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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.

John-Wayne-Movies-Ranked-The-Alamo

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.)

John-Wayne-Movies-Ranked-The-Big-Trail

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.

John-Wayne-Movies-Ranked-3-Godfathers

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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.

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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.

John-Wayne-Movies-Ranked-Donovan's-Reef

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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.

John-Wayne-Movies-Ranked-El-Dorado

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.

John-Wayne-Movies-Ranked-The-Longest-Day

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.

John-Wayne-Movies-Ranked-How-the-West-Was-Won

Photo : Mgm/Cinerama/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock
18. HOW THE WEST WAS WON (1963)

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.

John-Wayne-Movies-Ranked-Rio-Grande

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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.

John-Wayne-Movies-Ranked-The-High-and-the-Mighty

Photo : Warner Bros/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock
16. THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY (1954)

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.

John-Wayne-Movies-Ranked-Hondo

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.

John-Wayne-Movies-Ranked-The-Shootist

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.

John-Wayne-Movies-Ranked-Sands-of-Iwo-Jima

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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.

John-Wayne-Movies-Ranked-Hatari!

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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.

John-Wayne-Movies-Ranked-Fort-Apache

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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.

John-Wayne-Movies-Ranked-They-Were-Expendable

Photo : Mgm/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock
10. THEY WERE EXPENDABLE (1945)

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.

John-Wayne-Movies-Ranked-The-Long-Voyage-Home

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9. THE LONG VOYAGE HOME (1940)

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.”

John-Wayne-Movies-Ranked-Stagecoach

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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.

John-Wayne-Movies-Ranked-She-Wore-a-Yellow-Ribbon

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7. SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON (1949)

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.

John-Wayne-Movies-Ranked-The-Man-Who-Shot-Liberty-Valance

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6. THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE (1962)

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.

John-Wayne-Movies-Ranked-The-Quiet-Man

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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.

John-Wayne-Movies-Ranked-Rio-Bravo

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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.

John-Wayne-Movies-Ranked-True-Grit

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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.

John-Wayne-Movies-Ranked-Red-River

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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.

John-Wayne-Movies-Ranked-The-Searchers

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1. THE SEARCHERS (1956)

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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