Predating ensemble disaster movies like “The Poseidon Adventure” or “Airport” is 1954’s “The High and the Mighty.” Although Wayne receives top billing, the film is a true ensemble effort. Wayne plays Dan Roman, the first officer of an airliner traveling between Honolulu and San Francisco, which experiences catastrophic trouble in mid-flight. As tension among the passengers and crew builds, Roman resorts to desperate means to safely land the plane while deflating the brewing interpersonal conflicts.
Along with subsequent ensemble films like “The Longest Day” and “How the West Was Won,” Wayne’s magnetic on-screen presence here looms over his co-stars. Ironically, Wayne — who also produced the film — hadn’t planned on starring in “The High and the Mighty”: He only took the role when its intended star, Spencer Tracy, dropped out (per TCM). Though a bit overlong and prone to drawn-out monologues from its lead characters, “The High and the Mighty” gives Wayne the chance to show off his dramatic chops while playing off an impressive cast.