Total Recall

Total Recall: Ridley Scott's Best Movies

We count down the best-reviewed work of the Prometheus director.

by | June 7, 2012 | Comments

Ridley Scott

Over the course of his 35-year filmmaking career, Ridley Scott has dabbled in pretty much every genre: from historical epics to action flicks, fantasy to heartwarming drama, he’s done it all — and he’s racked up an impressive pile of awards and nominations along the way. But since 1982’s Blade Runner, sci-fi has been conspicuously absent from Scott’s filmography — until now, that is. With the decidedly Alien-ish Prometheus landing in theaters this weekend, we decided now would be the perfect time to take a fond look back at 10 of the brightest critical highlights from the Ridley Scott oeuvre, and you know what that means: It’s time for Total Recall!


10. White Squall

Scott skippered Jeff Bridges and a cast of mid-1990s It Boy actors — including Ryan Phillippe, Jeremy Sisto, and Party of Five‘s Scott Wolf — on this voyage through the real-life wreckage of a schooner that sank in 1961 with a crew of teenagers on board. Although it ultimately went down as yet another in a line of box office failures, at least White Squall wasn’t a massive flop like its predecessor, 1492: Conquest of Paradise — and its strong, committed cast earned a number of positive reviews from critics like James Berardinelli of ReelViews, who wrote, “This film offers just about everything, including a twenty-minute white-knuckle sequence and a chance to shed a few tears. In short, it’s first-rate entertainment.”


9. Black Hawk Down

A Jerry Bruckheimer production credit is most commonly associated with mindless blockbuster action thrillers, but 2001’s Black Hawk Down proves he can deliver a meaningful message while the bullets fly. Working from screenwriter Ken Nolan’s adaptation of the Mark Bowden book about the real-life Battle of Mogadishu, Scott directed with gritty precision, using an eclectic ensemble cast (including Ewan McGregor, Josh Hartnett, Tom Sizemore, Orlando Bloom, and Jeremy Piven) to take audiences into the trenches with soldiers fighting to kill or capture a Somali warlord. A $172 million hit, Black Hawk Down also earned the admiration of critics such as Michael Wilmington of the Chicago Tribune, who called it “A first-rate war movie that presents its subject so horrifyingly well that it doesn’t need to probe or preach.”


8. Gladiator

The swords ‘n’ sandals genre had been pretty well left for dead by the time Ridley Scott took the helm of Gladiator — which might have something to do with why the project didn’t exactly race on its way to the screen, and why the script bounced around between three credited writers and countless adjustments before it debuted in May of 2000. But by the time audiences got their first glimpse of Russell Crowe as an unjustly enslaved Roman general, Gladiator had the look and feel of an Oscar winner — and win it did, piling up five Oscars (including Best Picture and Best Actor for Crowe) and a whopping $457 million worldwide gross. As for the critics? Well, they liked it too — including Jim Halverson of the Sacramento News & Review, who wrote, “Scott triumphantly transports us back to the Roman Empire circa 180 A.D. with a painter’s eye for detail, a proven talent for manufacturing exotic realities (such as the future shock of Blade Runner) and a sweet tooth for utter spectacle.”


7. Someone to Watch Over Me

Scott suffered a pair of high-profile commercial disappointments in the early-to-mid 1980s with Blade Runner and Legend, so for his next film, he decided to keep things simple: 1987’s Someone to Watch Over Me is, at heart, a fairly standard cop-and-dame thriller about a socialite (Mimi Rogers) who falls under the protection of an NYPD detective (Tom Berenger) after she witnesses a murder. It didn’t break Scott’s string of box office duds, but Watch won over critics who were willing to forgive its formula script thanks to his strong visual style; as Michael Wilmington put it for the Los Angeles Times, “Illogical, flawed or forced thrillers are all too common. Ones that knock your eyes out are rare.”


6. American Gangster

Scott reunited with his Gladiator star Russell Crowe for this sprawling, torn-from-the-headlines drama about Harlem-based heroin smuggler Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) and his years-long struggle to evade the scrutiny of Richie Roberts, the relentless cop who dogged Lucas’ operation. As Roberts, Crowe got to sink his teeth into an uncommonly complex character — a guy whose unswerving honesty made him unpopular with his peers, but whose messy personal life belied a lack of honor and discipline that stood in stark contrast to his adversary’s (admittedly screwy) moral code. Released in November 2007, American Gangster was expected to be a major Oscar contender, and though it mostly disappointed on that front, netting only two nominations (including Best Supporting Actress for Ruby Dee), Gangster was still a sizable hit, especially considering its two-and-a-half-hour length. In the words of Chris Vognar of the Dallas Morning News, “Ridley Scott packs the film with period detail and vivid, violent energy reminiscent of high-grade Scorsese, then mixes in a Lumet-like, keenly observed outrage at systemic corruption.”


