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Ridley Scott turns 80 this year (2017) and shows no signs of slowing down. The filmmaker, whose feature-length cinematic outings as a director have spanned across 5 decades, has been one of the more well-respected genre directors of the contemporary era having earned 3 Oscar nominations for Best Director and being at the centre of a further 1 movie that has been nominated for Best Picture, as well as being at the helm of some of cinema’s best-remembered and most beloved releases. Here are his top 10 movies….
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10. Prometheus (2012)
Welcoming Scott back to the Alien universe after 33 years was special to many fans of the famous series. The filmmaker had ignited the franchise with his horror-sci-fi original, thus increasing expectations of his long-awaited prequel. He managed to capture much of the tension and drama that he did in 1979, only with slightly less authenticity as Prometheus was developed and marketed to be just as much of another mainstream Alien feature film as a personal passion project for Scott, resulting in a movie that felt like it had to replicate the high points of the original rather than find such high points naturally as the story developed. Prometheus is a very good standalone science fiction movie that pleased audiences and critics alike but didn’t break waves like the majority of entries on this list. When all was said and done, this film was very good franchise reboot, but a franchise reboot nonetheless.
9. Matchstick Men (2003)
Sam Rockwell and an in-form Nicolas Cage headed up this Ridley Scott picture about a pair of con artists looking to pull off a huge financial swindle, in what critics called “an earthed story” that was “quietly devastating”. For this film, Scott chose to do away with much of the aesthetic flair that had brought him success via Black Hawk Down and Gladiator in particular, instead focusing on ensuring that the quality of the script’s somewhat dark and down-trodden tone managed to shine through onto the screen. Intricately made and of the highest quality in all regards, Matchstick Men never found the cult fame that many critical darlings do, but it remains a very good Ridley Scott movie that has more of a punch than meets the eye at first impression.
8. Black Hawk Down (2001/02)
Ridley Scott was nominated for a Best Director award at the 2002 Oscars for his work on this modern war epic that captured the seemingly worthless loss of lives that American forces suffered in the African country of Somalia during the 1-day-long Battle of Mogadishu in 1993. The filmmaker brought much of the atmosphere featured strongly in the rest of his oeuvre to this film, with a retread of the dramatic colouration techniques he had used to great effect in Gladiator helping to increase tension in the warzone and enhance the filmmaker’s artistic input for what was an ensemble piece of early 2000s famous faces – led by Josh Hartnett but also featuring Ewan McGregor, Tom Sizemore, Eric Bana, William Fichtner, Ewen Bremner, Sam Shepard, Hugh Dancy, Ioan Gruffud, Jason Isaacs, Jeremy Piven, Tom Hardy and Orlando Bloom – battling insurmountable odds. Black Hawk Down is perhaps too often overlooked in the annuls of war film history, for it is a very good film from a talented director at the peak of his powers telling an extraordinary story that needs to be seen to be believed.
7. The Duellists (1977)
If you were to take a quick glance at The Duellists through an image search engine or via YouTube, this movie’s visual beauty would be the first thing you’d notice, for Ridley Scott’s feature-length directorial debut marvellously recreated Napoleonic France and instantly stamped Scott’s name amongst cinema’s list of beautiful scene constructors. Starring the likes of Harvey Keitel and Albert Finney, The Duellists was far from a simply beautiful movie, as it also became one of the more compelling movies of its type, telling the tale of two officers who regularly duel throughout several decades. This film was an early glimpse at Scott’s incredible talent for focusing and personalising grandiose stories, and though it is oft-forgotten amongst his more popular movies, it remains one of his best.
6. American Gangster (2007)
This R-Rated gangster movie based on the real-life actions of notorious New York heroin kingpin Frank Lucas in the 1970s, is perhaps best remembered for the fantastic performances of the Oscar-nominated Ruby Dee (who played Mama Lucas) and Golden Globe nominee Denzel Washington, the latter of whom embodied his character’s arrogant ruthlessness in such a way that enhanced each of the picture’s many moments of heightened tension. Scott’s clever presentation of the actor worked to separate him from the rest of his crew and audiences alike while never quite establishing such a distance that made his character inhuman, dictating that for all of his monstrosity Frank Lucas was a very real human being. Also starring long-time collaborator Russell Crowe, this film is never thought of as a classic of the gangster genre, but given the time in which it was released – a relatively unpopular decade for gangster films – and the skill involved in all aspects of the production, American Gangster remains a very good picture and number 6 in Ridley Scott’s overall filmography.
