Top 10 Best John Wayne Movies of All Time

John Wayne

John Wayne was a man’s man. With his nonchalant swagger and his commanding presence, he dominated the screen. From cowboy to soldier, he was the epitome of patriotism and a model American. Though his views may be a little too conservative for some tastes today, his movies are works of art.

Honorable Mentions

The Alamo (1960)

Stagecoach (1939)

Rio Lobo (1970)

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)

The Longest Day (1962)

Rio Grande (1950)

Sands of Iwo Jima (1949)

Chisum (1970)

North to Alaska (1960)

#10: Rooster Cogburn (1975)

While John Wayne was a gruff guy, he had a soft, humorous side about him that shows in this comedic western starring Wayne as his True Grit character Marshal Rooster Cogburn. Starring alongside him is distinguished actress Katharine Hepburn, playing the overly religious Eula Goodnight caught up in the adventure alongside the drunken, grumpy marshal. Packing in laughs alongside suspenseful action scenes, this is a classic family western movie. (Plus, it’s my father’s favorite. Hi Dad!)

John Wayne

Image via The Movie Scene

#9: The Sons of Katie Elder (1965)

The classic western trope of avenging a murder formulates the plot of this story. The four sons of Katie Elder–John Elder (Wayne), Tom Elder (Dean Martin), Bud Elder (Michael Anderson, Jr.), and Matt Elder (Earl Holliman)–set out to take revenge on the man who murdered their father and swindled their mother. Family ties, murder, angst, and lots of shooting create this compelling western that will pull you in from the start. The only odd thing about this movie is that John Wayne looks twenty years older than his “brothers,” but you get past it after a while.

John Wayne

Image via Paramount Pictures

#8: Hondo (1953)

Though it includes a racist portrayal of Native Americans and slight sexism (you have to think about the time this was made in), this is a wonderful film. Hondo Lane (Wayne), a member of the US Army Cavalry, is compelled to protect a woman and her son from hostile Apaches because she has no husband. This film includes eminent actors Ward Bond (The Maltese Falcon [1941]) and James Arness (Gunsmoke [1955-1975]). It’s an action-packed movie with murder, love, and (again) lots of shooting and cowboys.

John Wayne

Image via Not Coming

#7: The Shootist (1976)

Some consider this to be one of John Wayne’s best films. I agree–it’s a well-made film with an intriguing subject matter. However, it ranks as number seven in my list solely because the plot was much too weighty and I did not enjoy being sad during a John Wayne movie. The Shootist is about J.B. Books (Wayne), who is dying just like the Old West is in the early twentieth century, and settles in Carson City, Nevada, basically hoping to find a way to gloriously die. This movie also features other prominent stars of classic Hollywood, including Lauren Bacall, James Stewart, Harry Morgan, and rising star Ron Howard. Just make sure to have the tissues nearby.

John Wayne

Image via Encyclopedia Britannica

#6: Rio Bravo (1959)

This film has kind of the same plot as El Dorado in that the sheriff is a drunk and all the men end up hiding out in the jail with a dangerous criminal that a group of outlaws want freed. However, it includes attractive actors Angie Dickinson and Ricky Nelson, so that makes up for it. Plus, this movie includes the use of dynamite in the end in addition to the big shootout, so it’s obviously a pretty great western. And, once again, Dean Martin costars with the Duke as the drunken sheriff (what else?). It has all the great components of a western.

John Wayne

Image via MHM Podcast Network

#5: El Dorado (1967)

This is the better version of Rio Bravo. Cole Thornton (Wayne) with a bullet lodged in his spine, Sheriff J.P. Harrah (Robert Mitchum), the drunken sheriff, and “Mississippi” (James Caan [The Godfather (1972)]), the terrible marksman, are all holed up in the town guarding a prisoner that dangerous criminals on the outside want released. It’s suspenseful, humorous, and has plenty of shooting and horses–everything a western should have. Plus, it’s got a funny old dude who makes amusing comments every so often, kind of like your Grandpa Dave, but funnier!

John Wayne

Image via MHM Podcast Network

#4: Big Jake (1971)

Hostages and kidnappings, family love and hate, shootouts and fights–what more could you ask for in a western? In Big Jake, Jacob “Big Jake” McCandles (Wayne), is asked by his wife, Martha (Maureen O’Hara [Miracle on 34th Street (1947)]), to rescue her little boy Jake who has been taken hostage by an outlaw named John Fain (Richard Boone). With the help of his two sons, James (Patrick Wayne, John Wayne’s real-life son) and Michael (Christopher Mitchum, son of Robert Mitchum) Big Jake sets out on an adventure to save little Jake and exact revenge on the ruthless outlaws. Personally, my favorite part of this movie is the fact that Big Jake named his dog, “Dog.”

