Over the past 40 years, no director has been as prolific or as bankable as Ridley Scott.
The British director didn't release his first feature film, The Duellists, until the year of his 40th birthday. He spent his early career working as a set designer or, much more successfully and lucratively, making commercials but in 1977, he fulfilled a childhood ambition to direct his first movie and hasn't stopped since.
Scott has directed 27 movies in all, and no other director can claim to have covered as many genres, styles and subjects as he has. He might have cut his teeth in science fiction, but there have also been historical epics, fantastical romps, beefy biopics and dark comedies in his long career.
Not every Ridley Scott movie has been a hit, but with a career box office gross of over 1.7 billion and three Oscar nominations (though no wins as yet) for Best Director, he's one of Hollywood's best – and still going strong at 84. He's currently filming Napoleon for Apple TV Plus with Joaquin Phoenix, another giant project from a man who has been at the center of so many.
We thought it was high time to look back at Scott's career, to take in the highs and lows, and rank all the movies he's directed, from the very worst to the very best.
27. The Counselor
When it was announced that beloved author Cormac McCarthy had written a screenplay and that Scott was to direct it, people got excited. When it was revealed that Scott had snared Michael Fassbender, Penélope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem and Brad Pitt for the key cast, excitement levels reached a fever pitch.
Sadly, the final product was a dreadful disappointment. A poorly scripted, cliched and plothole-ridden tale, it nominally follows Fassbender's character, a counselor who gets greedy and drawn into a drug deal that goes south. It's perhaps best remembered for Bardem's permatanned drug smuggler Reiner describing a memory where Diaz's Malkina has sex with his car. Full of the kind of diversions you can get away with when you have hundreds of pages to play with, it will almost certainly be McCarthy's last screenplay.
26. A Good Year
After spending a year in the desert making Kingdom of Heaven, it's perhaps no surprise that Scott wanted something with a lighter touch for his next project, so he headed to the south of France to make A Good Year.
Scott, who had owned a house in Provence for 15 years, had long wanted to film there. So, spying Peter Mayle's novel about an arrogant trader who suddenly inherits his uncle's crumbling pile in Provence and finds an unexpected new romance, he snapped up the rights.
Featuring Russell Crowe going full Dick Van Dyke with his English accent, the movie fell flat and tanked at the box office. The house looks lovely, though.
25. House of Gucci
Ridley Scott's most recent effort is also one of his worst. A look back at the scandal surrounding the death of Maurizio Gucci, the Gucci fashion empire's favored son – gunned down by an assassin who turned out to have been hired by his estranged wife.
The movie looked spectacular and had a lot of star power in Lady Gaga, Adam Driver, Jared Leto, Jeremy Irons, Salma Hayek, and Al Pacino, but it's a sea of hammy performances, jerky changes in tone, and very odd plotting.
Ridley Scott's dabbles in the fantastical tend to skew toward the dystopian end of things, but he did go full-on goblins and wizards in 1985 with Legend.
In order to cast the world into eternal night, the Lord of Darkness sends the goblin Blix to kill the unicorns in the forest near his castle and bring him their horns. To stop him, Jack, a pure being, must go on an epic quest and keep light in the world.
Tom Cruise stars as Jack, going up against a hammy Tim Curry, who goes full Alan Rickman in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves in an effort to bring some levity to the story.
It gets very, very silly very, very quickly.
23. 1492: Conquest of Paradise
Scott's taste for a historical epic is constant throughout his career. In 1992 he sent Gérard Depardieu and Sigourney Weaver off to Spain to retell the tale of Italian explorer Christopher Columbus' travels to the New World.
It's good fun and lavish in its production, but a bit of a mess storywise, and, according to the more learned among critics, riddled with historical inaccuracies. It almost tanked at the box office.
22. Someone to Watch Over Me
A bog-standard neo-noir where Tom Berenger's Mike, a grizzled, married New York City cop, falls for Mimi Rodgers' Claire Gregory, a wealthy socialite who is witness to a gangland murder.
It's fine, it just doesn't do anything that the average episode of CSI doesn't.
21. Robin Hood
The story of how Ridley Scott's take on the iconic outlaw got to the big screen is far, far more interesting than the movie itself.
The project began with a spec script written by Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris, who'd created the short-lived TV show Sleeper Cell. Their script turned the legend of Robin Hood on its head with a noble Sheriff of Nottingham and dastardly Robin Hood, who become involved in a love triangle with Lady Marian.
