15 of the Best John Wayne Movies

Best John Wayne Movies

Below is a list of some of this article’s best John Wayne movies, perfectly illustrating the actor’s unquestionable brilliance and enduring legacy. 

John Wayne, often known as “The Duke” or Marion Robert Morrison, left a lasting impression on American cinema.

Throughout a five-decade career, he appeared in 179 movies and gave several remarkable performances.

He first gained fame for his lead part as Ringo Kid in the timeless movie “Stagecoach” in 1939.

He later sealed his position in American cinema history by playing roles like Ethan Edwards in Ford’s 1956 “The Searchers.”

Wayne created a lasting impression on society via everything from military movies like “The Longest Day” (1962) to Westerns like “True Grit” (1969).

1. The Searchers (1956)

  • Director: John Ford
  • Cast: John Wayne, Jeffrey Hunter, Vera Miles, Ward Bond, Ward Bond, John Qualen, Olive Carey, and Henry Brandon
  • IMDb rating: 7.9/10

After the Civil War, Ethan Edwards comes home and finds out that Native Americans killed his brother and his family.

Ethan sets out into the scary woods with his nephew (Jeffrey Hunter) to bring his niece Debbie (Natalie Wood), who is still alive, back home. 

The Searchers, a Ford epic Western, is a signature Duke movie and a significant influence and source of inspiration for upcoming directors. 

Director David Lean viewed the movie multiple times to prepare for the landscape sequences of his Oscar-winning movie Lawrence of Arabia. 

Martin Scorsese, George Lucas, and Steven Spielberg are just a few well-known directors who have included references to The Searchers in their movies. This is one of the best movies like John Wayne.

2. The Comancheros (1961)

  • Director: Michael Curtiz and John Wayne
  • Cast: John Wayne, Stuart Whitman, Ina Balin, Nehemiah Persoff, Lee Marvin, Michael Ansara, Patrick Wayne, Bruce Cabot
  • IMDb rating: 6.8/10

Jake Cutter, a Texas Ranger, is entrusted with finding gambler Paul Regret (Stuart Whitman), who manages to avoid being hanged and bringing him back to Louisiana. 

Regret may be found and apprehended by Cutter, but on the way; they encounter The Comancheros, a band of lawless gunmen, and Regret and Cutter must cooperate to end them. 

The Comancheros is based on the 1952 book by Paul Wellman that director George Stevens initially bought because he planned to use it as his follow-up to Giant.

Stevens sold Fox the rights to The Comancheros after becoming interested in adapting The Diary of Ann Frank. 

Fox sought after Gary Cooper and James Garner. However, they were rejected because of Cooper’s deteriorating health and a disagreement between Garner and Jack L. Warner, chairman of the Warner Bros. Studio. 

James Edward Grant, the actor’s usual writer, who worked with Wayne on 12 productions, revised the screenplay after Wayne joined the project. This is undoubtedly one of the best John Wayne movies.

3. The Quiet Man (1952)

  • Director: John Ford
  • Cast: John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara, Barry Fitzgerald, Ward Bond, Victor McLaglen, Mildred Natwick, Francis Ford, and Eileen Crowe
  • IMDb rating: 7.7/10

John Wayne portrays neither a cowboy nor a soldier in “The Quiet Man.” Instead, he presents himself as Sean Thornton, a former boxer traveling from Pittsburgh to Innisfree on the wild west coast of Ireland to see family.

The movie, set in the 1920s, portrays Ireland as a verdant place with rolling hills, stone bridges, and happy locals.

The difficulty starts when Sean develops feelings for Danaher’s sister Mary Kate, and Danaher resents Sean’s ambition to purchase old Thornton land.

The second movie John Wayne made with his longstanding companion Maureen O’Hara was “The Quiet Man.

Their connection puts a weeping heart in the lush beauty’s core, making “The Quiet Man” a timeless masterpiece.

“The Quiet Man” profoundly affected the Irish community of Cong, where it was filmed.

The Quiet Man Bridge, a gorgeous stone bridge in the movie, is now referred to as “The Quiet Man Bridge,” the village center has a memorial and a museum honoring the movie.

