Tony Scott’s style as director can best be described as kinetic, engaging, and stylish. Indeed, he got his footing by first becoming a successful commercial director, just like his older brother, Ridley. From his work doing commercials it is easy to see how his focus on flash translated to the big screen. In the mid 1980’s he was (along with his brother) one of the first of these commercial directors to make the transition and score a big hit in Hollywood. For Tony Scott, that first home run was 1986’s Top Gun, a perfect example of the ground-breaking eye-pleasing wizardry that Scott would later become known for. In fact, it can truly be said that Tony Scott’s style-first approach to directing had not been seen in Hollywood since the 1960’s.
Even today, despite the criticism that some of his films have received because of this approach, his legacy is an important one. With a new generation of Hollywood directors crossing over to the silver screen from other media (music videos, the internet, TV) it is prudent to consider the trail-blazing path that Tony Scott took to use the skills he learned elsewhere and apply them to create a form of cinema entertainment that had never been seen before. Here are my picks for Tony Scott’s ten best films.
10. The Hunger (1983)
The Hunger was Tony Scott’s feature length debut as director. It starred Susan Sarandon and David Bowie. The film was about the strained relationship between a doctor and a vampire couple. The film was as in-your-face as you’d expect from someone who had only done commercials, and gave a clear indication of what type of director Tony Scott would be. Unfortunately audiences and critics alike did not have much taste for the massive amounts of blood and gore, and this film was widely forgotten. Today though, audiences have changed, and this film is now a cult hit.
9. Days of Thunder (1990)
Days of Thunder was Tony’s second film with Tom Cruise and looked to recapture the excitement that the duo had created with Top Gun. This was Tony Scott’s chance to update the film look and style he used for Top Gun, and this was Tom Cruise’s chance to be in a more action-related role than he had been doing previously. The film managed to find success, and despite the somewhat generic but enjoyable story, it was a fine resume builder for the careers of all who were involved.
8. Unstoppable (2010)
Tony Scott was a frequent collaborator with Denzel Washington, and unfortunately this film will mark the end of that collaboration. It’s a shame really, because of all the films that the duo worked together on, this one was widely regarded as the best. It featured all of the standard Tony Scott trademarks; fast story, lots of action, quick direction, plenty of style. It also marked a change in heading for Tony Scott away from more psychological thrillers to straight-forward action.
7. Beverly Hills Cop II (1987)
Maybe not as iconic as the original film, but Beverly Hills Cop II kept the franchise afloat and found its way into the hearts of fans everywhere. Here, Tony Scott was able to bring the unique style from Top Gun and water it down a little bit for the lighter subject material. It was proof that Tony Scott could be a success in Hollywood and he didn’t have to keep making dramatic movies to do so.
6. Enemy of the State (1998)
If Top Gun was the perfect movie for the times in 1986, Enemy of the State was the perfect movie for the times in 1998. It featured up-and-coming action star Will Smith paired with grisley veteran Gene Hackman, the look of the movie was cutting edge, and it built on the popularity of big-time big-money action blockbusters that had began in the mid 1990’s. Even more important, both the audience and critics liked it.
5. Man on Fire (2004)
By no means was Man on Fire a financial or critical success, in fact critics widely panned this one. Instead, Man on Fire is important because it is the quintessential Tony Scott movie. It features frequent collaborator Denzel Washington, the action and story happen at a brisk pace, and the film oozes with enough slick styling to keep your eyes glued to the screen. If you want a solid psychological thriller, Tony Scott delivers.
4. Crimson Tide (1995)
The first collaboration between Tony Scott and Denzel Washington is a warm-blooded cold war thriller. This is a big and complex movie, and Tony Scott expertly crafts it to hit all the right notes. Much like Enemy of the State, Tony uses his knack for cutting edge visual style to elevate the film above your typical action-thriller. Even today this film still looks great and is engaging.
3. Spy Game (2001)
Tony Scott’s success in matching an up-and-coming star with a well-studied film veteran pays off again. This time it’s Brad Pitt and Robert Redford who do the dance. The film, while still full of Tony’s quick-draw techniques, is deep and complex. It feels like the action happens in the exact right places and the rest of the film, while not as action-based, is just as good. Here Tony Scott paints a realistic and dangerous picture, one that makes for a great film.
2. True Romance (1993)
Quentin Tarantino wrote this film, Tony Scott directed. On paper it seems like a good combination – Tarantino’s fast-witted dialogue and Tony Scott’s fast paced camera work – and thankfully, it does work. The movie features an all-star cast including Christian Slater, Dennis Hopper, Brad Pitt, Val Kilmer, Gary Oldman, Christopher Walken, Samuel L. Jackson….the list goes on and if you aren’t intrigued, something is wrong. There’s a reason that True Romance is often compared to Pulp Fiction.
1. Top Gun (1986)
Top Gun is perhaps the quintessential 80’s movie. The look, the sounds, the language that this film brought to the big screen are all now legendary pop culture icons. Tony Scott managed to find the perfect method by which to use his stylistic vision to enhance the tone of the film. Consider the cutting edge technology that this film used, the kind of raw talent featured in the actors involved, and the sheer thrill of the subject at hand – masterpiece is a fitting description. If you remember Tony Scott for one film, this is the one.