20 of the Most Popular John Wayne Characters

20 of the Most Popular John Wayne Characters

Cowboys, gunslingers, the Old West, and horse riders are all images that pop into mind when the name John Wayne is mentioned. He was the ultimate cowboy actor, and throughout the span of his career, Wayne continued to leave an iconic legacy with each film he starred in. With 175 movies and a career that lasted 50 years, Wayne gave iconic performances and brought to life many incredible characters.

While it’s hard to narrow down the best, here are the most popular John Wayne characters. These are the ones where Wayne dug deep into his character, leaving the audience wanting to watch the film repeatedly. (Are you an expert on his movies? See if you know John Wayne’s most iconic movie lines.)

To create a list of the most popular John Wayne characters, 24/7 Tempo consulted several entertainment sites, including IMDb, to explore the best and most popular Wayne characters and why people absolutely adore them. Let’s look at the John Wayne characters people can’t get enough of.

Rooster Cogburn

Source: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Rooster Cogburn is perhaps John Wayne’s most famous character.
  • Movie: “True Grit”
  • Year Released: 1969

“True Grit” is the movie that led to John Wayne winning his one and only Oscar, as well as a Golden Globe. So, it is no surprise that gritty Rooster Cogburn, complete with his eye patch, is among our favorite John Wayne characters. Rough, disheveled, and on the hunt to find a murderer, Wayne leaves a lasting impression as Cogburn.

Ethan Edwards

Source: Courtesy of Warner Bros.
Ethan Edwards embarks on a quest to save his niece in “The Searchers.”
  • Movie: “The Searchers”
  • Year Released: 1956

In “The Searchers,” Ethan Edwards spends the movie searching for his niece, Debbie, who the Comanche kidnapped after many of his family members were murdered. Edwards’ quest to save his niece becomes one of revenge and bitterness.

Sheriff John T. Chance

Source: Courtesy of Warner Bros.
Wayne portrays a sheriff who stands up to the local “baddie” in “Rio Bravo.”
  • Movie: “Rio Bravo”
  • Year Released: 1959

In “Rio Bravo,” Wayne plays the honest, loyal, and resilient Sheriff John T. Chance. Chance’s resolve and fearlessness allow him to stand up to the local “baddie” who tries to pull his brother (Joe Burdette) out of jail. With the help of an older man, a cowboy, and a drunk, Chance doesn’t back down.

Sean Thornton

Source: Courtesy of Republic Pictures (1)
“The Quiet Man” takes place in Ireland.
  • Movie: “The Quiet Man”
  • Year Released: 1952

Wayne’s forte is Western Cowboy and War films, chock-full of gun-slinging outlaws and rugged cowboys. However, the movie “The Quiet Man” shows a more romantic side of Wayne’s acting. Thornton faces an internal battle to turn away from his old violent path and start a new one with his new love, Mary Kate (Maureen O’Hara.)

Lt. Col. Benjamin Vandervoort

Source: Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox
Wayne depicted the true story of Lt. Col. Benjamin Vandervoort in “The Longest Day.”
  • Movie: “The Longest Day”
  • Year Released: 1962

A man of leadership and devotion, Lieutenant Col. Benjamin H Vandervoort showed immense bravery on D-Day. “The Longest Day” depicts the true events surrounding the day the U.S. Army and Allied forces invaded Normandy. Wayne takes the helm as Vandervoort, an Army colonel who broke his ankle yet still led his regiment on that momentous day.

Ringo Kid

Source: Courtesy of United Artists
Ringo Kid was Wayne’s breakout role.
  • Movie: “Stagecoach”
  • Year Released: 1939

John Wayne was only acting for a little over a decade when he starred as Ringo Kid in “Stagecoach,” a role that catapulted him from B films into A films. Young Wayne performs excellently as Ringo Kid, otherwise known as Henry. Ringo Kid was wrongfully accused of murdering his family; however, he eventually escapes and begins to plot revenge against the real culprits of his family’s murders.

Thomas Dunson

Source: Courtesy of United Artists
Wayne portrays a stern cattle driver who clashes with his adopted son in “Red River.”
  • Movie: “Red River”
  • Year Released: 1948

In “Red River,” Wayne portrays Thomas Dunson, a complex cattle driver whose stern demeanor ends up pitting him against his adopted son when they clash. Strong-willed and unwilling to change, Dunson begins the movie as the protagonist.

Cole Thornton

Source: Courtesy of Paramount Pictures
Wayne’s character Cole Thornton helps his friends take down criminals in “El Dorado.”
  • Movie: “El Dorado”
  • Year Released: 1966

When Cole Thornton (John Wayne) learns that his old friend J.P. Harrah and Sherrif of El Dorado is too drunk all the time to stop criminals from taking their town, he wants to help. Thornton resolves to support Harrah, get him sober, and face Bart Jason and his criminals together.

J.B. Brooks

Source: Courtesy of Paramount Pictures
Wayne’s last movie performance was portraying retired Sheriff J.B. Brooks in “The Shootist.”
  • Movie: “The Shootist”
  • Year Released: 1976

“The Shootist” was John Wayne’s last performance, where he plays a retired Sheriff, J.B. Brooks, who was diagnosed with cancer. Brooks meets a young boy who tries to pass on the wisdom he learned in his earlier years. Although Brooks has to come to grips with the end of his life nearing, he learns to relish the new friendships he has made.