5. The Martian (2015)
The Martian was somewhat of a surprise critical hit for Scott given the movie’s more comedic tone – certainly not an element usually considered a part of the Scott wheelhouse – and was honoured with several award nominations at the Golden Globes and the Oscars, somewhat of a surprise given that genre pieces (in this case sci-fi) rarely find such instantaneous success in the critical realm. Dubbed “Castaway in space” by internet commentators, The Martian produced the best Matt Damon performance in over a decade (and arguably ever), and was universally praised for its beautiful depiction of a desolate Mars landscape. Scott, of course, brought decades worth of work on science fiction films to fray, and managed to find the same focus in this film as he had with many of his largest successes, only this time with the biggest ensemble cast of his filmography to date. Funny but worthy of investment and still a spectacle for the eyes, The Martian was one of this decade’s more well-respected sci-fi films that places it firmly in this list’s top 5.
4. Thelma & Louise (1991)
Thelma & Louise remains a landmark for women in cinema as well as one of Ridley Scott’s most precious gifts to the industry. Susan Sarandon (left) and Geena Davis (right) play Louise and Thelma respectively in a well developed road movie in which the two stars play criminals on the run from a murder charge brought about by their shooting of a rapist in Arkansas. The film won Best Original Screenplay at the Oscars, with Sarandon and Davis each being nominated for Best Leading Actress at that year’s ceremony. Scott himself was nominated for Best Director too, though the movie’s critical recognition pales in comparison to its historical importance and the iconic status that Sarandon, Davis and their ’66 Thunderbird have gained in the years since. This is an important movie in terms of representation and a really entertaining spectacle to boot, making it one of several all-time classics to come from the mind of this legendary director.
3. Gladiator (2000)
When Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe set off on their venture to make a Roman-era epic in the same mould as Spartacus (1960), they had barely any script to work from and instead a list of ideas they wished to put to screen in order to present their ideal Gladiatorial film. $100million later, the pair had made one of the most iconic cinematic releases of modern times and a would-be 12-time Oscar nominee (5 time winner), the most nominated of any release in Scott’s career. Combining inspiration from the above-mentioned Spartacus and 11-time Oscar winner Ben-Hur (1959), Scott’s story of a revolutionary gladiator overcoming the Roman Empire was exciting and dramatic, with each scene being enhanced by its combination of CGI and practical effects. In Crowe, Scott had found his ideal leading man, with this movie proving the catalyst for a lasting relationship between the pair that would come to define each of their careers in the decade to follow. In many respects, Gladiator can be marked as the last of the historical war epics to truly find critical acclaim in this era, and though it inspired studios to pursue the likes of Alexander (2004), Troy (2004) and Scott’s own Kingdom of Heaven (2005), it is Gladiator that remains the best and most memorable of the bunch.
2. Blade Runner: The Final Cut (1982)
Blade Runner was a critical and box office bomb upon its initial release in 1982, an issue Scott has publicly addressed in the decades since with re-releases of the now classic science fiction movie in various home video formats, the most well-established of which is Blade Runner: The Final Cut. Owing many of the initial release’s problems to studio interference – not least regarding the cheesy sunset-conclusion and voiceover narration – Scott re-framed and restructured his original work to more accurately resemble his vision of a dark dystopian future of questionable morals, thus creating a neo-noir masterpiece of aesthetically pleasing tension built around a series of iconic and quotable moments the likes of which the sci-fi genre has looked to replicate to this day. “All will be lost like tears in rain” is a quote from the movie that could have been incredibly poignant regarding this film’s success were it not for its initial cult following and Scott’s subsequent passion to re-work Blade Runner into the powerhouse that it is today. A true must-see for any fan of Scott, sci-fi, or film as an artistic medium, Blade Runner is a very close runner-up in this top 10 list.
1 . Alien (1979)
Alien may not have been the first movie in Scott’s illustrious career, but it was certainly his most game-changing. Combining elements of science fiction and horror, Scott navigated one of the most creative genre pieces in the contemporary era; so respected was his work that it remains a staple of film studies in universities worldwide. The film announced Scott as one of the top talents emerging from a decade that was filled to the brim with young, hungry and incredibly talented directors, and was the first showcase of how focused and personal he could make even the most grand and outlandish of stories. The film’s iconic “chest-burst” scene is perhaps the most well-remembered part of this film and has been parodied, and paid homage to, countless times in the decades since. It was, however, in the casting of Sigourney Weaver as the lead character that the movie became more than just an incredibly well made film, but also the home of one of the strongest female roles in contemporary Hollywood history.
So there you have it, the top 10 films directed by Ridley Scott. Agree? Disagree? Don’t hesitate to let us know in the comments below!