Regular readers of this column will know I have a fascination with directors who are particularly meticulous. They want every single frame in their film to be perfect to the way they see it in their heads. All directors have a vision (or the good ones do anyway) but certain directors will sit there all day and all night until it’s just right. That must be a horrible bear on the cast and crew, but you can’t really argue with the results.
One of these directors is Ridley Scott, the English filmmaker and producer who’s had a really varied career of movies spanning all different genres, and while I don’t think it can be said that Scott elevates the quality of bad or sub par material, he does always bring his A+ game to every project he takes and his directorial skill is beyond reproach.
Below are my Top 7 favorite films directed by Ridley Scott.
7) Kingdom of Heaven Director’s Cut (2005)
There are a few directors out there who seem to be made to compromise their vision for the sake of the Studio, and Ridley Scott is one of them. The theatrical cut of Kingdom of Heaven, a film written by William Monahan, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of The Departed and depicting the 12th Century Crusades in Jerusalem, was fine at 144 minutes, but the Director’s Cut coming in at a whopping 190 minutes was a true quality epic, even with Orlando Bloom as the lead. I love that Scott releases multiple cuts of many of his movies, which we’ll definitely see more of on this list, and part of me wonders if a longer cut of his recent flop Exodus: Gods and Kings wouldn’t be aided by more footage, not less. At any rate, if you have the gumption to sit through over three hours of Middle Ages combat, you’ll come away feeling pretty great.
6) Thelma & Louise (1991)
This is the movie I often forget was directed by Ridley Scott (well, this and G.I. Jane, which I constantly wish was directed by someone else). Up to this point, Scott had made pretty much only sci-fi movies and thrillers, so he isn’t the obvious choice to direct a movie about an unbreakable, cataclysmic bond between two women in the American South. And yet, he did, and it’s really good. Working from a great screenplay by Callie Khouri, the film follows the titular partners in crime as they kill a rapist and then head out on the lam in a ’66 Thunderbird, giving up their humdrum lives to become bandits. It’s a fun adventure with one of the most We Don’t Give a F***! endings of any movie ever made.
5) Legend (1985)
This is quite simply one of the most beautifully designed movies I’ve ever seen, and I still don’t think I have any idea about what’s going on in it. A theme for Scott in the ’80s, I feel. While this is his only foray into the realm of high fantasy, Scott was able to really own the style and, what he does best, create a whole universe in the span of only a film’s running time. Tom Cruise and Mia Sara play heroic humans and are perfectly fine in the movie, but it’s the creatures that really make this movie what it is, along with Tangerine Dream’s awesome score. Here again, the Director’s Cut adds about 20 more minutes to the lean running time and helps with this considerably. And, enough beating around the bush, this movie features Tim Curry’s amazing performance as and Rob Bottin’s glorious makeup for the character of the Lord of Darkness, the scariest and most perfect depiction of the Devil ever put to film. Giant horns, man. I’m surprised Curry’s neck didn’t snap.
4) Gladiator (2000)
The only one of Ridley Scott’s movies ever to win Best Picture, though he was robbed for getting Best Director, this is about as epic a movie as he made, and he’s made quite a few. Set in Roman times and following the life of a general betrayed and made to become a gladiator in the arena only to gain more favor with the people than the Emperor himself, this was the movie when I was in high school that I watched on repeat, on our newly-purchased DVD player, because the battle scenes were oh so pretty, and super bloody. Did you ever want to see a warrior woman cut in half by a chariot’s wheel-blade? Or how about like, seven decapitations in one scene? Then this is the movie for you! Beyond all the action, though, and the state-of-the-art visual effects, is a truly universal story about one man standing up against tyranny, even if it means the end of his own life. It’s a real good movie.
3) Black Hawk Down (2001)
How do you follow up a lavish, hugely successful period epic? Well, if you’re Ridley Scott, with a gritty, handheld modern-era war movie about a downed helicopter in Somalia. Few movies put viewers into the confusion and hell of combat quite like Black Hawk Down, or at least few had before it. Unlike the sweeping nature of the sensationalized battles in Gladiator, there’s nothing really glamorous about the war depicted here, and it’s not gruesome for the sake of it, either. When three soldiers are pinned down in the middle of a road, we’re really not sure any of them are going to make it out, and when the rescue team comes in, we’re even less certain they are. This is one of Scott’s more surprising films, simply due to it feeling so fresh, so new, so unlike anything he’d done before.
2) Blade Runner (1982)
I truly can never get enough of this movie (the Final Cut, of course) and I’ve seen it probably ten times, and I still don’t really know entirely what happens. Things happen in the movie in a fluid sort of way that doesn’t immediately let the audience know what the plot is, unless you watch the theatrical cut with its painfully on-the-nose narration by Harrison Ford who clearly didn’t think it was a good idea. But that’s what I love about it; things are intuited more than they are explained, our “hero” isn’t a very nice guy at all, and our “villain,” while violent, is simply trying to understand his purpose in the universe, and his short lifespan. The visuals of this movie ushered in a new subgenre of science fiction, “Future Noir,” and the massive vistas of the overpopulated Los Angeles are stunning. Is Rick Deckard a replicant? I couldn’t give less of a shit about that, not when every molecule of the frame is telling me there’s something more interesting going on. That final chase scene through and atop the Bradbury Building is so amazingly beautiful that you could tell me the movie’s actually about Deckard being Hitler’s grandson and I’d say “sure, whatever.” Also, the music by Vangelis is what sci-fi movies should always sound like.
1) Alien (1979)
And what movie could possibly rank higher than Blade Runner? Only a movie that’s still as scary, as visually striking, as thoroughly engaging as Alien. You know how I know Alien was so important and groundbreaking? There’ve been only about a trillion rip-offs and imitators ever since, more perhaps than even Star Wars pretenders. This movie has the genius conceit of being a haunted house horror movie set within the trappings of a dystopian science fiction world. It’s got all the horror things in it, from dark, cavernous hallways to opening an unknown tomb and awaking and ancient evil. It’s literally all there. Harry Dean Stanton even says “Here, kitty kitty kitty” for God’s sake! There’s really no need to talk about H.R. Giger’s wonderful designs, because much has already been spoken about them, but Scott’s way of shooting them, with never too much light and always an eye toward maximizing the chills, help bring them to life. Always go with the original, I says, and as good as Aliens is, it still can’t hold a candle (or a flamethrower) to O.G. creature feature. Also, aren’t you glad they named it Alien and not Dan O’Bannon’s original title, Star Beast?
And there you have it, friends. My top 7 Ridley Scott films. As always, your mileage may vary. Let me know which you’d have chosen in the comments below!