MOVIE

10 Best Ridley Scott Films, Ranked

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Throughout his long, storied career, Ridley Scott has only known how to pump his films to the maximum volume and to throw the kitchen sink at his audience. Full of large budgets, bloody carnage, and maximalist aesthetics, his movies are capable of occupying every inch of a cinema.


Stemming from his second film Alien to his latest release, Napoleon, Scott has shown no sign of reining in his aggressive, speed-of-light work rate. Scott is a filmmaker known for an increasingly large color palette and super-slick commercial style, even though his artistry has never suffered.

Even after raking in hundreds of millions of dollars in box office revenue and plenty of Oscar nominations, Scott continues to churn out top-notch work. Here are his top 10 so far.

Updated November 28th, 2023 by Callum Jones: Ridley Scott fans will be glad to learn that this list has been updated to include his latest work, Napoleon​​​​​​.


10 Napoleon (2023)

Napoleon

Napoleon

Release Date
November 22, 2023

Rating
R

Read Our Review

The most recent addition to Scott’s lengthy filmography, the historical epic Napoleon, depicts the life of France’s most notorious leader, Napoleon Bonaparte, played by acclaimed actor, Joaquin Phoenix. Predominantly centering on the ruler’s relationship with his first wife, Empress Joséphine (Vanessa Kirby), the story spans almost thirty years and covers many famous battles, such as the Battle of Austerlitz and the Battle of Waterloo. The cast also includes Ben Miles, Tahar Rahim, Rupert Everett, and Matthew Needham.

What Makes It Great

Napoleon is a historical epic in the same vein as classical films such as Ben-Hur, Cleopatra, and Lawrence of Arabia, and, while the historical element may be somewhat lacking — the film has gained criticism for its many historical inaccuracies — the epic part certainly isn’t, with the film being large in scale and scope. With stunning cinematography courtesy of Dariusz Wolski, violent battle scenes, and magnificent performances by the two leads, with Napoleon, Scott once again shows why he’s one of the best in the business when it comes to directing historical epics.

9 Black Hawk Down (2001)

Coming off the tails of Gladiator, you’d think no director would be willing to plunge themselves right back into the battlefield, but Scott did just that with Black Hawk Down. Featuring an incredibly stacked cast that includes the likes of Ewan McGregor, Josh Hartnett, and Tom Sizemore, the film’s story revolves around an elite unit of Army Rangers left behind in a Somalian city who must fend off hundreds of militias while they wait for rescue to arrive.

Related: Black Hawk Down: Where the Cast of Ridley Scott’s War Movie is Today

What Makes It Great

While it never quite reaches the heights of the director’s earlier works. Black Hawk Down is, nevertheless, a pulsating survivor story filled with tense action and non-stop shootouts. Like most great war films, it’s brutal, violent, and relentless, with Scott’s frantic and immersive direction helping to transport the audience to the story’s setting. Technically accomplished and excellently performed, Black Hawk Down is an underrated gem in the filmmaker’s very strong back catalog.

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8 American Gangster (2007)

The only way Scott could do a crime film is to go epic, and that’s precisely what he does in 2007’s American Gangster. The drama loosely tells the real-life story of Frank Lucas, the biggest distributor of heroin in the United States during the ’60s and ’70s. Denzel Washington stars as the suave, smart, and vicious gangster who meticulously builds his criminal network while slowly and tragically involving his family. Meanwhile, Scott’s longtime collaborator, Russell Crowe, plays a determined detective named Richie Roberts who is just waiting to bring Lucas down.

What Makes It Great

Like Black Hawk Down, American Gangster is often overlooked in favor of Scott’s better-known work, which is a shame, because, with this film, the legendary director proves that he can do gritty gangster movies just as well as the best in the business. Large in scale and scope, yet intimate and poignant in story, the film works as both a neat throwback to classic gangster and noir films, as well as an intelligent update of them. It’s a ruthless and tense film that holds its audience from beginning to end, largely thanks to the masterful performances of its two leads.

