My Top 15 Favorite John Wayne Movies

In today’s world the western is pretty much dead, the war movie has become boring, and leading men don’t come around like they used to. Movies to lift people’s spirits have always been a go-to, and John Wayne now more than ever needs a refreshing in people’s minds. So without further ado, I present to you 15 of my favorite John Wayne movies! (Note: I still feel I am missing some of the greats! But I wanted to keep this relatively short and sweet!!)

15 The Green Berets (1968)- This one makes my list because John Wayne wasn’t afraid to stand up for what he believes in. He supported the troops no matter what and this film is proof of it. Aside from that, this is the granddaddy of all Vietnam war movies.  And Uncle Allen- The helicopter sequence really isn’t that bad! It’s pretty well shot for 1968!!

14 Sands of Iwo Jima (1949) Uncle Allen once said to me, “You’re  my niece so you have to see [this one].” With that I knew I had to watch, and ordered it the next day after seeing him. When I finally did watch it- Uncle Allen was right, this is one of John Wayne’s essential roles. A must see world war II movie.

13 Island in the Sky (1953)- This one I know was one of my Grandfather’s favorite John Wayne movies. Maybe because in it, John Wayne flies a small plane and is a civilian pilot (something which my Grandfather once did!). This is a different kind of film John Wayne did, but it fits his style of storytelling all at the same time.

12 The Sons of Katie Elder (1965)- I know this one has its criticisms, but I truly enjoy the picture. No one should really care if the ages of the 4 Elder boys don’t mathematically make sense. Isn’t it cool that in an alternate world John Wayne and Dean Martian are brothers?

11 Hondo (1953)- Another one of my Grandfather’s favorites, this movie is such a well told story. When I was little I saw a collie dog on the DVD cover and decided it had to be good movie because A- Bop-Bee (the name I called my Grandfather)  liked it and B- There was a dog involved! Years later I watched this fully through and said to myself- I knew as a kid I had a good eye for a good movie!

10 True Grit (1969) Duke won his Oscar- but that’s not the only reason to love this movie. This movie has the best characters who bring out the most in a simple plot. Plus, I believe Duke really got to have fun with this character- being brass and unpolished, yet still being heroic and cool! I saw this on the big screen in May 2019.

9 The Cowboys (1972) I honestly don’t understand some of the negative comments surrounding this movie. This one is one of the most essential John Wayne flicks. The whole point of the film is the teachings of young boys becoming men and who better to do that than John Wayne himself? Personally, I see striking parallels to Red River present in this movie!

8 She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949)- This movie has to contain some of the best use of technicolor on film. It’s the first time ever audiences are Monument Valley in color and what a breathtaking sight it is. John Wayne really proves he is an actor here as he plays a role of a much older person than he actually was.

7 Big Jake (1971)- This movie is close to the hearts of both Patrick and Ethan Wayne- and that’s more than enough for me. Anytime Duke used his family on screen- it’s just really fun. How could you not enjoy the interaction of Patrick and Duke’s characters!!! And it’s awesome to see little Ethan Wayne get some action in the final shootout.

6 Rio Grande (1950)- Its hard to believe John Ford didn’t care about making this movie due to the fact this was essentially an insurance policy for the anticipated fail of The Quiet Man. Yet it’s still such a fine film. Honestly, I love the addition of the “Regimental Singers” (the Sons of Pioneers in real life), and get their songs stuck in my head all the time!

5 The Horse Soldiers (1959)- This is probably the curve ball in my list. Its B grade John Ford- but still a solid Ford. It’s a well made movie considering Ford lost 2 of his stuntmen in a river crossing scene (which affected him deeply, causing him to not care about making the movie) Plus, I love Bill Holden, and for me to see two of my favorite actors ever appear side by side on screen is really awesome!

4 The Shootist (1976)- I hope I’m understood when I say I have to prepare myself before I sit down to watch this movie. It’s such a perfect send off to the Duke’s legacy on screen, making it so emotional. I told my Mom the next time it’s on the big screen, we are going to see it. She then said, “Yes we will, but I’m telling you now, I’m gonna cry.”

3 McLintock! (1963)- it has been said this movie showcases John Wayne’s sense of humor. In addition, it’s basically a Wayne family affair- With Patrick co starring, Micheal producing, and Aissa with a bit part. Add Maureen O’Hara and its perfection. The stairs scene gets me every time!!!!!

2 The Searchers (1956)- I feel like I’m cheating by putting this one down, as it may be too easy. In fact I can’t even call this a number 2 when it’s my favorite John Wayne WESTERN, therefore it is number 1. It is my great hope this movie will still be considered timeless as the world moves into the future. I consider myself forever lucky to have watched this film on the big screen, and in the presence of Lana Wood (young Debbie in the film and Natalie’s sister) in September 2016.

