Ridley Scott is pretty incredible. He’s been nominated for Best Director three times but is not merely resting on his laurels. Scott is 83, but has he retired? No. In fact, he has two movies coming out in 2021. Where will they fit into the ranking of all his films? We don’t know yet, but we do know how to rank the movies of his that are already out. Here’s our ordering of Sir Ridley Scott.
Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe have worked together a lot of times, but with “A Good Year” they made a generic romantic comedy. You probably did not even remember that “A Good Year” exists, and we don’t blame you. There is nothing terribly noteworthy about it.
Speaking of generic movies, and Crowe, that’s what “Body of Lies” is as well. The only difference is that it’s an action movie, which makes it feel even more unremarkable coming from Scott, who has certainly directed more action flicks than romcoms. At least Leonardo DiCaprio is in this movie with a terrible beard.
You can probably guess what this movie is about based on the year in the title. You surely know that in 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue. This is a historical epic about Christopher Columbus’ journey to the “New World.” Given the subtitle of “Conquest of Paradise,” you can also surmise that Scott isn’t looking to lionize Columbus, who is not exactly a popular guy these days. The movie is still a little limp, though Scott has some lush visuals.
Exodus, the book in the Bible, is an epic, which makes it a perfect fit for an epic movie. Of course, the epic Biblical film has been passé for decades at this point, which makes Scott’s decision to bring back the genre a bit of a surprise. Even having Christian Bale on hand to play Moses couldn’t lift the film to truly epic levels. Plus, in 2014, casting a bunch of white actors as people from the Middle East works less well. Should Joel Edgerton really be playing the Pharaoh of Egypt?
Hey, give Scott credit for being creative on the fly. He basically had a finished movie starring Kevin Spacey, but then everybody found out about Spacey’s history of abhorrent behavior, and suddenly a movie with him front and center was practically taboo. So Scott grabbed Christopher Plummer and reshot all of Spacey’s scenes with Plummer in the role. That’s impressive. It doesn’t make the movie particularly good, though.
To be honest, as far as Robin Hood movies go, this one is pretty high up the rankings. That’s a bit of damning with faint praise, though. A lot of Robin Hood films are pretty bad. There’s basically the Errol Flynn one and the one with the foxes. The rest of them? A mixed bag at best, which is also what we would say about this “Robin Hood.”
“Silence of the Lambs” won several Oscars, including Best Picture. It’s a classic of the elevated horror genre. “Hannibal?” Well, it’s hard to call it “elevated.” Julianne Moore steps in as Clarice Starling, and she’s not bad. The movie just can’t live up to its predecessor, though, even with that wild scene with Ray Liotta’s character.
The consensus from critics on “Someone to Watch Over Me” is basically how we feel. Scott took a generic police thriller and gave it a little sheen. It took a movie that would have been totally forgettable and made it slightly worthwhile. That takes more skill than directors tend to get credit for.
A movie written by noted pessimistic misanthrope Cormac McCarthy? Hey, at least it seemed primed to be a rich text, right? “The Counselor” is truly insane, with batty performances from Cameron Diaz and Javier Bardem. It’s a truly miserable movie, and quite heavy handed about it. Yes, it has its good moments and its impressive scenes, but you are also clubbed over the head with the idea of “Everything is bad.”
“Prometheus” was polarizing, but Scott decided to double down with “Alien: Covenant.” He tried to thread the needle a little more in terms of doing his “Prometheus” thing while giving people more of that “Alien” feel they were clamoring for. It doesn’t always work, but Scott can make a movie in the “Alien” world in his sleep and give you at least a few gripping scenes.
“The Perfect Storm,” but with teenagers. That’s the way you could describe “White Squall,” though it predates “The Perfect Storm” by several years. It’s a disaster movie aboard a ship. If that is your kind of thing, “White Squall” delivers it in spades.
After many years away from the franchise, Scott return to the world of “Alien.” Like we said, “Prometheus” was polarizing. A lot of people did not like it at all, while some consider it fantastic. It definitely has some scenes that stick with you, especially a certain one that we don’t want to spoil. If you’ve seen the movie, you know the one we mean. This feels like Scott getting a chance to really do his thing and use his cache to tell a story he wanted in a world he basically invented. That earns points from us.
Demi Moore shaved her head. That was the reductive way a lot of people discussed “G.I. Jane,” and it is the defining image of the movie. It’s the image on the poster, after all. The movie behind the shaved head, though, is actually pretty good, and the story of the first woman to train with the Navy SEALS.
