Special Report

This Is the Best John Wayne Movie That Isn't a Western

John Wayne, whose original name was Marion Robert Morrison, was known as The Duke — a tip of the hat to his place among Hollywood’s royalty. He appeared in nearly 180 movie and television productions, many of them Westerns. But the best movie Wayne starred in that’s not a Western is “The Quiet Man.”

Wayne was among the top 10 box office draws as an actor from 1949 until 1970, topping the list several times. He made some of the first iconic movie Westerns such as “Stagecoach” (1939) as well as the film critics believe may be the best Western, “The Searchers” (1956). “The Searchers” is on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 best movies of all time. (Here are the best classic westerns available to stream from home.)

Despite his fame, he only won one Oscar as an actor, the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role as Rooster Cogburn in “True Grit” (1969).

Although Wayne is known almost exclusively for his work in Westerns, he made a number of films, some of which are classics, in roles outside the genre.

To identify the best movie Wayne has ever starred in that is not a Western, 24/7 Tempo reviewed his acting roles in movies listed on his Internet Movie Database actor filmography page and selected the ones that are not Westerns. The movies are ranked by their combined score — the movie’s IMDb rating, Rotten Tomatoes audience score and Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score. Movie scores were also compared to the scores of over 17,000 movies. Genre and casting information come from IMDb.

Of all the movies Wayne made that are not Westerns, many are war movies. The same qualities that made him an ideal gunslinger, cowboy, or sheriff in the Old West (toughness, leadership and a willingness to sacrifice) also made Wayne a believable soldier, captain, or general. Also like many of his Westerns, a number of Wayne’s war films were critical and commercial smash hits and are hailed as classics today. (This is the best war movie of all time.)

The best movie Wayne starred in that’s not a Western is “The Quiet Man,” released in 1952. Here are some details:

— Combined score: 2.63 — #593 highest out of 17,179 movies in all genres
— Genres: Comedy, drama, romance
— Also starring: Maureen O’Hara, Barry Fitzgerald, Ward Bond

In “The Quiet Man,” Wayne plays retired American boxer Sean Thornton. Hoping to buy his father’s land, Thornton moves back to the Irish village where he was born. There, he falls in love with a fiery woman whose brother is against the union between her and Thornton.

Click here to see the best and worst John Wayne movies that aren’t Westerns 

1. The Quiet Man (1952)
> Combined score: 2.63 — #593 highest out of 17,179 movies in all genres
> Genres: Comedy, Drama, Romance
> Starring: John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara, Barry Fitzgerald, Ward Bond

“The Quiet Man” is a comedy in which Wayne plays retired American boxer Sean Thornton. Hoping to buy his father’s land, Thornton moves back to the Irish village where he was born. There, he falls in love with a fiery woman whose brother is against the union between her and Thornton.

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2. The Longest Day (1962)
> Combined score: 2.59 — #821 highest out of 17,179 movies in all genres
> Genres: Action, Drama, History
> Starring: John Wayne, Robert Ryan, Richard Burton, Henry Fonda

In this movie, Wayne plays Lt. Col. Benjamin Vandervoort, who fought in World War II in real life and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross twice and numerous other honors. The film tells the story of D-Day from the perspective of Americans like Vandervoort as well as Nazis.

3. Sands of Iwo Jima (1949)
> Combined score: 2.53 — #1,185 highest out of 17,179 movies in all genres
> Genres: Action, Drama, Romance
> Starring: John Wayne, John Agar, Adele Mara, Forrest Tucker

Wayne plays John Stryker, a very strict and very mean marine sergeant who is hated by his men. But they begin to understand his methods and learn to respect him during the Battle of Iwo Jima. The war movie has a perfect score from critics on Rotten Tomatoes.

4. The Fighting Seabees (1944)
> Combined score: 2.39 — #2,097 highest out of 17,179 movies in all genres
> Genres: Drama, Romance, War
> Starring: John Wayne, Susan Hayward, Dennis O’Keefe, William Frawley

Another Wayne movie with a perfect Tomatometer score on Rotten Tomatoes is “The Fighting Seabees,” a tribute to the Navy’s Construction Battalions during World War II. Wayne plays the boss of a construction company hired by the Navy to train the troops as specialists in using heavy machinery.

