Ridley Scott Films Ranked

5. Gladiator (2000)

When famed Roman General Maximus Decimus Meridius (Russell Crowe) refuses the hand of the new Emperor Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix), he and his family are sentenced to execution. Escaping this fate, he is captured by slave traders and forced to fight as a gladiator in the arena, his new life of violence giving him another path to Rome to face Commodus once more.

Ridley Scott’s Oscar-winner (for Best Picture, not Best Director, much to Scott’s consternation) was responsible for reviving the Sword and Sandals genre for a new generation. Two decades later it is still widely regarded for how convincingly it re-constructs Ancient Rome, the breathless pace of the brutal action on the battlefield and in the arena, the vivid characters, and Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard’s highly emotive score.

Gladiator never ceases to amaze, even after repeated viewing, and is always there with some new detail or emotional undercurrent to savour.

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4. Thelma & Louise (1991)

Thelma (Geena Davis) and Louise (Susan Sarandon) embark on a road trip to get away from their boring lives for a while, but end up as outlaws on the run following a tragic accident at their first stop on the road.

This feminist road movie classic was before its time in 1991 and still packs one hell of a punch today. The title pair are on the run because toxic patriarchal society will never believe they killed in self defence, and over the course of their journey and the escalation of their crime spree of necessity, the meek Thelma and the streetwise Louise fascinatingly morph into each other. Either Davis or Sarandon could have won their Oscar for their killer performances, they were just unlucky to go up against Jodie Foster.

However hardened you may think yourself to be, it’s difficult to not get swept up in the bittersweet heady emotion of Thelma & Louise’s famous final scene. 

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3. Blade Runner (1982)

Blade Runner Review

In the near future, Rogue android hunter Deckard (Harrison Ford) is on the tail of four replicants in search of their creator and the secret to extending their short lives. His search leads him to cross paths with the enigmatic Rachael (Sean Young) and forces him to question the nature of life, free will and his own place in the universe.

Mr Director’s Cut’s most frequently tweaked work finally settled in an apparently definitive “Final Cut” a decade ago, but all versions of this quintessential sci-fi-noir provoke as much debate as ever.

Ridley Scott’s vision of the future may not have come to pass quite yet, but a world controlled by China and Coca Cola is an amusingly spot-on prediction of what the mainstream film industry looks like today. Aside from the central ideas of advanced robotics, free will, immortality, memory, and what a soul actually is, there are references to globalisation and the dissolution of nations, off-world colonisation, designer fabrication of animals and human organs.

Impressively among all these competing elements, Ford remains the cynical heart of the film as Deckard, and Rutger Hauer completely steals the show in the “Tears in the rain” final stretch.

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2. The Duellists (1977)

Two French soldiers, d’Hubert (Keith Carradine) and Feraud (Harvey Keitel) rise through the ranks during the Napoleonic Wars, fighting a duel with each other every time they meet over 16 years, a point of honour over an imagined slight.

Straight out of the gate Ridley Scott showed a mastery of atmosphere, meaty humanist themes and a compelling portrayal of ordinary people swept up in big historical events. This is a film built almost entirely around rivalry and a man’s sense of honour, focusing on the series of duels between two French soldiers who entertainingly have to keep up with one another’s military ranks to retain the privilege of facing each other one-on-one.

You have to marvel at how much Scott manages to put on screen with a modest budget – the representation of 19th-century duelling practices is completely believable, and this has to be one of the best films out there about about the most flawed of flawed masculinity; or, to put it more simply: why men are drawn to pissing contests.

1. Alien (1979)

Alien Review

The crew of the mining vessel the Nostromo are awoken from hypersleep to investigate a strange signal coming from a nearby planet. Once back aboard the ship, now with a parasitic stowaway, they soon realise that their nightmare is just beginning and that nowhere on their cavernous vessel will be a safe place to hide.

It’s sometimes hard to believe that this was only Ridley Scott’s second film. The confidence shown in this intelligent, atmospheric and dark space nightmare is astounding, and it has quite rightly become an icon of both science-fiction and horror cinema.

A slow, creeping fear permeates the whole affair, and like in all of Scott’s best films, its visuals are primed for decoding hidden meaning. Alien maintains its sweaty tension throughout, and plays cleverly with our fear of the unknown, making the most of the cramped, hemmed-in setting, not to mention Scott’s long-running theme of bad people running the show behind the scenes being the most terrifying, inhuman threat of all.

You’d be hard pressed to guess the order of the crew’s grisly ends on a first watch, and who out of Sigourney Weaver, John Hurt and Tom Skerritt will make it out alive. You might be tempted to poke holes in the DIY spaceship sets and archaic computers, but it’s as all part of the charm. This has to be Ridley Scott’s finest work. It is certainly his most complete, least tampered with and most connective dark vision. 

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Which of you readers have been committed enough to see every single one of Ridley Scott’s films to date? Do you agree with how we’ve ranked his eclectic body of work or are you more partial to his sci-fi over his historical epics, or his intimate dramas over his war films? Has Sir Ridley somehow made a new film in the time it has taken you to read this article? Be sure to let us know in the comments below, and follow The Film Magazine on Facebook and Twitter for many more lists like this one.

Updated to include Napoleon 7th Dec 2023. Originally published 3rd Dec 2021.

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