From 'Alien' To 'Exodus;' We Rank The 15 Best Ridley Scott Movies

We frequently think of Ridley Scott as a master, a filmmaker with huge ambition and bigger talent who can bring any vision to the big screen. His resume certainly seems to confirm that. Space opera, war movies, period pieces, spy thrillers, Best Picture winners — he's pretty much done them all. Still, out of the 22 films Scott has directed, including this week's release Exodus: Gods and Kings, how many of them are actually good? What about great? It's a pretty high percentage. Below, we rank the top 15 best Ridley Scott movies.

Unranked. Exodus: Gods and Kings

Scott's latest, Exodus: Gods and Kings isn't among his top 15. It's probably more like number 20, but as it's the reason we're doing this list, we figured we'd explain.
Even leaving aside the racial controversy that's dogged it for the past several months, Exodus simply isn't a very good film. It stumbles gracelessly from plot point to plot point without ever offering much insight into the complicated men or the thorny relationships at the heart of the story. Though perhaps it's for the best Scott doesn't push those elements too hard, since Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton's performances feel like they come from two entirely different films.
Still, through it all, it's possible to recognize the Scott we admire. Exodus doesn't want for ambition, and the filmmaker clearly took great pains to get every little detail just right. Two of the traits that truly mark a Ridley Scott movie. In particular, the imagery in the "parting of the red sea" sequence is breathtaking. It's just a shame the rest of the movie doesn't live up to his efforts.

15. 1492: Conquest of Paradise

It took balls to spend tens of millions of dollars to make a two plus hour historical epic about Christopher Columbus. That ambition is by far the best thing you can say about this huge, well made, but very messy movie starring Gerard Depardieu, Sigourney Weaver and Armande Assante. Majestic visuals, great music, epic scope but in the end, it's just not a very fun movie. The historical context is interesting but no one has ever said, "Let's watch 1492 tonight!" Which you can't really say about the rest of Scott's better movies.

14. American Gangster

When I first heard about Ridley Scott directing American Gangster, I was so stoked. Scott doing a gangster movie with Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington? This was going to be the best movie ever.'s good. Denzel is electric as real life gangster Frank Lucas but few things around him really rise to that level. Scott sets a distinct tone, tells a fascinating story but American Gangster never quite reaches the heights of the great films that inspired it.

13. Legend

There are some of you out there right now freaking out. You're screaming that Legend is amazing. One of your favorite films of your childhood with an amazing villain in Tim Curry's Darkness and Tom Cruise just coming into his own. That's fine. And yes, there is some fun stuff in there. But when compared to Ridley Scott's overall body of work, Legend is a bit of an afterthought. A fun film for kids, but in many ways interchangeable with Willow or The Neverending Story or Conan the Barbarian. It's cool, but it's not great.

12. Black Rain

Here's the thing with Black Rain. It's Ridley Scott being comfortable. The film is a suitably entertaining and engaging cop action film but there is very little that really distinguishes it from the 500 other similar films that were being released in the Eighties. Michael Douglas is a great lead, you've got a decent score and really beautiful visuals. The fact the film is more global than most other action films of the time does almost make it feel Ridley Scott-ish but overall, it's just doesn't measure up to the films that came before it.

11. Prometheus

I don't hate Prometheus. I think there are lots of good things about it. But I think, ultimately, Scott is the victim of his own success with the film. Instead of just making another great sci-fi film, like we obviously know he's capable of (scroll toward the end of the list for proof) he steeps this film in all these grand ideas that feel bigger than the story or the characters. It also doesn't help that it's some how related to the Alien movies. There's just too much uncertainty downplaying the good stuff, like the action, the effects and more. A flawed story, but a visually impressive notch on the director's resume.

10. G.I. Jane

Call me crazy, but I like G.I. Jane. Demi Moore is so badass and so incredibly charismatic in the role of a woman pushed to her limits in the worst possible environment. Some people don't like it, and I do get that it's a bit formulaic. A bit obvious in points. Plus it falls under the banner of not quite exhibiting the scale that Ridley Scott is capable of. Either way, it's a worthy story with a solid center that holds up pretty well – even thematically – in the almost 20 years since its release.

9. Body of Lies

Body of Lies is the classic spy movie that thrills you while you watch it, but leaves you when you stop. The cast is great: Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe, and in his true star making performance, Mark Strong. And the film's tone of uncertainty, the who-done-it mystery, is all well done. That stuff doesn't quite mesh with the bigger action scenes in the movie, making it feel a tad disjointed. Nevertheless, it's an enjoyable, almost great experience that you probably won't think about too much again.

8. Kingdom of Heaven (Director's Cut)

There's a very important distinction here. The original Kingdom of Heaven would not rank this highly on the list. It's okay but feels, somehow, incomplete. The director's cut, on the other hand, gives the film its pulse. Its heart. Orlando Bloom's heroic rise is given more resonance with 45 added minutes of story. Other characters and stories are fleshed out, and while the over three hour running time is a chore, ultimately it works. The big downside with Kingdom of Heaven, either version, is after another Scott sword and sandal epic yet to be named, it feels a tad been there done that.

7. White Squall

In the realm of Ridley Scott, White Squall is the red-headed step child. Many people dislike the film intensely but I've always had an affinity for it since first seeing it in the late '90s. You've got a great young cast of actors (Ethan Embry, Balthazar Getty, Ryan Philippe, Jeremy Sisto, Scott Wolf), you've got a fun, loud Jeff Bridges performance, and you've got some very impressive and intense special effects as this sailing trip goes awry. It may not be as memorable or poignant as some of Scott's others, but it packs a good, solid dose of entertainment.

6. Matchstick Men

We love a good con film, and Matchstick Men is a damn good one. Nicolas Cage, Sam Rockwell and Allison Lohman are wonderfully cast as this oddball group of con artists in a story with so many twists and turns it's hard to keep your head straight. Each character is very well realized and Scott shoots the seemingly grounded film with a real flair, giving it a very recognizable, maybe even influential, blue-green hue. Matchstick Men is film that begs for you to rewatch it and be like, "Oh man, I forgot I really, really like this movie."

5. Gladiator

Scott's lone Best Picture winner is far from his best, but it's still pretty fantastic. Gladiator tells a horrifying yet rousing story of one man's fall from grace and eventual rise back to power in a memorable, visceral style with a truly epic scope. The digital effects, circa the year 2000, don't exactly hold up, but the characters and the acting, particularly the performances of Russell Crowe and Joaquin Phoenix, absolutely do. Gladiator might have been over-praised just slightly, but if you step back, it still resonates.

4. Black Hawk Down

For my money, Black Hawk Down deserves to be considered among the best action films ever made. As a war movie, it's not quite as good because the reality of this situation is undercut by that action, but wow does the action work. Black Hawk Down is so intense, so manic, and so chock-full of absolutely incredible actors. It's basically a two and a half hour gun fight that never gets boring because you're so engrossed by the interesting characters, frightening situation and controversial politics at hand. A truly underrated, wonderful film.

3. Thelma & Louise

Powerful female characters are a constant presence in the films of Ridley Scott, but few of his women get the spotlight for films that are as unique and energetic as Thelma and Louise. The chemistry of Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon was undeniable; Scott discovered a little actor named Brad Pitt; and the film had a memorable, gutsy ending in the mold of the best films in the Seventies. Thelma and Louise was very much rooted in that feeling of those previous decades. A big middle finger to the terrible world we're living in, but with a distinctly modern, contagious feel.

2. Blade Runner

As has become evident on this list, Ridley Scott is great at scope and scale. He directs massive films. And Blade Runner might be his biggest movie with the fewest resources. Every choice Scott makes, from the music to the visuals, have resonated throughout the decades. That reputation and premise might imply a big, action packed film, but Blade Runner is not anything of the sort. Scott dials it back. Blade Runner is great because it's a small, character-based story nestled into this sprawling world. It explores mind-bending ideas rather than big action. Of course, the director's cut is preferred (or even the Final Cut, if you want to get technical about it) but really, you can't go wrong with any of them.

1. Alien

There isn't a negative thing to be said about Alien. The film is a masterwork, tense and interesting from frame one. The story is loaded with implications of mythology and detail, but never harping on backstory. Everything is character-driven, with great mysteries weaved in, and some of the biggest scares ever in a sci-fi film. The casting of Sigourney Weaver was perfect, the supporting cast is all incredible, and HR Giger's designs are among the best in cinema history. The film is so good we still think about it, and its sequels, on an almost daily basis. None of that would be possible without Scott's incredible vision.