My Top 10 Favorite Ridley Scott Films
Although audiences won’t be privy to Ridley Scott’s next film for another few months, in recent days we’ve been exposed to two outstanding trailers that the talented director is associated with. The trailers for Alien: Covenant and Blade Runner 2049 hit over the holidays and both left me salivating. While Scott directed the first and produced the latter, I have no doubt both films will crush it with critics and audiences alike. To be sure Scott has made some stinkers (The Counselor, Robin Hood) but the good far outweigh the bad. The storied director’s four decade career includes some of the best and most significant movies ever made. Here are my top ten favorite Ridley Scott films:
#10 Black Hawk Down (2001)
When I was in high school, the civil war in Somalia was on the news nightly, mainly because of the United States involvement. The film chronicles the 1993 U.S. joint special forces involvement in the Battle of Mogadishu and its disastrous outcome. A visceral and gut-wrenching film, it’s easily one of the finest war movies ever put on the big screen. Coming right on the heels of 9/11, the film was about as timely as they come. In the fifteen plus years since it’s release, Black Hawk Down has gained a cultural legacy regarding whether or not the film is anti or pro war. Black Hawk Down‘s editing and cinematography are top-notch and the cast, including Josh Hartnett, Ewan MacGregor, Eric Bana, and a very young Tom Hardy, is superb. A great “brothers-in-arms” tale, it earned Scott his second straight Oscar nomination for Best Director.
#9 Thelma and Louise (1991)
It is criminal that people regard this film as a simple buddy road-trip comedy. It is SO much more than that. Thelma and Louise is a two-hour commentary on abuse, sexual identity, feminism, and male patriarchy. It’s also freakin’ hilarious and sports two amazing acting performances by Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon, both of whom were nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress. It also earned Scott his first Oscar nomination and showed that he was much more than just a “sci-fi/fantasy” director. A director known for his iconic imagery, Thelma and Louise contains some of the best. The final image of the two characters embracing and then driving off a cliff is one of the most memorable in movie history.
#8 Prometheus (2012)
I’m probably going to take some shit for this one but I don’t care. I unapologetically love this movie. Does it have flaws? Absolutely. However, I think people hate on this movie because it’s not the Alien movie they wanted. And what they fail to realize is that it was never billed this way. Prometheus takes an intriguing look at our origins in the universe. The juxtaposition of humans and engineers vs humans and androids fits perfectly. The film is a lot scarier than people give it credit for, especially the self surgery scene involving Noomi Rapace. Prometheus is a world all its own, grounded in the Alien universe but not OF it, if that makes any sense. And Michael Fassbender’s portrayal of the android David is the best depiction of an android ever brought to the silver screen.
I came of age in the 80s so films like Legend were a staple in my house. I must have seen this movie twenty times growing up. If you’ve never had a chance to watch this gem of a movie starring a young, pre-Top Gun Tom Cruise and a practically unrecognizable Tim Curry, you should really check it out. This dark fantasy about a human woman who indirectly causes the death of a unicorn and the subsequent theft of its horn, will stay with you long after the credits role. Scott creates a film that’s literally otherworldly, with superb practical effects, great cinematography, and a memorable soundtrack by Tangerine Dream (at least in the US version). Plus Tim Curry flat-out owns this role as Darkness.
#6 American Gangster (2007)
Scott’s film about the rise and fall of Harlem gangster Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington), often gets overlooked and it shouldn’t. Scott captures the air and atmosphere fof 1970s Harlem to a T and immerses the viewer for two hours. It’s an intelligent gangster film on par with Goodfellas in style and substance. Washington is magnificent here as Lucas and his counterpart Russell Crowe is just as good as detective Richie Roberts, who eventually brings Frank down. Despite being a brutal gangster (at one point Lucas shoots Idris Elba in the head in broad daylight and then calmly goes back to breakfast) Ridley manages to humanize Lucas and make him empathetic. Every shot in this film is meticulous and detailed.
#5 The Martian (2015)
After a couple of terrible movies (Exodus: Gods and Kings, The Counselor), The Martian was a true return to form for Scott. Continuing his deft work at world building, Scott once again hits a home run with The Martian. It literally felt like he shot this sucker on Mars. Scott actually makes Mars a character in this movie unintentionally. A cold and indifferent antagonist that’s doing everything in its power to kill Matt Damon’s protagonist Mark Watney. Scott does a remarkable job getting the best out of a phenomenal ensemble cast including Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Donald Glover, Sean Bean, Jessica Chastain, and Chiwetel Ejiofor. The Martian captures the ingenuity and gallows humor of Andy Weir’s book while simultaneously being its own thing. The fact that Scott didn’t earn an Oscar nomination for this film is just as perplexing as The Martian winning the Golden Globe for Best Comedy.