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5. They Were Expendable (1945)
> Combined score: 2.38 — #2,132 highest out of 17,179 movies in all genres
> Genres: Drama, War
> Starring: Robert Montgomery, John Wayne, Donna Reed, Jack Holt

Along with Westerns, Wayne often starred in war movies. The plot of “They Were Expendable” centers on two Navy commanders who prove that a new PT (patrol, torpedo) boat can be useful in fighting the Japanese during World War II. Critics on Rotten Tomatoes describe the movie as surprisingly rich and praise the cinematography.

6. Hatari! (1962)
> Combined score: 2.14 — #3,856 highest out of 17,179 movies in all genres
> Genres: Action, Adventure, Comedy
> Starring: John Wayne, Elsa Martinelli, Hardy Krüger, Red Buttons

A group of men work as hunters by trapping wild animals in Africa for zoos. A female photographer shows up and eventually earns the respect of the rough and tumble crew. About 62% of critics on Rotten Tomatoes like the adventure movie, compared to 76% of audiences.

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7. Island in the Sky (1953)
> Combined score: 2.13 — #3,919 highest out of 17,179 movies in all genres
> Genres: Adventure, Drama
> Starring: John Wayne, Lloyd Nolan, Walter Abel, James Arness

When Wayne was not appearing in a Western, there was a good chance he was portraying a military man. In 1953’s “Island in the Sky,” Wayne played Captain Dooley, who crashes his plane in a remote part of Canada while delivering supplies to England during World War II. There, Dooley must keep his wits and help his crew survive frigid temperatures in uncharted territory as they await rescue.

8. Back to Bataan (1945)
> Combined score: 2.11 — #4,031 highest out of 17,179 movies in all genres
> Genres: Drama, War
> Starring: John Wayne, Anthony Quinn, Beulah Bondi, Fely Franquelli

In “Back to Bataan,” Wayne plays an army colonel, who organizes guerilla fighters against Japanese in the Philippines during World War II. About 80% of critics on Rotten Tomatoes have given the Wayne war movie a positive review, compared to 63% of audiences.

9. Flying Tigers (1942)
> Combined score: 2.05 — #4,392 highest out of 17,179 movies in all genres
> Genres: Action, Drama, Romance
> Starring: John Wayne, John Carroll, Anna Lee, Paul Kelly

“Flying Tigers” tells the story of American mercenary fighter pilots who work on behalf of the Chinese government, flying missions against the encroaching Japanese military just ahead of the attacks on Pearl Harbor. Wayne plays Captain Jim Gordon, who commands the Flying Tiger unit. He must keep the unit together, even when a reckless pilot threatens to tear the Tigers apart. The film was generally well reviewed and received three Academy Award nominations.

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10. Flying Leathernecks (1951)
> Combined score: 2.05 — #4,434 highest out of 17,179 movies in all genres
> Genres: Action, Drama, War
> Starring: John Wayne, Robert Ryan, Don Taylor, Janis Carter

Wayne portrays yet another World War II pilot in “Flying Leathernecks.” In it, Wayne plays the stern Maj. Daniel Kirby, who must instill discipline into the squadron he commands ahead of the Battle of Guadalcanal.

11. Reap the Wild Wind (1942)
> Combined score: 2.04 — #4,476 highest out of 17,179 movies in all genres
> Genres: Action, Adventure, Drama
> Starring: Ray Milland, John Wayne, Paulette Goddard, Raymond Massey

In “Reap the Wild Wind,” Wayne portrays a 19th century ship captain who falls in love with salvager Loxi Claiborne after a shipwreck. With another suitor in the mix, he must try to win Claiborne’s heart while fending off other villainous salvagers. Directed by Hollywood legend Cecil B. DeMilee, “Reap the Wild Win” was nominated for three Academy Awards, winning for best special effects.

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12. Donovan’s Reef (1963)
> Combined score: 2.03 — #4,557 highest out of 17,179 movies in all genres
> Genres: Adventure, Comedy, Romance
> Starring: John Wayne, Lee Marvin, Elizabeth Allen, Jack Warden

One of several Wayne attempts at comedy, “Donovan’s Reef” is the last collaboration between Wayne and director John Ford. The film follows three veterans on an island in French Polynesia who try to claim a fortune one of them has inherited. Though critics were not impressed, with just 50% giving the comedy a positive review, 77% of fans liked the movie.

13. In Harm’s Way (1965)
> Combined score: 1.95 — #5,007 highest out of 17,179 movies in all genres
> Genres: Drama, War
> Starring: John Wayne, Kirk Douglas, Patricia Neal, Tom Tryon

In another one of his military roles, Wayne stars in 1965’s “In Harm’s Way” as Naval officer Capt. Rockwell Torrey. Torrey gets his ship through Pearl Harbor unscathed, but is demoted after his negligence in a subsequent battle causes that same ship to be damaged. Afterwards, Torrey works to get his personal life back on track, before duty calls again, giving him a chance to earn redemption. In addition to Wayne, the film had a star-studded cast, which included Patricia Neal, Kirk Douglas, and Henry Fonda.

