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The 4 Best John Wayne Movies

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Authored by Phil Dotree in Movies and Television
Published on 11-28-2009

John Wayne is unquestionably one of the most famous actors of all time. His name is virtually synonymous with Western movies. His tough guy persona became a significant cultural landmark of American cinema through his long, storied career (he made about 200 movies). It’s very difficult to say when he was at his best. Nevertheless, this is an attempt to do so.

Here’s a look at a few of John Wayne’s absolute best movies.

1. The Shootist –
John Wayne eventually died of cancer, which makes his role in this film as a terminally ill cowboy somewhat more poignant. It’s a sad story that parallels the slow death of the old West itself. The sensationalism and glorification of Western violence is a major theme. Ultimately it makes for a strong, compelling story, and Wayne’s own condition certainly doesn’t intrude on the movie’s power. This was John Wayne’s last film before he died.

2. True Grit –
With an all star cast including Robert Duvall and Glen Campbell, this is a later-era Wayne great. John Wayne plays the alcoholic, legendary Rooster Cogburn. After he agrees to take part in a manhunt, he must work with a young bounty hunter to find a killer and horse thief. As the name of this movie implies, Wayne gives quite the gritty, realistic performance. It’s much more realistic than many of his earlier works. That’s not always necessarily a good thing, but in this case it works wonderfully. True Grit is a thrilling, complex Western that spawned a sequel in 1975.

3. The Searchers –
This film is often considered one of the greatest movies ever made. Certainly it’s in most Western fans top five. John Wayne plays a haunted, grizzled, greatly faulted ex-Civil War soldier named Ethan. After his brother’s family is killed by Comanches, he gathers a posse to avenge the deaths and bring back the two hostages (his nieces). Wayne’s character has an intense and unreasonable hatred of American Indians. However, rather than portray stereotypes, The Searchers does a good job of showing humanity on both sides. It’s a rich and deep film that grows with each viewing. To put it simply, you’re not a John Wayne fan if you haven’t seen the Searchers. In fact, you’re not even a Western fan.

4. Sands of Iwo Jima –
Don’t confuse this John Wayne classic with the similarly titled Letters from Iwo Jima. This is a purely fictional, heavily patriotic telling of the story of a squad involved in the battle. John Wayne plays the hardened general Stryker, who is greatly disliked by his troops. His harsh training methods end up saving many of their lives. John Wayne plays the classic tough guy in this flick. To be honest, it’s not too much of a stretch for the heavily typecast Wayne. However, it’s the perfect role for him. He fleshes out Stryker’s character and even adds a bit of heart. A great, classic film that netted an Academy Award nomination for Wayne.

What are your favorite John Wayne movies? Post in the comments section below.

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