1. The Searchers (1956)

IMDB Rating: 7.9/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 98%

“The Searchers” is a landmark Hollywood western from John Ford, which tells the gripping story of Ethan Edwards (John Wayne), a Civil War veteran who embarks on a relentless, multi-year quest to track down his niece Debbie – abducted by Comanche Indians after a savage raid on their Texas home that left the rest of her family dead. The harrowing journey, marked by danger, isolation, and unimaginable hardship, takes Ethan and his adopted nephew Martin (Jeffrey Hunter) through the Wild West as they grapple with their own personal demons and encounter an assortment of characters along the way.

Why it’s a major movie:
This film is often touted as a haunting and unforgettable classic, not just within Ford’s body of work but within the broader panorama of cinema. It is lauded for its stunning cinematography, stark depictions of harsh frontier life, and the seminal performance of John Wayne, who delivers an intricate, morally-complex portrayal of a controversial character. The themes of obsession, racism, and alienation, along with the meticulous artistry of its storytelling, raise the film well beyond the category of routine westerns.

The Searchers continues to enjoy high regard among film critics, scholars and directors. Its influence has endured over time, inspiring numerous filmmakers in their storytelling style and visual dynamics. The film’s discussion of racial relations, despite its period context, has sparked critical debates making it as much a part of contemporary dialogue as it was back then. Even now, more than half a century later, the significance of The Searchers in both cinematic history and American cultural heritage remains indubitable.

2. The Grapes of Wrath (1940)

IMDB Rating: 8.1/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 100%

“The Grapes of Wrath” is an adaptation of John Steinbeck’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, a poignant tale of the Joads, a family of poor sharecroppers from Oklahoma devastated by the dreaded Dust Bowl and Great Depression. Driven off their land by economic hardship, the Joads, led by young Tom Joad (Henry Fonda), loaded their few belongings onto a battered old truck and set off towards California, a rumored ‘promised land’ of job prospects and hope. What follows is an epic journey filled with trials, tribulations, and the human will to endure against all odds.

Why it’s a major movie:
“The Grapes of Wrath” is a landmark achievement in American cinema and remains one of Ford’s most memorable films. It offered a stark, raw, and realistic reflection of the sufferings of ordinary people uprooted by economic despair and environmental disaster. With its influential social commentary, empathetic storytelling, and impeccable performances especially by Henry Fonda, the film struck a profound chord upon its release and continues to be celebrated for its haunting depiction of American life during the challenging era.

John Ford’s masterful direction elevated this adaptation of Steinbeck’s novel into an enduring cinematic masterpiece. Recognized for its technical achievements and narrative power,, the film is a potent commentary on social justice and human dignity. It is credit to Ford’s genius that a film made in the 1940s still resonates powerfully despite the passage of time. Indeed, The Grapes of Wrath stands as a testament to the extraordinary potential of cinema as a medium of social and emotional exploration.

[Note: Due to the extensive nature of this task, it is limited to two movies.]