Ridley Scott is one of the most successful directors of all time: combined, his films have grossed nearly $2 billion theatrically alone, while his work in the science fiction and historical drama genres have set the standard for generations of filmmakers.
Having directed sci-fi masterpieces like Alien and Blade Runner, to historical epics like Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven, to the feminist classic Thelma & Louise, Ridley Scott has produced a variety of films to great financial and critical success. Never one to rest upon his laurels, Scott’s output over the past four decades has spanned multiple genres to a mixture of success and failure, commercially and otherwise.
A master of creating detailed worlds in which his characters struggle and strive, Scott’s work is distinguished by an individual fighting against extraordinary circumstances and the epic scale of his productions. Sometimes overwhelming detailed while losing the plot, Ridley Scott has not put out an immaculate filmography but a very interesting one nonetheless.
While a “worst-to-best” list inherently passes judgement on the quality of a director’s films, it’s important to note that any one of Scott’s films that have landed in the “Top 10” of this list grossly outweigh most director’s best effort. Although not perfect, his films are always well thought-out and made with the utmost professionalism and care.
- GI Jane (1997)
While working within the same female empowerment themes that succeeded in Alien and Thelma & Louise, Ridley Scott made arguably his worst film, GI Jane, about a female lieutenant that enters training for the U.S. Navy Combined Reconnaissance Team in a politically motivated attempt to prove that a woman can achieve within a male-dominated arena of the military.
Although memorable female characters either overcoming or confronting gender prejudice has served him well in the past, this Demi Moore-starring drama fell flat in many ways: its forced premise, hammy acting (Anne Bancroft’s Senator character in particular chews all of the scenery she can get her hands on), and overcooked-but-obvious social equality message (women can do what men can, you see) makes for a dire and (worse) boring viewing experience. Although Moore gives a strong performance, it isn’t enough to save GI Jane from the bottom of Scott’s filmography.
- Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014)
Ridley Scott is no stranger to the historical epic: some of his best work, including Best Picture-winner Gladiator and directorial debut The Duellists, has him meticulously studying and recreating the distant past to create slick period pieces for modern audiences to enjoy. So it made sense when Scott announced that he would take on a Biblical epic–the story of Moses–in the big-budget Exodus: Gods and Kings.
But Scott–a staunch atheist–miscalculated the potential audience of the film. Instead of leaning on the religious aspects of the story, he created a CGI-filled spectacle filled with overwrought performances that felt more at home in a summer blockbuster than a story from the Old Testament.
Opening to negative reviews, the film was a box-office bomb, recouping only half of its $268 million budget. Instead of taking literally one of the oldest stories in the world and making it new, Scott made an expensive retread of The Ten Commandments without the conviction.
- Someone To Watch Over Me (1987)
After witnessing a murder, a woman is taken under the protection of an NYPD detective. She is stalked by the murderer, hoping to silence her before he is ID’ed, and the blue-collar police officer falls for his high society charge in the process. This is the high-concept premise of the 1987 thriller Someone To Watch Over Me.
A paint-by-numbers thriller, it was a low-key choice for such a technically minded filmmaker like Ridley Scott. And while the film bears Scott’s penchant for neo-noir aesthetics, the plot is predictable, the acting stiff, and it’s a largely unengaging film.
The exception here is Lorraine Bracco’s standout performance as the detective’s wife, who infuses the stock character of a police officer’s long-suffering wife with energy and imagination. But a good supporting performance can’t save a standard thriller, least of all when it’s made by one of the greatest directors of the 20th century.
- The Counselor (2013)
On paper, the combined talents of writer Cormac McCarthy and director Ridley Scott sounds like a win-win proposition: one of the most critically acclaimed authors of modern times had written his first original script and a master of film was helming its production. So what went wrong?
The story is simple enough: trying to shore up money for his upcoming wedding, an attorney enters a deal with a Mexican cartel to smuggle a large amount of drugs into the country.
