John Wayne was one of biggest stars during the Golden Age of Hollywood and is considered to be one of the greatest actors of all time. Wayne ended up getting his first break in the 1920s after Hollywood’s first Western star, Tom Mix hired him to work as an extra on a John Ford production.
The Duke starred in countless classic films, but is best known for his iconic Westerns including The Searchersand Rio Bravo. Out of the eighty Westerns made by Wayne, these are the actor’s 10 highest-rated movies ranked according to IMDb.
10/10‘Fort Apache’ (1948) – 7.4
When an arrogant Civil War hero, Lt. Owen Thursday (Henry Fonda) arrives to take command of the Fort Apache outpost in Arizona, he butts heads with Captain Kirby York who isn’t impressed by the hero. Thursday has an ignorant view about American Indians and despite York’s warning, he attempts to bait them into fighting for his personal glory and puts the entire outpost in danger.
Fort Apache is directed by legendary filmmaker, John Ford who made a total of 12 movies with Wayne and worked together up until Ford’s death in 1973. At the time, the movie was the first films to portray a realistic as well as sympathetic view towards American Indians and is considered to be one of the greatest achievements in classic American cinema.
9/10‘True Grit’ (1969) – 7.4
True Grit is the story of Mattie, a 14-year-old girl who hires hard-headed U.S. marshal, Rooster Cogburn, to help her track down the man who murdered her father. As they begin their journey, they meet a Texas Ranger who is trying to hunt down the same man and turn him in for the murder of a senator in exchange for a reward.
Wayne’s performance as Rooster Cogburn earned him his first and only Academy Award and went on to reprise the character in the 1975 sequel, Rooster Cogburn. Some historians believe that Cogburn was inspired by real-life Deputy U.S. marshal, Henry Thomas who was known to bring in some of the toughest outlaws.
8/10‘The Cowboys’ (1972) – 7.4
Wil Andersen is a rough-edged rancher who is about to set out on a large cattle drive when his crew quits on him to join the Gold Rush. With no other options, he decides to hire a group of boys and train them to become cowboys. Andersen is able to pull the boys together but just as they are about to start making moves, a bandit spots them and hatches a plan to steal the herd.
The Cowboys co-starsfuture Oscar nominee, Bruce Dernand a young Robert Carradine, son of actor John Carradine and brother of David Carradine. While the movie is a decent Wayne Western, it is known more for the off-screen bond between Wayne and co-star, Roscoe Lee Browne. The actors shared different opinions and views but ended up forming a friendship over their shared love of poetry.
7/10‘El Dorado’ (1966) – 7.5
A ruthless tycoon hires a group of men to force a family off their property in order to purchase it for himself. The town’s sheriff, J.P. Harrah (Robert Mitchum) has developed an excessive drinking habit and struggles to protect the family from the thugs. When his friend, Cole Thornton, hears about the problem, he travels to the town to help dry Harrah up in time for a shootout against Johnson’s boys.
Directed by Howard Hawks,El Dorado is one of five movies that Wayne and the genre-hopping director made together. They made several Westerns together including ‘Rio Bravo’ and ‘Red River.’ Even though Wayne and Mitchum had both been in The Longest Day, the actors never shared any scenes together making ‘El Dorado’ the only movie where the actors appear together.
6/10‘The Shootist’ (1976) – 7.6
Wayne plays J.B. Books, a veteran gunfighter who goes to visit an old friend and physician in Nevada after he is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Books stays in town where he rents a room under a different name from a widow (Lauren Bacall) and her son (Ron Howard) who discovers Books’ true identity. The gunslinger soon learns of the impact that his actions have had on others and decides to leave the world on his own terms.
The Shootist was Wayne’s final film performance before he died three years later of stomach cancer. In the opening montage, the movie uses various scenes from Wayne’s earlier films to depicthis character’s backstory including ‘El Dorado’ and ‘Red River.’ His character was also inspired by The Gunfighter, a role Wayne had wanted but turned down earlier in his career.
5/10‘Stagecoach’ (1939) – 7.8
Stagecoach follows a group of strangers traveling from Arizona to New Mexico in a stagecoach and are joined by a U.S. marshal who is searching for Ringo the Kid, an outlaw who escaped from prison. The marshal apprehends Ringo but on the course of their journey, he learns that there’s more to the young outlaw than what meets the eye.
Wayne’s performance as Ringo the Kid was his breakthrough role and launched him into stardom. The movie has also been considered to be one of the most influential films and even inspired Orson Welles while developing, Citizen Kane claiming to have watched the film several times.
4/10‘Red River’ (1948) – 7.8
Shortly after the end of the Civil War, a broke cattle rancher and his adopted son decide to move their herd from Texas to Missouri in order to escape the poverty-stricken south. As they make their way north, tensions grow between the father and son and the two struggle to put aside their differences as they venture further into the dangers of the wilderness.
Red River is another Western directed by Howard Hawks and also pairs Wayne with frequent co-stars, Harry Carey and Walter Brennan. While Technicolor technology was available, Hawks decided to film the movie in traditional black and white in order to convey a realistic tone and style.
3/10‘The Searchers’ (1956) – 7.9
At the end of the Civil War, Ethan Edwards returns home to Texas and discovers that his brother’s family has been murdered and kidnaped by American Indians. Edwards sets off into dangerous territory in search of his surviving relatives vowing to bring them home and avenge his family
Directed by John Ford, The Searchers is one of Wayne’s most iconic performances in any movie. The movie has had a profound influence on filmmakers including Steven Spielberg and George Lucasas well as characters such asTravis Bickle from Taxi Driver.Roger Ebert, wrote that Ethan Edwards was one of the most compelling characters Ford and Wayne had ever created together.
2/10‘Rio Bravo’ (1959) – 8
Wayne plays Sheriff John Chance who locks up the brother of a rancher after he shoots and kills a man. The rancher hears about what happened and threatens to break his brother out if the sheriff doesn’t release him. Chance stands his ground and with the help of some unlikely heroes, fights to defend the jail against the rancher and his men.
‘Rio Bravo’ is considered to be Hawks’ best Western and has an all-star cast of Dean Martin, Angie Dickinson,Ward Bond and Ricky Nelson. Unlike other Westerns, ‘Rio Bravo’ takes advantage of singers, Martin and Nelson who perform a duet of an altered version of ‘My Rifle, My Pony and Me,’ which was originally featured in ‘Red River.’
1/10‘The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance’ (1962) – 8.1
‘The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance’ takes place in a small Western town where an outlaw named Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin) and his gang terrorize and harass the defenseless residents. As Valance and his men invade, they encounter a local man and a young attorney who are the only ones brave enough to take a stand against them.
While co-star Jimmy Stewart has the most scenes with dialogue in this Ford Western, Wayne actually plays the central character. Wayne teamed up again with Marvin and Ford only a year later starring in, ‘Donovan’s Reef.’ The movie ended up being Wayne’s final Ford film as the lead.