Red River. Rio Bravo. The Searchers. They’re surefire John Wayne classics. But with a half-century in Hollywood and more than 100 films to his credit, this actor’s legacy includes more than the usual suspects. Time to rectify things with a list of five great Wayne flicks that you probably haven’t seen but should.
1. The Cowboys (1972)
As a hard-driving rancher playing surrogate father to a group of young bucks, Wayne passes the torch of Western tradition. But don’t expect Little House on the Prairie. Things get brutal when Wayne meets an insane Bruce Dern. After a riveting intergenerational fistfight, there’s a plot twist that turns this into one of Wayne’s most disarming movies ever.
2. Big Jake (1971)
In the era of violent Westerns, the Duke takes the reigns from trigger-happy young guns like Clint Eastwood and ups the ante. Wayne may show his age as a pistol-packing granddaddy, but he’s angry about more than just rising Medicare costs: some varmints have kidnapped his grandson. Wayne has never been this bloodthirsty, making this one a must-see.
3. The Comancheros (1961)
Want a good, old-fashioned action-adventure? Here it is. Wayne is at his heroic best as a strong-willed Texas Ranger who forges an unseemly partnership with wily gambler Stuart Whitman in order to nab south-of-the-border gunrunners. The pair’s feisty bromance is the centerpiece of this final film from Casablanca director Michael Curtiz.
4. In Harm’s Way (1965)
The nearly three-hour running time may be why this wartime epic isn’t better known. It’s also less about heroism than military politics. Nevertheless, Wayne gives a complex performance as a bedraggled U.S. Navy captain who’s lost his command and must finagle his way back into the action. Plus Kirk Douglas plays a creepy rapist!
5. Rio Lobo (1963)
Obsessed with Rio Bravo and El Dorado? Complete the trilogy with Rio Lobo, Wayne’s final outing with director Howard Hawks. There are no real surprises here: Wayne’s a principled quick-draw who rounds up a posse to stamp out an evil sheriff’s small-town corruption. Of course, the conflict climaxes in a bullet-strewn standoff. What’s not to love?