Total Recall: Harrison Ford's Best Movies
We count down the best-reviewed work of the Extraordinary Measures 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 his latest effort, the medical drama Extraordinary Measures, opening this Friday, we thought now would be the perfect time to take a look back at some of the critical highlights of Ford's 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 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 of 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."
7. 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."
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."