Films John Wayne Died In

Tuesday, May 31, 2011 at 4:42 pm

Movies Where John Wayne Got Killed

Decades after his passing, John Wayne remains a beloved actor and cultural icon of America. And much like the nation he’s so associated with, the Duke’s characters were always expected to come out on top. That wasn’t always the case, however, hence this list of films John Wayne died in.

NOTE: This entire article could be considered one big spoiler, so consider yourself warned.

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The Shootist (1976) – This western was Wayne’s last film role, and it was a fitting send-off for the larger-than-life actor. He plays J.B. Books, a legendary gunfighter who finds out he’s dying of cancer. Reflecting on his life and preparing for his death, he opts to cheat the disease by arranging for one last shootout. In the meantime, he forms a bond with a local widow (Lauren Bacall) and her son (Ron Howard).

Reap the Wild Wind (1942) – Paulette Goddard stars as Loxi Claiborne, a woman running a salvage outfit along the Florida coast. Wayne co-stars as Jack Stuart, a captain with a decidedly dark side who’s rescued and nursed back to health by Loxi. A romance develops between the two, but it’s complicated by betrayal and jealousy. While investigating a sunken skip with another diver, Stuart is attacked by a giant squid. He saves his fellow diver but dies when the ship slips off an underwater shelf and plunges deeper into the water.

Sands of Iwo Jima (1949) – Wayne upped his status as an American icon by starring in this film about a squad of U.S. Marines fighting in the Pacific during World War II. He plays a hard-nosed sergeant named John Stryker, and while initially hated by his men, his methods pay dividends once the bullets start flying. Unfortunately, those Japanese snipers were pretty good, and Stryker is picked off by one after helping to win the Battle of Iwo Jima.

The Fighting Seabees (1944) – Wedge Donovan (Wayne) is in charge of building airstrips in the Pacific during World War II, but he quickly tires of constant Japanese attacks and the fact that he and his men can’t arm themselves. This eventually leads to the formation of the U.S. Navy’s Construction Battalions (also known as “Seabees”) and a desperate showdown against a Japanese force of superior size. While Donovan manages to defeat the enemy with a maneuver that would make the A-Team jealous, he’s picked off by a sniper in the process.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) – While he doesn’t die on-screen, this classic Western begins with the funeral of Wayne’s character, a relative unknown named Tom Doniphon. One of those in attendance is U.S. Senator Rance Stoddard (James Stewart), and the film is one long flashback detailing the relationship between the two men and their rivalry over a woman (Vera Miles). Lee Marvin co-stars as Liberty Valance, a paid thug whose death has major consequences for Doniphon and Stoddard.

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The Cowboys (1972) – Wayne stars as a rancher who must find replacement cowboys for a trail drive when his men desert to take part in a gold rush. He’s forced to hire local schoolboys who know nothing about the trail, turning down an offer made by “Long Hair” Asa Watts (Bruce Dern) and his band of cutthroats. As the rancher and the kids begin to bond, Watts and his crew become determined to steal the herd. This results in a fistfight between hero and villain, and Wayne predictably comes out on top. Then Watts goes and shoots him in the back, guaranteeing Bruce Dern years of playing villains and nutjobs. The young cowboys, meanwhile, vow to get revenge.

Wake of the Red Witch (1948) – The tale of a bitter feud between two men, shipping magnate Mayrant Sidneye (Luther Adler) and sea captain Ralls (John Wayne). Their feud is over a woman, of course, and their rivalry climaxes when Ralls agrees to undertake a dangerous mission to recover gold from a sunken ship teetering on an underwater ledge. While Ralls manages to get the gold out, he winds up drowning after being trapped by debris. Without a doubt, the most un-heroic death suffered by John Wayne.

The Alamo (1960) – John Wayne directed and starred as the legendary Davy Crockett, one of the many heroes who faced down death and overwhelming odds at the famed Texas battle against the forces of Santa Anna. While he’s one of the last defenders to fall, he finally meets his maker courtesy of a Mexican soldier’s lance and a subsequent explosion (touched off by Crockett himself). An epic tale of heroism and sacrifice in pursuit of freedom.

The Deceiver (1931) – A murder mystery set on Broadway, The Deceiver involves a dead star (Ian Keith), the many suspects in his demise, and the hero who’s trying to get to the bottom of things (Lloyd Hughes). Wayne is unbilled in this role, which is fitting when you consider that he plays the corpse of the murdered actor (why Ian Keith couldn’t play dead is beyond me).

Central Airport (1933) – The film revolves around two daredevil pilot brothers (Richard Barthelmess and Tom Brown) who compete for the affections of a woman (Sally Eilers). Wayne isn’t even listed in the credits, but he does get his first on-screen death when he co-pilots a plane that takes a nosedive into the ocean.

The Sea Chase (1955) – Wayne stars as Capt. Karl Ehrlich, a seaman determined to get his freighter back to Germany at the beginning of World War II. Lana Turner co-stars as sultry passenger Elsa Keller, and both are pursued relentlessly by naval vessels from the British and Australian military. Things don’t look good at the end for Karl and Elsa, as they’re shown to be on the ship as it slips beneath the waves. Then again, you can never count out a last second escape from cinema’s top tough guy.

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Even though this is a list of films John Wayne died in, the Duke still had a solid record when it came to cinematic survival, especially when you consider that he made over 250 movies during a span of 50 years. But no matter whether he lived or died on the big screen, the memory of the swaggering western icon will endure forever.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, May 31st, 2011 at 4:42 pm and is filed under Good Movies. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

One Response to “Films John Wayne Died In”

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March 8, 2012

John Clifton

Wake of the Red Witch sounds like a real downer. Luther Adler versus John Wayne for the girl…hmm, wonder who she’ll prefer…that might have seemed more suspenseful back in the 1940s. That death in The Alamo was a real scorched earth classic, though.

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