Today is John Wayne’s 106th birthday and as a celebration, I am posting a list of my 25 favorite films that feature the Duke in a starring role. He was a good man who was plain spoken and a true patriot.
- EL DORADO- Legendary producer-director Howard Hawks teams with two equally legendary stars, John Wayne and Robert Mitchum, in this classic Western drama. John Wayne made this film as an answer to High Noon, which he thought was “the most un-American Western.” It shares similarities with Rio Lobo and Rio Bravo.
- THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE- Director John Ford is at the helm with the all-star cast including John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Lee Marvin, Vera Miles, and many more. This film is one of the greatest of both the Duke’s and Stewart’s career.
- TRUE GRIT- The Academy Award winning performance by John Wayne is still remembered. While the movie was recently remade, the original 1970 film about a large-than-life US Marshall named Rooster Cogburn will always be film legend.
- THE ALAMO- John Wayne produces and directs this film about the 200 Texas soldiers that stood their ground against an onslaught of enemy soldiers. The Duke also plays the legendary Davy Crockett.
- THE SHOOTIST- The final film the Duke starred in featured an all-star cast including James Stewart, Hugh O’Brian, Harry Morgan, and Ron Howard. It tells the story of an aging gun fighter who discovers he’s dying, but is planning one last shootout. It was glorious end to an already glorious career.
- STAGECOACH- John Wayne plays a ride-a-long on stagecoach that is being pursued by a band of Native Americans. Many consider this film to be The Duke’s breakthrough film and was also John Ford’s first sound film.
- ANGEL & THE BADMAN- After being rescued by Quakers, a bounty hunter (played by John Wayne) is after an outlaw that betrayed him, but is also pursued by a US Marshall. He finds that he must choose between his way of life and love for a young Quaker girl.
- MCLINTOCK!- One of the most hilarious films of the Duke’s career, he and his co-star Maureen O’Hara light up the screen as a divorced couple that do battle against each other leading to some slapstick type of action.
- NORTH TO ALASKA- This comedy features John Wayne as a gold prospector who goes to fetch his partner’s bride, but upon discovering she has married, picks him up another woman, whom the Duke’s character falls in love with.
- THE GREEN BERETS- John Wayne was a supporter of the Vietnam War, and believed in our troops over there. This film is a reflection of that and whether you’re a hawk or a dove, this film will bring a tear to your eye.
- RIO LOBO- After the Civil War, a Union Colonel, played by the Duke, goes to Rio Lobo to take revenge on two traitors with the help of two Rebel officers that he befriended at the end of the Civil War.
- BIG JAKE- When his grandson, Little Jake, is kidnapped, Big Jake (the Duke) comes back from a long expedition to mount a rescue with his other estranged sons. The trouble is, everyone seems to think he’s dead.
- THE SONS OF KATIE ELDER- Director Henry Hathaway made this film in 1965 where a team of four brothers (one played by John Wayne) unite for their mother’s funeral. However, they find out that their father was cheated out of his ranch and their mother left destitute. Now, they are out for revenge.
- THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY- “When a commercial airliner develops engine problems on a trans- Pacific flight and the pilot loses his nerve, it is up to the washed-up co-pilot Dan Roman (John Wayne) to bring the plane in safely.”
- ISLAND IN THE SKY- A transport plane crash-lands in the frozen wastes of Labrador, and the plane’s pilot, Dooley (John Wayne), must keep his men alive in deadly conditions while waiting for rescue. They face cold, rebellion, and starvation as their friends continue to look for them.
- HONDO- Based on the Louis L’Amour story “The Gift of Cochise,” John Wayne plays a half-Indian Calvary scout that befriends a widow and her son, but discovers that he was the man that shot the widow’s drunken husband.
- THE TRAIN ROBBERS- A widow comes to John Wayne and his men asking for help. Her husband was part of a group of men that had found buried gold, but he died before he could get it. Now the wife wants the Duke and his men to help her find it, before someone else does.
- THE UNDEFEATED- At the end of the Civil War, a Union officer (The Duke) leads a horse drive into Mexico where he stumbles upon a Confederate officer (Rock Hudson) that is planning on restarting the War Between The States.
- CHISUM- John Wayne plays Chisum, a real historical figure, though this account of the land owner’s life is heavily fictionalize in this film. It is a great film that is epic on so many levels.
- THE SEARCHERS- The Duke plays an embittered man searching for his niece who was kidnapped by a Native American war tribe. While having a dark tone, this film brings to life the complexities of the American West.
- THE LONGEST DAY- John Wayne is part of an ensemble cast that portrays the events leading up to the invasion of Normandy by the Allied Nations against the Nazi controlled beachfront.
- RIO BRAVO- Sharing similarities with Rio Lobo and El Dorado, this film follow the Duke as Sheriff John T. Chance. It also stars Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson, and Angie Dickinson. It is based off a short story by B.H. McCampbell.
- THE WAR WAGON- The Duke plays Taw Jackson, a man who was framed and had his ranch seized by a rival. He plans on robbing the ‘war wagon’ an armored wagon with a Gatling gun on top.
- RIO GRANDE- John Wayne plays Lt. Colonel Yorke in this epic about defending his isolated fort from Apache raids whilst dealing with the return of his estrange wife, who is played by collaborator Maureen O’Hara. This was the third in a trilogy of movies about the US Calvary by John Ford starring John Wayne.
- DONOVAN’S REEF- The final collaboration with the star and director John Ford, this comedy takes place in the French Polynesia where the Duke’s character own a bar called Donovan’s Reef. It also features Lee Marvin, Jack Warden, Cesar Romero, and Dorothy Lamour.