Despite Universal Pictures shelling out over a million dollars for the script, Scott junked the idea when he was hired and reverted to the traditional Robin Hood story, with Russell Crowe signed up to lead the way.
The result is a leaden-footed, humorless, and quite boring take on the legend, only lightened by Oscar Isaac biting chunks out of the scenery as Prince John. Overlong and joyless, if you want a good time, read the Vulture report about the torturous road to the movie getting made.
20. G.I. Jane
Demi Moore won the Razzie Award for Worst Actress for her performance in this 1997 military drama, which probably tells you everything you need to know.
The movie begins with the newly appointed Secretary of the Navy criticizing the commanders for not being gender-neutral in their recruitment. To placate her, a deal is struck, and if women compare favorably with men in a series of test cases, the military will integrate women fully into all roles in the Navy.
Moore's LT. Jordan O'Neill is the first test case and we follow her trying to succeed in the training.
This had all the makings of a hit drama, but it lacks any spark, and a combination of poor plot choices and a runtime of over two hours see it sag.
19. Exodus: Gods and Kings
Scott has always been drawn to the biggest of stories and they don't get much bigger than the biblical epic Exodus: Gods and Kings, which tried to retell the story of Moses and Rameses, the warring brothers.
Visually, it's impressive, and there are some great setpieces, given the story features the great plagues and parting of the Red Sea. However, it's baggy and overlong, and while stars Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton do their best, it doesn't have the clout or power it should.
18. Black Rain
Another neo-noir, but one that's a step up from Someone To Watch Over Me.
Released in 1989, Black Rain follows Michael Douglas' Nick Conklin and Andy Garcia's Charlie Vincent, a pair of New York City police officers who get drawn into a case with bloody consequences.
After intervening in the aftermath of a shooting by a member of the Yakuza (the notorious Japanese gangsters) the pair must transport the killer back to Japan. Once there, he escapes and Nick and Charlie must find him again.
It's fine, but that's all it is.
17. Kingdom of Heaven
Scott had already dabbled in religious epics before he made Exodus – the enormous, divisive, and hugely expensive Kingdom Of Heaven.
Kingdom Of Heaven is set in the 12th century and follows Orlando Bloom's lowly blacksmith Balian, who, after his life falls apart, seeks redemption by joining the Kingdom of Jerusalem in its defense against the Ayyubid Muslim Sultan, Saladin, who is fighting to claim back the city from the Christians.
The scale is enormous and the movie boasts a strong cast that includes Eva Green, Ghassan Massoud, Jeremy Irons, David Thewlis, Brendan Gleeson, Edward Norton, and Liam Neeson, as well as Bloom (who was riding high after Lord of the Rings).
Already a meaty watch at 144 minutes, Scott's definitive version, which is a whopping 194 minutes, was subsequently released.
It's a grand attempt at a historical epic, and some of it is wonderful, but it's overlong and inconsistent in tone.
16. White Squall
We're now in the solid-if-unspectacular phase of the ranking, and this 1996 disaster coming-of-age drama is the perfect example of it.
It follows Jeff Bridges' Captain Christopher B. Sheldon, who takes charge of a rowdy group of American teenage boys sent on a sailing voyage to gain experience, discipline and rigor by their parents.
Sheldon struggles to impose discipline, but eventually, they bond. This bond is then tested to destruction when they encounter a vicious storm known as a white squall.
Solid genre fayre, but not in Scott's elite group.
15. Matchstick Men
Scott isn't much known for comedies, but Matchstick Men showed that he could handle the genre.
Released in 2003, it stars Nicolas Cage, Sam Rockwell, and Alison Lohman.
Cage's Roy Waller is a con artist who is on the verge of pulling off a lucrative swindle with his protégé, Rockwell's Frank.
But when Lohman's Angela, the teenage daughter he never knew he had, arrives on the scene, the whole plan is quickly shredded.
It's a charming caper, with Cage going all in, and is good fun, but quickly forgettable.
14. Alien: Covenant
After releasing Prometheus in 2012, the world assumed Ridley Scott had scratched the itch of the Alien franchise – an assumption that hardened when District 9 director Neill Blomkamp was confirmed as rebooting the whole thing.
Subsequently, Scott did a reverse ferret and began work on Alien: Covenant, with Blomkamp's project going in the trash.
The director offered up a new tale following the crew aboard the USCSS Covenant, a ship on course for the remote planet, Origae-6, carrying more than 2,000 colonists in cryogenic hibernation to build a new world.