John Wayne

Image via Classic Movie Reviews

#3: McLintock! (1963)

Honestly, some of John Wayne’s best westerns were the ones that were mainly comedy, such as this one. George Washington “G.W.” McLintock (Wayne) is a single rancher whose estranged wife, Katherine (Maureen O’Hara), has returned to town. On top of that, their daughter is planning to marry a banjo player (Jerry Van Dyke) and G.W. has recently taken in an attractive widow and her two children, including dreamy heartthrob Devlin Warren (Patrick Wayne). Sure, this movie has a lot of sexism (you must publicly spank your woman to shame her) and probably a few racist portrayals, but it’s still hilarious and one of my favorites. And drunk John Wayne is always a plus.

John Wayne

Image via MHM Podcast Network

#2: True Grit (1969)

This is the first appearance of U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn. It’s also John Wayne’s only Academy Award win–and well-deserved, too. This movie is definitely a little more gritty (no pun intended) than Wayne’s other films, and that’s part of what makes it so great. In True Grit, Cogburn must track down and capture an outlaw named Tom Chaney (Jeff Corey), who murdered a young girl’s (Kim Darby) parents and is now holed up with another outlaw named “Lucky” Ned Pepper (Robert Duvall). He is aided in his search by La Bouef (Glen Campbell). Featuring supporting roles from Dennis Hopper (Easy Rider [1969]) and Jeremy Slate, it’s a star-studded cast for a phenomenal movie that will grip you with its intensity from the very start. If you like action, this is the John Wayne film to watch.

John Wayne

Image via Talkie Gazette

#1: The Searchers (1956)

It’s hard to find words to describe just how powerful this movie is. Ethan Edwards (Wayne) and Martin Pawley (Jeffrey Hunter) must embark on a years-long journey to recover two of their family members after the Comanches took them hostage (after killing everyone else, of course). Though the subject matter is once again quite weighty, it’s a fantastic film. Vera Miles (Psycho [1960]), Natalie Wood (West Side Story [1961]), and Ward Bond costar in this magnificent work of cinema. The final scene (pictured below) is probably one of the most iconic scenes in westerns. It pays tribute to the figure of the lonely cowboy, destined to wander the west for life, a figure that the great John Wayne played well.

John Wayne

Image via Screenprism

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15 Responses

  1. Michael Novak says:

    The quiet man was one of my favorites, also tall in the saddle, fort Apache and can’t believe the cowboys didn’t make the list

    • Randall J. Thompson says:

      R..U . .kidding .me?! A Duke Cowboy movie freak Only obviously. Or maybe your just too young to know about some of his other G R E A T movies that even critics sed he SHUD have been nominated for an Oscar, LONG B4 True Grit. Such as In Harms Way.
      And (no offense) good thing we know Ur an amateur, for to even say you put one his most crticially acclaimed movies at #7, because “it made you sad”??? What? (Critics, sed prob. His best work showing a vulnurable real self etc. Dying of cancer as you never or fans never saw him b4, Oscar or Globe worthy) but fans wanted a usual Duke shoot-em- up. So it did not score as well at box office. I bought it. Your ten best list is of course Ur entitled OPINION. But, in the Duke world, WAY WAY OFF.

      • Kali Tuttle says:

        Hey Randall! Glad you enjoyed the article! Please enjoy all of the many other articles my cohorts have written for MovieBabble!

  2. 18cinemalane says:

    Interesting list! The only John Wayne film I’ve seen is Stagecoach.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I am a big fan of the western especially John Wayne western,but for some reason my two favorites of his are not western. Donovan reef and Hatari..

  4. Vuava says:

    Horse Soldiers?

  5. M.R. Miller says:

    The thing I always appreciated about his westerns is that while they are rife with sexism, the female characters are spunky and strong. I mean, he’s not the only one with “true grit” in that movie. It made the movies more watchable than most of the old Clint Eastwood ones where the women always get raped or almost raped. Rooster Cogburn is one of my favorites because of his relationship with Katherine Hepburn.

  6. @lynnsbooks says:

    I think True Grit is my favourite. And I also loved the Quiet Man.

  7. Cannot believe that The Quiet Man, centred in Ireland, did not even make the Honourable Mentions List.

    • Kali Tuttle says:

      Apologize for that. I was trying to focus mainly on his westerns and war movies which he was most famous for. The Quiet Man always felt like more of a romance to me.

      • rgswrk says:

        Your top 10 list are all good John Wayne movies.

        One of my favorite John Wayne movies is The Horse Soldiers but it doesn’t usually make the list of his top films so I’m not surprised it isn’t on your list.

        However I am really surprised that neither Red River nor The Cowboys made it (not even honorable mention!). You might to go back and watch those because both of them should be in the top 10. I would probably put Red River as #1 or #2.

  8. Nick Kush says:

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