Top 10 Tony Scott Films

Top Gun director Tony Scott shared his brother Ridley’s passion for dynamic visual storytelling but shirked underlying agenda in favour of all-out action. Here’s 10 of his best films.

Tony Scott, Top 10 Films,

In celebration of the work of British-born filmmaker Tony Scott, Top 10 Films takes a look back at a career spanning thirty years. The late director is the younger brother of Ridley Scott, sharing the Alien-director’s penchant for visual style and attention to detail. However, Tony Scott’s films have always appeared less showy from a thematic sense, the younger Scott preferring to concentrate on action-orientated drama than character study.

From his earliest films such as Top Gun and Beverly Hills Cop II, Tony Scott proved he could make crowd-pleasing action cinema, and was a perfect match for producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer for their high-concept movies. He also showed versatility by adapting Quentin Tarantino’s screenplay for the big screen in True Romance and the ability to operate in unfamiliar genres such as science-fiction in Déjà Vu. One of his favourite actors to work with was Denzel Washington and they made a number of film together including Crimson Tide, Man on Fire, Déjà Vu and more recently The Taking of Pelham 123 and Unstoppable.

Top 10 Films was saddened to hear this morning that Tony Scott had died yesterday in Los Angeles. He was 68 and is survived by his wife Donna Wilson Scott, and their twin sons Frank and Max.

10. Spy Game (2001)

Robert Redford takes lead duties in this Tony Scott-directed spy thriller about a CIA agent who has to put his retirement on hold to save the life of a fellow agent captured by the Chinese. Because the US Government is on the verge of a major trade agreement with the People’s Republic of China, it hopes investigations will provide them with a smoking gun justifying letting their captured agent die. Redford has other plans. This fast-paced mystery-thriller is intriguing right from the get-go.

9. Crimson Tide (1995)

Denzel Washington stars alongside Gene Hackman in this submarine-based thriller that is set in a post-Cold War era where tensions between East and West are still threatening to boil over. The tension builds as a seasoned commanding officer and a younger executive officer go head to head over conflicting interpretations of an order to launch their missiles in the face of nuclear war.

8. Days of Thunder (1990)

Essentially Days of Thunder is Top Gun for motor sport. That isn’t a bad thing and while the film never matches Top Gun for high octane thrills and homoerotic tendencies it is still a highly enjoyable film, especially for NASCAR fans. Like Scott’s aerial photography in his earlier film about the US Navy’s training school for elite pilots, Days of Thunder features some terrific race footage. While the characters might be flimsy, the emotional resonance from the racing certainly isn’t.

7. Déjà vu (2006)

Read our full review of Déjà vu here
One of a number of Denzel Washington-Tony Scott collaborations, this one is probably their second best. It features Scott’s trademark visual splendour alongside elements of science-fiction not usually associated with this side of the Scott family (the sci-fi is usually left to brother Ridley!). After a tragedy befalls a ferry on the Mississippi River causing the deaths of over 500 people, Special Agent Doug Carlin begins investigating the possibility of a terrorist attack. He discovers he has the use of new technology allowing a recently formed government detective unit to see four days into the past. When Doug learns he can manipulate the past he decides it might be possible to change the course of history.

6. Last Boy Scout (1991)

Bruce Willis, back in the days when he was the coolest thing on the planet, stars as a grubby former Secret Service agent now plying a trade as a private detective. Lethal Weapon scribe Shane Black is on hand to give the actors their dialogue, ensuring this Tony Scott film has some great characters (and a particularly fun relationship between two egotistical, power-hungry leading men) to go alongside its gritty action sequences.

5. Beverly Hills Cop II (1987)

It helps when you have such a lively, loud-mouthed and funny leading man. Eddie Murphy’s Detroit cop Axel Foley is one of the 1980s most iconic characters and Tony Scott did a great job with the sequel to one of the decade’s most loved action films. The focus is definitely on the guns and explosions in this one as Scott constructs some enthralling set-pieces including a great final shootout and some wonderful heists.

4. Top Gun (1986)

Perhaps the most well-known Tony Scott film, Top Gun was revolutionary in its inspiration for a host of high-concept films to appear in the 1980s and 1990s. Tom Cruise is the far-too-good-looking pilot who heads off to training camp and makes everyone else look second rate (apart from chief rival Val Kilmer that is). Fantastic aerial photography, energetic performances and one of the best movie kisses of all time make this an easy-to-love action film.

3. Man on Fire (2004)

Denzel Washington made a number of appearances in Tony Scott’s later films and this is by far the most impressive. Alongside a strong performance from child star Dakota Fanning, Washington plays a disillusioned ex-CIA operative turned bodyguard, who is assigned to protecting the daughter of a wealthy businessman in Mexico. The emotional ferocity of the film comes from the growing friendship between the protector and the protected – think Leon or Terminator 2.

2. True Romance (1993)

True Romance features an interesting combination of Tony Scott in the director’s chair, working with a screenplay by Quentin Tarantino. What transpires is one of the best films of either man’s career. Scott gets the chance to work with dialogue and staging that somewhat tempers his inherent drive to propel the plot through the next action sequence, while Tarantino’s script gets worked over without the Pulp Fiction director’s insatiable need to keep every bit of his precious dialogue intact. With some terrific performances from one of the 1990s best ensemble casts which includes Christian Slater, Patricia Arquette, Dennis Hopper, Gary Oldman, Christopher Walken and Brad Pitt (as well as a blink and you’ll miss him turn from Val Kilmer – see if you recognise him), True Romance has all the elements of an action film you’ll return to again and again. Indeed, if Tarantino has a romantic film in him, this is probably it, and it’s about the greatest love story I’ve ever seen.

