Ever since he entered the feature filmmaking game in 1977 after years of success in directing TV advertisements (UK readers, the “Boy on the Bike” Hovis ad was his), Ridley Scott has been one of the hardest working, most prolific and most distinctive directors out there. Now aged 83 and with 2 films released in 2021, Sir Ridley is doing anything but slow down.
He is famed for his organisational skills and rapid shooting pace on films which never run over time or over budget (usually while in the depths of post-production for one he is well on his way preparing for his next), not to mention racking over 100 varied producing credits with Scott Free Productions, the company he founded with his late fellow filmmaker brother Tony.
Throughout his directorial career Sir Ridley has displayed a fascination with exploring human nature and telling stories with complex and formidable women at their centre, and over a near-45 year career he has tried his hand at most genres, always bringing distinct and atmospheric visual sensibilities with him.
How do you even begin to put such an impressive body of work in any kind of justifiable order? Well, we at The Film Magazine are certainly going to try. So put on your favourite Hans Zimmer soundtrack, draw the blinds to cast some interesting shadows, and turn on the smoke machine. Based on each film’s critical and audience reception, and their wider impacts on popular culture, here is Every Ridley Scott Directed Film Ranked from worst to best.
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27. The Counsellor (2013)
In an effort to buy himself out of trouble, a lawyer (Michael Fassbender) agrees to facilitate the theft of a Cartel drug shipment on behalf of local kingpin Reiner (Javier Bardem).
Acclaimed novelist Cormac McCarthy writing a script for Ridley Scott sounds like a dream come true, yet The Counsellor was anything but. The characters are all broad strokes, amoral archetypes, or, in Bardem’s case, cartoon characters. No one changes or learns anything, and the smattering of kinky sex and splatter violence is transparently aiming for shock value.
By squandering an intriguing premise and an impressive cast, The Counsellor ends up as an amateurish, sleazy and boring crime film with, particularly disappointing for McCarthy (a writer famed for pristine penmanship), only a single memorable exchange of dialogue.
26. Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014)
A re-telling of the Old Testament story of Moses (Christian Bale), an adopted prince of the Pharaoh leading the Israelite rebellion and escape from their slave-masters in Egypt.
The animated The Prince of Egypt did this story so much better, or at least executed it in a more emotionally compelling way. Ridley Scott might be Mr Historical Epic, but in adapting a Biblical story he bit off more than he could chew.
Even putting aside the uncomfortable look of casting white Europeans and their descendants to populate a story of Egypt and the Middle East (this was only half a decade ago and everybody should’ve known better) Exodus never seems to work out exactly what it wants to be; grounded or fantastical, spiritual or cynical, faithful to the Old Testament or out to deconstruct it; it’s all of these and none of them at the same time.
25. Robin Hood (2010)
Returning from the Crusades, Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe in his fourth collaboration with Ridley Scott) leads a series of uprisings in the villages surrounding Nottingham in protest of the cruelty of the Crown’s treatment of the peasant classes.
Who decided Monsieur Hood should be gritty? Give me a fox or Errol Flynn any day.
This take on the classic English folk tale had all the action chops but never managed to present Robin as an engaging character with compelling or relatable struggles.
Crowe’s accent going on a walking tour of the British Isles was distracting to say the least, and while Mark Strong and Oscar Isaac are fun baddies to boo at, Cate Blanchett is largely wasted as a more active than usual Marian, the copious convoluted flashbacks only serving to muddy the characters and their struggles.
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24. Someone to Watch Over Me (1987)
Newly-promoted NYPD detective Mike Keegan (Tom Berenger) is assigned to protect socialite Claire Gregory (Mimi Rogers) who has witnessed a brutal mob assassination, but finds himself helplessly falling for her.
This is a pretty dull, by-the-numbers noir-thriller enlivened only slightly by Scott’s usual visual flair and Lorraine Bracco’s sturdy supporting performance which manages to make the usually thankless role of cop’s wife fairly interesting.
You can predict every twist and plot turn coming at you a mile off, and all the late 80s fashion and hair is far more terrifying than any violent threats to the protagonists might be.
23. A Good Year (2006)
High-flying British stock trader Max Skinner (Russell Crowe) returns to his family vineyard in France to tie up his late uncle’s estate but falls in love with a simpler way of life and the people he connects with, chiefly waitress and childhood friend Fanny (Marion Cotillard).
Russell Crowe’s first reunion with Scott since Gladiator is a pretty strange beast, all things considered. It’s basically the story of a man with money being humbled, going on a trip down memory lane in summery rural France and trying to recall a more innocent point in his life when things other than wealth mattered to him.
For once Crowe isn’t playing a gruff macho man, he’s got good comic chemistry with Tom Hollander, and the flashbacks featuring Freddie Highmore and Albert Finney are admittedly rather poignant. Sadly Marion Cotillard doesn’t get much of interest to do despite being key to the plot, and Scott seems far less comfortable directing what is essentially a rom-com.
22. Hannibal (2001)
A decade after his escape from the asylum, Dr Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) is being pursued not just by the FBI’s Clarice Starling (Julianne Moore) but one of his few surviving and highly vengeful victims (Gary Oldman).
It was an almost impossible task, to follow Jonathan Demme’s 1991 masterpiece adapting an inferior book sequel, but Scott did his best with what he was given. Anthony Hopkins has fun with a lot more screen time as Hannibal Lecter, and the whole thing is presented with handsome cinematography and a beautifully orchestrated score from Hans Zimmer, including a meticulous original aria for the sake of a single scene at the opera.
Unfortunately these iconic characters lose a lot of their power and allure, and the whole thing feels over-stuffed, unfocused and unnecessarily gory.
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