The Best and Worst of Ridley Scott

When you’re talking about Ridley Scott movies, and I’m assuming this is right after your home sock puppet show, it becomes immediately apparent that he’s a rangy English bastard. Just when you think he’s a sci-fi director, he throws uber-lady power Thelma and Louise at ya. Then, after seeing G.I. Jane, you peg him as a “girl power” hero, and he rocks you up with Black Hawk Down. Okay, you say, continuing your odd internal monologue, this guy is all about the military. 2003 comes and he releases Matchstick Men, which proves he’s given up, completely thrown in the towel on making real movies. That proves not to be the case, because while 2010 saw him release one of his worst films (Robin Hood), this weekend he’s got a completely legit sci-fi “think piece” hitting theaters. He’s only getting stronger, or weaker, depending on what phase the moon is in. So let’s break down the thirteen major works of Ridley Scott, leaving Legend and A Good Year completely out of the conversation, mostly because I haven’t those two and no one really mentions them anyway. I blame the system, and HBO, for not allowing me to buy Game of Thrones on my Zune.
So then, Ridley Scott’s worst film EVAR?

#13 G.I. Jane (1997)

Prevalent Ridley Scott Themes: Combat, Girl power, An unjust world made right by a crusader.
Lord, is this a terrible movie. I remember at the time it came out you HAD to mention that yes, Demi Moore was completely ripped … but the movie still was a complete nightmare. They’d probably do a better job with the subject matter today, emphasizing the situational conditions in which women would actually be better in combat, but all Ridley could think to do was shoot Demi getting beat up by a bunch of dudes while acting sassy.
The trailer was also released in award-winning SEIZURE VISION, because evidently it’s impossible to string together more than four seconds of continuity without a jump cut and robot noise accompaniment. The only awesome part of this film happened well after the fact, when G.I. Jane alum Jessica Walter became Lucille Bluth. Now you can watch all the G.I. Jane scenes with a better back-story, as in she’s completely hammered and thinking of a way to screw over Lindsay (Editor’s Note: Okay, it was Anne Bancroft, not Jessica Walter, but there’s not much as fun in that). Alternatively, you can imagine Aragorn, son of Arathorn, has become totally unhinged. Your call.

#12 Robin Hood (2010)

Prevalent Ridley Scott Themes: Combat, Girl power, An unjust world made right by a crusader.
Ridley Scott has only executed “I love women!!” once, and this ain’t that. Watching the above clip, which is the BEST scene in the movie, is almost impossible. Everything takes five seconds too long, no one is stealing from the rich or giving to the poor, and Maid Marion seems like a real fucker. The themes in this film are incredibly muddled. I hate to be the guy who quotes himself, but here’s what I wrote about the plot:
“Are we watching a film about a guy named Robin? Or about the divine right of kings? Women’s rights are considered (because why not?), and little nameless and faceless orphan children run around on the fringes of the film with no exposition at all. We just get a glimpse of them with the film itself nudging us and winking, “Hey, it could be about these kids! Keep an open mind!”
See? Ridiculous. Never watch this. Just a total cluster.

#11 Hannibal (2001)

Prevalent Ridley Scott Themes: Girl power, Living a lie, An unjust world made right by a serial killer.
This was a strange one because it put you in the position of cheering for a psycho killer (sure, no problem) but ONLY because he’s matched up against someone even creepier than him. Well, where’s the fun in that? At least Mr. Brooks made Dances with Wolves into a guy who slaughtered innocents. Plus, Starling actually has to save Hannibal which turns our “hero genius” of the story into Jodi Foster’s bitch.
This is a clear case of Director Scott trying to have it both ways, to the determent of the film. Hannibal is a genius! Love him! But he’s evil! Fear him! But he eats people’s brains! Whoa! You can’t have your protagonist be a weakling hostage / genius / sympathetic serial killer and hope to deliver anything nearing thematic cohesion. This is lesser Scott all the way. Still, admittedly, the pig thing was cool.

#10 Matchstick Men (2003)

Prevalent Ridley Scott Themes: Girl power, Living a lie, Nic Cage verbal tics.
The strangest aspect of Matchstick Men is just how un-Ridley Scott it all is. Sure, it features a girl in trouble, but there are few weapons, no war, and no (actual) death. It’s an elaborate con movie that exists for no apparent reason. The only reason it’s at all watchable is because it’s the beginning of the end for Nic Cage. He was eight years removed from his Best Actor Academy Award and three years away from punching out a bear.

#9 Kingdom of Heaven (2003)

Prevalent Ridley Scott Themes: Combat, Girl power, An unjust world made even more unjust by a Crusader.
The biggest question you’ve got to ask yourself here (punk) is … theatrical or director’s cut? Evidently 20th Century Fox really screwed the pooch on this one, so long as the pooch includes “Ridley’s artistic vision”. They demanded a cut about an hour shorter than he wanted, he gave it to them, and then everyone made fun of him for making a terribly disconnected movie. Only t’wasn’t RidScott’s fault! The Director’s Cut is a real movie!
Still, some of the blame must be placed upon Scott’s broad shoulders, if only because he could have Mike Bay’d or Jimmy Cameron’d them and flipped a table right over before walking off the lot until they begged him to come back. Collaboration is for Commies!

