Ridley Scott is a masterclass filmmaker. His name is stamped on landmark films that defined their genre, and it’s all thanks to his ability to craft epic-scale projects with gorgeous visuals, immersive atmospheres, tense moments, and compelling characters.
He’s also known for his disciplinarian methods for scheduling, which makes him able to direct one or two films every year without affecting their quality. But most of all, his projects are celebrated for their strong female characters.
Here are our picks for the best Ridley Scott movies from his entire filmmaking career of many decades.
10. The Duellists (1977)
Ridley Scott’s directorial debut The Duellists is the tale of the lifelong duel between the kind-hearted Lieutenant Armand d’Hubert (played by Keith Carradine) and the disgruntled Gabriel Feraud (played by Harvey Keitel).
Their rivalry begins as a petty disagreement in Strasbourg, but continues across different battles in war-torn 1800s France. The film is based on a Joseph Conrad short story, which was deemed a cautionary tale of Napoleon Bonaparte’s ideals.
And that theme is seen from Feraud, whose blind loyalty to Napoleon’s ways leads him to a miserable fate. Meanwhile, Scott unleashed his inner Kubrick with the camerawork, design, authenticity, and scope, which all made for one impressive debut as movie director.
9. All the Money in the World (2017)
All the Money in the World brings to life the saga of the 1973 kidnapping of John Paul Getty III.
After learning of her son’s kidnapping, Gail Harris (played by Michelle Williams) coordinates with James Fletcher Chace (played by Mark Wahlberg) to make a plea to his grandfather and oil tycoon J. Paul Getty (played by Christopher Plummer).
While the story is thrilling enough, the film is more famous for its behind-the-scenes drama. There’s the last-minute recasting of J. Paul Getty from Kevin Spacey to Christopher Plummer (who earned an Oscar nomination). There was also the pay dispute from Williams.
8. The Last Duel (2021)
This one is Ridley Scott’s most recent project as of this writing. The Last Duel centers on the duel between the knight Jean de Carrouges (played by Matt Damon) and his squire Jacques Le Gris (played by Adam Driver).
Le Gris is accused of raping de Carrouges’ wife Marguerite (played by Jodie Comer), leading to a trial by combat. Lifelong friends Matt Damon and Ben Affleck returned to screenwriting with this brutal medieval tale that feels no different to today’s society.
And Ridley Scott takes the Rashomon approach by showing three chapters, each based on the different perspectives of de Carrouges and Le Gris regarding what really happened over the rape charge. It’s one of Ridley Scott’s most brutally urgent movies.
7. American Gangster (2007)
American Gangster revolves around the life and times of Frank Lucas (played by Denzel Washington), a drug trafficker who rose through the ranks as a gangster in La Grange, North Carolina.
However, he’s been under the watch of detective Richie Roberts (played by Russell Crowe) over charges of smuggling heroin to service planes.
While no stranger to crime thrillers, Scott had yet to helm a gangster movie—and he found the perfect subject in Frank Lucas, whose life is the dark epitome of the American Dream. Both Washington and Crowe put in great work for their larger-than-life parts, as does Ruby Dee.
6. The Martian (2015)
Based on the Andy Weir novel, The Martian follows astronaut Mark Watney (played by Matt Damon) who’s left stranded on Mars after a fierce storm. Watney must use whatever resources are left to survive the Martian landscape while his colleagues find a way to rescue him.
This sci-fi hit works in two halves: the first as Watney documenting every detail of his Martian survival, and the second as the ensemble cast turns the rescue mission into a calculated media sensation for NASA. Both aspects work hand-in-hand surprisingly well.
5. Black Hawk Down (2001)
Black Hawk Down is centered on the 1993 Mogadishu raid by the US military, whose mission is to capture two high-ranking officers of a Somali warlord. The 160 American soldiers sent to the city end up in a dangerous skirmish against a militia of heavily-armed Somali soldiers.
The raid itself was less sensationalized in the media, but that didn’t stop Ridley Scott from firing on all cylinders in this hard-hitting war film. The majority of the film is no-holds-barred violence, all cleanly executed.
But there’s also a human side in the form of Josh Hartnett’s soldier, who witnesses the pain of his fellow soldiers and the Somalis.
4. Thelma & Louise (1991)
One of the most iconic movies of all time, Thelma & Louise follows the titular best friends as they take their problems to the road—but their crimes become inescapable. Despite endless detours that lead to a climactic chase, their friendship remains strong.
As a buddy road crime tale, it’s fun and exciting; the duo’s exploits put this above your average caper movie. As a feminist movie, it’s a breakthrough of its time. Both Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon proved that their Americana characters have their own depth and excitement.
3. Gladiator (2000)
Another iconic movie, Gladiator depicts the apocryphal tale of Roman General Maximus Decimus Meridius (played by Russell Crowe).
After his family is murdered and the emperor is slain, Maximus is taken into slavery and forced to compete in gladiator matches. After winning several matches, he uses his influence to avenge his loved ones.
Ridley Scott is known for redefining genres, and he did so with this sword-and-sandal epic, with Gladiator’s many elements lending to its own greatness. Russell Crowe’s Maximus is his most iconic character, with a solid backstory, many quotable lines, and awesome moments.
2. Blade Runner (1982)
Ridley Scott’s second best movie of all time is the hard-hitting sci-fi cult classic Blade Runner.
In dystopian Los Angeles, synthetic humans called “Replicants” are created for space colonies. When a rogue group of Replicants enters the city, Rick Deckard (played by Harrison Ford) is sent to stop them.
Based on a Philip K. Dick novel, Blade Runner didn’t only tap into audience interests of the time, but emerged as an important piece of sci-fi. You can dive into its world and see numerous discussions of its themes, including Roy Batty’s “Tears in the Rain” speech.
1. Alien (1979)
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You knew the best Ridley Scott movie would be Alien, right? This sci-fi horror movie follows the crew of the spacecraft Nostromo on their way back to Earth—and the subsequent alien encounter.
Their passage is interrupted when a mysterious being preys on the crew, leading Nostromo captain Dallas (played by Tom Skerritt) and warrant officer Ripley (played by Sigourney Weaver) to evade the creature.
Alien first proved that space is where “no one can hear you scream,” earning a name for itself both in horror and science fiction. Because of its astonishing success, both Scott and Weaver became household names. And the alien itself, designed by H. R. Giger, became an icon.