Very few directors have made more than one of the best movies ever made in different genres, but Ridley Scott has done just that. He’s helmed classics of the science fiction, horror, and historical epic genres and, in doing so, become one of the most famous filmmakers in the world.
He’s a three-time Academy Award nominee, a BAFTA winner, he has an honorary doctorate, he’s been knighted, and a BBC poll determined him to be the 10th most influential person in British culture. Not all of his movies are fantastic, but he has more than a few great ones. Here are Ridley Scott’s 10 Best Movies, According To Rotten Tomatoes.
10 TIE: Black Hawk Down (76%)
War movies about Vietnam or World War II are a dime a dozen, but in 2001, Ridley Scott directed a powerful film about a conflict that is often forgotten about: the U.S. military’s 1993 raid in Mogadishu. Black Hawk Down is one of the defining movies of the Bush era, because some critics have seen it as a pro-war film disguised as an anti-war film.
Whatever its politics are, it’s a hard-hitting movie. After a while, the constant, unceasing din of helicopters and machine gun fire becomes a little exhausting, but then again, that just makes it an accurate depiction of the horrors of war.
9 TIE: Gladiator (76%)
It’s hard to make historical epics appeal to a mainstream audience, because most moviegoers don’t want to get a history lesson attached to their Friday night at the movies. However, the mainstreamers took to this tale of Russell Crowe’s enslaved military general who is forced into the gladiatorial arena at the mercy of a bratty emperor played by Joaquin Phoenix, because it’s simply incredible.
With a breathtaking visual style inspired by French artists’ interpretations of Ancient Rome and powerful performances from everyone in the cast (including Oliver Reed in his final role), Gladiator is one of the greatest movies of the 21st century.
8 All the Money in the World (79%)
All the Money in the World is Ridley Scott’s cinematic retelling of the infamous tale of the Getty kidnapping. The grandson of J. Paul Getty, the richest man in the world, is held for a $17 million ransom – a sum that wouldn’t even put a dent in Getty’s fortune – and yet he refused to pay up. Kevin Spacey was initially cast as Getty, and even shot the whole movie, but the #MeToo allegations against him came out a few weeks before the film’s release.
Scott had to think fast, because the allegations could’ve sunk the movie. He removed Spacey entirely and replaced him with Christopher Plummer, reshooting and recutting the whole film in just about a month and only delaying the release by a couple of days. That in itself is an impressive feat, and makes the movie significant just for that fact, but it’s also great in its own right.
7 American Gangster (80%)
Ridley Scott’s crack at a sprawling crime biopic in the vein of Martin Scorsese’s classics Goodfellas and The Wolf of Wall Street doesn’t quite live up to the greats of the genre. Still, his telling of the life story of Harlem drug lord Frank Lucas is fascinating, if only because Lucas’ empire is.
It’s anchored by an impeccable performance by Denzel Washington, who plays both the humanity and the heartlessness of Lucas in various different scenes, while Russell Crowe’s portrayal of the detective on his tail gives a rounded portrait of the ethics of Lucas’ criminal organization and makes the film an intriguing cat-and-mouse thriller.
6 Matchstick Men (82%)
It’s a real shame that Matchstick Men didn’t do better business at the box office, because it’s a deliciously dark crime caper. Nicolas Cage is famous for making mostly bad movies, but this is easily one of his best. It tells the story of a con man whose long-lost daughter shows up when his partner-in-crime’s dangerous instability begins to affect his life.
Alison Lohman and Sam Rockwell are terrific in supporting roles (as Cage’s illegitimate daughter and his business partner, respectively) and the storytelling smacks you in the face with some mind-blowing plot twists. It’s a wonderful, curious crime comedy.
5 Thelma & Louise (84%)
With three clearly defined acts and character arcs for its two leads that run almost mathematically in parallel with one another, Thelma & Louise has one of the most classically structured screenplays in Hollywood history.
And whether the audience is aware of this or not, it makes for a satisfying viewing experience, because every scene that’s in there is supposed to be there, the plot doesn’t meander, and the ending provides real closure – even if it’s famously ambiguous. Ridley Scott didn’t write it, but he did bring Callie Khouri’s script to life and turn it into one of the best-known feminist films ever made.
4 Blade Runner (90%)
Ridley Scott practically invented the neo-noir genre with Blade Runner, his Philip K. Dick adaptation that transplants the classic detective stories of the ‘30s and ‘40s into a near-future setting. Harrison Ford stars as Rick Deckard, a “blade runner” who has been tasked with tracking down rogue “replicants” – androids created by a shady corporation that became sentient and assimilated into society.
There are seven versions of Blade Runner and counting, because the studio imposed several absurd additions to the theatrical cut and Scott has been tampering with it ever since, but pretty much every cut of the movie is a sci-fi masterpiece.
3 The Martian (91%)
The great thing about The Martian is its upbeat tone. Most stories of survival are heartbreaking and defeatist, but The Martian is a testament to the human spirit. Matt Damon stars as Mark Watney, a botanist who is swept up in a storm on Mars and presumed dead by the rest of his crew.
He then faces the reality that he’s years away from being saved if he can even communicate to NASA that he’s still alive. He’s a character you can really root for, the plot is engaging and constantly moving forward, and the movie has been praised for its scientific accuracy.
2 The Duellists (92%)
The Duellists was Ridley Scott’s directorial debut, and although it’s not as well-known as his later works, it still stands as one of his best. Adapted from a short story by Joseph Conrad, it stars Harvey Keitel and Albert Finney and it tells the Napoleon-era story of a minor feud that grows into a decades-long series of duels.
It was awarded Best Debut Film at the 1977 Cannes Film Festival and has often been compared to Stanley Kubrick’s woefully underrated historical epic Barry Lyndon. Perhaps the movie’s greatest achievement is its historical accuracy, both in the costumes and in the fencing techniques.
1 Alien (97%)
It’s hardly a surprise that Alien tops the list. When Ridley Scott was hired to direct a haunted house movie set on a space station with a vicious alien in place of a ghost, he could’ve easily phoned in a crummy, shallow, poorly crafted B-movie. But instead, he created a timeless cinematic classic; a masterwork in suspenseful storytelling with expert pacing.
Scott lulls us into a false sense of security before the infamous chest-burster scene, and then ratchets up the tension to build towards the kind of jump scare that today’s horror cinema lacks. And to top it all off, Alien has Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley, who paved the way for every subsequent female action hero.