#8 Body of Lies (2008)

Prevalent Ridley Scott Themes: Combat, Living a lie, An unjust world made even more unjust by a Russell Crowe.
Ridley Scott knows damn well that Russell Crowe can act (see Iator, Glad) so he keeps back going to the well. Only the well seems to have diminishing returns each time. Thankfully, we’re now reaching the area where the films are pretty much “enjoyable” with a side of “potentially great. Still, a better version of this particular film was done about a year prior in Peter Berg’s The Kingdom.

#7 Black Hawk Down (2001)

Prevalent Ridley Scott Themes: Combat, An unjust world made even more unjust by Somali warlords.
It’s a well executed film, but no one ever says, “Hey, Bro, let’s just throw in Blackhawk Down and call it a night.” That never happens because, as with United 93, this is horrific real life subject matter that leads directly to a harrowing watch. The other “slight” issue is that you know the ending heading into this film. Still, if you make it through this one without a little fluid dripping from your eyes, you’re probably a robot.

#6 American Gangster (2007)

Prevalent Ridley Scott Themes: Jay-Z, Combat, Racism, An unjust world made more just by a Russell Crowe.
This is the “smoothest” film in Scott’s arsenal, and Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe elevate what could have been standard “gangster” material. This film was also the beginning of the redemption for Josh Brolin (along with No Country for Old Men, natch) and a prime example of Cuba Cooding Jr. (Snow Dogs) proving he can act when he’s with a solid director.

#5 Thelma and Louise (1991)

Prevalent Ridley Scott Themes: Girl power, Brad Pitt, Living a lie, An unjust world made “right” by a 1966 Ford Thunderbird and a cliff.
You guys, vintage Brad Pitt! I love this trailer because it’s got an amazing early ’90s voice over, and it’s a clear attempt by the marketing department to say “These girls are so fun! This is a fun movie! You should do a total girl’s night around this movie! Everything ends well! Ha Ha! No one kills themselves at all!” Then I like to imagine they did POUNDS of cocaine. Still, it’s the only “girl power” film Ridley managed to completely nail.

#4 Blade Runner (1982)

Prevalent Ridley Scott Themes: The nature of man, Sentience, Living a lie, An unjust world made more unjust by Harrison Ford.
The only thing that keeps this film out of the top three is how wonky the theatrical cut is. It’s really wonky. In many ways Blade Runner shows off the best and worst qualities of Rid-Sco, there are moments the film is far too introspective, but conversely, near the end, all those moments start adding up, making the film both profound and moving. Plus, you know, “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion” is a good lead-in when you’re trying to meet a girl at a party.

#3 Prometheus (2012)

Prevalent Ridley Scott Themes: The nature of man, Sentience, Living a lie, Girl power, An unjust world made more unjust by God.
Whaaaaat?? Inception horn noise, how did Prometheues get ranked this highly? Because it’s Ridley’s most well-executed “questioning” film. His higher ranked films are a better watch, but Prometheus is the one that makes you go “hmmm…” Now lookit, detractors are going to point out “yeah, but the story is long and pointless,” which is a fair point, and I won’t argue that. But the overarching questions this film broaches, immortality, robot sentience, the creation myths, the co-mingling of faith and science, are far more interesting than your average summer blockbuster. This makes Avengers look like a paste eaters convention, and I liked Avengers.
Plus, Ridley directed this when he was 73 years old. When I’m that age there’s a fairly good chance I won’t even be able to hold my pee in, yet there’s Ridley looking like Lion-o from Thundercats, ordering Noomi Rapace around like his last name was Vanger (Dragon Tattoo jokes!).

#2 Alien (1979)

Prevalent Ridley Scott Themes: The nature of commerce, Sentience, Living a lie, Girl power, An unjust world made less fun by Aliens.
The ’60s and ’70s were the nadir of sci-fi horror, but Alien changed the game and ushered in the golden age of the genre in the ’80s. Sure, the film only grossed $300m in theaters (adjusted for inflation), but most of that’s because theaters weren’t really plentiful back then. Alien only got as wide as 757 theaters, whereas these days Harvey Weinstein could pick up a phone and strong arm fools into giving him 4,000 theaters for his latest silent film about a guy who overcame a speech impediment.

#1 Gladiator (2000)

Prevalent Ridley Scott Themes: Living a lie, Combat, Boy power, An unjust world made right by Maximus.
Gladiator appeals to everyone who has ever felt wronged, or basically everyone in the world. I can’t tell you the amount of times someone has jumped ahead of me in the copier line, only to have me think to myself “Imma Gladiator this guy if I get the chance.” Add to the equation that Joaquin Phoenix is really pale, everyone speaks in monologue, and they are doling out comeuppances left and right and you’ve got yourself a modern classic. Are you not entertained?
Gladiator is the perfect mix of art-house meets frat house, perfect for casual viewing or for day-dreaming about walking in wheat fields with a loved one.