What follows is perhaps why the film wasn’t a success, either commercially or critically: it’s a tragedy, with most of the main characters, innocent or otherwise, either unceremoniously murdered or left to take the fall in the end. Combine this with Scott’s stylish but hollow direction and McCarthy’s crisp dialogue but bleak script and you have a film that’s unappealing to audiences and unsatisfying to its viewer.
- 1492: Conquest of Paradise (1992)
Aside from his contemporary James Cameron, if there’s one thing Ridley Scott knows what to direct, it’s big-budget films. Adjusted for inflation, most of his films have averaged between $50 to $100 million apiece to produce, and (for good or ill) all of it is evident on-screen. For the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s discovery of “The New World,” Scott directed a film to commemorate this historic discovery and, with a budget of $47 million ($84 million in 2017 dollars), created 1492: Conquest of Paradise.
While a lavish production, the film took a beating at the box office for several reasons: released at the same time at the (earlier-released) Christopher Columbus: The Discovery, audiences confused the two films and were already fatigued by the premise when Scott’s version sailed into theaters; the casting of never-popular-in-America star Gerard Depardieu as Columbus failed to capture audience interest; and its negative reviews sealed its fate as a box-office disaster, where it recouped only 15% of the budget during its theatrical run. With no critical reassessment in sight, it’s clear that Scott’s vision of Columbus’s journey remains dead in the water.
- White Squall (1996)
Undeterred by his previous aquatic film’s sunken prospects, Scott re-entered dicey waters with yet another seafaring adventure, this time detailing the ill-fated voyage of a schooner that was out on an educational trip and subsequently sunk by a white squall in 1961. Focusing on the interpersonal relationships of the novice seamen and their hard-nosed teacher (played by Jeff Bridges), White Squall mixes drama with action as the initially combative seafarers must pull together when disaster strikes.
Perhaps because of the more intimate story involved, White Squall succeeds in places where Scott’s previous attempt at drama set on the high seas failed. Featuring a commanding performance by Bridges and harrowing scenes of a seacraft at distress that puts its young crew members in peril, it’s a serviceable action-thriller that never reaches the heights of epic storytelling or drama of which Scott has proved that he more than capable of achieving.
- Robin Hood (2010)
Robin Hood is a character from English folklore whose story has been told and retold seemingly countless times throughout history–in ballads, plays, literature, and films both live action and animated. While there have been many successful adaptations throughout 20th century cinema–most notably Walt Disney’s animated version in 1973 and the live-action Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves in 1991–Ridley Scott still hadn’t made one, so he embarked on his own retelling of the tale in 2010’s Robin Hood.
While a financial success (to a point: it cost $200 million to produce and made $317 million at the box office), the film received mixed reviews and quickly faded in filmgoer’s memories. Perhaps the biggest detriment of the film was its gritty and dour mood: instead of presenting Robin Hood as a plucky outlaw, Scott instead chose to make Hood (played by Russell Crowe) a disillusioned veteran of the king’s army, turning outlaw after the political situation goes sour.
Besides this, Scott’s historical attention to detail of medieval conditions is impressive but overwhelms what most audiences identify as a lighthearted folk tale; and the story itself becomes muddled with political intrigue instead of portraying the series of Robin Hood’s adventures that audiences are familiar with. Always an impressive filmmaker, Scott sometimes doesn’t see the forest for the trees–and when the setting is Sherwood forest, he missed them entirely.
- Black Rain (1989)
New York police officer Nick Conklin (Michael Douglas) is targeted by an internal affairs investigation that suggests he has been taking money from criminals, and his financial difficulties don’t help to prove his innocence.
After taking down a Yakuza gangster, Nick and his partner are allowed to escort him to Japan where he is being extradited. After losing him, however, Nick joins the investigation of the Osaka police department. From there, Nick dives into the Japanese underworld where he discovers a counterfeit ring, and violent retribution follows.
