My dad has always been a big fan of Westerns, so I saw a lot of them growing up. And even now, I’m more than happy to sit down and watch a couple episodes of Wanted Dead or Alive or Have Gun, Will Travel. But, when it comes to these timeless adventure stories, my favorites are always something with John Wayne. While I’m still a bit of a greenhorn when it comes to this amazing actor’s films, I’ve yet to see a film featuring him that I did not like. So, today, I thought I’d share some of my favorite John Wayne films with all of you.

Can you get more iconic than True Grit? Practical Mattie Ross is on a quest for revenge, to find Tom Chaney, the outlaw who repaid her father’s kindness with cold-blooded murder. The only problem is that Mattie is just a teenager and her mother has no idea what she’s planning on doing. When the sheriff tells her that he has no authority in the Indian Territories, Mattie asks who does, and is directed to Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn, a grizzled, burned-out, one-eyed alcoholic marshal who wants nothing to do with her. But, Mattie is nothing if not persistent, and soon the two form an alliance to track down Chaney. Along the way, they are joined by La Boeuf, a Texas ranger eager to get his hands on the bounty money. But, the Indian Territories are dangerous–especially for a one-eyed old man and a young lady. With only revenge driving her, will Mattie see justice done for her father?

If you liked True Grit, I would love to suggest my all-time favorite John Wayne film: Rooster Cogburn and the Lady, which just so happens to be the sequel. I absolutely love this film! Rooster Cogburn is called back into action when a band of drunken thugs show up and terrorize a small village in the Indian Nations. Minister Goodnight, who runs the village, tries to interfere and is killed. His daughter, Eula and her young friend, Wolf ask Cogburn to avenge the murder. And to his surprise and disapproval, they try to come with him. Repeated attempts to coerce the sharp-tongued Eula Goodnight to stay behind fall on deaf ears, and Cogburn reluctantly agrees to take them with him. This movie is hilarious, sweet, and full of heart. And the chemistry between John Wayne and Katharine Hepburn, who plays Miss Goodnight, is unmistakable. I recommend watching the films in order, but you technically don’t have to. And while there’s no denying that True Grit is an excellent film, this is the one I come back to again and again.

JB Books was once one of the greatest gunmen in the West. But, now, he’s a tired old man. The Shootist is one of the most poignant films I’ve seen in a long time. Books arrives in a small town to get a second opinion from a doctor who told him he has a terminal form of cancer. When the second doctor confirms what he already knew, he looks for a place to lay low and die. But, when news spreads that Books has only months left to live, every gun-fighting scoundrel in the West seems to want to have a piece of him. Realizing she has a dangerous customer on her hands, his landlady, Bond Rogers tries to turn him out of her boarding house. But, through the struggles to maintain a little quiet and a place to die with dignity, a tenderness begins to blossom between two lonely people. This film is especially powerful as it was Wayne’s last. The actor was actually suffering from cancer as well, and he knew it, adding an extra layer of depth to his performance in a way that no one else could. The Shootist is a cinematic masterpiece and a real tear-jerker. In short, it’s a really beautiful film and one of Wayne’s best.

Sean Thornton was a boxer in America who retires to his hometown in Ireland where he buys a piece of property and resolves to live a quiet life. But, in purchasing the property, he incites the ire of his neighbor “Red” Will Danaher, who had his eyes on that land as well. Meanwhile, Sean falls in love with Danaher’s fiery sister, Mary Kate. However, it looks like the love might be over before it started, as Sean needs Danaher’s permission in order to court his sister. A culture clash between Sean’s modern sensibilities and Mary Kate’s traditional ones, plus a secret from Sean’s past coming to light, also threaten the budding romance. But, the people of the rural village have come to love Sean and will do whatever they have to do in order to help him win the girl. The Quiet Man is a little different from the usual John Wayne fare as its not a Western or a war film, but it’s a wonderful romance with lots of heart and humor and set in beautiful Ireland. What more could you ask for?

Last, but not least, we have McLintock!. Cattle rancher GW McLintock is one of the richest men in the territories. He’s highly respected by everyone, from the farmers who live on his land to the Native Americans under threat of relocation by the United States government. While awaiting his daughter’s return from college, McLintock is surprised by an unexpected visitor: his estranged wife, Katherine, who left him two years ago with no explanation. Katherine is now seeking a divorce, one which McLintock refuses to grant unless she explains herself first. And then, daughter Becky returns, bringing with her a good-natured buffoon of a boyfriend who wants to marry her. Katherine wholeheartedly supports the union, but McLintock is convinced there has to be someone better for Becky than this banjo-playing dandy. Will he be able to fix Becky up with a more suitable husband, such as his dependable (and handsome) ranch-hand, Dev? And will he ever figure out why Katherine left him two years ago? McLintock! is a great film, surprisingly funny, and full of heart. As with all the other titles on this list, it comes highly recommended!


I'm the Reader's Advisory Librarian at WPPL. My interests include old horror films, classic novels, manga and anime, paper-crafting, and plants. If you like my suggestions, you can request personalized recommendations from me on My Librarian page.