After they get a rogue transmission, which entices them to a planet that looks more suited for human habitation, the team investigates. And, well, it does not go to plan.
Released in 2017, Scott had hoped it would kickstart a new franchise, but middling reviews and a poor show at the box office meant it was one and done.
13. Black Hawk Down
Mark Bowden's book on the events of the 1993 raid into Mogadishu was perfect fodder for a movie adaptation.
The raid saw 160 elite US Army soldiers dropped into Mogadishu to capture two top lieutenants of a renegade warlord. Sadly, things went sour, and the soldiers found themselves in a desperate battle with a large force of heavily-armed Somalis and a very nasty warlord.
It's a chest-thumping, good guys versus bad guys affair, but one that remains an impressive feat and holds together well.
For decades, interviewers had been asking Scott if he'd ever return to Alien, and, in 2012, he finally did.
The result proved divisive, but it's still a high point in the Alien franchise. It's arguably better than anything apart from the original and James Cameron's sequel.
Bringing together Idris Elba, Noomi Rapace, Charlize Theron, and Michael Fassbender, the story tracks the crew of the spaceship Prometheus, which is following a star map found among the artifacts of ancient Earth cultures. Seeking the origins of humanity, the crew is on a mission of discovery, but they don't end up liking the thing they eventually discover...
It may not have the magic of the original, but it's a well-told, well-acted and spectacular piece of sci-fi.
11. Body Of Lies
Of the five movies Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe have made together, Body of Lies is the most underrated.
Adapting the 2007 novel by David Ignatius, the story follows two CIA agents who team up with their Jordanian counterparts to catch the terrorist 'al-Saleem'. The pursuit is complicated by the deep mistrust between the CIA agents themselves and between the CIA and Jordan's GID.
Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Strong, Golshifteh Farahani, and Oscar Isaac round out the cast.
It's a bit of a cut-price Bourne Identity, but still a solid, well-put-together thriller.
Ten years after The Silence Of The Lambs swept the board at the Oscars, Scott was the surprise name given charge of the sequel after Jonathan Demme passed on the project.
Scott was clearly just as surprised because when producer Dino De Laurentiis visited him on the set of Gladiator and offered the chance to direct Hannibal, he thought the producer was talking about the Carthaginian general who famously invaded Italy by crossing the Alps with North African war elephants. Scott told the producer: "Dino, I'm doing a Roman epic right now. I don't wanna do elephants coming over the Alps next, old boy."
Jodie Foster, who'd won an Oscar for her role in The Silence Of The Lambs, decided not to return, leaving Julianne Moore to play Clarice Starling alongside a returning Anthony Hopkins.
The result is a perfectly passable thriller, it's just not a patch on Demme's original.
9. The Duellists
Scott's feature film debut is a largely undiscovered gem, and it's no wonder it earned him the chance to take charge of Alien.
Adapting The Duel, the short story by Joseph Conrad, the movie chronicles the disagreement between French nobles Lieutenant d'Hubert and Lieutenant Feraud, which resulted in a series of duels spanning several years.
Starring a young Harvey Keitel, Scott's snappy direction and ability to tell a story immediately marked him out for the biggest gigs in Hollywood.
8. The Last Duel
Long delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic, and something of an afterthought by the time it came out, The Last Duel deserved far more at the box office than it got.
Matt Damon and Ben Affleck lead the cast, with Harriet Walter, Adam Driver, Nathaniel Parker, and Jodie Comer also appearing in key roles.
Set in 14th-century France, the film pits best friends Jean de Carrouges (Damon) and Jacques Le Gris (Driver) against each other as the pair are ordered to fight to the death after Carrouges accuses Le Gris of raping his wife.
Damon and Affleck provided the script, adapting Eric Jager's The Last Duel: A True Story of Trial by Combat in Medieval France.
Starry, lavish, and utterly compelling, this is one of Scott's finest.
7. All The Money In The World
Scott's 2017 drama follows the 1973 kidnapping of John Paul Getty III and the refusal of his grandfather, multi-billionaire oil tycoon J. Paul Getty, to pay his ransom. The movie garnered more publicity in production than when it came out when the much-missed Christopher Plummer was parachuted in to replace Kevin Spacey as Getty, despite the movie having already been shot and largely edited.
The resulting film is a gripping, stylish, and pacy drama. It bagged Plummer an Oscar nomination.
6. American Gangster
A bonafide classic, and a gangster movie that sits alongside classics like Goodfellas and The Godfather trilogy, American Gangster is a brilliant watch.