As with most of Scott’s films, Black Rain is stylish, portraying modern-day Osaka bathed in the same rain-soaked neon glow as Los Angeles was in Blade Runner. However, the story itself is a boilerplate crime thriller that never rises above its macho tendencies. As this list bears out, Ridley Scott rarely errs in his aesthetic and almost always produces sharp, clean, interesting-looking films. However, he also tends to prefer style over substance, and Black Rain is a perfect example of this peculiar blind spot.
- A Good Year (2006)
Genre-hopping seems to be a favorite preoccupation of this director, and while he had already covered the genres of crime, war, drama, and (especially) science fiction, up until 2006 he hadn’t yet tackled the romantic comedy. Setting this frothy film in the vineyards of southeastern France, Max (Russell Crowe), once orphaned and left with only his family’s vineyard, has since become an unscrupulous and successful bond trader in London.
Attempting to sell the vineyard and move on with his life, his plans are complicated by a small cafe owner in the small French town the estate is set in and is confronted with a possibly long-lost illegitimate daughter. Can this cynical businessman see past his own material concerns and engage in a potential life filled with meaning that he never knew he wanted? The answer is yes, of course he can: it’s a romantic comedy, after all.
An unexpected turn for Ridley Scott–who seems more comfortable creating fantastic worlds on an epic scale–this smaller picture certainly has its charms and (as usual) looks gorgeous, but there’s very little in it for audiences to grasp onto.
More an excuse to film a lightweight movie set in stunning French locales, A Good Year is enjoyable enough and something to watch with your significant other on a rainy night while sipping on some wine. But like wine, it leaves you feeling slightly warm for a while before fading away completely.
- Alien: Covenant (2017)
While Prometheus, the much-anticipated prequel to the Alien franchise, found Scott returning to one of his most enduring creations, 2017’s Alien: Covenant was facing even higher expectations. With many audiences assuming Scott would be continuing down the more philosophical path that Prometheus began, instead audiences found themselves watching a survival horror film.
Which should have been a sure-fire hit, particularly with Alien fans. But something strange happened: it seems fans of the franchise kind of didn’t want another survival horror film–they wanted to see a continuation of the first film. And while there were elements that carried over from Prometheus–in particular, the android David–many were unsatisfied when the film turned out to be another by-the-numbers survival horror flick featuring everyone’s favorite Xenomorphs.
This isn’t to say Alien: Covenant was bad–in fact, it should have been exactly what audiences wanted. But audience’s tastes–particularly sci-fi fans when it comes to their favorite franchise–are fickle, and it seems the backlash Prometheus suffered from upon its release had undergone a reconsideration since, so when Scott rejiggered the formula to give audiences what they claimed they want, they actually wanted more of what he provided them in the first place.
- Matchstick Men (2003)
A con man (Nicolas Cage) suffering from Tourette’s syndrome and anxiety finds that he has a long-lost daughter from a previous marriage. He gets in contact with her and, as a way of bonding, begins to teach her the tricks of the con man trade. This leads to him involving her in his latest long-con–but it turns out he may have been the mark all along.
With a well-written script with a few twists and turns, Ridley Scott brings his usually epic sensibilities down to earthly concerns, focusing on the lives of a few small-timers and the tricks they pull to get by.
While a fine film in its own right, Cage’s distracting performance seems out of place among a cast of cool and collected con artists, with his character’s affliction of Tourette’s syndrome providing perhaps one too many tics for an actor already full of them to pull off seamlessly in an otherwise cool and controlled film.
- Body of Lies (2008)
A CIA agent (Leonardo DiCaprio) teams up with a Jordanian intelligence officer to find a terrorist mastermind before further acts of terror can be perpetrated. Intrigue ensues as these organizations investigate–both together and separately–potential leads, as both parties ensure their trust in each other while also keeping their own interests at heart.
Exploring the conflicts between Arab and Western cultures, the film also shows both sides working together, although with very different methods, towards the same goal
Ridley Scott is a talented enough director to make the hoary spy genre interesting enough, and Body of Lies proves that: the film is rarely boring, and, as always, his visuals are a treat to watch. But he falls into the same problems that many of his lesser films are prone to by relying more on the aesthetics than the story itself.
