Top 10 Ridley Scott Films

Rodney Twelftree takes a look at the top 10 films of director Ridley Scott’s career. His faves include Alien, Gladiator, and Blade Runner.

Often described as one of cinema’s supreme visual artists, Ridley Scott has enjoyed a directorial career spanning some 40 years, graduating from British commercials to The Duellists in 1977, his first feature film. Ever since, Scott’s mastery of the cinematic medium has given us some of the most iconic moments in movie history – from the first glimpse of the terrifying Alien chest-burster, to Rutger Hauer’s most effective performance as a renegade replicant, to Russell Crowe’s thunderous battle-hardened portrayal of a gladiator in ancient Rome, his camera captures both the visceral bloodlust humanity often displays and the most innocent, heartbreaking elegance of life – through Ridley’s keen eye we’ve been taken to the deepest reaches of outer space, the historical schism of the Crusades, the shrapnel-ridden streets of Mogadishu, and everywhere in between. There’s no denying that Ridley is a film-maker of incredible visual style.Here, we have tried to determine which of his 19 theatrical films would fit into the 10 best – there’s plenty to choose from, and there’s quality everywhere, but only room for ten. Let’s get to countin’!

10. Matchstick Men (2003)

matchstick men, film, ridley scott film,

Slow-burn twist film, with plenty of great surprises, Matchstick Men appeared and disappeared almost without a trace upon initial release. Which is annoying, because it’s a stylish, layered and highly competent film (unlike A Good Year, which reeked of self-indulgence) and the key performances from Sam Rockwell and Alison Lohman are sublime to watch. Nic Cage delivers a performance well above his more recent standard, but even he seems bored by the end result here. An enjoyable entry into the top 10.

9. Black Rain (1989)

black rain, top 10 ridley scott films,

Slick, polished and pointed action-thriller starring Michael Douglas, who was at the top of his game when this film was made. Set between Japan and New York, the film makes a point of highlighting the differences between the Japanese and American law enforcement ideals, and while it may have dated somewhat in the intervening years, Black Rain is still an effective thriller even now.

8. American Gangster (2007)

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Scott re-teams with Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington for this 70’s based crime thriller, based on a true story, in which Washington plays against type as a criminal kingpin being pursued by Crowe’s hard-bitten and dedicated cop. Less flashy than Scott’s usual theatrics, American Gangster is a simple story told in a simple, effective style. The casting and performances are superb, and the brutality of Harlem back in the 70’s is effectively reproduced with some detailed and well shot production design. One of Denzels better performances on film, in my mind.

7. Body Of Lies (2008)

body of lies, film, ridley scott top 10 movies,

Scott re-teams with Russell Crowe (yet again) and Leonardo DiCaprio for this thrilling, hi-octane spy flick.Set in the Middle East, where tensions and terrorist plots are rife, Leo plays an underover CIA operative being “handled” by Crowe back at the Pentagon. When his mission to uncover and capture a (fictional) Arabic terrorist starts to get a little sticky, Leo’s operative character must use all his ingenuity and guile to deliver the good and stay alive – not an easy task in one of the most dangerous regions in the world. Scotts usual visual acuity is once more on display, and the script (and plot) is intelligent, sharply delivered and never once dumbs down to the audience.

6. Thelma & Louise (1991)

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Quintessential feminist flick, and the now infamous introduction of Brad Pitts abdominals, Thelma and Louise hit a nerve with audiences of the time (1991) for its reversal of normally masculine themes of escape from a dull, repetitive life. Both Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon were nominated for Best Actress at the Oscars for their roles here, and deservedly so. They brought a realism to their portrayal of two women seeking to escape the drudgery of modern life and unloving husbands. They embark on a road trip, traversing the country in an open-top and getting up to all manner of mischief. Fun, poignant, and uplifting, Thelma & Louise is definitely one for the girls.

5. Black Hawk Down (2001)

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Quasi-politics aside, Black Hawk Down remains one of the most brutal war-flicks ever made. The US military goes into strife torn Mogadishu to capture a wanted warlord, and ends up in a siege with the local militia when one of their vaunted Black Hawk helicopters goes down (hence the title!). With the “leave no man behind” creed smothering almost all human logic to simply cut and run, Black Hawk Down is a barrage of bullets, explosions, and subtle, nuanced American machismo without the machismo. It’s stoic, visually stunning, and performed by one of the best ensemble casts ever put on screen – Josh Hartnett doesn’t stretch his range too much, even though he pretty much headlines the film, but he’s ably backed up by a plethora of talent both young and old.

