Actor John Wayne was an expert when it came to understanding the hard work that went into movies. He starred in everything from leading roles in major studio feature films to non-speaking parts in B-movies that he despised making. However, some of the most physically demanding parts turned out to be the most rewarding when the pictures fluttered on the silver screen. Here are five of the most physically demanding movies that Wayne starred in.
L-R: Claire Trevor as Dallas and John Wayne as Ringo Kid | Getty Images
Stagecoach boosted Wayne to stardom overnight in 1939, creating a whole new world for the actor. He played Ringo Kid in a story that follows a group of unlikely stagecoach passengers whose journey becomes increasingly difficult with the threat of a dangerous man named Geronimo on the loose.
Wayne came from the world of the props department and had a great appreciation for the world of stunts. Therefore, he decided to do many of these scenes on Stagecoach, but there were some that went a little bit too far.
Yakima Canutt was the movie star’s stunt double, who director John Ford hired on Wayne’s recommendation. There’s an incredibly dangerous high-speed scene that shows Ringo as he jumps from the coach to the horses that continues to shock, even by modern-day standards.
‘Sands of Iwo Jima’ (1949)
Sands of Iwo Jima earned Wayne his first Oscar nomination, and it’s frequently considered the actor’s greatest war movie of his career. He starred as Sgt. John M. Stryker, a man his men detest. However, they come to appreciate his rigid nature and tough training when they’re thrust into the dangers of combat.
Wayne drank heavily while filming Sands of Iwo Jima, which was the case for most of his movies. However, he had to undergo some difficult physical training to prepare for the role. The actor had to own the physicality of the role, which he accomplished in a way that impressed many audiences, including voters of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
‘The Searchers’ (1956)
The Searchers marked another one of the movies that Wayne made in collaboration with Ford. As Ethan Edwards, he played an American Civil War veteran who returns to find most of his brother’s family massacred. He begins the chase after his niece, who was kidnapped by Comanches.
Ethan goes on a long journey along with his niece’s adopted brother (Jeffrey Hunter), but it didn’t only fictionally put them through a lot. Wayne went through his own share of physically-demanding tasks, such as riding a horse for long hours over the course of filming. They took quite a toll on the movie star.
‘The Alamo’ (1960)
Wayne took on the role of an actor, producer, and director in 1960’s The Alamo. He took on the role of Col. Davy Crockett in a story taking place in 1836. A group of soldiers bands together to fight a hopeless battle against a massive army to protect the new Republic of Texas.
The Alamo was one of Wayne’s most physically-demanding movies for more reasons than one might think. It was his passion project that he took years to get made, as the Hollywood system continued to turn him down. There were several production delays and difficulties. The role itself wasn’t as much the issue, but there was a lot of physical stress that exhausted the actor from taking on so many responsibilities.
‘The Green Berets’ (1968)
In 1968, Wayne played Col. Mike Kirby in one of his most divisive movies called The Green Berets. The story follows Kirby when he brings two teams of Green Berets on a mission to South Vietnam to kidnap a North Vietnamese General.
Similar to other war movies over the course of Wayne’s career, he took on some of the stuntwork, even though he still used a stunt double for some of the more difficult sequences. Additionally, the movie star was a director on the film, causing him to juggle multiple tasks that proved much more physically demanding than he expected.