I love Ridley Scott. I love his style, I love his choice of score and music on films, I love his sweeping scale, I love when he does the rare smart comedy or adds in sweet romance, I love everything about him and his films. And honestly, there are only one or two films that he’s made that I have anything bad to say about, (though I won’t disclose here). Ridley Scott’s latest film, Exodus: Gods and Kings, was recently released, and since his films are often pegged and placed into the sweeping epic, action-adventure, style-over-substance pigeonhole, I’d like to showcase the many different sides of Scott and reveal why he is one of the greatest filmmakers of our generation.
1) Alien (1979)
If you were to watch Alien without any prior knowledge of the film, (which would be quite difficult but I guess it’s a hypothetical situation), the first thing you would notice is how tense it is. As Ridley Scott’s first successful film at the box office, Alien burst into cinemas in 1979 and hasn’t left the minds of its audience ever since–partly because of its horror aspects, yes, but mostly because of the style and tension. The music, the endless rolls of fog used throughout the film, the uneasy buildup to Kane’s famous chestburster scene–it all climaxes into one of the best extraterrestrial stand offs in cinema history. The film has never been particularly scary to me and I’ve never categorized it as a horror film in my mind, but I can see why most people do. The tension builds throughout, only breaking when the alien shows up periodically and scaring the pants off most. It is definitely one of my favorite Ridley Scott films, and one of my favorite films of all time, period.
2) Blade Runner (1982)
Blade Runner was a massive bomb at the box office when it first opened. Why? I honestly couldn’t tell you because when I watched it for the first time I was blown away. It is a sci-fi film like no other. It is neo noir–a dark, gritty, a highly stylized vision of the future in which Harrison Ford must track down four “replicants” (basically super smart robots) who have stolen a ship and returned to Earth even though they are forbidden. The rest of the plot is too complicated for me to fully go into, but just know it is one of the coolest films ever made. Since it’s release, it has gone from a box office failure to a cult classic, proven by the fact that the film has three versions currently out on DVD: Theatrical, Director’s Cut and Final Cut–all with different endings. Watch them all if you want a true brain warp!
3) Thelma and Louise (1991)
When most people think of Thelma and Louise, they think of the famous Brad Pitt/Geena Davis motel room scene–hardly anyone thinks of the director, Ridley Scott. In fact, when I first watched Thelma and Louise for the first time a couple of months ago, I myself even forgot that it was directed by him, and watching it, I realized why. Thelma and Louise is lighter than most of his action films, in not only lighting, but in style, and in script. It’s witty and doesn’t take itself too seriously like most of his action films do. Not that that’s a bad thing, but that just seems like something Ridley goes for 99% of the time; but with Thelma and Louise it was just a fun ride, not a draining one. (Even though we all know the ending.) Not to mention the epic use of two female characters with giant story arcs and amazing depth. Susan Surandon and Geena Davis are forever my heroes.
4) Gladiator (2000)
You cannot have a column about five Ridley Scott movies and not include Gladiator. In my mind, leaving Gladiator out of any Ridley Scott list is blasphemous, akin to the preposterous thought that anyone other than Russell Crowe should have won the Oscar for this film. It’s the story of a Roman general whose family is brutally murdered by the emperor’s jealous son. The son is then captured and made into a killing machine gladiator, all while he seeks his revenge. It doesn’t get much more epic than that. Gladiator is, to me, Scott’s masterpiece. A lot of the time Ridley Scott is style over substance, but with Gladiator he hit every nail on the head. It is beautifully shot, actually so beautiful that when I watched it on blu-ray for the first time I gasped. The acting is superb on everyone’s part. The scale, the screenplay and dialogue, the emotional depth, the action scenes, and even the score (which I still listen to constantly), they blow most movies away. Gladiator literally has everything anyone could possibly want from a film, and that is just one of the many reasons I consider it a masterpiece and definitely Ridley Scott’s masterpiece. I could go on and on about Gladiator but since this is a Ridley Scott list, not a Gladiator specific list, I’ll move on now. (But it’s so goooood.)
5) A Good Year (2006)
One of Ridley Scott’s most underrated films, I felt A Good Year deserved to be on this list because the critics panned a film that did not deserve the bad reputation it has received. A lot of critics seemed to have pegged it as a romantic comedy (for that I must condemn the advertising; it was also advertised as a romantic comedy) and therefore judged it as one. But for me, A Good Year was not a romantic comedy at all. It is a simple story of an overworked man who has forgotten his past, and learns to rediscover and appreciate it when his beloved uncle dies and leaves him his vineyard in Provence. Yes, there are comedic aspects to it but they are smart and witty jokes and not something usually shown in a film advertised as a “romantic comedy”. And yes it is sweetly romantic at times, but the romance doesn’t define the film. There is so much warmth already from the complexity of the family drama and the development of Russell Crowe’s character Max as he transforms from a fast-paced investment banker into a man who learns to enjoy the simple pleasures of life and unearths the parts of himself he had long since forgotten. No, it doesn’t feel like a Ridley Scott film other than the great acting and beautifully shot scenes, and it is by no means a perfect film, but it is emotionally attaching and well worth the watch. Preferably with a nice bottle of wine!
I love so many Ridley Scott movies it was hard for me to narrow this list into simply five. I chose the ones I chose, however, because they show the varying degrees of his film career and showcase a little bit of every side to him. However, I would also like to give mention to one of my favorites, Legend, which is a 1985 children’s fantasy film starring Tom Cruise, and Tim Curry portraying the best Satan I have seen on screen, not to mention the use of puppets. (If you like Willow and Labyrinth and have never seen Legend, I think you’ll really enjoy it.)
Also I’d love to give mention to my other favorites: Matchstick Men, a smart comedy starring Nic Cage and Sam Rockwell; American Gangster, one of the best crime dramas I’ve seen with Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington; and lastly, Robin Hood, because for me, when Ridley Scott teams up with Russell Crowe, they can never go wrong.