4. Stagecoach’ (1939)

  • Director: John Ford
  • Cast: John Wayne, Claire Trevor, Andy Devine, John Carradine, Thomas Mitchell, Louise Platt, George Bancroft, and Donald Meek
  • IMDb rating: 7.8/10

Stagecoach is undoubtedly one of the best John Wayne movies. When an outlaw known as the Ringo Kid breaks out of jail in Arizona, a gang of strangers get aboard a stagecoach bound towards New Mexico. 

U.S. Marshal Curly Wilcox (George Bancroft) rides with the stagecoach while a dangerous felon escapes.

When he assists the marshal in defending the stagecoach on its lengthy voyage, Ringo proves to be a guy deserving of a second chance rather than a brutal gunslinger.

Wayne initially attended the University of Southern California on a football scholarship to study pre-law. Still, after suffering an injury, he lost his scholarship and was forced to quit school. 

Wayne had no desire to become an actor. Howard Jones, his tutor, helped him get a position as a prop boy and extra for a Ford movie.

After appearing in a few small roles, Ford cast the future star in Stagecoach, his ground-breaking Western.

5. Hatari (1962)

  • Director: Howard Hawks
  • Cast: John Wayne, Elsa Martinelli, Hardy Krüger, Red Buttons, Gérard Blain, Bruce Cabot, Michèle Girardon, and Valentin de Vargas
  • IMDb rating: 7.1/10

Sean Mercer, played by Wayne, is a tough but amiable outdoorsman in charge of a team of large game catchers.

His squad consists of the Italian photojournalist Dallas (Elsa Martinelli), the lively New York taxi driver Pockets (Red Buttons), and the German race car driver Kurt (Hardy Krüger). 

The characters exhibit humorous chemistry as they laugh, flirt, dine, and care for the unusual animals in the compound.

Even if you haven’t watched “Hatari!” you can identify Henry Mancini’s music during the movie’s funny elephant segment because it perfectly captures the movie’s dreamy escape.

Several hunt sequences that include zebras, giraffes, leopards, buffalo, and even a rhinoceros are incorporated throughout the movie.

The players use trucks, lassos, cages, and other hunting equipment to bring these creatures under their control.

6. Sands of Iwo Jima (1949)

  • Director: Allan Dwan
  • Cast: John Wayne, John Agar, Adele Mara, Forrest Tucker, Wally Cassell, James Brown, Richard Webb, and Arthur Franz
  • IMDb rating: 7.0/10

During World War II, a squad of Marines stationed in the Pacific disliked their commanding officer, Sergeant John Stryker, and his harsh training techniques and rude attitude. 

The Marines understand that Stryker has been preparing them for the awful realities of battle as the conflict continues.

Stryker’s planned warfare tactics must be followed to survive one of the toughest engagements of the war.

The Battle of Iwo Jima, one of the best John Wayne movies, inspired the historical drama Sands of Iwo Jima.

Three Iwo Jima survivors, notably Navy corpsman John Bradley, who was the subject of his son’s book Flags of Our Fathers, are included in the movie. 

The novel was turned into a movie with the same name in 2006, which was directed by Clint Eastwood, another Western legend.

7. Fort Apache (1948)

  • Director: John Ford
  • Cast: John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Shirley Temple, Pedro Armendáriz, Ward Bond, George O’Brien, Victor McLaglen, and Anna Lee
  • IMDb rating: 7.4/10

After the Civil War, Kirby York and his men believed they would replace the outgoing commander of Fort Apache.

However, to their astonishment, Owen Thursday (Henry Fonda), a former general and arrogant West Point alum, takes his position. 

Thursday comes to the fort with his daughter, but due to his misunderstanding of American Indian culture and desire to relive his glory years, he fights Kirby and his new business. 

One of the first movies to provide an accurate and compassionate depiction of Native Americans and their culture was Fort Apache, another outstanding Western directed by Ford. 

Additionally, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and Rio Grande, both starring Wayne, are included in Ford’s Cavalry Trilogy, with this movie as their first entry. This is undoubtedly one of the best John Wayne movies.

8. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)

  • Director: John Ford
  • Cast: James Stewart, John Wayne, Vera Miles, Lee Marvin, Edmond O’Brien, Andy Devine, Ken Murray, and John Carradine
  • IMDb rating: 8.1/10

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is one of the best John Wayne movies.

There is a monopoly on violence by all modern governments. The public grants this monopoly in exchange for safety and security. 