1. Enemy of the State (1998)

Its sly homage to Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation, arguably The Godfather director’s finest couple of hours, may celebrate a 1970s classic but in no way hampers this terrifically entertaining action film about covert surveillance and sub-government organisations sidestepping the law. Gene Hackman, who starred in The Conversation, appears as an aging ex-professional surveillance expert who steps in to help Will Smith who unwittingly becomes the target in a high stake game of cat and mouse. Tony Scott made many great action films during his career but none are as goose-pimply exciting as Enemy of the State. This film is like an out of control freight train and you never know what is going to happen next.

Written and compiled by Daniel Stephens.

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About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. Avatar
    le0pard13 Reply

    Great list of Tony Scott films, Dan. So sad to hear of his passing. Truly terrible news. May he rest in peace.

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    Jaina Reply

    Excellent list. Man on Fire is probably my favourite Washington/Scott collaboration film. Just a fantastic bit of action/thriller.

    He did some amazing work for the action film genre. Sad news.

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    The Vern Reply

    Nice list. I liked how you compared “Enemy Of The State” to “The Conversation”. Yes Bruce Willis was really cool in “Last Boy Scout” and I agree with your thoughts about “True Romance”. Both writer and director were in perfect harmony for that flick. Sad to see him leave us so soon

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    Dan Reply

    @Le0pard13: It was really sad to hear this news this morning. I wasn’t as impressed by his last couple of films but he was still one of the most exciting directors in Hollywood. My ears always perked up when I heard about a new project of his.

    @Jaina: Yeah, Man on Fire is excellent. I found myself messing with the order of this one but my top 3 are pretty much set in stone.

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    ruth Reply

    Great list, Dan. I’ll be writing my tribute later tonight, he’s done some great films surely. I haven’t seen Man of Fire yet but I think I’d rate Spy Game higher on my list. Top Gun is one of those essential action flicks, it was huge when I was growing up.

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    Fogs' Movie Reviews Reply

    Drop Enemy of the State to #3, Dan and I’m right with you. 😀

    It does cleverly call back Coppola’s “The Conversation”, but the bad assness of True Romance and Man on Fire are too much for it.

    Sad to hear what happened.

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    Alex Withrow Reply

    Nice list, Dan. Enemy of the State at number 1 is a groovy choice. I’d go True Romance, followed by Man on Fire, but either way, the man made some fine, entertaining films. Such a sad sad day.

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    Rodney Reply

    Sadest and most shocking news of the year so far, easily. While I didn’t think a lot of Scott’s more recent stuff (at least post-Enemy of The State), his earier work is still pretty damned entertaining. I’d have had Crimson Tide way higher, though. It’s a damn sight better than Man On Fire.

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    Neal Damiano Reply

    Wow you move pretty quick Dan Cheers to you for doing this …very sad what talent we loss. Great list but I would of put True Romance as number 1, personally.

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    mark Reply

    I thought he was pretty hit and miss at best, but maybe that was the point. Never a fan of Top Gun or Days of Thunder; sort of liked half of The Hunger, but it slipped pretty badly during the second half. Thought The Fan was pretty silly. As for Last Boy Scout, sure Brucie was cool, but it also showed us why Damon Wayans should never try drama.

    Having said that, True Romance – which I wooda had as no 1 – was great (even if the beating of Ms Arquette was kinda misogynistic and gratuitious), while I never turn off Enemy of the State when it’s on TV.

    Yeah, pity we lost him, for he was never dull.

  11. Avatar
    Dan Reply

    It seems the general consensus is to see True Romance at number one. Of course, I agree that its one of his best but Enemy of the State represented him as a filmmaker perfectly.

    @Neal: I think that’s a Tarantino trait – he loves to see the ladies get their asses kicked only to find some retribution. A few spring to mind – Death Proof, Kill Bill, Inglorious Basterds recently.

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    Neal Damiano Reply

    @Dan well to be honest I think True Romance is overall a great film from storyline to the acting plus I’m a huge Christian Slater fan he’s one of my favorite actors (guilty pleasure)so it’s not so much to do with Tarantino even though huge fan of his earlier work! I like the styled way Scott shot the film (True Romance) But I also love Beverly Hills Cop 2 and Top Gun nice to see them here.

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    Evan Crean Reply

    Very sad about Tony Scott’s passing. He was one of my favorite directors. A fantastic list. I don’t disagree with any on here. For me personally though, True Romance and The Last Boy Scout are my top two Tony Scott films. Scott was responsible for Tarantino changing the ending of True Romance, thankfully the couple gets a happy ending instead of the depressing one Tarantino had originally planned. Honorable mention should also go to Scott’s short “Beat the Devil” from the BMV shorts starring Clive Owen. Clive Owen racing Gary Oldman and Danny Trejo, with special guest appearance from Marilyn Manson? Can’t get much better than that.

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    Louise Reply

    Despite Ridley Scott being the more critically acclaimed, I always preferred Tony Scott’s work and think we’ve lost a real talent and a man who knew exactly how to keep audiences happy. My favourites would be Top Gun and Crimson Tide – Washington and Hackman going toe to toe is just fantastic.

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    Scott Lawlor Reply

    Brilliant work as ever Dan. I love many of these films, Tony will be sorely missed!!

    How are you anyways?

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    Mavi Reply

    Everyone will have their preferences of order but the thing about Tony was his films are so re-watch-able, Enemy of the State I have probably seem 15+ times not always paying 100% attention but they are just great any time movies… Even tho I pretty much hated this last couple of offerings his filmography as a collection has got to be in the top 10….

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