Perhaps no single actor best symbolizes the American Western than John Wayne. According to the Internet Movie Database, the man who was born as Marion Morrison in 1907 starred in more than 140 movies during his lifetime, and in 2007, he was voted as the third most popular actor in a Harris Poll survey. Clearly, this list is not a comprehensive catalog of the Duke’s best films, as it immediately dismisses some of his fine military pictures and some of his other roles. In fact, choosing just ten of his Western films was challenging enough. Without further ado, here’s our top ten list of the best John Wayne Western Movies:
Kicking things off is a personal favorite of this author, The Comancheros. In this film, the Duke stars as Jake Cutter, a captain in the Texas Rangers. Cutter has been charged with arresting “Monsieur” Paul Regret (Stuart Whitman), a gambler/playboy facing a murder charge in Louisiana. Along the way, the two are forced to work together to bring down a ring of gunrunners who are supplying arms to the Comanche. What helps to make this film so memorable is the comedic chemistry between Wayne and Whitman. Also of note is that this was the final film directed by Michael Curtiz (Casablanca).
While The Comancheros was a Western that mixed comedy and drama, the No. 9 entry on our list, McLintock!, was played mostly for laughs. It is easily the most light-hearted of the Duke’s Western films, despite tackling such issues as divorce and adultery. This 1963 movie is reportedly an adaptation of the Shakespeare play The Taming of the Shrew. It has Wayne playing the role of cattle baron George McLintock and co-stars Maureen O’Hara as his estranged wife Katherine. There’s plenty of slapstick to be had here, including an impressive fight in a giant mud pit.
Once again, the Duke inadvertently channels Shakespeare for our No. 8 film, Hondo. Based on the Louis L’Amore story “The Gift of Cochise”, which in turn was said to have been inspired by Hamlet, Hondo sees the Duke as Hondo Lane opposite well-known stage actress Geraldine Page (Angie Lowe). Clocking in at just 83 minutes, this is one of Wayne’s shortest feature films, but that makes it no less classic. While traveling, exhausted army scout Hondo comes across Lowe. She and her son were apparently abandoned by her husband, who Hondo later meets up with in a fateful confrontation. While this particular film isn’t one of this author’s personal favorites, it is nonetheless considered a beloved classic by many diehard John Wayne fans, and as such warrants inclusion on the list.
Plot wise, The Shootist is a film about a legendary gunfighter who is dying of cancer and is seeking to live out his last days in peace, despite the fact that his reputation has made him a mark for many would-be gunfighters looking to make a name for themselves. However, as any John Wayne fan knows, the movie is much more than that. It is a tribute to the man himself, as by the time he made this 1976 movie, the Duke was battling stomach cancer himself. This would be his last movie, as the disease claimed him three years later.