As the harbingers of development, Ransom Stoddard, a senator who talks vehemently about the rule of law, arrives in Shinbone in the early 20th century; the locals there ponder these issues. 

His sincere arguments may be effective on Capitol Hill, but the residents of Shinbone, particularly the town’s worst bandit Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin), are not too impressed.

Marvin is fantastic in the role. Liberty Valance is not a joking stock figure; he is a guy devoid of hatred. If he isn’t actively hurting others, he acts like a bully on the playground. 

However, Valance is restrained in Shinbone by Tom Doniphon, who gives a career-high John Wayne performance.

9. The Sons of Katie Elder (1965)

  • Director: Henry Hathaway
  • Cast: John Wayne, Dean Martin, Martha Hyer, Michael Anderson Jr., Earl Holliman, Jeremy Slate, James Gregory, and Paul Fix
  • IMDb rating: 7.1/10

When the four brothers return home to attend their mother’s burial, they quickly learn that their father was killed the same night he lost the family ranch in gambling. 

The boys plan to exact revenge on their father and reclaim their house, but things swiftly spiral out of control when the sheriff of the area and a rival family, The Hastings, become involved.

Six years after they appeared in Rio Bravo, Wayne and Martin reunited in The Sons of Katie Elder, which starred Dennis Hopper, George Kennedy, and Jeremy Slate. 

Wayne had surgery to remove one of his lungs and two ribs after receiving a lung cancer diagnosis before filming.

Despite the terrible diagnosis and procedure, the Duke persisted in pulling out his antics.

10. True Grit (1969)

  • Director: Henry Hathaway
  • Cast: John Wayne, Kim Darby, Glen Campbell, Jeremy Slate, Robert Duvall, Dennis Hopper, Alfred Ryder, and Strother Martin
  • IMDb rating: 7.4/10

John Wayne’s Oscar-winning movie “True Grit” pairs Mattie Ross (Kim Darby), a crusading teenager with a strong sense of purpose, with Rooster Cogburn (Wayne), a 6′ 4″ drunkard. 

After Tom Chaney (Jeff Corey), a family friend, shoots Mattie’s father, Frank (John Pickard), their path cross.

As a result of Cogburn’s reputation for having “true grit,” which Mattie feels is essential for apprehending a bad guy like Chaney, she meets with him after becoming dissatisfied with the sheriff’s inaction.

After that, Mattie, Cogburn, and Glen Campbell’s La Boeuf, a Texas ranger, engage in a power struggle.

However, this isn’t just about fighting and surviving. Although Mattie is partially an orphan, the tone of “True Grit” is quite light. 

The charismatic protagonists, the cat-and-mouse strategizing, and the incredible Rocky Mountains adventure make the 128 minutes fly by.

The song by Glen Campbell is also delightful. This is undoubtedly one of the best John Wayne movies.

11. Rio Bravo (1959)

  • Director: Howard Hawks
  • Cast: John Wayne, Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson, Angie Dickinson, Walter Brennan, Ward Bond, John Russell, and Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez
  • IMDb rating: 8.0/10

Joe Burdette (Claude Akins), the son of a rich ranch owner, is arrested for murder by Sheriff John Chance, but Joe’s brother (John Russell) and his men are ready to get Joe out of prison. 

Chance defends his station and holds off the outlaws long enough for reinforcements to arrive with the aid of a brave alcoholic in recovery, a teenage cowboy, and an aging spitfire.

Rio Bravo, a slow-burning Western regarded as one of director Howard Hawks’ best works, is notable for its lengthy opening sequence without dialogue. 

He is one of director and avid Hawks fan Quentin Tarantino’s favorite Wayne Westerns, as well as a “hang-out” movie that inspired his underappreciated heist movie, Jackie Brown. 

Rio Bravo’s plot and location served as a model for John Carpenter‘s 1976 movie Assault on Precinct 13. This is one of the best John Wayne movies.

12. The War Wagon (1967)

  • Director: Burt Kennedy
  • Cast: John Wayne, Kirk Douglas, Howard Keel, Robert Walker Jr., Keenan Wynn, Bruce Cabot, Joanna Barnes, and Valora Noland
  • IMDb rating: 6.8/10

Rancher Taw Jackson gets freed from prison after being shot by gunman Lomax (Kirk Douglas) and spending time for a crime he didn’t commit. He is now out for revenge. 

