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.
9. Kingdom of Heaven (2005)
The problem with Scott's sprawling epic about the Crusades lies solely with the casting choice of Orlando Bloom as the lead. Playing a French expatriate who ends up defending Jerusalem against European forces, Bloom is so far out of his league against the likes of Jeremy Irons and Liam Neeson that the whole movie often feels comical. But it's a complex film that deals with some serious moral issues, and if you can get past Bloom, it's definitely worth the two-and-a-half-hour runtime.
8. The Duellists (1977)
Scott's first feature was a Cannes Palme d'Or finalist in 1977. Working from a novella by Joseph Conrad, the young director brilliantly evoked Conrad's Napoleonic Wars setting; you'll be amazed by what Scott managed with a tiny budget. And the drama — about a years-long standoff between French officers Keith Carradine and Harvey Keitel — still works.
7. American Gangster (2007)
American Gangster features Denzel Washington playing the drug-trafficking-kingpin version of Denzel Washington, being chased by the 1970s-cop version of Russell Crowe. And it's almost as fun as it sounds, especially if you can ignore the predictable ending. Plus, the background (the emerging international heroin trade during the 1970s) is fascinating.
6. Matchstick Men (2003)
I sometimes forget Matchstick Men was directed by Ridley Scott; this story about Nicolas Cage as a phobic con-artist, Sam Rockwell as his swindling partner, and Cage's attempt to bond with his estranged daughter, feels more like something by Steven Soderbergh. But that's not a bad thing — if anything, it proves Scott's range — and, given Scott's visual mastery, it's the best-looking con-man movie you'll ever see.
5. Black Hawk Down (2001)
The war-film fanatic is hard to satisfy; there's always some discrepancy that sends them into a fit. But Black Hawk Down is a war-film fanatic's war film — it not only tells the true story of a Black Hawk helicopter shot down in Mogadishu, but it delivers unrivaled verisimilitude. Scott's attention to detail makes the story feel intimate and real, and therefore all the more harrowing.
4. Thelma & Louise (1991)
When a movie title becomes a verb, it's safe to say it's made a lasting impact on pop culture. With great performances and an unforgettable climax, Thelma & Louise broke out of the "chick flick" ghetto.
3. Gladiator (2000)
Gladiator kicked off a wave of epic sword-and-sandal movies, many of them distinguished more by the pectorals on display than by any great filmmaking. But Scott's film still stands out for its frantic pace, racing from the opening battle to the final showdown between Maximus and Commodus. It may not be Scott's most transcendent movie, but it's one of his most satisfying.
2. Blade Runner (1982)
I'm putting this at #2, but it's really #1b. Blade Runner is a masterpiece, so dense with ideas about identity, religion, and human evolution that it's easy to get lost in your own head trying to digest what's on screen. But it's also just as fun to unplug your brain and watch it for Scott's haunting portrait of a dystopian Los Angeles.
1. Alien (1979)
Alien earns top seed for three reasons. One: thirty years after its initial release, the scene inside the Nostromo's mess hall is still horrifying. Two: Alien upended gender roles in sci-fi by featuring Sigourney Weaver as the heroine, Ripley, a character originally written as male. And three: it's not very often that a movie creates and simultaneously dominates a sub-genre, as Alien did with the tricky "sci-fi horror." (Just try to think of a better example.)