Ranked: Ridley Scott Films From Worst to Best

Highs and lows from the visionary director of Alien, Thelma and Louise, and the new Prometheus.


by Adam Ryan

Tomorrow, Ridley Scott returns to his sci-fi roots for the first time in thirty years, with the release of the much-anticipated epic Prometheus. In tribute, we've ranked all of the meticulous auteur's films from worst to best.

19. A Good Year (2006)

Watching a rich Russell Crowe deal with inheriting a chateau in the French countryside while courting Marion Cotillard and managing his finance job back home is sort of like watching a movie about a corporate CEO winning the lottery. Who cares?

18. G.I. Jane (1997)

A drippy and dull take on a dramatic structure that's been through the wringer: scrappy outsider (Demi Moore as a tough but feminine Navy officer) battles the odds (training to be a Navy SEAL... even though she's a woman!) to earn the respect of her peers (Viggo Mortensen and, uh, America?). It's Rudy with machine guns, except that that sounds pretty entertaining.

17. Legend (1985)

The 1980s were the salad days for fairytale movies (The Princess Bride, Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal); Scott's foray was a swing and miss. Legend looks great, but the dialogue is terrible, the premise is hokey (Tom Cruise has to stop The Lord of Darkness from eliminating the world's unicorn population), and the film as a whole feels leaden.

16. Robin Hood (2010)

Scott explained his Robin Hood as a prequel to the Robin Hood legends, which explains (but doesn't justify) why it's so far from the playful, lively stories we remember. Audiences expected a movie about a rogueish hero who robs from the rich and gives to the poor. Instead, they were treated to a poor man's Gladiator, with plenty of blood and guts and self-seriousness, but no heart.

15. Hannibal (2001)

A lot of people who didn't normally like horror movies liked Silence of the Lambs, not because of its gore but because of its rich psychology. Scott must've missed this, because his Hannibal ignores the franchise's compelling storylines in favor of, yes, gore. And lots of it. Seeing Ray Liotta's brain doesn't make up for a weak story.

14. Someone to Watch Over Me (1987)

Tom Berenger is a hardened New York City detective assigned to protect a beautiful socialite who's witnessed a murder. It's not the world's most original story, but Scott squeezes enough interest from the 1980s New York City backdrop to make it worth a nostalgic look.

13. White Squall (1996)

Although there are flashes of a good movie sprinkled throughout White Squall — Jeff Bridges and company turn in solid performances, and the action sequences are nicely stylized and intense — in the end, the film is just too damn long to sustain interest. By the hundred-minute mark, you're just waiting for the storm to come along and take care of business.   

12. 1492: Conquest of Paradise (1992)

Scott's controversial take on Columbus's "discovery" of the Americas was a flop with audiences and critics alike. But, from an aesthetic point of view, it's one of Scott's most beautifully shot films.

11. Body of Lies (2008)

This CIA spy thriller starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe was Scott's first foray into the genre, and although it lacks depth, Scott got some nice performances out of his cast.

10. Black Rain (1989)

Set against the contemporary anxiety about Japanese corporate dominance, Black Rain follows bad-boy cop Michael Douglas as he infiltrates an Japanese crime syndicate. If you're looking for an underrated cop movie from the '80s, Black Rain should be at the very top of your list.

Commentarium (26 Comments)

Jun 07 12 - 12:54am
Rj

Is it coincidence that in the most recent talking to strangers, somebody mentioned Alien?

Jun 07 12 - 3:38pm
Alex Heigl

"A lot o' people don't realize what's really going on. They view life as a bunch o' unconnected incidents 'n things. They don't realize that there's this, like, lattice o' coincidence that lays on top o' everything. Give you an example, show you what I mean: suppose you're thinkin' about a plate o' shrimp. Suddenly someone'll say, like, 'plate,' or 'shrimp,' or 'plate o' shrimp' out of the blue, no explanation. No point in lookin' for one, either. It's all part of a cosmic unconsciousness."

Jun 07 12 - 10:22pm
shugazer

As a comic once stated in his routine....."YES!!!! THAT'S WHAT A COINCIDENCE *IS*!!!"

Jun 08 12 - 9:36pm
LV

Repo Man reference, FTW!

Jun 07 12 - 2:38am
Dan

List looks good to me, I'd switch Matchstick Men & Black Hawk Down but that's more personal preference than anything.

Jun 07 12 - 5:32am
Hiltrud Hartmann

I find White Squill underestimated, but I'm fully with ALIEN's first place, although by a margin away from Thelma and Louize. Although Prometheus is not yet included I personally like it much less than Alien. But that's just me I think, as I was 30 years younger then. According to scores my Ranking would be Blade Runner, and for the Alien films it would be "Aliens" by a long shot. The score for Prometheus and Alien I forgot as soon as I left the theatre

Jun 07 12 - 6:36am
Kane

I had no idead people thought matchstick men was a good movie. First it was extremely predicatable and second it starred Nick Cage. Cage mostly plays the same character in all his films and is not believable.

Jun 07 12 - 6:40am
Arthur

Alien, as good as it is, is essentially a slasher movie set in space.

As for Ripley, she's a version of final girl (see Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday 13th, Halloween)

Jun 08 12 - 5:20pm
TKewley

This has been my take on this movie for some time. The regard this movie is held in escapes me.

A group of people, in an isolated location, do stupid things and get picked off my a shadowy but gradually revealed monster, until only one is left. They then kill the monster...or do they?

I've just described every lousy '80s horror film...and Alien.

Jun 09 12 - 7:20pm
well

A bunch of mob guys get into a power struggle, some murders happen, and a new boss takes over. I've just described every lousy mafia movie... and The Godfather.