Although DiCaprio works hard to make his character compelling, as do all of the actors involved, the plot is traditionally trite, becoming both increasingly implausible and conventional (like many spy films do) as it goes on. For a genre picture, Scott as usual turns in an above-average product–but in the context of his own stellar body of work, Body of Lies is average at best.
- Hannibal (2001)
Hannibal Lecter is a character that has captured the popular imagination: from his first appearance in the 1981 thriller novel Red Dragon, to Anthony Hopkins’ Academy Award-winning turn as Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, to the short-lived TV series centered on the character, Hannibal Lecter has found its place in the pantheon of great characters in the Western canon.
Perhaps it was the character’s enduring popularity that drew Scott to filming the adaptation of the novel Hannibal, in which the erudite cannibal doctor is the protagonist rather than malevolent chaotic neutral that he was portrayed as up to that point. A sequel to Silence of the Lambs, the film portrays FBI agent Clarice Starling (now played by Julianne Moore) having become recently disgraced after a botched drug raid and now being taunted by Lecter.
While investigating a disfigured child molester intent on feeding Lecter (his former psychiatrist) to a pack of wild boars, Starling frees Lecter, only to be kidnapped by him and having a disturbing dinner with him and her abusive superior, who happens to be on the menu that evening.
While a box office smash, Hannibal was criticized for its extreme violence and gruesome visual effects. Scott had inherited the project after Jonathan Demme (the director of Lambs) and Jodie Foster declined to be involved in the project and the script had gone through several revisions.
Critics noted that the film relied more heavily on graphic sequences and shock rather than suspense and atmosphere as the original had. Although far more shallow than Lambs, Hannibal is still an effective film–if for very different reasons.
- Kingdom of Heaven (2005)
As a historical epic about the Crusades, Kingdom of Heaven finds Ridley Scott working firmly within his wheelhouse: the set design and cinematography are impeccable, the scope is gigantic, and the intricate detail that went into replicating 12th century Europe and Jerusalem is evident in every shot. As a representation of what Ridley Scott can accomplish as a director, there’s few films of his that represent this better than Kingdom of Heaven.
However, as a movie it’s difficult to discern its merits: a crusader named Balian (Orlando Bloom) journeys to Jerusalem seeking redemption, becomes the lover of the princess of Jerusalem while observing the political intrigue that may spark a war between the Christians and Muslims, and upon the beginning of a siege of the city, Balian becomes the protector of Jerusalem.
Opening to mixed reviews, it sunk at the box office, with many academics complaining of the historical inaccuracies of the film. A complex movie whose theatrical release excised much of the story that clarified the relationships between the characters, Scott’s director’s cut has fared better critically. While an impressive film, it’s not an easy-going one, and the viewer may need to take notes and do some research before being able to understand what’s going on.
- The Duellists (1977)
Set during the Napoleonic era, The Duellists follows the lives of a fervent duellist Gabriel Feraud (Harvey Keitel) and his oft-nemesis Armand d’Hubert (Keith Carradine) as they meet for duels by swords throughout their careers as soldiers in Napoleon’s army. While their lives continue after their duels, their paths continually diverge and converge again and the film becomes an exploration of two men and how their personal characters affect each other throughout their lives.
Ridley Scott’s first feature film was an ambitious one, and one that would lay the groundwork for his film career that followed. Meticulous in its historical recreation of early 19th-century France, The Duellists tracks the lives of individuals as the epic forces of history and time march inexorably forward. Compared to Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon (which Scott noted as an inspiration), it’s a well-made historical drama that’s all the more impressive for being the director’s debut feature film.
- Prometheus (2012)
Following a path in the stars that they believe is an invitation from beings that may have created the human race, a research team lands on a distant planet and finds the remnants of alien starship and the giant corpses of these beings, whom they have dubbed “Engineers.”
