It’s a challenge to narrow down the 5 best John Wayne movies. Wayne is one of the most well-known actors in history and appeared in hundreds of movies. He was known for his iconic walk and way of speaking, and for being a hard-nosed, take-no-BS tough guy, both on and off the screen. He was the quintessential American cowboy and made many fantastic films over the course of a career that spanned decades and the 5 best John Wayne movies are listed below.
- "The Searchers." In spite of receiving no Academy Award nominations, this 1956 film has been recognized as the greatest western of all time and the twelfth-best movie of all time by the American Film Institute. It was also selected by the U.S. Congress for inclusion in the National Film Registry. It is clearly one of the 5 best John Wayne movies. Wayne’s portrayal of civil war vet Ethan Edwards searching for abducted relatives has been voted the 87th-best performance in movie history. The film was directed by Wayne’s friend, John Ford, one of Hollywood’s legendary directors and a collaborator with Wayne on many films.
"True Grit." In what is no doubt one of the 5 best John Wayne movies, Wayne won an Oscar and Golden Globe for his portrayal of Rooster Cogburn, a U.S. Marshall asked to hunt down a murderer, in this 1969 film. Some say that the Oscar was a sentimental nod to Wayne, who was nearing the end of his career and who’d had a lung removed from cancer. Regardless, the movie did well at the box office and Cogburn remains for many one of the most indelible images of Wayne.
"Sands of Iwo Jima." This 1949 film was well-recognized, getting Academy Award nominations for best actor for Wayne, and nods for editing, sound, recording and writing. In one of the 5 best John Wayne movies, Wayne was at his saltiest and toughest in this film, playing a sergeant in the Marines who shows tough love to the men serving under him, who eventually come to respect him. The film ends with his men taking Iwo Jima and raising the flag to signify victory (using the actual flag raised four years prior, on loans from the Marines).
"The Quiet Man." This movie sneaks into the list of the 5 best John Wayne movies. Wayne made this movie in 1952 again teaming with pal John Ford. The role—a romantic comedy—was a bit of a departure for Wayne, yet the film had financial and critical success, winning Oscars for directing and cinematography and getting nominations in five others, including best picture. For those wanting to experience Wayne without his cowboy hat and spurs, this is the best choice.
"The Longest Day." Wayne shared the stage with several other luminaries in this 1959 film on the D-Day invasion of Normandy, including Robert Mitchum, Sean Connery, Richard Burton and Henry Fonda. Wayne portrayed real-life Benjamin Hayes Vandervoort, a colonel, and beat out other Hollywood tough-guy Charlton Heston for the role. The film won two Oscars and was nominated for three others, including best picture and is without a doubt one of the 5 best John Wayne movies.