Tom Doniphon

Source: Courtesy of Paramount Pictures
Wayne starred alongside James Stewart in “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.”
  • Movie: “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”
  • Year Released: 1962

“The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” is a tale of two friends. One is a young lawyer, Ransom Stoddard (James Stewart), and the other is a cowboy, Tom Donophin (John Wayne.) Doniphon comes to the aid of Stoddard and convinces him to take the credit for killing Liberty Valance. A choice that changes both of their lives in ways neither one could imagine.

Lon “McQ” McHugh

Source: Courtesy of Warner Bros.
Wayne’s character McQ investigates the murder of his best friend in “McQ.”
  • Movie: “McQ”
  • Year Released: 1974

Wayne plays the cop Lon “McQ” McHugh, who is investigating the murder of his best friend. Complete with a 1973 Pontiac Trans Am, McHugh is thrown off the case. This doesn’t stop him as he digs deeper and uncovers corruption.

Jacob McCandles

Source: Courtesy of National General Pictures
Wayne’s character in “Big Jake” goes after the men who kidnapped his grandson.
  • Movie: “Big Jake”
  • Year Released:1971

Jacob McCandles, or Big Jake, is the only one brave enough to face the gang who kidnapped his grandson. With a quick temper, rough edges, and a mind for business, Big Jake has no intention of simply handing the ransom over.

George Washington “G.W.” McLintock

Source: Courtesy of United Artists
“McLintock!” is loosely based on “The Taming of the Shrew.”
  • Movie: “McLintock!”
  • Year Released: 1963

Wayne stars opposite Maureen O’Hara in “McLintock!” as George Washington “G.W.” McLintock. Loosely based on “The Taming of The Shrew,” Wayne is a rancher who loves his drink and has animosity with his estranged wife (O’Hara). Although “McLintock!” is technically a Western, there is not as much action as a typical John Wayne film. Instead, O”Hara and Wayne make this film one of his best with their chemistry and humor.

Joe January

Source: Courtesy of United Artists
Joe January’s treasure-hunting mission turns into one of survival in “Legend of the Lost.”
  • Movie: “Legend of the Lost”
  • Year Released: 1957

Wayne plays a treasure-hunting guide, Joe January, who accompanies Paul Bonnard (Rosano Brazzi) and Dita (Sophia Loren) into the desert of Timbuktu. When he finds himself and Dita deserted and left to die, January must figure out how to bring them to safety.

John Elder

Source: Courtesy of Paramount Pictures
Wayne’s character John Elder and his brothers dig into their father’s suspicious death in “The Sons of Katie Elder.”
  • Movie: “The Sons of Katie Elder”
  • Year Released: 1965

John Wayne stars as the eldest son, John Elder, in “The Sons of Katie Elder.” When he and his three other brothers come home for their mother’s funeral, they begin to investigate the real cause of their father’s suspicious death. John Elder leads the quest with his brothers; they gradually dig up more and more answers to their questions.

Chance Buckman

Source: Courtesy of Universal Pictures
Wayne portrays an oil rig firefighter in “Hellfighteres.”
  • Movie: “Hellfighters”
  • Year Released: 1968

Wayne depicts Chance Buckman (based on the career of Red Adair), an oil rig firefighter. Buckman bravely faces danger and possible death during each fire and eventually faces being injured on the job. The film follows Buckman’s years, career, and even love life.

Col. Davy Crockett

Source: Courtesy of United Artists
“The Alamo” retells the true events that took place in 1826.
  • Movie: “The Alamo”
  • Year Released: 1960

Wayne portrays Col. Davy Crockett in the film “The Alamo.” Retelling the true events in 1826, Davy fought alongside the Texans in a rebellion opposing the Mexican government. However, when he, along with other men, surrender, he loses his life at the Alamo.

Captain Kirby York

Source: Courtesy of RKO Radio Pictures
Wayne portrays the down-to-earth Captain Kirby York in “Fort Apache.”
  • Movie: “Fort Apache”
  • Year Released: 1948

In “Fort Apache,” Wayne plays Captain Kirby York. He is practical, down-to-earth, and knowledgeable about the Apache. York soon clashes with Lieutenant Colonel Owen Thursday, a man demoted from the military and now bent on creating a legacy for himself.

Taw Jackson

Source: Courtesy of Universal Pictures
In “The War Wagon,” Taw Jackson seeks revenge for his wrongful imprisonment.
  • Movie: “The War Wagon”
  • Year Released: 1967

Taw Jackson is ready for revenge after being sent to prison and framed by a man named Pierce. Five years later, Jackson catches up with Pierce in an attempt to take stolen gold from him. Wayne once again delivers entertainment and memorable dialogue as Taw Jackson.

Michael Patrick “Guns” Donovan

Source: Courtesy of Paramount Pictures
Wayne portrays a shipwrecked Naval officer in “Donovan’s Reef.”
  • Movie: “Donovan’s Reef”
  • Year Released: 1963

In “Donovan’s Reef,” Wayne portrays Michael Patrick “Guns” Donovan, an American Naval officer who was shipwrecked on the island of Haleakaloha. He and two other Navy Veterans, Dedham and Gilhooley, live in harmony with the islanders until Dedham’s daughter finds him and disrupts their lives. (Now, read the 20 things you never knew about John Wayne.)

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