John Wayne War Movies

When we think of John Wayne movies we probably think Western.  In fact, the Duke made a number of war movies.  Here are a few favorites.

John Wayne starred in the submarine film “Operation Pacific” as Lieutenant Commander Duke Gifford.  This was a 1951 film about the submarine service in World War II.  When the skipper of the Thunderfish is killed Lt. Commander Gifford takes control of the submarine.   A complex problem arises with the  torpedoes and was solved by the submarine crew.  This act was based on an actual event.  “Operation Pacific” gave good insight into the dangers of  life in the submarine service and the bravery of the men who served.  Some fans think this was John Wayne’s best war movie.

The “Green Berets” was a 1968 film about the exploits of the American Special Forces during the Vietnam War.   It was filmed at a time when the United States was deeply involved in the war.   John Wayne wanted to do the film to try and counteract some of the  objections to  America‘s participation in this conflict.  “Green Berets” was a film supporting the war.  The Duke  played the role of Green Beret Col. Mike Kirby.   In addition to their military role the Green Berets engaged in humanitarian efforts on behalf of the civilian citizens  The film received many negative reviews and was soundly criticized for glorifying the Vietnam War.  Even so, the “Green Berets” was a commercial success at the box office.  Perhaps its success was due to all the negative comments the film received.

John Wayne was nominated for the Academy Awards Best Actor in a Leading Role for the “Sands of Iwo Jima”.   In the 1949 film he portrayed John Stryker a Marine Sergeant during World War II.  Sgt. Stryker was resented by his men for the rigorous training he insisted they do.  When they are confronted by the reality of battle at Iwo Jima they realize how important his insistence on training had been.  The squad is able to see the flag being raised after the battle.  Unfortunately while the squad is resting between fighting a sniper kills Sgt Stryker.  When John Wayne received his footprint at Graumn’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood  included in that footprint material  was some sand from Iwo Jima.

The Duke never actually served in the military.   He did visit many of the war zones and was a popular figure with men in all branches of the services.  In fact, some men enlisted in the service as a result of watching John Wayne in his war movies

Recommended:  Another classic war movie that starred not only John Wayne but also included an all star cast with the likes of Robert Ryan, Richard Burton and Henry Fonda. That movie of course was the “The Longest Day” the epic story of the D-Day landing on Normandy. If you hadn’t seen this one in a while or wanted  to add it to your collection, head over to Amazon and pick up – The Longest Day 2 DVD collectors edition.


  1. Michael White says:

    John Wayne also starred in another easily overlooked film, “In Harms Way.” I am a little biased about this one. While it was being filmed, my family and I had the pleaure of meeting him and Kirk Douglas. What I will never forget about him was that he was down to earth, and treated all of us with respect. I enjoyed the movie and think it is worth watching.

    • admin says:

      Thanks for the recommendation that is one I don’t remember and is not talked about much. Will check it out.

      You were lucky to meet him, I am sure it was something you won’t forget.

    • Phil Peterman says:

      In Harms Way is one of my favorite John Wayne movies….

    • Cy says:

      I have grown up watching the Duke and I love the war movies. One of the best that is overlooked is “In Harms Way” a great motion picture with good acting and story lines.

    • Gregory Jenks says:

      In Hamrs Way what great movie had some true facts as well, being retired Navy I enjoyed watching those Destoyers and Cruisers doing their best to win the battles they could.

    • Randy says:

      Nice to hear from some one that met the Duke, I always believed he would be a nice man if you met him. Thanks for confirming it he is my favorite actor.

    • Ralph Barkley says:

      Another great war movie staring the Duke was “WINGS OF EAGLES”.

    • Fred Cloud says:

      Another good Wayne war movie was Back to Bataan. Really enjoyed that movie, but I enjoy all John Wayne movies.

  2. Tom Alberti says:

    The best John Wayne war movie was “They Were Expendable.” This was a WW11 movie about PT boats. This movie had the most accurate realistic combat footage I had ever seen until “Saving Private Ryan” and “Band of Brothers” This was based on a real life situation.

    • Ian Titler says:

      I remember all of the above and have most of his films, back to the early B movies. One of the great actors.

      • Paul Mesirow says:

        I loved John Wayne in the cavalry trilogy more than most of his movies. I also really liked The War Wagon! The Green Berets was so contrived and so hokey in the midst of our first WRONG war, I couldn’t like it. But I was glad the Duke got an award for True Grit. He was old and fat, but he was STILL the DUKE. I just watched Fort Apache again today, and he was SO good in that movie! And what a great supporting cast! And I cannot stop talking about my family’s FAVORITE ALL TIME John Wayne movie – McClintock! And my ALL TIME FAVORITE – The Quiet Man. If you don’t like that movie, you cannot say you are Irish!