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7 House of Gucci (2021)

gucci

gucci

Release Date
November 24, 2021

Rating
R

Despite being in his eighties, Scott has continued to work at breakneck speed and churn out memorable films in recent years. His second film of 2021, House of Gucci depicts the true story of the Gucci family, revolving around Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga), an office manager from humble beginnings, who marries into the Gucci dynasty whose quest for power leads to deadly outcomes. As well as Gaga, who was nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance, the film’s star-studded cast also includes Adam Driver, Al Pacino, Salma Hayek, Jeremy Irons, and more.

What Makes It Great

Though it received some criticism upon its release, particularly for the quality of the cast’s accents, as well as the shifts in tone, it’s hard to deny that House of Gucci is anything less than an enjoyable romp. After all, it’s over-the-top, lavish, camp, and has a tongue-in-cheek tone that makes it deliciously humorous. Add to that a talented and committed cast led by a truly mesmerizing lead performance from Gaga, and House of Gucci is a thrilling crime film that makes a nice addition to Scott’s lengthy filmography.

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6 The Martian (2015)

The Martian

The Martian

Release Date
September 30, 2015

Rating
PG-13

Main Genre
Sci-Fi

When it comes to cinematic vision, Ridley Scott knows no bounds. Even when shooting for the moon — or in the case of The Martian, Mars — Scott’s commercial viability never lessens the craft or artistry of his films. In the film, Matt Damon plays Dr. Mark Watney, a lone astronaut struggling to survive after becoming stranded on the Red Planet. For a large chunk of the movie’s runtime, it is exclusively a one-man show, with Damon’s character being the only one that appears on-screen. As the film progresses, a rescue mission is launched to save Watney and the story expands to include several other characters, played by the likes of Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Kristen Wiig, Sean Bean, and more.

Related: 5 Ridley Scott Movies from the 2010s That Deserve More Credit

What Makes It Great

Despite its vast, otherworldly setting, The Martian is an intimate affair that acts as both a character study and a survival story. It’s an intelligent film that has gained a lot of praise for its scientific accuracy, a rarity in sci-fi blockbusters. Held together by a charming and committed performance by Damon, who ably manages to hold the audience’s attention despite being the only character on the screen for much of the movie’s runtime, The Martian is a tense and thrilling watch that features some of the best visuals of Scott’s career.

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5 The Last Duel (2021)

Partly due to it being released during the COVID-19 pandemic, and partly as a result of competition for other films, such as No Time To Die, 2021’s The Last Duel went down as a box office failure. However, this shouldn’t serve as a reflection on the quality of the film, which is arguably Scott’s best in years. Based on the book of the same name by Eric Jager, and set in medieval France, it sees Matt Damon playing a Knight named Jean de Carrouges whose wife, Marguerite (Jodie Comer) accuses her husband’s friend and squire, Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver) of raping her. The two men settle the dispute with a duel to the death.

What Makes It Great

With an excellent screenplay written by Damon, along with Ben Affleck and Nicole Holofcener, The Last Duel is told using a clever framing device that allows the audience to see the story’s events from the perspective of each of the main players. In doing so, it highlights the systemic misogyny built into society. Additionally, with solid performances by the cast, particularly Comer, who is enchanting to watch, the film is a clever and gorgeously shot tale of different accounts of the same event. It might not have been seen by many, but that doesn’t stop The Last Duel from being Scott’s most original film since Gladiator.

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4 Thelma & Louise (1991)

The 1991 road movie, Thelma & Louise, repurposes the classic Western ethos by putting a progressive spin on the “bandits on the run” trope, while also being set against the sparse backdrop of the southwest desert. Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon star as the titular characters, two best friends whose road trip vacation quickly spirals into a police chase when an incident at a bar leads to them being responsible for the death of a man. As well as the two leads, the film also stars Harvey Keitel, Michael Madsen, and a young Brad Pitt in one of his earliest big-screen appearances.

