John Wayne is one of the biggest Hollywood stars of all time. The man practically defined the Western genre throughout the mid-twentieth century and appeared in well over a hundred films over his five-decade-long career. In that span, The Duke portrayed many, many characters, but nearly all of them shared the same charms. Walking softly and carrying a big stick, Wayne exemplified the frontier spirit and American exceptionalism. But which of John Wayne’s many roles were the absolute coolest? The characters who you just knew were going to get the job done without even breaking a sweat? Take a look below to see our picks for the eight coolest John Wayne characters ever, and then let us know your picks in the comments.
1. “Rooster” Cogburn in True Grit
The eyepatch-wearing, hard-drinking U.S. Marshal is certainly someone you want on your side if you’re, say, a 14-year-old girl who’s looking to get revenge on the man who killed her father. Rooster is less of a traditional hero than many of Wayne’s characters, and that’s what makes him so cool. Well, that and the eyepatch.
2. Big Jake McCandles in Big Jake
If you’ve got “Big” in front of your name, there’s a good chance you know how to throw down. Big Jake is undoubtedly one of Wayne’s toughest characters, and the way he always stays one step ahead of the bad guys — without ever even coming close to losing his composure — makes him one of the coolest, too.
3. Joe January in Legend of the Lost
Look, any man who can win the heart of Sophia Loren is pretty cool in our book. But January didn’t just have a way with the ladies, he’s also an adventurer-turned-Saharan treasure hunter. How’s that for a résumé?
4. John T. Chance in Rio Bravo
When you’re sharing the screen with the King of Cool himself, Dean Martin, and you’re managing to come off cooler than he is… well, then you must be doing something right. As an ornery sheriff who must put together a ragtag team of defenders in this High Noon-esque tale, Chance is so cool that the townsfolk practically push each other out of the way to help… not that he wants the help, of course.
5. John Marlowe in The Horse Soldiers
As a railroad man/Union Army Colonel, Marlowe is undoubtedly a man’s man. Heading up a dangerous mission to bomb a Confederate railroad, Marlowe has to contend with a unit of men who don’t trust him. But his selflessness and commitment to the mission eventually make believers of them all — and us, too — proving that he is a leader worthy of following. Plus he gets to blow stuff up, which is the coolest job ever.
6. J.D. Cahill in Cahill U.S. Marshal
This U.S. Marshal may not be the best dad ever, but dagnabbit, he still wants what’s best for his kids. And after his two sons stupidly rob a bank and get caught up with a rough crowd, he goes through Hell to protect them. Protecting your kids will always be cool in our book… plus Cahill knows his way around a gunfight, for what it’s worth.
7. Jim Brannigan in Brannigan
A rare non-Western for Wayne, this late-career entry shouldn’t be overlooked. As an old Chicago cop on the beat in 1970s London, Brannigan is a man out of both place and time. And yet, he manages to just ooze cool as a gritty modern action hero, showing that he had no trouble keeping up with the changing face of cinema and showing these wimpy ’70s punks how to properly throw a haymaker.
8. Davy Crockett in The Alamo
Come on, it’s Davy Crockett! The only man in history who can wear a coonskin cap without looking like an idiot. Of course he’s going to make the list.
You can check out a few of John Wayne’s coolest performances for yourself on CHARGE! during our John Wayne marathons on two Saturdays in October. We’ll be airing Legend of the Lost, Brannigan, and The Horse Soldiers on Oct. 12 and Oct. 20. Check our schedule here for exact times.