He and the gunslinger team together to rob mining tycoon Frank Pierce (Bruce Cabot), who puts Jackson up rather than going after Lomax.

The two realize it won’t be an easy undertaking, but the opportunity to get a half-million-dollar payoff makes it all worthwhile. 

They intend to steal one of Pierce’s gold shipments that are being transported by a well-guarded stagecoach.

Wayne secured a deal with Universal Studios in 1966 to play the lead roles in The War Wagon and The Green Berets. 

In The War Wagon, unlike his prior roles, Wayne portrays a villain for the first time, although the movie is praised for being a unique Western with comedy and excellent acting. 

Keenan Wynn, the son of character actor Ed Wynn, and Oscar contender Bruce Dern, the father of Laura Dern, appear in the movie. This is one of the best John Wayne movies.

13. Baby Face (1933)

  • Director: Alfred E. Green
  • Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, George Brent, Donald Cook, Alphonse Ethier, Henry Kolker, Margaret Lindsay, Arthur Hohl, and John Wayne
  • IMDb rating: 7.5/10

The satire on sexuality, aspiration, and money in “Baby Face” remains ageless.

Additionally, Barbara Stanwyck gives a standout performance, avoiding the stagey demeanor that makes even the greatest old Hollywood movies seem dated

Jimmy McCoy, portrayed by a 25-year-old John Wayne, refers to Lily Powers as “baby face,” calling her by this nickname.

Since he lacks the resources to sustain Lily’s lofty dreams of experiencing all New York City has avarice, McCoy is one of her most recent lovers and one of the most disposable ones.

In a run-down speakeasy in Erie, Pennsylvania, she starts her journey. Her violent father yells at her as she waits idly in an industrial setting.

He “offers” her to a local politician to escape being caught by prohibition authorities. 

Lily can advocate for herself but is lost until Adolf, a strange cobbler, exposes her to Nietzsche’s “will to power” theory. 

Lily’s sexuality is then awakened as a result, and she uses it to manipulate others until embracing open Machiavellianism, which leaves a path of ruined relationships and shattered hearts. This is undoubtedly one of the best John Wayne movies.

14. The Cowboys (1972)

  • Director: Mark Rydell
  • Cast: John Wayne, Roscoe Lee Browne, Bruce Dern, Colleen Dewhurst, Nicolas Beauty, Alfred Barker Jr., Steve Benedict, and Robert Carradine
  • IMDb rating: 7.4/10

“The Cowboys” is one of the best john wayne movies, featuring Wayne at his most subtly patriarchal, and is a highlight of his latter years.

This is because he is in charge of guiding many adolescent guys on a 400-mile cattle drive. 

Wil Andersen (Wayne), whose ranch employees have left him for a gold rush, has no choice but to embark on such an endeavor.

However, no rational man would make such a decision. Of course, one’s definition of “softly patriarchal” will vary. 

As “Hondo” fans know, a John Wayne character would cheerfully teach a youngster to swim by plunging him into a pond.

A similar scene may be seen in “The Cowboys” when Andersen confronts a stuttering child whose behavior puts his companion, who was trapped in a river, in danger. 

The teenager becomes angry and starts continuously criticizing Anderson when Andersen accuses him of not working hard enough to rescue his friend; at this moment, the stutter stops. 

15. El Dorado (1966)

  • Director: Howard Hawks
  • Cast: John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, James Caan, Charlene Holt, Paul Fix, Arthur Hunnicutt, Michele Carey, and R.G. Armstrong
  • IMDb rating: 7.5/10

Bart Jason (Edward Asner), a land tycoon, assembles a crew of men to drive the MacDonald family from town so he may take possession of their land. 

Since the local sheriff, J.P. Harrah, is too drunk to assist the family, Cole Thornton and Mississippi travel to El Dorado to assist Harrah in getting sober to take on Jason’s gang of thugs.

Film writer Roger Ebert scored Hawks’ El Dorado three and a half out of four stars, praising Wayne, Mitchum, and Hawks for easily pulling off a good Western. 

The movie, which came before Rio Bravo and after Rio Lobo, is the second by Hawks to center on a sheriff defending his position against merciless outlaws, featuring Wayne. This is undoubtedly one of the best John Wayne movies.

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