The movie chronicles the rise of Frank Lucas, who made a fortune smuggling heroin into the United States on American service planes returning from the Vietnam War, and his eventual capture by Richie Roberts, the detective who worked for years to bring him down.
Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe are both on great form, as is the superb supporting cast that includes Chiwetel Ejiofor, Cuba Gooding Jr., Josh Brolin, Armand Assante and John Ortiz.
Rapper Jay-Z liked it so much that he made an entire album about the movie and you can see why.
5. The Martian
Scott has had his ups and downs at the box office over the years, but his biggest hit came in 2015 with The Martian.
Adapted from Andy Weir's novel, the movie follows astronaut Mark Watney, who must try to survive on Mars after being left behind by his crew until NASA can rescue him and bring him back to Earth.
Scott assembled an all-star cast for this movie, with Matt Damon as Watney and Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Peña, Kate Mara, Sean Bean and Sebastian Stan in supporting roles.
Scott gives it a light touch and creates an extremely compelling, visually spectacular, and hugely fun adventure.
Though he'd won plaudits for his role in L.A. Confidential, it still seemed a big risk in 2000 for Russell Crowe to headline Scott's Roman epic, Gladiator. But the director's gamble paid off handsomely, delivering a movie that won Crowe the Oscar for Best Actor and Scott the ultimate prize, Best Picture.
We follow Crowe's Roman general Maximus Decimus Meridius, a loyal servant of Emperor Marcus Aurelius. When Aurelius tells his son Commodus that he's unfit to succeed him and that Meridius will do so instead, Commodus murders his father and seizes the throne. Commodus demands that Aurelius pledge his loyalty to him, but the general refuses. As a result, his family is murdered, he's thrown into slavery, and then sold to a gladiator trainer.
Through his prowess in the arena, Aurelius builds a fearsome reputation and pursues revenge.
Powered by great performances from Crowe and Joaquin Phoenix as the scheming Commodus, Scott's taste for the epic comes to the fore here and the result is a spectacular action-drama.
3. Blade Runner
Scott's 1982 follow-up to Alien has proved to be as long-lasting as the iconic horror movie, but with a far more complicated production and legacy.
An adaptation of Philip K. Dick's 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the movie is set in a dystopian Los Angeles in 2019. Society has evolved to include synthetic humans known as replicants, who are engineered by the sinister Tyrell Corporation to work on space colonies.
When a rebellious group of replicants escapes back to Earth, Harrison Ford's replicant hunter Rick Deckard must capture them. However, the chase is made more complicated when he develops feelings for a replicant.
Production on the movie was difficult: Ford and Scott did not get along, there were endless rewrites of the scripts, and the budget was drastically cut in the final days before production. Also, after production wrapped, distributors Warner Bros insisted Ford record a voiceover to narrate the film, which both he and Scott hated.
The movie struggled at the box office, but, in the years since, it has come to define the term 'cult classic', especially when a director's cut was released in 1992.
Visually so ahead of its time, Blade Runner is the bedrock for so much modern science fiction.
Alien is a cornerstone of modern cinema and one that changed both horror and science fiction forever.
If you’re not familiar with the story, it’s pretty simple: the crew of the spaceship Nostromo come across a mysterious derelict spaceship on an undiscovered moon and quickly discover a rather unpleasant stowaway has come on board.
Shot for a tiny $11 million budget with a largely unknown cast, the movie was a huge hit and launched a timeless franchise. It's lean, terrifying, stylish, powerful, and utterly daring. A true classic.
1. Thelma & Louise
A controversial choice for Scott's best? Maybe, but in this writer's opinion, there's no finer movie on the director's roster than Thelma & Louise.
Released in 1991, the movie stars Susan Sarandon as Louise and Geena Davis as Thelma, two friends who escape their humdrum lives for a weekend vacation. That vacation takes a drastic turn when an incident at a bar finds them on the wrong side of the law.
Searing, funny, and full of action and twists and turns, the movie is one of Scott's best and won then-first-time screenwriter Callie Khouri an Oscar.
It didn't change cinema in the same way both Blade Runner and Alien did, nor does it have Gladiator's iconic array of moments, but, for this writer, it is Scott's best work.
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Tom Goodwyn was formerly TechRadar's Senior Entertainment Editor. He's now a freelancer writing about TV shows, documentaries and movies across streaming services, theaters and beyond. Based in East London, he loves nothing more than spending all day in a movie theater, well, he did before he had two small children…