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100 best John Wayne movies

  • #30. Hondo

    - Director: John Farrow
    - IMDb user rating: 7.1
    - Runtime: 83 min

    Not only was 1953’s “Hondo” filmed in stunning Warnercolor, but it was shot and released in 3D. The movie, based on a story by Louis L’Amour, centers on an Army scout named Hondo Lane (played by Wayne) who protects a woman and her son from warring Apaches. The movie was the second-highest-grossing 3D movie of the 1950s, bested only by “House of Wax.”

  • #29. How the West Was Won

    - Directors: John Ford, Henry Hathaway, George Marshall, Richard Thorpe
    - IMDb user rating: 7.1
    - Runtime: 164 min

    Broken into four segments (each one helmed by a different director), 1962’s “How the West Was Won” chronicles the Prescott family saga over the course of many decades. The film depicts a range of historic events like the Civil War, the Gold Rush, and the building of the railroads. Wayne wasn’t the only star in “How the West Was Won.” The movie touts an impressive range of A-list celebrities, including James Stewart, Debbie Reynolds, Henry Fonda, and Gregory Peck.

  • #28. The Big Trail

    - Director: Raoul Walsh
    - IMDb user rating: 7.2
    - Runtime: 125 min

    Wayne, then known as Marion Morrison, was working as a props boy and movie extra until he landed his first major role in “The Big Trail.” He adopted the name “John Wayne” by the time shooting was done. In the film, Wayne’s character leads a wagon train from the Mississippi River to the West Coast. Along the way, he encounters all sorts of threats and disasters (and even some romance).

  • #27. 3 Godfathers

    - Director: John Ford
    - IMDb user rating: 7.2
    - Runtime: 106 min

    While on the run from authorities, three outlaws pick up a newborn baby whom they vow to protect at all costs.“3 Godfathers,” which sees Wayne starring alongside actors Pedro Armendáriz and Harry Carey Jr., was released in 1948. Director John Ford was reportedly very hard on Carey Jr. during the shoot, once even throwing a rock at his head.

  • #26. The Horse Soldiers

    - Director: John Ford
    - IMDb user rating: 7.2
    - Runtime: 120 min

    Like a high-stakes game of Capture the Flag, 1959’s “The Horse Soldiers” follows a Union outfit as it crosses Confederate lines to destroy enemy railroads. As one might expect, the film demanded lots of horse riding and some dangerous stunt work. Sadly, stuntman Freddie Kennedy suffered a fatal injury after falling off a horse during the shoot.

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  • #25. Sands of Iwo Jima

    - Director: Allan Dwan
    - IMDb user rating: 7.2
    - Runtime: 100 min

    Eschewing over-glamorized heroics in favor of gritty realism and complex characterization, 1949’s “Sands of Iwo Jima” presented John Wayne in a new light. In the film, Wayne plays Sgt. John M. Stryker, an uncompromising and mean-spirited leader who made tremendous sacrifices while performing patriotic duties. Stryker goes hard on his squad, not just because of his personal struggles, but because he knows that weakness can result in death on the battlefield. It’s only after the squad is called into action on the island of Iwo Jima that Stryker’s men see the wisdom of his ways. To prepare for the film, the young male cast underwent three days of intense military training by the toughest drill instructor the director could find.

  • #24. Big Jake

    - Director: George Sherman
    - IMDb user rating: 7.2
    - Runtime: 110 min

    Proving he still had plenty of vigor left in him by 1971, John Wayne headlined “Big Jake.” The film is about a cowboy who sets out to rescue his grandson from kidnappers. Wayne’s biological son Patrick played the son in the film while Wayne's other (much younger) son Ethan played his grandson. Another son, Michael, produced the movie.

  • #23. Hatari!

    - Director: Howard Hawks
    - IMDb user rating: 7.2
    - Runtime: 157 min

    From director Howard Hawks came 1962’s “Hatari!” in which a group of men make a living by capturing African wildlife and selling it to zoos. Throwing a wrench in the operation is the arrival of a female photographer, who eventually becomes part of the gang. Filmed on location in Tanganyika, the film has Wayne and his team chasing down all sorts of real-life wild animals, often at the expense of a discernible narrative.

  • #22. Rio Grande

    - Director: John Ford
    - IMDb user rating: 7.2
    - Runtime: 105 min

    Director John Ford was rumored to have two conditions before agreeing to make 1950’s “Rio Grande” for Republic Pictures: that Republic Pictures secure financing for a different film ("The Quiet Man"); and that the company allow Ford to cast Wayne in the lead role. It was the second condition that caused a problem, as Republic Pictures executive Herbert Yates and Wayne were no longer on speaking terms. Wayne was thus forced to do something he probably loathed: apologize. Once the conditions were met, Ford and Wayne churned out this film about a cavalry officer who battles the Apache during the Civil War in record time.

  • #21. The Sons of Katie Elder

    - Director: Henry Hathaway
    - IMDb user rating: 7.2
    - Runtime: 122 min

    When a mother dies in 1965’s “The Sons of Katie Elder” and her four sons come home to pay their respects, they find themselves mired in a land dispute. To make matters worse, the four sons are then framed for the murder of a local sheriff. Will they prove their innocence and get their revenge? As if you need to ask. While filming, Wayne was battling cancer for the first time. Of course, that didn’t stop him from performing his own stunts.

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