“Black Rain” has seen its reputation rise in recent years. Some consider it a bit of a cult film now. The movie stars Michael Douglas and Andy Garcia as two NYPD officers who transport a member of the Yakuza back to Japan. Then, he escapes, and the two cops have to navigate a foreign country to look for him. “Black Rain” has a real vibe of a non-science fiction “Blade Runner” in terms of its look. We know some people will be into that.
Before Tom Cruise was a huge star – “Top Gun” would come out the next year - he got a starring role in “Legend.” It’s a mythological story with a lot of the epic elements that would become common in Scott’s filmmaking. Also, Tim Curry basically plays the Devil, they call him the “Lord of Darkness,” and his makeup and costuming is very impressive. That alone makes this a memorable film.
This was Scott’s directorial debut, and it was successful enough to win Best Debut Film at Cannes. In a clever idea, Scott sets the film into six chapters, each focusing on a different duel. The historical drama is well-crafted, especially for a debuting filmmaker. All these years later, “The Duellists” still stands out among Scott’s movies.
Nicolas Cage as a con artist? Yeah, we can see that. Cage as a con artist with Tourette’s and severe OCD? OK, now that sounds like a cage character. Scott hasn’t made many comedies, even dark comedies, but he has a clear touch with it. The dynamic between Cage’s character and his teenage daughter works well, and Sam Rockwell is also in the cast, which means it basically has to be good.
There are some who consider “Kingdom of Heaven” a truly underrated gem of the 2000s. Well, the love actually is often given to the director’s cut, which is 45 minutes longer and considered a major improvement on the theatrical release. That puts us in a slightly awkward situation. What version are we ranking here? Should we split the difference? If you are interested in Scott’s epic about the Crusades, we’d recommend the director’s cut because Scott was not happy with the theatrical release, but either version deserves to be about here in the rankings.
When you are a director with a skill for muscular action movies, you have to make a war film at some point. Scott did that with “Black Hawk Down,” based on the U.S. military’s raid of Mogadishu, Somalia in 1993. It’s a pretty brutal war film, but also a kinetic one with a lot of dynamism to it. You feel like you are being overwhelmed with war, and that’s what a lot of people want for a movie like this.
This is by no means a low ranking, but we still expect to get some flak for this. “Blade Runner” is considered an all-time classic by a lot of people. Some considered it one of the best science fiction films ever. It’s supremely influential, we have to acknowledge that. It’s also…not a great movie. Oh, it has its charms. We didn’t put it sixth because we don’t like it. The movie looks great, Harrison Ford is good, and Rutger Hauer’s climactic speech is fantastic. It also has dull stretches. It relies on atmosphere a little too much. We can’t quite put “Blade Runner” in the pantheon, in any of the few different versions that exist now.
“American Gangster” has a lot of the trappings of a slick crime movie. That’s because it’s basically a well-crafted version of that. Plus, Denzel Washington stars as career criminal and drug lord Frank Lucas, and Washington excels in roles like this. Crowe is back again as well, and he’s strong in the movie. Instead of being generic, “American Gangster” becomes really good in the right hands, and with the right star.
Scott was already a success by the time he made “Gladiator,” but this movie took his career to the next level. It’s the reason he became a director of epics, and a guy who could make the sort of films he really wanted with a big budget. It won five Oscars, including Best Picture, and got seven more nominations. Scott didn’t win for Best Director, but he was nominated. Like with “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” this was basically Scott dabbling in a bygone genre. In this case, though, he knocked it out of the park.
If only for making the shrewd decision to cast a pre-fame Brad Pitt, Scott deserves credit for “Thelma & Louise.” Also, this movie has one of the iconic film endings. This story of two female friends on the run from the law has become a touchstone film, a point of reference for many. Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis are great and the movie just fires on all cylinders basically from the beginning to that memorable climax.
“The Martian” is not a comedy, no matter what the Golden Globes say. What it is, though, is an excellent hard sci-fi film. It feels fresh in the genre of science fiction because it cares about the reality of the science. Matt Damon plays an astronaut stranded on Mars, and the film focuses on his efforts to stay alive and alert people back on Earth to the fact he survived, and also on the attempts to build a rescue mission to save him. It’s gripping, clever, and features quite the cast. Who says serious sci-fi can’t also be fun?
This is a very different kind of movie set in outer space. “Alien” is one of the most-successful horror movies ever made. It’s indelible cinema. Want to talk iconic film moments? Pour one out for John Hurt’s stomach. It’s gross, visceral, and looks like no other movie before it. Sigourney Weaver is absolutely fantastic, but she’s not the only one. “Alien” keeps you on the edge of your seat for basically the entire run. It’s unsettling without being needlessly disgusting. Also, this was only Scott’s second film. It’s still his best, and it’s also one of the best horror and sci-fi films ever.