1 The Quiet Man (1952)- This would be my favorite non-western John Wayne did. Again it may be too easy. Call me a hopeless romantic, but I think it’s really sweet to see Duke play a romantic-comedy lead, of course with Maureen O’Hara! I saw it on the big screen in March 2019- and it was just utterly fantastic! And even more romantic on the big screen! 

In my world, John Wayne will always be a hero to admire. He was not a perfect human, but who was? As an immigrant and naturalized citizen of The United States, I truly believe John Wayne is an American Icon; one whose image will last forever.

The Searchers: Meeting Lana Wood

Hello readers! This is a very special post as on September 15 2016 at the Pickwick Theater in Park Ridge IL. I met Lana Wood at a 60th anniversary screening of The Searchers. My lovely Father escorted me for the night- as he was so generous to take a day off work so I could go! Thanks again, Daddy! (also thanks for the pictures!)

It was surely a night to remember, and I’m so glad to share my experience with all of you!

But before I go any further, I’d like to dedicate this post to the man who introduced me to John Wayne and his movies when I was 9, my late grandfather, Mr. Joseph Kasper. Although he couldn’t accompany me to the screening last night, I just know how thrilled he would have been for me and how excited he would have been to see John Wayne on the big screen. The Duke was my Grandfather’s favorite movie star and he always used to say, “I like John Wayne because he reminds me of me”. I know my Grandfather was with me in spirit last night, and for that I couldn’t be happier.

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Photo by Emily Graziano

The screening of The Searchers took place at the glorious art deco Pickwick Theater in Park Ridge IL. It was built in 1928 and in 1975 was officially declared a historic building. Its name “Pickwick” was chosen by the then Park Ridge Mayor, William Malone, for the character of Samuel Pickwick from Charles Dickens’ novel The Pickwick Papers.

The night kicked of with pre- show at 6:30 with music by Jay Warren. Ms. Lana Wood arrived shortly after signing autographs before and after the screening.

Autographs were $20, however all proceeds were to help homeless dogs and cats at no kill shelters! A generous donation on Ms. Wood’s behalf.

I was lucky enough to get Lana’s autograph before the screening and get a picture with her as well!

When I got to the front there were about ten pictures to choose from (ranging from Searchers stills to Diamonds are Forever Plenty O’Toole candids). I asked the man sitting next to Lana which one would be best and he suggested the picture of Lana and Natalie together, as it was a studio picture taken to promote the movie. Ms. Wood then chimed in exclaiming, “Oh yes this one! Its the two Debbies together!”. With that, I took their advice.

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Photo By Emily Graziano

Lana also graciously signed the inside of my Searchers’ blu-ray sleeve, to which the man beside her said was a “good idea” that I brought it.

I also had the pleasure to tell Lana how wonderful it was for me to meet her and that this was my first time viewing The Searchers. I explained I never had met a celebrity before and I told her how honored I was to meet a real movie star. Ms. Wood was ever so generous saying she was “glad” I came out. I also asked her of how she liked Chicago, with her response being “Oh, I love it!”

But the coolest part was when we took this picture together (which my Dad took for me!) I stood next her her and she exclaimed “Finally! someone I’m taller than!” It felt so surreal- but it was so amazing- I felt like I was dreaming!

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At seven o’clock she began her Q and A session. She talked of her memories of Sean Connery and being the bond girl, John Wayne, her sister Natalie, and of course her recollection of making The Searchers.

She recalled the dust storms and how, when she would take a bath the storms made the water come out orange at first. She talked about Patrick Wayne and how both she and Natalie just “adored” him. Ms Wood furthermore revealed her favorite film of Natalie’s: Splendor in the Grass because Natalie was brave enough to take off her cuff that hid her protruding wrist bone. Lana explained Natalie wanted to “bare it all” for this film.

I myself got to ask Lana a question which was “What was your favorite role of your career?” She happily remarked it was a “lesser known mini series {QB VII} with Anthony Hopkins“. She even “parted ways” with her agent as they believed she was too good for the small role and if she took the role, they didn’t want to represent her. But she said the most important part was the character and in the end she was even nominated for an Emmy.

Lana talked for about 40-ish minutes before the film played, with it starting at about 7:40.

I was just in awe of the movie, especially on the big screen- seeing John Wayne in his signature role in a cinema setting was just too cool. It was certainly something I’ll never forget and all other viewings of The Searchers from here on out will never amount to the glory it was last night.

I hope in the future I will be able to go to more events such as this! It was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I’m just thankful I didn’t pass it up. I’ll always remember the magical evening and I no longer wonder why The Searchers is considered the best, for it 100% is the best of the best.

*All PICTURES EXCEPT OTHERWISE NOTED TAKEN BY TOM GRAZIANO