John Wayne’s 10 best WWII films, rated by IMDb
Few names are as recognizable as Marion Morrison’s stage name, John Wayne. The mere mention of the name will likely bring you to mind one of two images, either the stoic cowboy or the badass military officer. While best known for playing some of the best western heroes, John Wayne has entertained generations with his portrayal of soldiers, sailors, and pilots in a number of war films, particularly films about World War II.
Although he never went into the military in his life and tried to avoid being drafted into World War II, his talents allowed him to expertly portray the military that he respected.
10 The Sea Hunt (1955) 6.5
German naval captain Karl Ehrlich (John Wayne) is demoted to an old steam freighter when he refuses to support the Nazi regime. The freighter set off from Australia shortly after the invasion of Poland with Elsa Keller, the German fiancée of a British naval officer, as the cargo. Ehrlich quickly learns that Keller is a German spy and that the Australian Navy is on his heels.
A rare case in which Wayne plays a German character even though he doesn’t put an accent, this film entertains with adventure, intrigue and romance on the high seas.
9 The fighting sea bees (1944) 6.6
In the Pacific theater of war, the military struggles to protect the construction workers who make the advance possible. Wedge Donovan, the tough construction boss played by John Wayne, wants to arm his men so they can defend themselves in the event of an enemy attack.
Police agree to turn them into fighting construction battalions (aka CBs), but their lack of military experience could be just as dangerous as the enemy. This is a classic action war movie in every way, it may not be revolutionary but it is well made and entertaining.
8th Operation Pacific (1951) 6.7
The USS Thunderfish, an American submarine, returns from a secret mission to rescue civilians from a remote island when they encounter a Japanese aircraft carrier. Although they had the element of surprise, the attack fails because the torpedoes explode before they reach the target. Now Captain Perry (Ward Bond) and First Officer Duke Gifford (John Wayne) must survive a sea of enemies with faulty torpedoes.
In many ways, this is quite a formulaic war action movie from the golden age, but it is heightened by the cast, the effective tension, and even has a secret.
7th Back to Bataan (1945) 6.7
Colonel Joseph Madden (John Wayne) and other survivors of the Japanese invasion of the Philippines are assigned to organize an armed resistance group. Andres Bonifacio (Anthony Quinn) is key to popular support as his grandfather was a national hero. However, the love of Bonifacio’s life is used to do pro-Japanese propaganda broadcasts and could be a prisoner or a collaborator.
This film was made as a tribute to the Filipino Resistance and had to be rewritten many times as the real war changed every day during the making, but is still a mix of fact and fiction.
6th The wings of the eagles (1957) 6.7
The true story of naval aviator Frank “Spig” Wead (John Wayne) and the accident that brought him to earth. Shortly after the end of World War I and Wead’s promotion to commander of the fighter squadron, he falls down a flight of stairs and is paralyzed from the neck down. At the start of World War II, Wead must use his new position as a screenwriter to aid the war effort and fight with his mind instead of with an airplane.
John Ford directed the amazing story of the unexpected ways in which Wead helped the US military win World War II. Years earlier, Ford and Wayne brought one of Frank Mead’s scripts to life in the 1945s They were expendable.
5 Flying Tiger (1942) 6.8
Before the US officially became involved in World War II, a group of volunteer aviators called the “Flying Tigers” fought against the Japanese army that invaded China. Captain Jim Gordon (John Wayne) leads the motley squadron against the overwhelming force of the Japanese. A hot pilot and old friend makes life harder for Gordons, who joins and whose actions threaten to destroy the entire force.
This is a fictional story based on the true story of volunteer pilots who fought the Japanese in China. Despite being a propaganda film made in support of the war effort, it avoids an overtly racist characterization of the Japanese (which was unusual for this type of film) by turning them into silent opponents.
4th Sands Of Iwo Jima (1949) 7.1
Sergeant John Stryker (John Wayne) is a strictly disciplined leader and is viewed by his subjects as cruel and sadistic. When their boots hit the ground in enemy territory, Stryker’s men begin to appreciate his methods, as even small mistakes can have dire consequences.
This film received three Academy Award nominations for Best Editing, Best Screenplay, and John Wayne was nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role.
3 They were dispensable (1945) 7.2
Lt. John Brickley and his deputy, Lt. “Rusty” Ryan, are in charge of a group of rapid attack boats “PT” (Patrol Torpedo), but the lack of respect for the small boats leaves them little opportunity to prove themselves. After the attack on Pearl Harbor and a small victory for the PT boats, they are sent to the Philippines to stop an invading Japanese fleet with far more firepower.
While They were expendable is a largely fictional account of PT boats, many viewers thought it was a true story, probably because the director (John Ford), the writer (Frank Mead) and the star actor (Robert Montgomery) served or were and did in the Navy it very realistic.
2 In Harm’s Way (1965) 7.3
A heavy cruiser is on patrol under the command of Captain “Rock” Torrey (John Wayne) when the attack on Pearl Harbor is carried out. Rock is ordered to pursue and destroy the Japanese forces that devastated Pearl Harbor, but is forced to turn back due to lack of fuel. Disgraced and relegated to desk duty, Rock finally gets a chance at redemption when he is promoted to Rear Admiral and sent to drive the enemy back into Japan.
The inclusion of high levels of drama and the time the characters spend in their normal life sets this apart from similar war films and helps audiences become more emotionally engaged.
1 The longest day (1962) 7.8
In docu-drama style, this film follows the days before the Allied invasion of France. The audience sees the problems, particularly the weather, faced by the Allied forces planning the D-Day invasion and the mistakes and poor judgment of the Germans who unwittingly helped the Allied forces.
A star-studded cast of John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Robert Mitchum, Sean Connery, Jeffrey Hunter, Roddy McDowall and more brings D-Day to life in shocking detail. The filmmakers even had advisors involved in the invasion, making this the best WWII film and the most historically accurate on the list.
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