John Wayne's five greatest film performances

From 'Sands of Iwo Jima' to 'True Grit', we take a look back at the actor's greatest on-screen acting performances

6th July 1974:  John Wayne (1907 - 1979) filming 'Brannigan' in London's Piccadilly.  (Photo by McCarthy/Express/Getty Images)
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It’s been 40 years since John Wayne passed away in 1979. His performances in 83 westerns between the 1930s up until his death solidified his role as one of Hollywood’s leading men. Here are five of his most acclaimed roles.

True Grit (1969)

In this adaptation of Charles Portis's eponymous novel, John Wayne as US Marshal Rooster Cogburn is hired by a young girl to apprehend her father's murderer. Throughout his storied career, this is the movie that earned Wayne his only Oscar for Best Actor. The film critic Roger Ebert said that True Grit "recognises Wayne's special presence," calling it the culmination of a 40-year career solidified by many, many Westerns. The film was later remade in 2010 with Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and Hailee Steinfeld.

Stagecoach (1939)

This 1939 film by director John Ford was Wayne's breakthrough role. The short story adaptation follows the passengers of a stagecoach who come across Wayne as the prison escapee Ringo Kid. Stagecoach plots both a revenge and redemptive arc for Kid, a stoic and burdened character whom Ford saw as the archetypal everyman. This initial partnership between Ford and Wayne helped relieve him of his B-lister status and elevated the whole Western genre in the process. The film was a huge critical and financial success.

Rio Bravo (1959)

The Western film stars Wayne alongside Dean Martin and Angie Dickinson and is regarded as one of his finest acting performances. In it, Wayne plays a small-town sheriff who enlists the help of the town drunk, a cripple and a young cowboy to help guard the jail in which the local bad guy’s brother is housed. In 2014, the film was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry after it was deemed “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress.

Sands of Iwo Jima (1949)

The war film stars Wayne and follows a group of US Marine from training to the Battle of Iwo Jima during the second World War. He’s greatly disliked by his men for the rigorous training he puts them through, but eventually they come to appreciate his tough methods. The film earned Wayne his first Best Actor Oscar nomination.

The Searchers (1956)

Another Western, The Searches is a film based on a novel by Alan Le May and set during the Texas-Indian wars. It stars Wayne as a middle-aged Civil War veteran who spends years looking for his abducted niece, accompanied by his adopted nephew. The movie is often regarded as one of the greatest because of how it touches upon themes of racism that even more than 60 years later, are still hotly debated.