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6 Movies like The Searchers: Is That You, John Wayne?

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Will Howell-Cornes itcherJohn Ford’s movie not only turned Monument Valley into the most iconic of Wild West landscapes; it did more than that, it updated and influenced every cowboy movie trope we know and love. Movies like ‘The Searchers’ reach from far and wide – from ‘True Grit’ to a galaxy far, far away… ~ Will Howell-Cornes

He had to find her…he had to find her…

In this Civil War-time story, Ethan Edwards returns to Texas to find his brother’s family have been abducted by Comanches. So John Wayne being John Wayne, he vows to track them down and bring them home.

John Ford brings his usual panache to his 115th film and the Wild West has never looked better than those red hues in glorious VistaVision. Remember those horse-tracking shots? The silhouetted Comanches riding alongside our heroes? You will…

The film is loved by many and hated by others as protagonist Ethan Edwards’ agenda is clearly race-fuelled. Yet that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be revered. I’ve never liked John Wayne as an actor, but this portrayal of an anti-hero changed movies and their character’s motivations. Audience attitudes changed too, meaning ‘The Searchers’ was (luckily) one of the last of an era in which Native Americans were portrayed as subhuman savages.

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Movies Similar to ‘The Searchers’…

‘Fort Apache’ (John Ford, 1948)

When Civil War hero Lieutenant Colonel Owen Thursday (Henry Fonda) assumes command of the titular outpost, he clashes with level-headed Captain Kirby York (John Wayne).

Viewing the local Native Americans as savages, Thursday wants to engage them in battle for his own reputation, but as York explains – that would be an act of suicidal folly.

Similarity Match: 85%
The opposite from ‘The Searchers’ – this is John Wayne’s turn to play the cool, level-head while Henry Fonda plays the stubborn racist for the same director.

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‘True Grit’ (Joel & Ethan Coen, 2010)

14 year old Mattie Ross hires U. S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges in the John Wayne role) to try and track down the man that killed her father. You may prefer the original (check that out too!) but I really enjoyed The Coen Brothers recent remake.

Similarity Match: 80%
No hordes of Native Americans but this cross country ride is definitely one hell of a search.

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‘The Furies’ (Anthony Mann, 1950)

Named after the Greek and Roman female spirits of justice and vengeance, Barbara Stanwyck plays a similarly fiery woman. Anthony Mann’s film deals with the saga of a tyrannical New Mexico cowboy who has his daughter’s lover hanged when she clashes with him. But with the help of an old flame, the daughter sets into motion a plan to drive her father from his estate.

Similarity Match: 80%
No glorious Technicolor here, but those omnipresent Wild West notions of tyranny and revenge come in droves.

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‘The Missing’ (Ron Howard, 2003)

New Mexico 1885, a frontier medic (Cate Blanchett) must team up with her estranged father (Tommy Lee Jones) when her young daughter is kidnapped by an Apache brujo. That’s a witch-healer to you and me.

Similarity Match: 75%
Another kidnapping at the hands of Native Americans, but this time handled more delicately and in keeping with the more enlightened attitudes of today.

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If You Like ‘The Searchers’, You Will Like…

As years wore on, the attitudes of society and what cinema audiences would accept had to change with the times. As Hollywood could no longer rely on the completely untrue and history re-writing stereotype of bloodthirsty natives, it had to adapt. So before you cry.

“What? What’s Star Wars got to do with Westerns?”

Bear with me… because here are a couple of ways in which Hollywood held on to and updated their precious Cowboy and Indian stories…

‘Star Wars’ (George Lucas, 1977)

Monument Valley and the barren wastelands of Utah and Arizona are transplanted to Tatooine, the Tusken Raiders are the Comanche tribe as Luke Skywalker searches the galaxy for damsel in distress, Princess Leia.

Of course you’ve seen it a hundred times, but re-watching it after ‘The Searchers’ will bring a whole new mind-set to our fan-boy classic.

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‘Dances with Wolves’ (Kevin Costner, 1990)

Costner directs and plays John Dunbar, a Civil War soldier exiled to a remote outpost. There, he befriends Native Americans and adopts their ways.

‘Dances with Wolves’ brilliantly encapsulates how attitudes towards America’s original inhabitants have quite rightly changed in the 50-odd years since John Wayne’s heyday.

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Our Search Is Nearly Over…

There we go, pardners. Our countdown of films like ‘The Searchers’ began in black and white, took us to space where we made the Kessel Run in under twelve parsecs and back to the amazing red sunsets of Arizona.

We hope you enjoyed the ride… please send us your comments by Pony Express or you can leave them below…

Will Howell-Cornes is a writer, photographer and TV editor. He’s been trying to write three TV shows for a while now, which he hopes will be like ‘Lost’ ‘Hannibal’ and ‘The Leftovers’. He used to be a stand-up comedian but stopped being funny around July 2012.
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