14. The Wings of Eagles (1957)
> Combined score: 1.65 — #6,814 highest out of 17,179 movies in all genres
> Genres: Biography, Drama, War
> Starring: John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara, Dan Dailey, Ward Bond

In “The Wings of Eagles” Wayne yet again steps into the role of a military fighter pilot. This time, Wayne plays the real-life Frank “Spig” Wead — a dedicated Navy pilot who puts his family on the backburner to further his career. When Wead is paralyzed in an accident, he spurns his family and becomes a Hollywood screenwriter, turning his war stories into movie scripts. After becoming wealthy, Wead remains split between his patriotism and his desire to reconnect with his family.

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15. McQ (1974)
> Combined score: 1.64 — #6,884 highest out of 17,179 movies in all genres
> Genres: Action, Crime, Drama
> Starring: John Wayne, Eddie Albert, Diana Muldaur, Colleen Dewhurst

The 1974 police drama “McQ” was one of Wayne’s final movies before his death in 1979. Wayne plays the titular McQ, a Seattle police lieutenant who uncovers rampant corruption within his own department when he learns that his murdered partner was involved in an underground narcotics operation.

16. Hellfighters (1968)
> Combined score: 1.55 — #7,476 highest out of 17,179 movies in all genres
> Genres: Action, Adventure, Drama
> Starring: John Wayne, Katharine Ross, Jim Hutton, Vera Miles

In “Hellfighters” Wayne plays a firefighter who, along with his crew, fights oil rig fires all over the world. His marriage is falling apart and he is falling in love with a colleague’s daughter. The drama movie is among the worst of all Wayne movies, according to critics on Rotten Tomatoes. Only 13% gave the film a positive review, though 74% of audience reviewers liked the film.

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17. Jet Pilot (1957)
> Combined score: 1.54 — #7,513 highest out of 17,179 movies in all genres
> Genres: Action, Drama, Romance
> Starring: John Wayne, Janet Leigh, Jay C. Flippen, Paul Fix

In “Jet Pilot,” John Wayne plays another military pilot, portraying Air Force Col. Jim Shannon. But this is less of a war movie and more of an espionage drama. In the film, Shannon escorts a Soviet jet in American airspace to an air base. He is ordered to befriend its pilot, Anna Marladovna (Janet Leigh), and the two fall in love — but Shannon is concerned he may have been taken advantage of by a Soviet spy.

18. The Green Berets (1968)
> Combined score: 1.41 — #8,345 highest out of 17,179 movies in all genres
> Genres: Drama, War
> Starring: John Wayne, David Janssen, Jim Hutton, Aldo Ray

Wayne often played tough characters in war movies, and “The Green Berets” is no exception. In the film, he portrays the leader of a top secret mission that involves kidnapping a Viet Cong commander. The movie is a positive take on the Vietnam War (which Wayne was famously in support of). Only 23% of movie critics liked “The Green Berets.”

19. Brannigan (1975)
> Combined score: 1.22 — #9,573 highest out of 17,179 movies in all genres
> Genres: Action, Comedy, Crime
> Starring: John Wayne, Richard Attenborough, Judy Geeson, Mel Ferrer

In one of his final roles, Wayne plays the titular Lt. Brannigan — a tough Chicago Police lieutenant tasked with extraditing a mob boss from the U.K. back to America. Before he can execute his mission, the mob boss is kidnapped, sparking a manhunt throughout London.

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20. Operation Pacific (1951)
> Combined score: 1.20 — #9,674 highest out of 17,179 movies in all genres
> Genres: Drama, Romance, War
> Starring: John Wayne, Patricia Neal, Ward Bond, Scott Forbes

In another one of his long string of military roles, John Wayne returns to the Navy for 1951’s “Operation Pacific.” In the film, he plays Lt Cmdr. Duke E. Gifford, who commands a submarine called the Thunderfish. After completing a rescue mission in the Pacific — despite faulty torpedoes — Gifford tries to reunite with his ex-wife but is soon called away on another mission.