4. Alien (1979)

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I know, I know, many of you will say I’ve put this film in about three places too early. Alien, as definitive a sci-fi thriller as you’re likely to get, stars Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley, battling it out with a vicious, unstoppable alien killing machine on her enormous mining ship floating through space. Filled with iconic moments, the most famous being John Hurt’s last ever cinematic breakfast, Alien remains one of the the genre’s most evocative and copied films.

3. Kingdom Of Heaven (Director’s Cut) (2005)

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Not to be confused with the truly awful Theatrical Version that Fox decided to breach-birth into cinemas originally, Ridley was allowed to produce and release his official Director’s Cut on DVD to show us all exactly what he was trying to do the first time round. In what can only be described as an astonishing vision of depth, humanity and style, the lengthier, meatier version of Kingdom of Heaven is truly a cinematic event. Characters are more fleshed out, the narrative doesn’t feel as compressed or as wooden as the theatrical version, and sub-plots are given time to breathe and allow the story to marinate. Those of you who saw the theatrical version and, like me, were amazed a major studio would allow a film so hollow to be released, should – nay, must – do yourselves a favor and revisit this film in its extended version. A more rewarding cinematic treat you won’t find.

2. Blade Runner (1982)

blade runner, ridley scott top 10 films,

Iconic, almost impossible film to try and pick apart (which is perhaps why a half-written review for it is still sitting in my “to be completed” list on my own site!) and critique in any negative way, Blade Runner stands the test of time as one of Hollywoods all-time great science fictions films. Amazingly, Blade Runner wasn’t a massive success initially, and took the video (and DVD) market to really initiate it into the “classic” status it now enjoys, Blade Runner has been released in a variety of versions over the journey, all with varying results. The most recent version, now available on Blu-Ray, is the version Ridley Scott himself approved for the HD format, and you’d think that yet another version of this film might lessen its impact after all these years, you’ll find it’s not so. New viewers may well be baffled and amazed, but hard-core fans will know what I’m talking about.

1. Gladiator (2000)

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Ridley’s stunning photography and scripting, Russell Crowe’s defining role, and Hans Zimmers best score, all combine to make Gladiator one of the finest films in Scott’s oeuvre. Bloody, brutal and also magnificent, Gladiator remains Ridley Scott’s most accomplished film, hitting the top of the class in every aspect. Deserving of its Best Picture Oscar, and remaining an enthralling film even a decade later, Gladiator is the maximus film Scott has delivered. Crowe plays a Roman General, Maximus, who is betrayed by the Emperor’s angry young son (Joaquin Phoenix), and ends up becoming a celebrity in the world of gladiatorial combat – Maximus works his way up from the minor skirmishes of the ring to the major leagues of the Colosseum in Rome, where he confronts his betrayer and brings about a long-sought revenge. Action packed, emotional and evocative, Gladiator set the standard for the new millennium and raised the bar for Scott himself.

Written and compiled by Rodney Twelftree

Discover more top 10 lists from Rodney Twelftree: Top 10 Animal Film Stars
Top 10 Australian Comedy Films
Top 10 Clint Eastwood Films
Top 10 Disaster Films
Top 10 Film Composers
Top 10 James Bond Gadgets
Top 10 Modes of Transport in Film
Top 10 Steven Spielberg Films
Top 10 Traditionally Animated Films
…and be sure to check out his great site Fernby Films

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About the Author
An Aussie lad with a love of cinema, Rodney Twelftree parlayed his interest in films into a website dedicated to reviewing them. Currently Editor In Chief at fernbyfilms.com, Rodney spends much of his time watching films, television, reading science fiction novels and trawling the internet for news and reviews on all things film.

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  1. Avatar
    Castor Reply

    Funny, I just made a Top 10 Russell Crowe performances and we all know how fond of each other Scott and Crowe are 🙂 Nice top 10, I would probably have Kingdom of Heaven lower and American Gangster a bit higher. Really can’t argue with Gladiator at the top, love that film!

