In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section John Wayne

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews and Filmographies
  • Bibliographies
  • Biographies
  • Profiles
  • Obituaries
  • Masculinity Studies
  • Star Theory
  • Persona and Performance
  • Interviews with John Wayne
  • Interviews With Coworkers
  • Genre—War (World War II and Vietnam)
  • The Searchers (1956)
  • Race and Whiteness
  • Film Production
  • DVD Commentaries
  • Fiction

Cinema and Media Studies John Wayne
Ross Schnioffsky, Richard Thompson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 January 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 January 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0041


John Wayne’s film career began in Hollywood silent films in the late 1920s and, in one sense, ended in 1976—a half-century later—with his last film, Don Siegel’s The Shootist (1976). Wayne died three years later, having become not only an actor, but also a film director and the head of his own production company. By then he had also become a major cultural figure, a carrier of myth, an icon of a certain Americanness, and this iconic status continues today; he and his work continue to be cited, commented upon, analyzed, and evaluated, as this article documents. He acted in different genres but became identified mainly with two: the Western (he spent the 1930s making quickie B Westerns) and, with the advent of World War II, military and quasi-military films. When this identification began, those genres were generally dismissed as sophomoric and were not taken seriously; with the rise of serious film studies in the 1960s and 1970s in Europe and North America, these genres and Wayne’s contribution to them became valued. After World War II, as the hegemony of the major studios began to fade, Wayne was one of the first actors to form his own independent production company, which eventually became Batjac Productions. He had always learned everything he could on set about all aspects of filmmaking. As an actor, Wayne was a thoughtful craftsman from early in his career (something overlooked by commentators until much later). In the postwar period, he chose roles that increasingly complicated his characters—retaining his earlier outward strength and independence, but now adding a very dark, sometimes tragic set of contradictions, first, in Red River (1948) and then The Searchers (1956), The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1961), and other films. The rise of authorship criticism enhanced this acknowledgment, emphasizing his long collaboration with John Ford and his key films with Howard Hawks. His acting performances began to attract serious attention: Writers began to investigate Wayne’s representation of masculinity, including his characters’ relations to both male and female sexuality. From the late 1940s, Wayne, now a major public figure, became politically active, first, in the anticommunist days of the Hollywood blacklist and, later, in other conservative causes (e.g., the Vietnam War). His controversial public political stances became a separate issue, overshadowing his other work. Wayne’s work continues to be justified by the amount of writing currently devoted to it.

General Overviews and Filmographies

The printed John Wayne filmographies provide a useful means of surveying the extent of Wayne’s career, and they are also helpful tools for navigating through his output. However, most tend to supply copious quantities of factual material, and they rely on press reviews for most interpretative or analytical commentary. Landesman 2004 is an example of this sort of one-volume roundup and serves as a good update to Zmijewsky, et al. 1983. Eyles 1979 is better as it offers more in terms of critical comment. Place 1974 and Place 1979 on the films of John Ford are excellent and the two books grew out of the author’s doctoral thesis. All the books are extremely well illustrated. is a website that intensively covers many aspects of the world of John Wayne and the John Wayne International Movie Database (IMDB) provides easily accessible information on Wayne’s film career. Boswell and Fisher 1979 is perhaps the most useful of the many coffee table format books on Wayne.

  • Boswell, John, and David Fisher. Duke: The John Wayne Album: The Legend of Our Time. New York: Ballantine, 1979.

    Contains a wealth of anecdotal detail, early photographs, and interesting sidebars on such things as Wayne’s remarks on acting, and lists such as his sports films and the movies he produced but did not appear in.

  • Eyles, Allen. John Wayne. South Brunswick, NJ: A. S. Barnes, 1979.

    Durable and still valuable survey of all Wayne’s films. Contains plot summaries, critical comments, and production details for each film. Also included is an introduction by Louise Brooks and an interesting essay on what it was like to work with Wayne. Well illustrated.

  • John Wayne.” International Movie Database (IMDB).

    Provides a comprehensive filmography with production details.

  • The Un-official John Wayne Fan Site.

    A comprehensive clearinghouse, especially aimed at Wayne fans. The site has links to the forum Duke Wayne, supposedly the largest John Wayne fan community on the web. This a gold mine for John Wayne fans and contains useful lists of resources related to Wayne, such as books, documentaries, and television appearances. Many of the lists are accompanied by enthusiastic discussions.

  • Landesman, Fred. The John Wayne Filmography. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2004.

    Covering Wayne’s career from 1926 to 1976, Landesman provides cast and crew credits, running times, box office performances, reviews, synopses, location information, budgets, costs, salaries, and more on 170 John Wayne films. A thorough inventory.

  • Place, Janey Ann. The Western Films of John Ford. Secaucus, NJ: Citadel, 1974.

    As with the companion book The Non-Western Films of John Ford (Place 1979), Place critically analyzes Ford’s Westerns film by film.

  • Place, Janey Ann. The Non-Western Films of John Ford. Secaucus, NJ: Citadel, 1979.

    Place critically discusses Ford’s non-Westerns film by film. Each film is handled in a scholarly manner and with insight.

  • Zmijewsky, Steve, Boris Zmijewsky, and Mark Ricci. The Complete Films of John Wayne. Secaucus, NJ: Citadel, 1983.

    Provides cast, credits, short synopses, and movie stills from each film, and includes a brief description of Wayne’s life and career. Information is not reliable, but it is a good resource for illustrations. The 1970 edition was titled The Films of John Wayne (Secaucus, NJ: Citadel).

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.