10 Best Rated John Wayne Films Ranked

John Wayne, the legendary Hollywood icon, achieved fame through his iconic roles in Western films such as “Rio Bravo,” “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” and “The Shootist.” Born in Winterset, Iowa, Wayne’s breakthrough in John Ford’s 1939 movie “Stagecoach” propelled him to become one of the most beloved leading men in cinema history. While celebrated for his contributions to the Western genre, Wayne also showcased his talent in classic non-Western films like “The Long Voyage Home” and “Sands of Iwo Jima.”

Wayne’s enduring legacy extends beyond the silver screen, influencing renowned filmmakers such as Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, and George Lucas. In this article, we explore the top 10 movies that showcase the Duke’s prowess, examining their impact on cinema and highlighting the nuanced performances that define Wayne’s cinematic journey.

10. ‘The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance’ (1962)

In “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” Senator Ransom Stoaddard, played by James Stewart, returns to his hometown for a friend’s funeral, prompting reflections on a past marked by the notorious outlaw Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin). Directed by John Ford, this classic Western unveils layers of storytelling, with Wayne delivering a compelling performance alongside Stewart and Marvin. Despite initial mixed reviews, the film has earned its place among Ford and Wayne’s masterpieces, garnering an Oscar nomination for Best Costume Design.

9. ‘Rio Bravo’ (1959)

Directed by Howard Hawks, “Rio Bravo” follows Sheriff John Chance, played by Wayne, as he faces off against outlaws aiming to free a murderer from jail. The film’s slow-burning narrative and stellar cast, including Dean Martin and Walter Brennan, make it one of Hawks’ finest works. Quentin Tarantino has hailed “Rio Bravo” as his favorite Wayne Western, emphasizing its influence on his 1997 heist film, “Jackie Brown.”

8. ‘El Dorado’ (1966)

In “El Dorado,” Wayne portrays gunslinger Cole Thornton, aiding a sheriff, played by Robert Mitchum, in defending a town against a land tycoon’s ruthless plans. Directed by Howard Hawks, this Western earned acclaim from critic Roger Ebert, who praised the seamless collaboration of Wayne, Mitchum, and Hawks. “El Dorado” stands as a testament to the trio’s prowess in crafting successful Westerns.

7. ‘Stagecoach’ (1939)

“Stagecoach” marks Wayne’s breakthrough, portraying the Ringo Kid in this Arizona-to-New Mexico journey marred by the escape of a notorious outlaw. Directed by John Ford, the film not only established Wayne’s on-screen presence but also earned critical acclaim, securing multiple Academy Award nominations. Ford’s direction and Wayne’s riveting performance make “Stagecoach” a timeless classic.

6. ‘The Long Voyage Home’ (1940)

Amidst World War II, “The Long Voyage Home” explores the perils faced by a crew, including Wayne, as they transport dynamite across the Atlantic. Directed by Ford, the film delves into the human psyche during wartime, earning praise from Bosley Crowther of The New York Times as a gratifying “modern Odyssey.” With six Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, the movie highlights Wayne’s versatility beyond the Western genre.

5. ‘Fort Apache’ (1948)

Set post-Civil War, “Fort Apache” follows Wayne as Captain Kirby York, clashing with a new, arrogant commander. Directed by Ford, the film is celebrated for portraying an authentic and sympathetic view of Native Americans, breaking new ground in Western storytelling. Wayne’s portrayal of the tough but empathetic York adds depth to this pioneering work, the first installment in Ford’s Cavalry Trilogy.

4. ‘Red River’ (1948)

In “Red River,” Wayne plays rancher Thomas Dunson, leading a cattle drive to Missouri with his protegé, portrayed by Montgomery Clift. Directed by Howard Hawks, this Western showcases Wayne’s prowess, with Ford himself acknowledging the actor’s surprising depth. Footage from “Red River” was even used in Wayne’s final film, “The Shootist,” attesting to its enduring impact.

3. ‘Sands of Iwo Jima’ (1949)

“Sands of Iwo Jima” thrusts Wayne into the role of Sergeant John Stryker during World War II, leading a group of initially resentful Marines. The film, based on the Battle of Iwo Jima, offers an intense portrayal of combat reality. Wayne’s performance is captivating, and the movie paved the way for Clint Eastwood’s later adaptation of the Battle of Iwo Jima in “Flags of Our Fathers.”

2. ‘The Comancheros’ (1961)

Directed by Michael Curtiz, “The Comancheros” features Wayne as Texas Ranger Jake Cutter, on a mission to capture a gambler played by Stuart Whitman. The film seamlessly blends Wayne’s easy-going but stern persona with the Western genre’s classic elements. “The Comancheros” received positive reviews, with Variety describing it as a “big, brash, and uninhibited” classic Western.

1. ‘The Sons of Katie Elder’ (1965)

“The Sons of Katie Elder” reunites Wayne and Dean Martin as brothers seeking revenge for their father’s losses. Despite Wayne’s personal health challenges during filming, including lung cancer surgery, he insisted on performing his stunts. The film stands as a testament to Wayne’s resilience and commitment to his craft, delivering a powerful performance in this tale of family, revenge, and redemption.


John Wayne’s filmography is a testament to his enduring impact on cinema. From Western classics to wartime dramas, each movie on this list reflects Wayne’s versatility as an actor and the indelible mark he left on the film industry. As we revisit these 10 best John Wayne movies, we celebrate not only the Duke’s on-screen legacy but also the timeless stories that continue to captivate audiences worldwide.

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