        • Jesse and Joanne M Garcia says:

          I (joanne) have read the majority of all your replies, and have to admit with the majority of you that Mr John ‘Duke’ Wayne was an awesome actor and especially with Maureen O’Hara they were a good combination. McClintock, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Fort Apache, Green Berets, the movie with Katherine Hepburn, True Grit, In Harm’s Way, Back to Bataan, the Flying Leathernecks…ALL good movies – My cousins mother was actually the cook for Mr Wayne and his wife and my cousin was stationed in Hawaii when they were filming one of his movies, he said that he was the nicest man and very Respectful of others… Every chance I get when they play these movies on TMC even AMC yes even on Encore Western – I try to record them so that I can relax and remember when…. nice memories EVERYONE thank you for the MEMORIES… :-)

  3. Jeffery S.Rightmire says:

    He is my all time favorite in any move as any character .

    • Linda says:

      I agree, Jeffrey. I’m a longtime fan, most notably since 1969, when I was 15. That was a time when it when his politics was not popular.

  4. Everett Rice says:

    Wayne also starred in “Back to Baatan” and “The Flying Leathernecks” set during WWII in the pacific. He was a man with a well grounded love of his country many could learn from today. He was the icon of his age.

  5. Etlakey says:

    The only drawback to “In Harm’s Way” is Kirk Douglas being in it as his usual role as a womanizing sex addict. Would have been great without his character role in it.

    • Ross Mirmelstein says:

      Kirk Douglas’s role was not created for the movie. Read the book, from which the movie was made, not vice versa. The Paul Eddington character was an integral part of the entire story.

  6. Etlakey says:

    I have a copy of some of John’s personal film clips and one or two show him without hair piece. He was bald on top but never went in public that way



  8. Danny O'Boyle says:

    Watching him in all those films it’s amazing to me how people couldn’t tell he was gay. Why do you think he walked that way?

    • Paula Cannady says:

      Don’t know where you got your info Danny, But the duke was straight as an arrow. Was married twice and had quite a few kids too.

    • julie says:

      I believe the Duke was told to change his walk early in his career……the B movies…so he was told to point his toes while he walked…hence the John Wayne walk was born.

    • G. D. Smith says:

      Don’t be an ass. He tore up his knees playing football at USC, which is why he couldn’t get into any branch of the service during WW II. The wobbly knees accounted for his famous walk.

  9. Jeffrey D. Smith says:

    I liked these movies but the flying tigers and the fighting seabees was good too.

  10. Jude C. says:

    My utterly favorite John Wayne war movie is Otto Preminger’s production of In Harm’s Way. I’ve always loved John Wayne, although I really think Kirk Douglas’s portrayal of Commander Paul Eddington really made the movie better than it would have been with someone else in the role.

  11. McClintock is still one of mine and my mothers favorite John Wayne movies. I don’t care how many times I see it, it still makes me laugh. Quiet Man I like, if you are Irish or even a small part Irish you will like it. All his war movies I have liked. For someone that never served in the military he did a very good job playing the role of an officer, pilot, NCO (Non Commissioned Officer). He must of did his homework on that. I am a veteran of the U.S. military. He did a very good job.

  12. Jim says:

    Except for “The Longest Day” why was the Duke always fighting the Japanese?

  13. He`s the best in any movie he made, there will never be another one like him!

  14. Karl Spencer says:

    I wish there were more actors or Americans like John Wayne. He was my childhood idol. I saw “Trouble Along the Way” for the first time (ok, I love his war and action movies best) and was amazed how good it was. My favorites include, “In Harm’s Way”, “The Quiet Man” and “The Cowboys”. In each of these films The Duke shows his softer side as well as his “True Grit”. I never pass up a chance to record one of his movies knowing full well that I will watch it over and over. Mr. Wayne, I admire you more than ever!

  15. dorotha d says:

    if you havent seen HELLFIGHTERS, you is the true story about RED adair? not sure on last name, fought oil well fires , one he fought in the movie was in Houston TX if memory serves me correct….John Wayne is the ONLY actor i will watch over and over and still like what ever movie it is. To bad there arent more so called movie stars that LOVE AMERICA like he did..