What Makes It Great

A groundbreaking and instantly iconic film when it was released, Thelma & Louise still holds up almost thirty years later as a film about women who empower and liberate themselves from the grips of possessive men, while also realizing the love they have for one another is all they need. The chemistry between Davis and Sarandon is palpable, with both of them easily selling the script’s mix of dark humor and heartbreaking tragedy. Meanwhile, Scott’s sleek direction helps the film to feel cool, energized, and full of suspense. It’s a bitter-sweet watch, but Thelma & Louise is the ultimate queer allegory.

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3 Gladiator (2000)

Gladiator is, arguably, the film most people think of when they hear the name “Ridley Scott.” The historical action is the only film in the director’s filmography to ever land an Academy Award for Best Picture, and its popularity has led to it becoming a cultural phenomenon. Russell Crowe plays Maximus Decimus Meridius, a Roman general who sets out to get revenge on the emperor who killed his wife and son. Alongside Crowe, the film also stars Joaquin Phoenix, Oliver Reed, Richard Harris, and Connie Nielsen.

What Makes It Great

Critically acclaimed upon its release, Gladiator is widely considered to be one of the best films of the 21st century. A Roman epic grounded in the tragic roots of the hero’s journey, it features some truly magnificent duel-to-the-death battles and jaw-dropping scenery. However, as well as the spectacle, the film also includes a stellar performance by Crowe, who carries the show with brooding intensity and tough-guy charisma. He’s matched by an equally magnificent turn from Phoenix, who stuns as the power-hungry emperor void of a conscience. Violent, macho, and tragic, Gladiator is Scott at some of his best. It’s no wonder a sequel is currently in the works.

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2 Blade Runner (1982)

While not particularly well-respected when it was first released, Blade Runner has gone on to be reevaluated as one of the best sci-fi films of all time. Based on the novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick, and set in the then futuristic world of Los Angeles in 2019, it stars Harrison Ford as Rick Deckard, a detective whose job it is to hunt down replicants, the hostile artificial intelligence products that are seeking autonomy against the humans who designed them.

Related: Ridley Scott’s Best Movies, Ranked by Rotten Tomatoes

What Makes It Great

A fusion of science fiction and noir, Blade Runner is a visual and narrative masterpiece that, despite being over 40 years old, still manages to inspire awe to this day. It’s a stunning film, with a dystopian cyberpunk-inspired production design and some breathtaking cinematography that makes every shot easy on the eye. By this point in his career, Scott had honed his craft and, in doing so, delivered a confident and bold film that defied anything else that had come before it. Furthermore, with an engaging performance by Ford, a haunting score by Vagelis, and an ambiguous ending that has inspired many theories over the years, Blade Runner is a true triumph of science fiction. There are only two films that can compete with it; one is its 2017 sequel and Scott’s own Alien.

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1 Alien (1979)

Alien

alien

Release Date
May 25, 1979

Rating
R

In only his second film, Ridley Scott proved to be a director of massive talent and intellect. Alien centers on the crew of a spacecraft called Nostromo, who find themselves being picked off one by one when they encounter a deadly lifeform on an unknown planet. The film’s cast consists of Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerrit, John Hurt, and Veronica Cartwright.

What Makes It The Best

Few films have had as much of an influence on cinema as Alien. From the famous chest-bursting scene, to the creature’s design, or the character of Ellen Ripley (Weaver), so many elements of the film have become iconic within popular culture, and for good reason. It’s a film where each facet of its design works perfectly to create a truly terrifying sci-fi horror whole. The special effects were ahead of their time, and still hold up just as well today, while the cinematography and score help to create a sense of dread that hangs over every frame of the film. Shocking, gruesome, and frighteningly eerie, Alien is sci-fi horror at its best. Despite a string of sequels, prequels, and spin-offs, none of them come close to matching the sheer brilliance of the original, which is, undoubtedly, Scott’s best film to date.

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Can’t get enough of Ridley Scott? Watch our interview with the great director below.

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