of Westerns would be complete without Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The 1969 film from George Roy Hill starred Paul Newman as Butch Cassidy and Robert Redford as the Sundance Kid. The two got into all sorts of trouble, fleeing from the law after train robbing. The pair escape to Bolivia, but find they must fight the urge to commit crimes.

AFI’s Top Ten Westerns: Stagecoaches, Shoot-Outs, and Searchers

Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch comes up next. The 1969 Western starred William Holden, with Ernest Borgnine, Warren Oates, and Ben Johnson as his gang. The outlaws prepare to go through with a heist, only to find out the whole thing is a setup. The film is full of gratuitous violence and bloody shootouts; sure to satisfy fans of more gory Westerns.

Up next on the list, Red River. This 1948 Howard Hawks film follows John Wayne as Thomas Dunson, who aims to drive his cattle to Missouri for a better price. Montgomery Clift stars as Matt Garth, an orphaned youth whom Thomas takes under his wing. The film was shot on a grand scale, with sweeping landscapes and plenty of cattle. This is a must-watch for those who love big Westerns.

Then, Western star Clint Eastwood took a stab at directing his own with 1992’s Unforgiven. Starring Eastwood and co-starring Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman, and Richard Harris, the film follows Eastwood’s William Munny as he comes to town to catch a group of bandits. Harris’ English Bob comes to town as well, for the same reason, and the two outlaws clash with the local sheriff.

Additionally, the 1953 film Shane takes the American cowboy and turns him on his head; the cowboy retires to a ranch in Wyoming, but while working there falls in love with the ranch owner’s wife. He realizes that to save the ranch he has to fight the big cattle baron threatening to take the land. There’s something about watching a kid shout “Shane! Come back!” over an echoing, barren wasteland that tugs on the heartstrings.

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John Wayne

John Wayne: Which of the Duke’s Films Made the Most Money?

During his iconic Hollywood career, John Wayne made many popular films. These filmed are remembered for their drama, action, locations, scenes of heroism, and of course, for the Duke himself.

His films were usually Westerns or were about war. Wayne’s was a career that pretty much anyone hoping to make it in the movie business would envy.

Here’s an interesting question: Out of all of those popular movies, which of the Duke’s films was the most successful financially? Let’s find out.

According to, that title goes to the 1962 film, “How the West Was Won.” This film also starred James Stewart, Henry Fonda, and Gregory Peck in this movie about the expansion into the American West. It made $440 million. (The website has adjusted the earnings of each of these films. The figures presented here are the films’ domestic grosses.)

Interestingly, the second most financially successful film of Wayne’s career was also released in 1962. It was “The Longest Day” and made $382 million. This film told stories from D-Day during World War II. The cast also included Fonda, Richard Burton, Sean Connery, Eddie Albert, and Richard Beymer.

Bringing in the third-highest gross of the Duke’s career was “Reap the Wild Wind.” It was released in 1942 and made $361 million. It also starred Paulette Goddard and Ray Milland and followed the events that took place after a shipwreck in Key West.

The 1954 film “The High and the Mighty” comes in fourth place on the list of John Wayne’s highest-grossing films. It made $347 million. In fifth place is the 1955 film “The Sea Chase.” It also starred Lana Turner and “Gunsmoke” star James Arness.

List of John Wayne’s Most Financially Successful Films Also Includes One That Won Him an Oscar

The top 10 list of John Wayne’s highest-grossing films includes some of his most popular, as well as the film that won him an Academy Award.

Rounding out the top 10 highest-grossing John Wayne movies include “The Alamo” from 1960 in sixth place with $300 million. “The Sands of Iwo Jima” from 1949 comes in seventh place with almost $296 million. “Red River,” which was released in 1948 is in eighth place with almost $270 million.

The 1969 film “True Grit” is in ninth place with $262 million. It was his role as Rooster Cogburn that won John Wayne an Academy Award. The movie also starred Glen Campbell, Robert Duvall, Dennis Hopper, and Kim Darby.

Rounding out the top 10 was the Duke’s 1959 film “Rio Bravo” with almost $251 million.

Now we know which John Wayne’s movies were his biggest financial successes in the United States. So, which film came in last on that list? This title goes to the 1929 film “Words and Music.” It reportedly grossed $13.6 million.

Interestingly, the list of John Wayne’s highest-grossing films worldwide is different from the domestic list shared above. The top five films on this list, from No. 1 to No. 5, are: “How the West Was Won”; “The Alamo”; “The High and the Mighty”; “Rio Bravo”; and “The Sea Chase.”

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John Wayne

John Wayne Turned Down ‘Waco Kid’ Role in 1974’s ‘Blazing Saddles’: Here’s Why

“Blazing Saddles” fans, you almost had John Wayne playing the “Waco Kid” in Mel Brooks’ classic film. But “The Duke” said no.

Mel Brooks, who directed and co-wrote the script for “Blazing Saddles,” was asked about Wayne turning down the role in a 2016 interview with Philly Metro.

“He did,” Brooks said in confirming Wayne turned down the role. “I wanted him to play the Waco Kid, because the Duke was such a good actor. His reality is that he is the cowboy Western.

“We were in the commissary at Warners, I gave him the script and he promised he’d read it overnight,” Brooks said. “The next morning I saw him and he says that he loves it — every beat, every line — but that it’s too blue, that it would disappoint his fans. He said, though, that he would be the first one in line to see it.”

Gene Wilder Takes Over Role In ‘Blazing Saddles’

When Wayne passed on it, Brooks initially looked to actor Gig Young to play the “Waco Kid.” Young, who battled alcoholism, showed up for the first day of filming. It did not go well. He collapsed during his first scene while dealing with withdrawal symptoms.

So, who did Brooks eventually turn to for this role? It just took one phone call to Gene Wilder, who flew out to Los Angeles and started filming.

Brooks and Wilder had worked together on an earlier Brooks film, “The Producers.” Wilder actually turned down another role in the film, that of Hedley Lamarr. Comedian Harvey Korman, who made a name for himself on “The Carol Burnett Show,” eventually was cast in that role.

Cleavon Little Role Originally Set For Richard Pryor

Of course, Cleavon Little plays Sheriff Bart in the movie. It was a role that Brooks wanted to give to Richard Pryor, who was a co-writer of the movie script. Warner Bros., though, was reportedly scared off by his drug arrests.

They wouldn’t insure Pryor for the movie, so the part went to Little. Other cast members include Madeline Kahn, Slim Pickens, and former National Football League star Alex Karras.

The studio gave Brooks a $2.6 million budget for his 1974 release. As of 2012, “Blazing Saddles” had earned $119.6 million in the United States and Canada combined.

One could say that Warner Bros. earned back what it put out, and then some, from the witty, wild mind of Mel Brooks.

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