Best John Wayne Movies

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American western movie fans differ on the best John Wayne movies; however, most agree that Wayne is the ultimate western movie star.

About John Wayne

John Wayne's movie career spanned almost fifty years. His first venture into the industry was as a prop man, and his first credited movie role was in the movie Words and Music in 1929. Born to Clyde Morrison and Mary Brown, Wayne's given name was actually Marion Morrison, and his nickname later became Duke. In 1939, Wayne reached star status with his role as Ringo Kid in the John Ford directed movie Stagecoach. It was his portrayal as Rooster Cogburn in the 1969 hit True Grit that earned him an Oscar, however. Wayne continued to make movies into his late 60s, and he died in 1979 at the age of 72.

Choosing the Best John Wayne Movies

How do movie fans choose the best John Wayne movies? With more than 140 movies under his belt, the list of Wayne's best performances might be overwhelming. However, many movie aficionados agree on his top movie roles, with the majority of those taking place in American western-themed films.

True Grit

Many John Wayne fans begin their list of his best movies with the film that won him an Oscar in 1969--True Grit. Wayne is at his best in the role of Rooster Cogburn, a rough marshall who is hired by a 14 year old girl to track down her father's killer. In addition to Wayne, other recognizable actors include Robert Duvall and Glen Campbell. Six years later, in 1975, Wayne reprised his role in the movie Rooster Cogburn, which also starred Katherine Hepburn. More recently, many diehard John Wayne fans were dismayed to learn of a remake of this classic film, in which Jeff Bridges played Cogburn and Matt Damon played the role that Glen Campbell made famous.

The Searchers

While many people feel that True Grit is the number one John Wayne movie, others cast their votes for The Searchers. Film critics often point to the complex themes which are explored throughout this movie, including the topics of genocide, racism, and revenge. Wayne plays a Civil War veteran, Ethan Edwards, whose quest to find his niece (who has been abducted by Indians) spans over several years. This film is credited with influencing more modern films like Taxi Driver and even Star Wars and was referred to as the "greatest western of all time" by the American Film Institute in 2008.


While Wayne didn't earn an individual award for his role as Ringo Kid in this 1939 film, Stagecoach did receive four Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, and has been entered into the United States National Film Registry. Directed by John Ford, this role is commonly referred to as the one that made Wayne a star.

Sands of Iwo Jima

Not only did Wayne find success in the American western genre, but he also achieved star status for his role as Sergeant John Marion Stryker, a no-nonsense, determined Marine sergeant who readies his men for their most daunting battle in the Sands of Iwo Jima.

More John Wayne Movies

In addition to the above movies, the following films often make the list of best John Wayne films.

  • Red River
  • Rio Bravo
  • Big Jake
  • The Comancheros
  • McLintock!
  • The Shootist
  • Hondo
  • The High and the Mighty
  • El Dorado
  • The Cowboys
  • The Alamo
  • Rio Grande
  • The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
  • The Undefeated
  • Brannigan

While American western fans typically agree that John Wayne is the ultimate western movie star, many debate Wayne's best roles.

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Best John Wayne Movies