But after coming across some eggs whose inhabitants latch onto the face of anyone unlucky enough to come near them, which spawn terrifying monsters that are perfect killing machines, the team of researchers have to fight for their lives–and potentially the fate of Earth–before these aliens head back to infest their planet.
A prequel to Ridley Scott’s Alien, Prometheus was a long-anticipated return to the franchise by the director. While a box office hit and its initial critical reception positive, many fans of the Alien franchise complained that it didn’t answer the questions they had but instead posed more dangling threads.
Prometheus is Scott returning to the franchise he first spawned, and in turn created a visually dazzling, intriguing sci-fi film that acts as both a prequel and a stand-alone film of its own. By returning to science fiction, Scott created yet another memorable entry into the genre.
- Thelma & Louise (1991)
With a talent for finding the humanity within a larger scope, Ridley Scott has created some masterpieces in his career, but in Thelma & Louise, he reigned in his proclivity for painting on a large canvass to instead focus on two women living on a decidedly human scale. In this case, it’s the story of two women who go on a road trip together to escape their lives for a while, and–after murdering an attempted rapist–soon find themselves on the lam.
Perhaps the most unusual thing about this movie is that Scott directed the film: now seen as an icon of feminist film, one must wonder what the director of such macho films as Black Rain and Blade Runner was doing. But this would be forgetting that Scott was also responsible for the sci-fi feminist icon Ripley coming to life on the big screen.
It’s also one of his films where the script seemed to hold his attention more than his own visuals, as the impeccable writing of Callie Khouri (who won Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards that year) is captured with vibrancy and interest, while the grand landscapes of America’s southwest serve as the perfect background–with its skies that come right down to the ground–for two characters breaking free for perhaps the first time in their lives.
Nominated for several Academy Awards and selected for preservation by the Library of Congress, this unexpected entry in Ridley Scott’s oeuvre is also one of his most impactful on Western culture.
- Legend (1985)
“World building” is a buzzword that’s applied to seemingly every TV show and film that makes an attempt to create a holistic setting for its fiction to occur, but some filmmakers have been creating worlds for decades before this concept became well-known. Legend is a perfect example of this: a film that brings to life such concepts as darkness (as an entity), unicorns, elves, and goblins, it’s an undeniable fantasy that is brought to meticulous life by Ridley Scott.
The story itself sounds silly when boiled down to its essence: Darkness (Tim Curry) threatens to bring eternal darkness to the world, so two light-bearing unicorns seek out pure members of the forest, Jack and Princess Lily (Tom Cruise and Mia Sara). When these two pure beings are separated, it’s up to Jack to unite the woodland fairies to bring Darkness down and rescue the princess.
But the film’s simple story belies its quality: it’s a visually stunning film, atmospheric and ethereal and absorbing to the viewer. Although now 32 years old, its practical effects still hold up (Curry as the 7-foot-tall Darkness is particularly striking).
While it may be a purely fantasy film, if measured against similarly dreamy and exalted fantasies of the time such as The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth, it more than holds up its end of the bargain. While much of his work tiptoed around the edges of the fantasy genre, Legend is Scott’s full-fledged entry into the genre–and a completely successful one, at that.
- Black Hawk Down (2001)
Now a nearly forgotten footnote in history, the Battle of Mogadishu was big news when it first occurred, particularly for the real-life drama that unfolded amidst its participants: after a major humanitarian crisis broke out in Somalia due to civil war, exacerbated by various factions hijacking food supplies supplied by the UN and intended for citizens to trade for weapons, which lead to mass casualties and displacement due to starvation, the US strategized a military operation to restore order once again to the war-torn country.
During the assault on Mogadishu in 1993, a Black Hawk helicopter crashed behind enemy lines, which led to a risky extraction operation that led to heavy casualties on the American side.