#4 Gladiator (2000)
The only film of Scott’s ever to win the Academy Award for Best Picture, Gladiator was a film I saw three times in theaters and enjoyed more with each viewing. It’s an audacious and bold look at ancient Rome filled with thrilling battle scenes and moments of intimate drama. It also gave us this. Just go to the 2:30 mark:
The opening battle sequence possesses just as much emotion and meaning as the scene where Russell Crowe’s character Maximus discovers his wife and son murdered. There are so many lines that Russell Crowe delivers in this movie that resonate and David Franzoni, John Logan, and William Nicholson’s script is so damn quotable. The film made Crowe a household name but it’s also the movie where I first understood the genius talent of Joaquin Phoenix. His evil, diabolical, violent, ambitious, and yet insecure portrayal of Roman Emperor Commodus was just as good, and maybe better than Crowe’s. This sword and sandal epic is still that–epic. John Mathieson’s cinematography matches Hans Zimmer’s haunting score. Scott was robbed of an Academy Award for Best Director as the golden statue went to the overrated Steven Soderbergh for the equally overrated Traffic. (Seriously that movie does not hold up after multiple viewings unlike Scott’s film.)
#3 Alien (1979)
Two years before Alien released, audiences were exposed to the bright and flashy space opera that was Star Wars. Alien is the polar opposite of Star Wars. Dark, gritty, and above all horrifying, Alien redefined the sci-fi horror genre. Whereas most films had heretofore depicted space exploration in bright shiny motifs, Alien shows the blue-collar workers in space. You can feel the dirt, grime, and sweat as you watch this movie. Scott creates an entire world that is simultaneously both big and small in scope. The Nostromo is a gigantic ship and yet Alien makes you feel so claustrophobic and trapped that you might as well be in an 8 X 10 cell. Hard to believe this was only Scott’s second film. The world was yet to realize that they were watching the early stages of a masterful career. And of course the chest-burster scene involving John Hurt’s Kane remains just as terrifying thirty-seven years later.
#2 Blade Runner (1982)
Sometimes people don’t recognize greatness when they see it. Van Gough and Herman Melville are prime examples. I think the same holds true for Blade Runner. Originally derided by critics, Blade Runner is now heralded as one of the great science fiction films of all time. Not only is this the most important sci-fi movie of the last fifty years, it’s also the best. There’s an atmosphere to it that’s hard to define but fundamentally unique. There’s an unmistakable air of verisimilitude, as if this could be a plausible future Earth. This movie works on every single level–script, dialogue, acting, and of course a memorable score by Vangelis. Every shot is nothing short of a revelation, with imagery that stays with you long after the movie ends. On the surface it’s a story about a man chasing down escaped replicants, but it’s really a discussion about what it means to be human. Rutger Hauer’s final lines of dialogue are as haunting as they are memorable.
Kingdom of Heaven (2005)
I should be a little clearer. When I refer to this movie I mean the Roadshow Director’s Cut. While the original cut is an excellent movie in and of itself, the Director’s Cut elevates this movie to masterpiece level. It also proves that critics aren’t always right as Rotten Tomatoes rates this film at 39% with the following consensus:
Critics Consensus: Although it’s an objective and handsomely presented take on the Crusades, Kingdom of Heaven lacks depth.
I have no idea what movie these guys were watching.
This film gets sadly overlooked and received no love in any awards show. Yet I consider it to be Scott’s greatest accomplishment. Everything about this movie is perfect, from John Mathieson’s brilliant cinematography, to Harry Gregson-Williams masterful score, to the costume design and battle scenes. I’ve always been a sucker for the Crusades and Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven is one of the best put to screen. Moreover, the Director’s Cut fleshes out the film and makes it more of a personal quest for Balian (in Orlando Bloom’s finest role) to find God and redemption. Additionally, Kingdom of Heaven serves as a meditation on how men often put religion above God’s grace and love. Or as David Thewlis’ priest and Hostaller Knight puts it, “I put no faith in religion. I’ve seen religion drive men to madness.” The great Muslim king Saladin (Ghassan Massoud) re-emphasizes this towards the end of the film when he says, Jerusalem is worth “nothing” and “everything.” And damn what an ensemble cast–Liam Neeson, Edward Norton, Eva Green, Michael Sheen, Brendan Gleeson, Jeremy Irons; all of them come together to make a cohesive and visceral film. They are further proof that the Academy needs a best ensemble cast award. Almost twelve later this film remains socially relevant.
With each passing year Ridley Scott continues to prove why he is a true master of the craft. At almost eighty years old I hope he continues to make films well into his 90s.
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