Total Recall: Harrison Ford's Best Movies
We count down the best-reviewed work of the 42 star.
He may not be quite the box office draw he once was, but don't cry for Harrison Ford: Over the last 35 years or so, he's amassed a lifetime gross in excess of $3.4 billion -- and more importantly, he's kicked bad-guy tail as some of the most memorable cinematic heroes in history, including Han Solo, Indiana Jones, and Jack Ryan. He's made a whole bunch of great movies along the way, too -- and with Ford making an appearance in the Jackie Robinson biopic 42, opening this Friday, we thought now would be the perfect time to take a look back at some of the critical highlights of his illustrious filmography.
You'll notice what might seem like some curious omissions from our list -- most notably, Ford's appearances in The Conversation, American Graffiti, and Apocalypse Now -- but those were fairly minor roles, no matter how well-reviewed the films might have been, and since it's Harrison Ford's name at the top of this column, we figured we'd better stick with the movies that gave him the most screen time. You'll probably also notice that some of your personal favorites are missing, but with a top 10 that bottoms out at 83 percent on the Tomatometer, you know some good stuff didn't make the cut. But enough prologue -- let's take a look at Harrison Ford's best-reviewed movies, shall we?
10. Working Girl
We knew he could catch bad guys and save the universe, but before 1988's Working Girl, we didn't know whether Harrison Ford could just be, you know, normal -- if he could help carry, for instance, one of the smart romantic comedies that the studios used to make once or twice a year. As corporate executive Jack Trainer, Ford wasn't required to carry the film -- that fell to Melanie Griffith as Tess McGill, the secretary whose dissatisfaction with her life inspires the screwball ruse that powers the plot. And as it turned out, not only did his sharp comic timing survive the journey from a galaxy far, far away, Ford made a pretty good romantic leading man, too. The result was one of Mike Nichols' finer mid-period efforts, earning five Academy Award nominations, putting a Best Song Oscar on Carly Simon's mantel, and inspiring the Washington Post's Rita Kempley to write, "This scrumptious romantic comedy with its blithe cast is as easy to watch as swirling ball gowns and dancing feet. But oh me, oh my, how much more demanding it is to be a fairy tale heroine these days."
Going into the second Indiana Jones movie, George Lucas said he wanted it to be darker than Raiders of the Lost Ark; what he didn't know, at least at first, was which direction the story would take. Abandoned suggestions included Indy finding a hidden valley of dinosaurs and an adventure involving the mythical Chinese Monkey King; eventually, of course, Lucas and Steven Spielberg settled on a Raiders prequel pitting Indy, his sidekick Short Round (Ke Huy Quan), and a feisty nightclub singer named Willie Scott (Kate Capshaw) against a murderous Thuggee cult. Temple of Doom suffered in comparison to Raiders, and its ramped-up violence (including an infamous scene featuring a still-beating heart) helped lead to the creation of the PG-13 rating. Despite catching a twinge of the sophomore jinx, Temple was one of the biggest hits of the year, and praised by critics like Colin Covert of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, who called it "sillier, darkly violent and a bit dumbed down, but still great fun."
Five years after they sent Indiana Jones to India (and disappointed some fans) with Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Lucas and Spielberg beat a conscious retreat to the lighthearted action of Raiders of the Lost Ark for the franchise's third, and at the time supposedly final, installment. In terms of tone -- and in its Raiders-esque use of the Nazis as villains -- Crusade was a definite, albeit enjoyable, step back; perhaps in order to compensate for this, Lucas and Spielberg made sure to stuff Crusade with all kinds of nifty twists, including a prologue starring River Phoenix as teenaged Indy and the addition of Sean Connery as his gruff, no-nonsense father. The new additions, coupled with the returns of Denholm Elliott as Marcus Brody and John Rhys-Davies as Sallah, helped Crusade roll to one of the highest grosses in a year that included Batman and Ghostbusters II. It is, as Josh Larsen of Sun Publications wrote, "a blueprint for how a blockbuster sequel should be done."
In retrospect, it helped signal his shift toward more adult drama roles, but in 1985, Witness was something new for Harrison Ford -- namely, a quiet thriller that forsook set pieces and relied on a taut script and solid acting to get its point across. Needless to say, the Peter Weir-directed film wasn't a Star Wars-sized smash, but plenty of people still showed up for Witness -- and it was a critical winner, too, netting eight Academy Award nominations (and two wins) as well as a pile of other awards. At bottom, the role of John Book wasn't terribly different from the other tough, morally upstanding heroes Ford had played, but the circumstances of the story -- which traces the aftermath of a Philadelphia murder witnessed (get it?) by a young Amish boy -- let audiences focus more on Ford's natural talent than special effects or a pulse-pounding John Williams score. And he was up to the challenge: As Roger Ebert succinctly put it, "Harrison Ford has never given a better performance in a movie."
6. Blade Runner
By 1982, Harrison Ford was one of the most bankable stars in the business, but not even the level of marquee mojo that goes with the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises 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."