Adapted from the book of the same name, Black Hawk Down is a fierce depiction of war and the heat of battle strengthened by Scott’s frenetic depiction of the visceral and terrifying violence of combat. Highly praised upon its release, Black Hawk Down remains a contemporary classic of the brutality of modern warfare while also highlighting the professionalism of its participants.
Released just months after 9/11, the film was a box-office hit while also drawing criticism that it was a pro-interventionist, pro-war tract. However, when viewed outside of this historical context, it’s one of the best films about modern warfare made in the 21st century.
- Gladiator (2000)
After leading his men into a decisive victory against Germanic tribes, Roman general Maximus wants to retire and return home to his estate where his wife and son are waiting for him. However, Emperor Marcus Aurelius wishes for him to become regent to prevent the empire from falling into corruption, which it most assuredly would under his unscrupulous son Commodus’s reign. His son instead murders his father and places Maximus under arrest, sentencing him to death.
Maximus escapes and returns home, only to find his house burned to the ground and his wife and son murdered. Caught as a slave, Maximus enters gladiatorial combat and soon rises to fame through a stunning series of victories. What follows includes plots to overthrow the government, Commodus’s own personal antagonizing of Maximus, and the potential reform of Rome under tragic circumstances.
A sweeping epic of which Ridley Scott is adept at, Gladiator mixes two of the director’s greatest strengths–tracking a hero’s journey through extraordinary circumstances and building a detailed, all-encompassing vision of the world–and created both a blockbuster and a work of art.
The influence of this movie–which won both Best Actor and Best Picture at the Academy Awards–was so great that it renewed interest in Roman culture and history, influenced a wave of historical epic films in its wake, and remains a modern classic.
- American Gangster (2007)
In the late 1960s, Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) inherits the crime syndicate in Harlem and proceeds to build a heroin empire that imports a potent brand of the drug via returning servicemen from the Vietnam War. As his business thrives, detective Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe) begins to investigate the suddenly prosperous Lucas and his business dealings.
As Roberts gets closer to discovering Lucas’s operation, Lucas is faced with his own problems as the Vietnam War draws to a close and his cheap supply is suddenly cut off. How the story concludes, however, is far from ordinary, and this biographical story proves that truth is stranger than fiction.
In this film, Ridley Scott again finds a balance between his larger-than-life directorial predilections by having two larger-than-life characters fill the screen instead. Both Washington and Crowe give incredible performances, while the riveting story was authentically supported by Scott’s attention to historical detail, bringing the gritty 1970s cityscape to life.
A smarter gangster picture than most, it’s also the mark of Scott’s versatility as a director, in particular knowing when to get out of his own way when his actors are all the spectacle he needs on screen.
- The Martian (2015)
A mission on Mars is abandoned after an unexpected dust storm threatens to destroy their habitat: one crew member is left behind and assumed dead. However, astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is made of stronger stuff, as we see in 2015’s The Martian. Now abandoned with a damaged habitat, Watney goes about figuring out how to survive in this inhospitable climate, rebuilding and refining his techniques as he goes along, and figuring out how to get back in touch with Earth to let them know that he’s still alive.
And while Watney has figured out how to survive, rescuing him is going to be much more difficult–not that he (and everyone else back on Earth) can’t figure out a way for that to happen, as well.
The Martian is no less than an astonishing piece of science fiction that works in the confines of scientific fact. An engineer’s dream, the character Mark Watney is resourceful, smart, and above all affable character to carry this film. Nearly a one-hander, Damon keeps the audience engaged as he figures out how to farm, shield himself from the outside, keep himself sane, and ultimately escape his harrowing situation.
Ridley Scott was the perfect director for the film, as well: besides his penchant for technology and outer space, from his filmic output Scott seems similarly obsessed with how to create practical solutions for impossible situations. Enjoyable throughout, with a great pop sensibility, this may be Scott’s most commercial film–and enjoyable one, to boot.
Just as in Gladiator, we watch as our protagonist is placed in an incredible situation and extraordinary circumstances–only here, he has to figure out how to survive instead of simply fighting his way out of it. Beautifully shot, ingeniously conceived, and captivating throughout, The Martian is one of Ridley Scott’s best films and perfect for any hard sci-fi fan.
- Alien (1979)
Maybe the most groundbreaking sci-fi film of the past 40 years, Alien does away with any notions of an extraterrestrial as possibly being our friend–or even our enemy. After all, to be a true enemy, one must have some larger purpose in mind. Instead, the ET encountered in this movie is an instinctual killing machine whose only purpose is to destroy and reproduce so that its spawn can continue to destroy.
This is what cargo ship Nostromo and its crew find when they are awoken from stasis and redirected to a planet to investigate an alien ship. Inside, one crew member is attacked by a creature that emerges from an egg, which attaches itself to his face. Later, after the creature detaches, the crew member seems fine until another creature bursts through his chest.
After failing to capture this new entity, the crew finds themselves being picked off one by one by this alien, which has now grown full-size and is decimating the crew. Our sole survivor Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) sets the ship to auto-destruct, but that’s not quite the end…
Summarizing this film seems useless at this point: it’s one of the most well-known sci-fi/horror films ever made. Having spawned 3 sequels, a prequel, and now a sequel to that prequel, Alien is perhaps Ridley Scott’s best-known film. And it’s a masterpiece: the set design, atmosphere, conception of the alien creature (itself iconic), and increasingly dark and suspenseful story has been repeated, copied, and inspired generations of filmmakers to come.
The look, tone, and graphic nature of Scott’s film forever changed what a sci-fi film could be, and the character Ripley has since become a feminist icon. Although known as a sci-fi director, in truth (as this list bears out) he’s only made a handful of science fiction films in his career–but this film (and the next one, of course) is why he’s known best for that genre.
- Blade Runner (1982)
After Scott’s film career comes to a close–whenever that may be, since he’s still directing films–he will be remembered for only a few of the many interesting films he’s made over his career. But perhaps most of all, he will be remembered for Blade Runner.
A complex vision of the future that had never been seen before in cinema, Blade Runner takes place in 2019: with the world in environmental collapse, technology has become both advanced and retrofitted to available machinery; a majority of the population lives in squalor while wealthier members of society are escaping into space.
While we’re just two years off from the year the film is set in, and our world isn’t in such an advanced (or dilapidated) state, it’s not difficult to envision 2050 looking like Los Angeles does in this movie.
Blade Runner is a noir-ish detective story, where our protagonist Deckard (Harrison Ford) is a “blade runner”–a bounty hunter that tracks down escaped androids, or “replicants.” And he’s good at his job; but the replicants he’s seeking are better and smarter than what he’s used to. What’s made the problem worse (and personal) for him is that he’s fallen in love with a replicant named Rachael (Sean Young).
What’s more, these advanced machines are self-aware and know they have outlived their purpose–and film lets the viewer know that these aren’t just mindless robots but creations with depth and even soul, who want nothing more than to keep living. By the end of the film, even Deckard sees this as he absconds with Rachael to live further than she’d been programmed to.
The film is an aesthetic treat, as well: it accomplishes building a futuristic world that also seems familiar and lived-in to the audience. Ridley Scott–always the consummate director–controls the tone of the film like a well-tuned fiddle, showing constraint for atmosphere and creating a visual dynamic that, being both neo-noir and science fiction, is both classic and groundbreaking.
You could watch Blade Runner with the sound off and still enjoy how he lights a scene, frames a shot, and keeps its visual grammar consistent throughout. It’s a true vision by a visionary director.
A box office disappointment upon release, it was sent out into the home video market, hoping to turn a profit. And then something strange happened: it began to be recognized as the truly remarkable film it is. Genre fans hailed it as a great sci-fi/noir film, its visuals were studied (and then copied) by future filmmakers. It’s one of the best sci-films ever made, and for a director who’s made a career’s worth of fantastic films, it’s the best film Ridley Scott has ever made.