5. Matchstick Men

There’s nothing quite like watching a good old-fashioned con movie; unfortunately, most of them tend to forget the “good” part, mistaking random twists and double-crosses for character development and a sensible plot. Not so Ridley Scott’s adaptation of Eric Garcia’s Matchstick Men, starring Nicolas Cage and Sam Rockwell as a pair of grifters plotting a big score against a wealthy businessman. As Roy, the mentally unstable con man who is forced to question his life’s work after the sudden appearance of the daughter he’s never met, Cage is allowed to act at his sweaty, tic-ridden best; Roy’s countless ailments — including OCD and agoraphobia — tap into the nervous energy that has fueled all his finest performances. Though not all critics took Matchstick Men‘s bait (Garth Franklin of Dark Horizons called it “an example of Scott at his worst”), the cast earned positive notices for its work — particularly Cage, who is, in the words of the Kansas City Kansan’s Steve Crum, “absolutely terrific down to his eye twitches and neck jerks.”


4. The Duellists

Scott won the Best First Film prize at Cannes for his debut, an adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s short story The Duel. Starring Harvey Keitel and Keith Carradine, this 1977 drama centers around the bitter rivalry between a pair of officers in Napoleon’s army who spend their careers violently attempting to settle a long-standing grudge. While certainly not one of Scott’s biggest hits, it offered a glimpse of the distinctive flair and vision he’d fully come into later in his career; as David Hughes noted for Empire, “The richness of Scott’s visuals, the excellence of the performances and the depth of the themes combine to make a minor masterpiece.”


3. Thelma & Louise

After enduring middling reviews and mild box office success with 1989’s Black Rain, Scott earned some of the best reviews of his career with the follow-up: Thelma & Louise, the 1991 hit about a pair of women (played by Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis) who leave behind their regular lives for a road trip that quickly goes awry. Scott earned his first Academy Award nomination for his work here, one of six for the film (including Best Actress noms for Davis and Sarandon and Best Original Screenplay for Callie Khouri, who won). Calling it “an exhilarating vehicle” for its leads, the Washington Post’s Rita Kempley wrote that Thelma & Louise “spins its wheels in a giddy sort of way, then puts the pedal to the mettle, lays rubber and fairly takes wing.”


2. Blade Runner

By 1982, Scott was riding on the afterburners of Alien and Harrison Ford was one of the most bankable stars in the business, but not even their combind marquee mojo was enough to keep Blade Runner from whiffing at the box office when it was originally released. All’s well that ends well, though — more than a quarter century and a handful of expanded cuts later, Runner is regarded as one of the smartest, most enduring sci-fi films ever made. Still, looking back, it isn’t hard to understand filmgoers’ initial confusion; at the time, Ford was mostly known for playing wisecracking, reluctant heroes, and his role here — the burned-out cop Rick Deckard — was a far cry from Han Solo or Indiana Jones. Though it was slow to find its audience, critics were quick to applaud Blade Runner; the Chicago Reader’s Jonathan Rosenbaum, for instance, called it “The most remarkably and densely imagined and visualized SF film since 2001: A Space Odyssey” and “a hauntingly erotic meditation on the difference between the human and the nonhuman.”


1. Alien

Sigourney Weaver’s first leading role in a film turned out to be the one that would stick with her for decades: Ellen Ripley, the astronaut whose close-quarters encounter with a frighteningly smart (and lethal) space creature presages a centuries-long war for the fate of the human race. But as deliberately as it teased at the edges of a broader mythology, Scott’s 1979 masterpiece also worked as a gripping, gleefully inventive standalone sci-fi action thriller. Calling it “A haunted-house movie set in space,” Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir wrote that Alien “also has a profoundly existentialist undertow that makes it feel like a film noir — the other genre to feature a slithery, sexualized monster as its classic villain.”

In case you were wondering, here are Scott’s top 10 movies according RT users’ scores:

1. Alien — 90%
2. Blade Runner — 89%
3. American Gangster — 87%
4. Gladiator — 85%
5. Black Hawk Down — 85%
6. The Duellists — 80%
7. Matchstick Men — 76%
8. Thelma & Louise — 75%
9. Kingdom of Heaven — 72%
10. Legend — 72%

Take a look through Scott’s complete filmography, as well as the rest of our Total Recall archives. And don’t forget to check out the reviews for Prometheus.


  • Lucas Lima Batista Lima

    76% is very little,for the Masterpiece winner the academy awards for best picture,Gladiator (2000) one of the best movies of Ridley Scott

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