John Wayne was adept at playing many different types of roles but the ones that brought him credit were the Western ones. Rarely did The Duke play a shy, reticent type of role. Not him. He usually had the style of a man who was tougher than a $2 steak. Even though he made a lot of Westerns in his career, Wayne had a knack for playing different roles, too.
There is little doubt that Wayne did Wayne so well. He even moved into older roles as a kind of cranky old dude pretty well. Wayne was definitely larger than life, yet could be quite human as well. The Duke symbolized one type of American actor: tough, rugged, and takes no prisoners.
In his career, Wayne earned a lot of accolades for his ability to play within a role. He did so well in Westerns and military-themed pictures. Of course, toss in a little romance here and there and he could carry that too.
John Wayne Offered Up Thoughts On ‘True Grit’
Looking back on his 1971 interview with Playboy, Wayne was asked whether he thought that his 1969 performance in Henry Hathaway’s western movie True Grit marked his finest film. After all, Wayne had won an Academy Award for his effort as US Marshal Rooster Cogburn – a role he would reprise a few years later with 1975’s sequel Rooster Cogburn.
While True Grit was indeed admired, Wayne himself was reticent to admit that it’s his best film. According to Far Out Magazine, he replied with the five movies he considers his finest work. “No, I don’t,” the iconic actor started. “Two classic Westerns were better—Stagecoach and Red River— and a third, The Searchers, which I thought deserved more praise than it got.”
The Best John Wayne Movies, According to The Duke
- Stagecoach (John Ford, 1939)
- Red River (Howard Hawks, 1948)
- The Searchers (John Ford, 1956)
- The Quiet Man (John Ford, 1952)
- The Long Voyage Home (John Ford, 1940)
Duke’s Breakout Role in ‘Stagecoach’
Stagecoach represents director John Ford’s 1939 western starring Claire Trevor alongside Wayne. It is an adaptation of a 1937 Ernest Haycox short story The Stage to Lordsburg. Stagecoach focuses on a group of strangers traveling on a stagecoach through treacherous Apache territory. Consider this Wayne’s breakout role in the movies.
Wayne also worked with director Howard Hawks in the 1948 film Red River. Duke worked with Montgomery Clift in a fictional account of the first-ever cattle drive through the Chisholm Trail from Texas to Kansas.
We get back to Ford for this Western epic that is my personal favorite, too. It’s the 1956 Technicolor VistaVision western epic The Searchers, which is based on Alan Le May’s 1954 novel. Wayne plays Ethan, a middle-aged Civil War veteran who sets out to find his abducted niece in the company of his adopted nephew.
Wayne was well known for his collaboration with the iconic director, so it’s no surprise to see that he considers several of the movies they made together as some of his favorites. “And The Quiet Man was certainly one of the best,” Wayne continued, stating his top choices from his personal filmography. “Also, the one that all the college cinematography students run all the time—The Long Voyage Home.”
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