16. Napoleon (2023)
A whistle-stop tour through the adult life of Napoleon Bonaparte (Joaquin Phoenix) and his paramour Josephine (Vanessa Kirby).
Ridley Scott’s long-awaited return to epically-scaled historical spectacle certainly delivered in that regard with a series of elaborate, bleak and brutal early 19th century battles, but elsewhere it struggles to connect.
This has the feeling of an event miniseries highlights package that rushes through characterisation and barely establishes the context for its sometimes shaky grasp of history. Phoenix and Kirby are good value, often wringing unexpected humour out of heightened situations, but the script needed to give them more room to breathe and dedicate less time to having people explain what’s going on and why.
15. All the Money in the World (2017)
The grandson of the richest man in the world, J Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer), is kidnapped for ransom in Italy, but Getty refuses to negotiate despite the emotional turmoil of his daughter-in-law Gail Harris (Michelle Williams) and the guidance of the family security adviser (Mark Wahlberg).
Christopher Plummer re-shot all of Kevin Spacey’s scenes in eight days and was still nominated for an Oscar. This is a pretty effective true crime thriller which occasionally struggles to keep you engaged with all of the characters and themes.
This one might have worked better as a documentary series as it feels all too often like Scott and his team are trying to cram in spectacle where none existed, forgetting that this is just the story of convincing the richest man in history to open his wallet.
14. Body of Lies (2008)
As part of a crucial CIA operation in Iraq and later Jordan, field agent Roger Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio) hunts the leader of a terrorist cell responsible for deadly suicide bombings in Europe, all the while trying to avoid further escalating the situation and butting heads with his Stateside superiors (chiefly Russell Crowe’s Ed Hoffman) and local intelligence agencies.
This taut espionage thriller set in the Middle East packs plenty of punch by plunging you into the heart of the action, Body of Lies steadily building tension and keeping you on your toes particularly in the first half with how it reveals the competing agendas of all the key players.
It does have to lose a few points for its convoluted story going to some predictable places towards its conclusion, and for hiring the very European Mark Strong to play a Jordanian spymaster, but DiCaprio and Crowe’s tense verbal sparring makes it worth your while.
13. The Martian (2015)
Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) becomes stranded alone on Mars after his mission is hit by a freak accident. How will he survive, re-establish communication with NASA and get back home?
The Martian might be a pretty conventional, well-trodden story – guy survives against the odds in an inhospitable place – but the humanity, the humour and Scott’s usual level of polished craftsmanship makes this a hugely enjoyable watch.
Watney might start off as a bit of a jerk, but Damon’s natural charisma and the unforced way he plays the gallows humour in Drew Goddard’s script still makes you want to spend time with him as he tries to not die on Mars by doing clever things with poo and potatoes.
Recommended for you: 10 Best Matt Damon Performances
12. Alien: Covenant (2017)
A decade after the failed mission of the Prometheus, a damaged colony ship overseen by Daniels (Katherine Waterston) lands on a world apparently ripe for habitation but which hides far deadlier threats both man-made and otherwise.
As good as some of its elements were, Prometheus seemed stuck in an identity crisis, whereas Covenant is proudly a proper Alien movie. The plot isn’t in any way surprising, the only unusual element being one of the twists not being used as such from the audience’s perspective but rather as an act of how long our heroes can miss seeing what is really going on.
It’s vintage bleak Ridley Scott sci-fi with added glossy gore and very stupid people dying spectacularly stupidly. Covenant may be downbeat, even hopeless in its outlook, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun and gives a dual role Michael Fassbender the biggest playground imaginable.
11. White Squall (1996)
A school ship teaching its crew of teenage boys in the classroom and on deck runs afoul of a sudden storm, a coming-of-age voyage soon becoming a fight for survival.
It might get a bit corny “Oh Captain, my captain” in its final stretch, but with the skill in which Scott mounts this story and the terrifying way he executes the devastating storm scene in particular, not to mention solid performances across the board, White Squall may be his most underrated movie.
Jeff Bridges is great as Skipper Sheldon, and Scott Wolff and Ryan Phillippe stand out among the young ensemble, all bringing layers to this heart-rending boys-own adventure gone wrong story; an affecting tribute to the real survivors and those lives that were tragically cut short.