21. Without Reservations (1946)
> Combined score: 1.20 — #9,691 highest out of 17,179 movies in all genres
> Genres: Comedy, Romance
> Starring: Claudette Colbert, John Wayne, Don DeFore, Anne Triola

“Without Reservation” marks a significant departure for John Wayne — even though he is again playing an enlisted man — as the film is a romantic comedy. This time, Wayne portrays Captain ‘Rusty’ Thomas, who meets famous author Kit Masterson (Claudette Colbert). Masterson is smitten with Thomas and thinks he could be a suitable star for the film version of her latest novel. The only problem is that Thomas detests the book, but does not recognize its author. Masterson tries to conceal her identity while staying close to Thomas.

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22. The Sea Chase (1955)
> Combined score: 1.19 — #9,759 highest out of 17,179 movies in all genres
> Genres: Action, Drama, War
> Starring: John Wayne, Lana Turner, David Farrar, Lyle Bettger

“The Sea Chase” follows a German captain of a freighter, who is an opponent of Nazi ideology at the beginning of Worl War II. He must return from Australia to Germany and help a German spy in the process while evading Allied warships. Only 53% of audiences liked the war movie. Some critics were confused why Wayne was cast to play a German sea captain.

23. Wake of the Red Witch (1948)
> Combined score: 1.16 — #9,925 highest out of 17,179 movies in all genres
> Genres: Action, Adventure, Romance
> Starring: John Wayne, Gail Russell, Gig Young, Adele Mara

“Wake of the Red Witch” is a classic seafaring tale. Wayne plays 1860s ship captain Ralls, who goes on adventures in search of sunken treasure, avoiding hostile natives and gigantic sea beasts. While working on behalf of a Dutch shipping baron, Ralls sabotages another captain who years ago took the woman he loved. All parties eventually wind up shipwrecked on the same island, leading to a complicated situation.

24. Cast a Giant Shadow (1966)
> Combined score: 1.13 — #10,051 highest out of 17,179 movies in all genres
> Genres: Adventure, Drama, History
> Starring: Kirk Douglas, John Wayne, Frank Sinatra, Senta Berger

“Cast a Giant Shadow” features a legendary cast beyond just Wayne — Angie Dickinson, Frank Sinatra, Yul Brynner, and Kirk Douglas. Wayne plays a relatively small role as Gen. Mike Randolph. The war movie centers on David Marcus (Douglas), who is tasked with preparing the fledgling Israeli army for battle.

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25. The Barbarian and the Geisha (1958)
> Combined score: 0.97 — #10,858 highest out of 17,179 movies in all genres
> Genres: Adventure, Drama, History
> Starring: John Wayne, Eiko Ando, Sam Jaffe, Sô Yamamura

In “The Barbarian and the Geisha,” Wayne sheds his trademark macho exterior. In this film, he plays Townsend Harris, a recently-appointed U.S. Consul General to Japan in the mid-19th century. The Japanese government and citizens are initially wary of Western influence, but with the help of a local Geisha (Eiko Ando), Harris begins to overcome the cultural differences.

26. Tycoon (1947)
> Combined score: 0.97 — #10,895 highest out of 17,179 movies in all genres
> Genres: Adventure, Drama, Romance
> Starring: John Wayne, Laraine Day, Cedric Hardwicke, Judith Anderson

In “Tycoon,” Wayne plays an American engineer who is hired by a South American tycoon to build a dangerous tunnel through the Andes Mountains. Falling in love with the boss’s daughter makes his job even more dangerous.

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27. Legend of the Lost (1957)
> Combined score: 0.93 — #11,046 highest out of 17,179 movies in all genres
> Genres: Adventure, Drama
> Starring: John Wayne, Sophia Loren, Rossano Brazzi, Kurt Kasznar

In “Legend of the Lost” Wayne plays gruff American Joe January who is hired as a guide by an optimistic British treasure hunter (Rossano Brazzi) in search of riches in the Sahara Desert. They are joined by kindhearted prostitute Dita (Sophia Loren) and search for an ancient lost city.

28. The Long Voyage Home (1940)
> Combined score: 0.71 — #12,482 highest out of 17,179 movies in all genres
> Genres: Drama, War
> Starring: John Wayne, Thomas Mitchell, Ian Hunter, Ward Bond

“The Long Voyage Home” follows the crew of a merchant’s ship who are sailing from the West Indies to Baltimore, carrying dynamite on board and suspecting one of them is a Nazi spy. The movie has a perfect score on Rotten Tomatoes from critics. What critics most admire about the war film, which was nominated for six Oscars, is the cinematography.