  2. Avatar
    Dan Reply

    I saw Ridley Scott’s late 80s film Someone To Watch Over Me for the first time this week. Suffice to say it isn’t surprising it doesn’t appear on this top 10. What a terrible movie. In fact, he made it as the follow-up to another film of Scott’s that I can’t stand – Legend. Obviously a bad period for the usually fine director.

    I am surprised how high Kingdom of Heaven appears, especially since it is ahead of my personal favourite Alien. But it is tough to argue against Gladiator and Blade Runner as two of the finest examples of the director’s work.

  3. Avatar
    Candice Frederick Reply

    you have me with Gladiator, Thelma and Louise, and Alien. Didn’t love American Gangster (but liked it). Same goes for Black Hawk Down and Matchstick Men. Didn’t like Body of Lies at all. Black Rain sounds good…I’m gonna investigate that one.

  4. Avatar
    Dan Reply

    Candice: I agree with you regarding Black Hawk Down – didn’t like that one at all. But I did like Body Of Lies – was surprised how much I enjoyed it. Black Rain is definitely worth seeing though – Michael Douglas during his cool 80s period.

  5. Avatar
    Custard Reply

    Great List Dan. And for once in this blog a sphere of lists I have actually seen all the films mentioned!! Maybe I am a silent Scott fanboy, who knows!

    Gladiator is a deserved number 1.

    C

  6. Avatar
    Dan Reply

    @Custard: Nothing wrong with being a Ridley fan boy, Custard. He gave us the best sci-fi horror ever! But are you saying you’re also a fan of Legend?

  7. Avatar
    Custard Reply

    @Dan – Weirdly I do remember being in love and in shock by it when I saw it as a child. I haven’t (and probably never will) given it a re watch.

    Every Great (actor/director) at least one bad film!!

    C

  8. Avatar
    Dan Reply

    @Custard: I can allow a great director one discretion, I suppose… 😉 But then I watched Someone To Watch Over Me (starring Tom Berenger and Mimi Rogers), a film Scott made straight after Legend, and it became quickly obvious the director was going through a period of creative bankruptcy!

  9. Avatar
    rtm Reply

    Great list Rodney, I LOVE Ridley’s work, he and Nolan are two of my favorite directors (strangely enough, most of my fave directors as well as actors are Brits, he..he..) Glad to see Gladiator as #1, it’s just a tremendous film, one of my all time fave despite the amount of violence I’m usually not keen on. Agree w/ Blade Runner as #2 as well, I had just seen it recently and totally see why it’s become such a sci-fi classic. I gotta see Black Rain again, I saw it so long ago it’s a bit hazy to me.

    @ Dan, Someone to Watch Over Me isn’t that bad. Sure it’s more melodramatic than his other stuff, but doesn’t mean it’s a bad movie. I even like A Good Year that’s also trashed by critics who’re expecting Russell/Ridley combo to always be bad ass.

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    Fitz Reply

    Body of Lies is a lot better than people give it credit for. Unfortunately, it came out during the Bush ousting and people were just tired of watching terrorism in movies.

  11. Avatar
    Novroz Reply

    I didn’t realize Scott is the director of some of my most favorite movies…I adore Alien.I have seen it more than 10 times.

    Kingdom of Heaven is a let down,for me. It ruins the real history.

    Overall…another great list, Dan.

  12. Avatar
    DEZMOND Reply

    I loved THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN, and I believe I’ve seen it at least five or six times so far. Although I’m not overly amazed by Orlando’s and Eva Green’s one-dimensional performances in all their films, I did like the story, the sets, the costumes, Ed Norton and other actors. And the music was just amazing, especially the title theme THE LIGHT OF LIFE by Natacha Atlas!

  13. Avatar
    Rodney Reply

    @ Dezmond – another KOH convert joins our ranks!!!

  14. Avatar
    mark Reply

    Never seen KoH, hated Someone to Watch Over Me (too much stolen from Blade Runner) and not a big fan of Gladiator.

    BUT … one day this man has to win an Oscar for best director, otherwise there ain’t no justice.

    Black Hawk Down is quite a film; both Crowe and Leo are great in Body of Lies.

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