Total Recall: Ridley Scott's Best Movies
We count down the best-reviewed work of the Prometheus director.
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."
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."
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."
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."
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."