29. The High and the Mighty (1954)
> Combined score: 0.69 — #12,830 highest out of 17,179 movies in all genres
> Genres: Action, Adventure, Drama
> Starring: John Wayne, Claire Trevor, Laraine Day, Robert Stack

In “The High and Mighty,” John Wayne plays commercial airline co-pilot Dan Roman. In the film, Roman must step up when his plane’s engines fail over the ocean and his fellow pilot loses his nerve in the face of disaster. The film was nominated for six Academy Awards, winning one, for best scoring of a dramatic or comedy picture.

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30. Trouble Along the Way (1953)
> Combined score: 0.69 — #12,830 highest out of 17,179 movies in all genres
> Genres: Comedy, Drama, Romance
> Starring: John Wayne, Donna Reed, Charles Coburn, Tom Tully

In “Trouble Along the Way” Wayne plays a former football coach who is hired by a Catholic college on the verge of bankruptcy to train its football team. Trouble comes when an investigation is launched into the coach’s recruiting strategy.

31. Seven Sinners (1940)
> Combined score: 0.68 — #13,020 highest out of 17,179 movies in all genres
> Genres: Comedy, Drama, Romance
> Starring: Marlene Dietrich, John Wayne, Albert Dekker, Broderick Crawford

“Seven Sinners” centers on sultry saloon singer Bijou (Marlene Dietrich), who bounces around various U.S. protectorates in the Pacific because of her penchant for stirring up trouble among patrons. In the film, John Wayne plays Lt. Dan Brent, a member of the Navy and one of Bijou’s several suitors.

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32. Allegheny Uprising (1939)
> Combined score: 0.63 — #13,762 highest out of 17,179 movies in all genres
> Genres: Adventure, History, War
> Starring: Claire Trevor, John Wayne, George Sanders, Brian Donlevy

“Allegheny Uprising” is set in Colonial America. Wayne plays a local settler who is framed for murder after he suspects a corrput trader of supplying Native Americans with weapons. The movie is the second film released in 1939 in which Wayne starred alongside Claire Trevor. The other movie is the much more popular “Stagecoach.”

33. Reunion in France (1942)
> Combined score: 0.63 — #13,762 highest out of 17,179 movies in all genres
> Genres: Drama, Romance, War
> Starring: Joan Crawford, John Wayne, Philip Dorn, Reginald Owen

“Reunion in France” is one of an astonishing seven films starring Wayne released in 1942. In the film, Wayne plays an American pilot who was shot down near German-occupied Paris. He enlists the help of the wealthy Michele de la Becque (Joan Crawford) to hide him from the Nazis and her Nazi-sympathizing fiancé.

34. Blood Alley (1955)
> Combined score: 0.63 — #13,762 highest out of 17,179 movies in all genres
> Genres: Action, Adventure
> Starring: John Wayne, Lauren Bacall, Paul Fix, Joy Kim

“Blood Alley” is another one of John Wayne’s overseas adventures. In the 1955 film, he plays Capt. Tom Wilder, a merchant working in China. Wilder’s ship is seized by Chinese communists and he is thrown in prison. Later, nearby villagers help break him out so he can sail them all to Hong Kong.

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35. Big Jim McLain (1952)
> Combined score: 0.51 — #15,300 highest out of 17,179 movies in all genres
> Genres: Crime, Drama, History
> Starring: John Wayne, Nancy Olson, James Arness, Alan Napier

Wayne’s 1952 film “Big Jim McLain” is a relic of the Cold War. In it, Wayne plays the titular McLain, an investigator for the House Un-American Activities Committee sent to Hawaii to root out communists. There, McLain and his partner are targeted by a nefarious communist party boss.

36. The Conqueror (1956)
> Combined score: 0.40 — #16,365 highest out of 17,179 movies in all genres
> Genres: Adventure, Biography, History
> Starring: John Wayne, Susan Hayward, Pedro Armendáriz, Agnes Moorehead

“The Conqueror” is one of Wayne’s least well-reviewed films. In it, he plays Mongolian leader Genghis Khan, who falls in love with the daughter of a conquered enemy. Wayne’s dark makeup and American accent are now remembered as missteps in an otherwise spectacular career.

“The Conqueror” also lives in infamy because it was filmed in the Utah desert, close to nuclear bomb test sites, unbeknownst to filmmakers. Though it is impossible to say if the irradiated shooting location was to blame, nearly half of the 220-person cast and crew developed cancer, with dozens of cases proving fatal. Wayne himself died of stomach cancer in 1979.

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