It's possible to give anything a crappy-sounding, reductionist description. It's also possible for a piece of art to stand far above others in its genre.

Jun 07 12 - 10:33am
mp

Though Gladiator is a pretty movie and well crafted, it's as generic and formulaic as GI Jane.

Jun 07 12 - 1:45pm
Wossamotta

I actually think "Gladiator" is one of the weakest films to get a Best Picture Oscar in recent years. The entire sequence before they get back to Rome is a real snooze, and some of the CGI effects with the Tigers and such are really weak.
My favorite of Scott's films is probably "Blade Runner," which is pretty brilliant. It's one of those that's been recut and reconfigured a bunch of times since. I actually prefer the verswion with Ford's voiceover in the final scene with Hauer, but I don't think that's Ridley Scott's own preferred version.

Jun 08 12 - 5:27pm
TKewley

I certainly wouldn't call Blade Runner 'brilliant', though it is a favorite of mine. It's amusing to note that the movie was not at all well reviewed at the time of its' release, and did not do well at the box office. It was regarded, IIRC, as a weak B-grade noir dressed up with science fiction trappings (and yes, I am old enough to have been around at the time). The critical revisionism that has taken place over the years around the film has been...entertaining.

Jun 10 12 - 1:56am
Rebex

People from subsequent generations, who are neither particular aware of, nor particularly interested in, the reception Blade Runner got at the time of its release can look upon it now and recognize its (yes) brilliance. It is somehow not dated, one doesn't shake one's head at lame special effects. It's truly a masterpiece of efficiency and restraint. I don't know how anyone could label it "weak B-Grade noir" (I'll allow it's noir, but what standards are to be used to judge the grade?) in the guise of science fiction. Jesus, why can't it be both? The qualifying themes interlock so beautifully in Blade Runner, it is an odd criticism. How amusing it is to think that people in the early 1980s would come to that conclusion. I find it equally..... entertaining, that you would view the elevated regard the film's enjoyed with age as "critical revisionism", as though it's been the subject some kind of highbrow conspiracy.

Jun 07 12 - 3:19pm
Liz

Gladiator was awful.

Jun 07 12 - 4:27pm
res

For once, a Nerve list that I actually agree with!
The first time I saw Alien in the theaters, I had to sleep with a light on for 3 nights (that's a huge compliment, in my book).
And if you haven't seen the "Director's Cut" of Blade Runner, I highly recommend it...it's quite easy to understand what's going on without the narration that the studio forced him to put into the initial release. And that score...one of the finest.

Jun 07 12 - 4:37pm
Tate

First thing, I had no idea that Scott directed "Hannibal", and find this news to be highly disturbing due to the fact that Mr. Scott is easily one of my favorite directors. Ridley Scott has single handedly ruined possibly the greatest super-villain and antagognist in film history. "Hannibal" is a no brainer for my own personal list of "worst film's ever". Scott managed to reduce Dr. Lechter from a villain mythic in stature, with seemingly supernatural abilities of intellect, strength, and even sophisitication, and reduce him into a "Freddy Kruegeresque" or stereotypical movie mad man with all the sophistication of a prepubescent teenager stalker who routine calls Clarice up for attempts at phone sex. Jonathon Demme should take Ridley Scott and feed him to a gang of hungry boars for what he did to the greatest antagonist in film history.

Beyond that, I completely agree with the rankings except for the too high standings of "Thelma and Louise" which was good but I would have placed at 9 or at least lower then "Kingdom of Heaven" and American Gangster" but still on top of "Matchstick Men" which I also think you overrated. Also, I have never seen nor heard of the "Duellists" so I look forward to seeing that as well.

Congratulations my friend and keep up the fine writing! Look forward to your next article.

Jun 07 12 - 11:12pm
Ariane

Awwww, I loved "A Good Year". It's a slow, character piece, but that's the point. Plus, Marion Cotillard is _damn_ sexy.

Jun 08 12 - 7:30am
raj

I would switch Black Hawk Down for Gladiator, but otherwise the list gets it right.

Jun 10 12 - 7:54am
Dr Teeth

I found American Gangster to be deeply derivative, but then again I hold a sneaking regard for Legend, so what do I know.

Jun 10 12 - 9:50am
Jinna

I hadn't realized what a big fan of scene chewer Russell Crowe Ridley Scott was. This is disappointing.

Jun 12 12 - 10:20am
Doc Daneeka

Gladiator is truely an awful film cheesy and dull and Crowes performance seems to me worse than Blooms in Kindgom of Heaven whoose 2.5 hours full cut is I think a far far better film.

And Black Hawk Down is whilst gritty and tense a pretty bombastic retelling of not only one of the worst military cock ups since the Charge of the Light Brigade but also one with a terrifying number of civillian casualties oh and it was the Pakisatanis that came to the rescue.

That said thanks for this, its reminded me of some great Scott films I'd forgot definately going to watch Black Rain and Duelists soon.

Jun 12 12 - 4:37pm
I wanna know ...

... where the author thinks Promotheus should sit in this list. I just saw it; great visually but lost me from the get go.

Jun 13 12 - 4:52pm
_U

You treat the Director as the one who wrote the story, not true... Orlando Bloom didn't defend Jerusalem from the European forces, and Hannibal isn't a weak plot... And Alien was a breakthrough especially for the people who teamed up with Scott, and also for the marketing

Jun 26 12 - 3:22pm
Jacob Crim

Did you omit "Prometheus" on purpose?

Sep 17 12 - 3:27am
jd

love his style...very sleek and elegant.........but my number one would have to go to gladiator.