Total Recall: Harrison Ford's Best Movies
We count down the best-reviewed work of the 42 star.
5. Star Wars
On playgrounds across America in 1977, two things were true no matter which school you went to or which grade you were in: One, Luke Skywalker was the hero of the coolest sci-fi action movie ever to grace the screen; and two, when it came time to play Star Wars during recess, you wanted to be Han Solo anyway. Luke might have been the chosen one, but Han got all the coolest lines, and nobody ever looked cooler with a laser pistol slung low on his hip. As would become something of a habit with Ford, he acquired the role of Han through unusual circumstances; he was originally only hired to read lines during casting sessions, but eventually impressed George Lucas enough to win what would become a cornerstone part in one of the most beloved film franchises in history. He'd scored movie roles before, but really, this is where it all started for Harrison Ford -- and although no one could have guessed where Star Wars' amazing success would lead, plenty of critics loved it. As Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "It is, all in all, hard to think of a place or an age group that would not respond to the enthusiastic inventiveness with which Lucas has enshrined his early loves."
We don't see them as often as we used to, but during the '80s and '90s, theaters were flush with legal thrillers, and although the genre eventually wore itself out with hackneyed plot twists and a tired succession of grizzled anti-heroes, filmgoers were treated to some great stuff along the way. A case in point: 1990's Presumed Innocent, which placed Alan Pakula behind the lens for an adaptation of the Scott Turow best-seller about a prosecutor (Ford) investigating the grisly murder of a colleague (Greta Scacchi) who just happens to be the woman he had an affair with -- and who dumped him before she died -- only to discover, much to his consternation, that a growing body of evidence points at himself. Working from Turow's gripping novel, and with a stellar cast that included Brian Dennehy, Raúl Juliá, Bonnie Bedelia, and Paul Winfield, Pakula had all the right ingredients for what Variety called "a demanding, disturbing javelin of a courtroom murder mystery" -- and a film that, even in the era of Jagged Edge and Suspect, managed to stand out. It also represented another opportunity for Ford to shine in a movie featuring zero aliens, robots, or supervillains; in the words of Rolling Stone's Peter Travers, "Ford -- breaking again from his Indiana Jones heroics -- is astonishingly fine in a performance of controlled intensity."
3. The Fugitive
Movies based on television shows aren't always box office duds -- the first Brady Bunch and Addams Family films were harmless fun, and borderline Fresh on the Tomatometer besides -- but it's exceedingly rare that they achieve the kind of critical and commercial success enjoyed by 1993's The Fugitive. It helped, of course, that the original series was one of the more highly regarded TV dramas of the '60s, and that its central plot device -- a man on the run for a crime he didn't commit, and in pursuit of the real villain -- was exceedingly easy to move to the big screen and turn into a pulse-pounding 1990s action thriller. What The Fugitive really had going for it, though, was a pair of terrific leads in Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones. As the titular wanted man, Dr. Richard Kimble, Ford got to play another of the reluctant action heroes he embodied so well in the '80s and '90s -- and Jones might has well have been born to play the blunt, brilliant, and driven U.S. Marshal Samuel Gerard. A movie so successful it made the studio think 1998's "spiritual sequel" U.S. Marshals would be a hit, The Fugitive sold tons of tickets while earning high praise from critics like the Washington Post's Rita Kempley, who wrote, "A flurry of stunts, close shaves and deeds of desperate daring, it easily transcends its television origins to become a stylish pacemaker-buster on the order of Die Hard, MD."
As was the case with Han Solo, the role of Indiana Jones only fell to Harrison Ford after the filmmakers' original plans came to naught. Not wanting Ford to be "that guy I put in all my movies," Lucas initially balked at casting Ford, instead handing the whip and fedora to Tom Selleck -- only to have Selleck walk away from the movie when he couldn't swing it against his schedule with Magnum, P.I. Ford was, of course, the perfect fit for Lucas and Spielberg's swashbuckling archaeologist -- something the rest of the world knew by the end of 1981, when stubble and a decrepit leather jacket were synonymous with high adventure and Paramount was on its way to pocketing more than $380 million in ticket receipts. A delirious mashup of everything from classic Saturday serials to Carl Barks' Uncle Scrooge comics, Raiders took audiences on a thrill ride so breathtaking that not even the New York Times' Vincent Canby could keep from cheering that it was "one of the most deliriously funny, ingenious and stylish American adventure movies ever made." In the words of Flipside Movie Emporium's Rob Vaux, "If you can't love this film, you have no business loving movies at all."
Everyone knows most sequels are lame, but quite a lot of that has to do with the fact that most sequels are made for money -- and although Star Wars made more than enough dough to demand a follow-up, George Lucas had always intended for it to be the first installment in a space opera anyway. As a result, 1980's The Empire Strikes Back is that rare second installment that's obviously setting up the saga-concluding events of its sequel, but has enough of a story of its own -- and moves through its plot so deftly -- that it never feels like it's marking time between the bookends of a trilogy. Empire's somber tone was a bit of a surprise to fans who expected another helping of Star Wars' crowd-pleasing intergalactic adventure, but what it lacked in exploding Death Stars, it more than made up for with a deeper, more affecting storyline, and some of the most resonant scenes of the series -- not the least of which being the arrest and imprisonment (and possible death) of Han Solo. Ford did, in fact, argue for his character's demise, but his pleas fell on deaf ears -- and even without that added bit of pathos, Empire earned the approval of critics like the late, great Gene Siskel, who noted, "It balances bloodshed with charm, spectacle with childlike glee. It's a near flawless movie of its kind."
In case you were wondering, here are Ford's top 10 movies according RT users' scores:
1. The Empire Strikes Back -- 94%
2. Return of the Jedi -- 93%
3. Raiders of the Lost Ark -- 93%
4. Star Wars -- 93%
5. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade -- 91%
6. Blade Runner -- 89%
7. The Fugitive -- 82%
8. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom -- 80%
9. Witness -- 76%
10. Patriot Games -- 70%
Finally, here's Ford in his big screen debut -- Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round, from 1966: