All Five Ridley Scott Sci-Fi Movies, Ranked

Ridley Scott, 84, is one of his generation's master stylists. No matter what script is handed to him, Scott will assemble a crack team of production designers, talented costumers, expert cinematographers, and celebrity actors to ensure that his movies are striking, atmospheric, and gorgeous to look at. His films have been nominated for a total of 41 Academy Awards and have won nine. Five of those wins, curiously, went to 2000's "Gladiator," one of the weaker films in Scott's filmography. 

Five times throughout Scott's career he has leaned into science fiction, having burst onto the American film scene in 1979 with his second feature "Alien" (his first film was a historical epic called "The Duellists," released in 1977). He followed "Alien" with 1982's "Blade Runner," which just celebrated its 40th anniversary. Then, in the 2010s, he hit audiences with the one-two-three punch of "Prometheus," "Alien: Covenant," and "The Martian." Thanks to these five films, Scott has become strongly associated with the genre, and will forever be remembered as the creator of some of its finest works. 

But not all of Scott's sci-fi films are great, inspiring the following — perhaps controversial — ranking, from worst to best. 

5. Blade Runner (1982)

Based on the novel "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" by Philip K. Dick, "Blade Runner" takes place in the far-off future of 2019 when realistic androids called replicants have been developed and released into the workforce. Harrison Ford, who famously hated working on the film, played a man whose job was to track down rogue replicants.

When "Blade Runner" was released on June 25, 1982, it was met with only modest success, earning $6.1 million on its opening weekend (on a $30 million budget). But because 1982 was a year packed with other notable genre films ("Blade Runner" was released on the same day, or in the vicinity, of "The Thing," "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial," "Conan the Barbarian," and "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan"), "Blade Runner" fell by the wayside, only accruing a cult following years later. Scott has tinkered endlessly with "Blade Runner" since its release, producing multiple cuts that the film's hardcore fans delight in arguing over.

Regardless of which cut you pick, "Blade Runner" is a terrifyingly dull film. While much of the production design is first-rate (the futuristic cityscapes have been endlessly imitated by filmmakers who came after), the characters are all largely inscrutable ciphers, laconically mumbling about wanting to live, all the while boring the audience to death. The film's feints in the direction of profundity are adolescent at best, and insufferable at worst. 

There is some debate as to whether or not Ford is a replicant. To settle the debate: It doesn't matter if he is or if he isn't if the film is equally dreary and tedious in either case.

4. Alien: Covenant (2017)

The eighth entry in the long-running film series that began with "Alien" (but only the sixth if one excises the chapters that guest-starred Predators), 2017's "Alien: Covenant" takes place prior to the events of the original "Alien," but after the events of "Prometheus." Although "Covenant" has a great deal of mythology to draw on — as well as the mysteries of "Prometheus" to solve — it largely plays out like a generic sci-fi horror movie that does little to expand on the series at large. 

The film function terribly well as a thriller unto itself, either. Too much is explained, and audience members are left so unengaged that noting all the film's little plot holes becomes the only way to make it through to the end. Additionally, many characters are left undeveloped, existing merely as meat for xenomorph lunches. One can forgive some of their stupid decisions; this writer certainly wouldn't be thinking clearly were a phallic, six-foot cockroach made of bone running toward him. 

The one saving grace of "Covenant" is actor Michael Fassbender, who plays both the sinister android David (from "Prometheus") and his more benevolent counterpart Walter. In multiple scenes made possible by impeccable special effects, David and Walter have subtext-heavy conversations about the meaning of life and the android's obsession with improving it. The scene where one Fassbender teaches the other to play the flute is rife with really weird sexual tension. These moments stick in the mind. The rest of the film however may pass through without leaving much of an impression.

3. Prometheus (2012)

The 2012 follow-up to "Alien" is a prequel story that finds the perfect balance between explaining certain mysteries of its predecessor and introducing new mysteries to keep the viewer intrigued. "Prometheus" follows the crew of the titular ship to a distant planet where they believe life on Earth originated. In the prologue, a large Adonis-like alien creature called an Engineer is seen dissolving its body into a primordial river, kickstarting the planet's evolutionary process. 

While exploring a haunted alien edifice out of a Lovecraft story, the human characters in "Prometheus" discover that the Engineers did indeed start life on Earth ... but also developed multiple species of killer monsters seemingly engineered to wipe out all life on the planet. Hmm... 

Much of "Prometheus" is devoted to ineffable mysteries that our main characters don't seem well-equipped to solve. Black oil, alien spores, and random creatures either kill our crew or spawn inside their bodies. Underneath it all is a weirdly palpable Old Testament allegory that implies the Engineers invented xenomorphs specifically as retribution for the crucifixion of Christ (who was, it seems, an alien). This highfalutin sci-fi stoner philosophizing made "Prometheus" catnip for a certain kind of sci-fi nerd, and it holds up as a more interesting sequel to "Alien" than some of the mayhem- and action-heavy films in the franchise that followed.

2. Alien (1979)

Scott's celebrated sci-fi debut "Alien" is simple in its premise: A ship full of futuristic space miners is pulled off course by a sudden distress beacon on a nearby planet. The crew, consisting of older, seen-it-all, blue-collar types, goes to investigate and finds a ship so strange that they can't quite understand it. A lobster-like monster attaches itself to one of the miner's faces and keeps him in a coma while it, we eventually learn, implants eggs in his abdomen. Oh yes, those eggs eventually hatch. The bulk of the film follows the miners' slow realization of the true nature of the alien threat as they're picked off one-by-one, slasher style.

The creatures, known as xenomorphs and designed by Swiss surrealist H. R. Giger, were unlike anything seen in movies up to that point. The title of the film is both a noun and an adjective, and Scott's canny, downbeat directing makes the film feel lived-in, realistic, and conversational. 

Scott can credibly be accused of being cold; he's typically more interested in visuals, photography, and tone than he is in drama, story, or character development. Having been made so early in his career, "Alien" still possesses a streak of relatable humanity, with actors like Sigourney Weaver, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, and Yaphet Kotto bringing a flip, adult weariness to their roles, making them all the more human, and all the less prepared to face an inhuman threat. It remains to this day one of the better sci-fi films ever made. 

1. The Martian (2015)

Scott's films are, at the end of the day, only going to be as good as their screenplays. 

Because he is such a visually-oriented filmmaker, Scott tends to lean into projects he feels warrant a great deal of design and atmosphere. His 1985 film "Legend" is a triumph of fantastical design, demonic monsters, and eerie music, yet lacks in all other respects. When he is given an interesting script-driven concept, however (as in "The Last Duel"), Scott tends to present the material straight, letting the screenplay and the actors do their work while he busies himself with lighting and costumes. 

By this principle, Scott's 2015 film "The Martian" is handily the best sci-fi film he has ever made. Adapted for the screen by Drew Goddard from a novel by Andy Weir, "The Martian" tells the story of a NASA astronaut (Matt Damon) living in the near future who becomes stranded on the surface of Mars after his crew leaves him behind during an emergency. Using a great deal of real-world science and engineering, Damon must find ways to breathe, grow food, and salvage whatever he can to stay alive long enough to be rescued. He's going "to science the s*** out of this." 

"The Martian" is a film that celebrates knowledge, the sciences, and those with specialized expertise. Moreso, the film argues that humans are naturally equipped with an indestructible survival trait: good humor. Staying lighthearted and determined will keep humanity alive. It's a hopeful, delightful, cerebral, and amazing film.