  16. Gary M. Smith says:

    My favorite John Wayne war films are “In Harm’s Way”, “The Fighting Seabees” and “The Green Berets”, although I think the sequences in “The Green Berets” were wrong. The special mission should have been first and the battle for Camp A-107 the climatic conclusion.

  17. marylin says:

    i love john wayne movies. i have them and watch them over and over. i wish they would do a marathon for all day on his movies

  18. Jill Stewart says:

    John Wayne was also in a movie rarely seen titled “Wings of Eagles”. He portrays Frank “Spig” Wead. Maureen O’Hara, John Dale Price (Ken Curtis), and Dan Dailey were also in this movie along with my uncle, who was in the Navy at the time. I am very biased about this movie since my uncle is in it and can be seen helping “Spig” into the chair to transfer him from one ship to the other near the end.

  19. Mark Ayers says:

    Other John Wayne War have..or have not seen..

    Rio Lobo..Civil War 1970 :-) (Didn’t think about that one did you?)

    The Alamo 1960

    The Sea Chase 1955

    The Horse Soldiers 1959
    And one Many has not seen is..

    Reunion in France 1942
    Ok so..who knows the movie about boxing he was in? Nope not talking about “The Quiet Man”

  20. andy binding says:

    nobody mentioned THE FIGHTING SEEBEES about the construction ( c) battalions ( bs ) also had a bit part in THE LONGEST DAY

  21. andy binding says:

    the duke was in another war film with a difference,he played a german skipper of a merchant ship who had to get his boat back to germany before it was inpounded in a neuteral country but i cant think what the film was called. i do know that he had to fight the royal navy in the english channel anyone know what its called please.

  22. Allen Ferguson says:

    have most all fav of all in harms way

  23. Pablo says:

    Uno de mis actores favoritos…..Grande Wayne

  24. Jo DeMarc says:

    My father was at the Normandy landing & “The Longest Day” was one of his favorite John Wayne films. Thank you for posting about some of The Duke’s little-watched films. :-)

  25. G. D. Smith says:

    The Duke messed his knees up playing football at USC before entering the movie business. He tried enlisting in all branches of the service, and was rejected. No one in Hollywood worked harder for the war effort than John Wayne. To answer the question above about why he always seemed to be fighting the Japanese (with the exception of “The Longest Day”), I will venture the guess that he was partial to the Navy and Marines, and always kept a chip on the shoulder about Pearl Harbor. Speaking of bit parts, he also played a nameless general in “Cast A Giant Shadow”, the Kirk Douglas movie about the birth of Israel in 1948, and the true story of Micky Marcus, an American officer who led the Israelis under an assumed name.

  26. Steve Hoffman says:

    I love all of the Dukes movies some Yall are not talking about are North to Alaska and Donovan Reef both are just fun !!!!!

  27. I’ve seen every one of the movies you mention, I am a life long fan of the “Duke”. He was the last real American Patriot.

  28. I liked the fighting CBs Thanks for reminding us of all the great movies this Great man did for our entertainment.

  29. john doig says:

    actually the greatest war movie has to be THE ALAMO why ? it was based on true events and duke spents 15yrs of his life committed to telling the story of the battle for republic of texas in 1836 duke spent most of his money in re-searching the project and tho directors turned it down duke was persistance that this story had to be told one director agreed to go half with the duke but then changed his mind and stole dukes original scripts and costumes that duke had spent yrs researching even building the exact replica of the alamo in brackettsville the film was released as the last command starring sterling hayden and ernist borgnine but this only made duke more determined to create the epic alamo and is still today respected for the masterpiece duke intended and became a box office favourite after duke had sold the rights to the film because it was edited and 30mins of footage was cut so duke wanted no part in it ive managed to gain a copy of the original 3hrs movie and it tells the story of 185 gallent men who stood against tyranny for what they believed in the right to freedom this has also been quoted and written in books to say that this movie was dukes baby for he had spent so much time and effort bringing this movie to the big screen and almost becoming bankrupt by the gross salaries in the making of this picture and therefore got to be one of his greatest movies and the best version ever made :)

  30. Chuck Rumet says:

    Great opinons shared. I own just about all of these on dvd. One I keep coming back to that I love and urge you to check out is Tall in the Saddle. Gabby Hayes at his best, good story, good cast, good quality. I watch often based on themes – I’ll get in a western kick, then war movies. But I have my big 4 black and white routine – Stagecoach, The Spoilers, Angel and the Badman and Tall in the Saddle. Get lost in these movies and out of your bad day anytime.

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