You know what the crazy thing about the film career of Tony Scott was? That for his reputation as being “Ridley Scott’s lesser talented brother” that he had a fairly remarkable career when you look at his filmography. He may not have had the highs his brother has had, as Ridley has been Oscar-nominated and crafted some major works of cinema, but Tony Scott did leave a fairly sizeable imprint upon the cinematic landscape over the years.
With his career officially complete now, sad as that sounds, I think it’s to reflect upon the man’s professional life. I’m genuinely saddened that Tony Scott is gone but I think the best celebration of his life is to watch his films and talk about them. And when we think about it the one thing that stands out most about his career is that while he may never have changed the way we looked at genre films like his brother did, and few directors can, he crafted something many can’t. The one thing that stands out most about Tony Scott is that he crafted a ton of really good genre pictures.
He never quite hit his brother’s status; when you’re the little brother of the guy who did Blade Runner, Gladiator, Alien, American Gangster and a number of insanely great films it’s a tough path to follow. But he did make a lot of films we love, and plenty that are perfectly acceptable.
In terms of his career we have to consider him a legendary little brother. He’s not quite Eli Manning but he’s not quite Frank Stallone either in the pantheon of successful younger siblings. If we had a Film Hall of Fame Ridley’s in and Tony’s out, but in a Film Hall of the Very Good Tony gets in without a doubt. And if we’re going to have to make a case for it, let’s do it properly with a list.
The Top 10 Films
of Tony Scott’s Career
10. Days of Thunder (1990)
The road to hell is paved with good intentions, of course, and trying to recapture the same sort of box office fire that Top Gun did wasn’t going to happen for all involved. But the one thing we forget about Days of Thunder is that for all its failings to be the NASCAR version of Top Gun it would end up being nearly as good a film. It did one thing in proving that the blockbuster formula could be repeated for a good film, as well.
9. The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009)
The one thing Tony Scott was always able to get out of good leading men is colorful performances in genre pictures. And getting John Travolta opposite Denzel Washington made for a fun film at a minimum. The film was hurt box office wise because of Travolta’s personal issues preventing him from properly doing a media tour before release but it’s one of those films that works on DVD as well as it did in theatres. Probably his best cast, as well, and before it turns into a generic action film it’s a great back and forth between Travolta and Denzel.
8. Unstoppable (2010)
His last film as a director and probably the best example of Tony Scott boiled down to his essence: just enough character to get you involved and an abundance of white knuckle intensity. It wasn’t his best film, nowhere near it, but if you wanted to boil down the essence of Tony Scott as a director than this is it.
7. Spy Game (2001)
It’s kind of fitting that the man Brad Pitt gets compared to most often in terms of film star swagger starred with him as a sort of changing of the guard film. Pitt had a ton of great films and roles to this date but this was the film I always point to in terms of him finally getting that movie star swagger; holding your own on screen with Robert f’n Redford would intimidate a lot of actors and Pitt does it in spades.
6. Crimson Tide (1995)
Tony Scott really loved working with Denzel Washington and he got one of his great underrated performances opposite Gene Hackman. One imagines this might’ve been his easiest film to direct as getting two brilliant professionals like Hackman and Washington on screen and go “just be awesome” must’ve been a thrill.
5. Déjà Vu (2006)
An immensely flawed film in a lot of ways, I’ve always thought of this as his most ambitious as a director. Denzel’s back for another role with him, of course, and the whole aspect of peering into the past to change the future is a really intriguing one. Trying to put all this into an action film about a cop trying to get to the bottom of a terrorist act on American soil, and the consequences of being able to look into the past for clues, fascinated me to no end.
4. Man on Fire (2004)
The original version of the film was a fairly forgettable ‘80s action film. Tony Scott took that main conceit and gave it a great cast with Denzel Washington in a “pissed off bad-ass” role that only he could pull off. I’ve always likened this film to Tony Scott’s version of the Stallone film Cobra. He may have taken what worked in this film in terms of visual styles and gone completely nutty for a while, like he did in Domino, but this was a film that had an interesting story and was creatively bold in its presentation.
3. True Romance (1993)
In retrospect the film’s writer ended up being a much higher profile director, as Quentin Tarantino has become a major force in Hollywood, but 20 years ago he was a writer looking to put words to paper. He did and Tony Scott turned them into one of his best films. It’s interesting to think Tarantino never directed this, as this film always felt to me like something Tarantino would’ve done after Jackie Brown in the early aughts, but his great script got him attention and a film made. And it’s one of the few films with Christian Slater in the lead role that doesn’t absolute stink, so there’s that too.
2. The Last Boy Scout (1991)
What’s the quintessential Bruce Willis film that doesn’t have the phrase “Die Hard” in the title? The Last Boy Scout, that’s what. With some of his most memorable lines, and Damon Wayans in a role that wasn’t either insulting or grating, this is the film you watch if you want to see Willis but don’t have Die Hard handy. It’s the one action film everyone loves but never quite lists as amongst the best of all time, either, despite it being perhaps Shane Black’s best script and having one of the most triumphant jigs ever.
Plus Halle Berry topless … so one of the most triumphant jigs and two of the best jugs, in a film. Hiyo and such.
1. Top Gun (1986)
Michael Bay may have created the modern blockbuster style of film-making in terms of visual style but he didn’t do it in a vacuum. He cribbed from Tony Scott’s biggest film, the one that established Tom Cruise overnight, and gave us pop culture clichés that have stood nearly 30 years at this point. Every summer blockbuster wants to be Top Gun because that’s the film that gave us the current trend of summer films being where the most bang for your buck began. Jaws introduced us to the concept of the blockbuster, and Michael Bay crafted the “How to” manual, but Tony Scott’s film gave us the blueprint for what was to come.
What do you think? Let us know what you thought of the list, and any suggestions or changes you have, below.
Tags: From The Inside, Tony Scott