Celebrating the Films of Tony Scott

He left us far too soon, but he also gifted us with some of our favorite films.

Mention Tony Scott‘s name to another film lover, and you’ll most likely get two reactions. First, their eyes will light up as they start replying with their favorites among his sixteen movies, and then they deflate as they remember that he died nearly six years ago. He was never a prestige filmmaker like his brother Ridley (is on occasion), but his eye for elevating trashy aesthetics into pop brilliance was unparalleled. His films were often fueled by testosterone and rage, but he could mash sweat and style like nobody’s business into big, loud fun.

I wasn’t sure at first about the idea of ranking his movies for this list because while I love ranked lists they typically lead with negatives which didn’t quite match my desire to celebrate his filmography. As we put together and assigned the titles, though, it became clear that between the four of us — Chris Coffel, Brad Gullickson, Kieran Fisher, and myself — all sixteen of Scott’s films had its fans.

Keep reading, and join us in counting down the highly memorable filmography of the unforgettable Tony Scott.

Red Dots

16. The Fan (1996)

The Fan will never be uttered in the same breath as Top Gun or True Romance. Consider it a win if you remember it beyond the end credits. That being said, The Fan offers a Robert De Niro fully engaged inside the mind of a maniac. Facing a restraining order from his wife, and a whole heap of free time after his job lets him go, De Niro’s Gil Renard fills the void by obsessing over Wesley Snipes’ superstar athlete. Tracking statistics only gets him so far, and eventually, Gil makes his mark on the game of baseball by knocking off critical players. The Fan gets the job done, and as is the case with most passable thrillers, succeeds mostly on the theatricality of its slasher. – Brad

15. Beverly Hills Cop II (1987)

By 1987 Tony Scott only had a mere two films under his belt, but he was quickly on the rise as one of the best up and coming filmmakers. His success lead him to working with Eddie Murphy, a massively huge deal in the 80’s, on Beverly Hills Cop II. This sequel sees Detroit police detective Axel Foley (Murphy) abandon an undercover gig in Detroit to return to Beverly Hills and track down a gang of robbers that shot Ronny Cox. Is Beverly Hills Cop II better than Beverly Hills Cop? Absolutely not. Is the sequel basically a rehashing of the first film? Absolutely. Do I still love it? You better believe I do. Look, I get it, this isn’t as fresh and original as the first film but it’s still Eddie Murphy at his peak having a kick ass time. Plus Judge Reinhold drives a cement mixer which is always fun. And the soundtrack rules. Also it’s the first of the Beverly Hills Cop movies that I saw so it holds a special place in my heart. – Chris

Spy Game

14. Spy Game (2001)

Brad Pitt and Robert Redford. ‘Nuff said. Tony Scott was looking to pick up the success of Enemy of the State with another espionage thriller resting on the stardom of its heroes. The plot is convoluted and full of flashbacks. Kick back, and don’t dwell too much on the politics or the motivations of these murky government agents. While Spy Game never quite reaches the excitement levels of other Tony Scott action pics, the film also never stumbles into boredom. When you have no idea how to celebrate Father’s Day, a copy of Spy Game will satisfy. – Brad

13. Deja Vu (2006)

Tony and Denzel were a match made in heaven. Like Hall and Oates, spaghetti and meatballs, and Brad Gullickson and William Dass, whenever they paired up everything just seemed to click. That’s hardly surprising, though, considering their respective careers are associated with movies that make us suspend our disbelief, no matter how preposterous the ideas on display might be. In Deja Vu, which marked their third collaboration, Denzel plays a government agent who travels back in time to prevent a crime from happening. In lesser hands, this could have been a silly affair, but with Scott at the helm and Denzel front and center, it’s grounded enough to seem smart. – Kieran

12. Domino (2005)

Domino is the film Tony Scott spent a lifetime building towards. Having experimented with mixing silent era hand-crank cameras with his kinetic editing style on Man on Fire, the time had come to push his patented process to the next level. Pressing play on Domino is like diving into the deep end of Scott’s brain while tripping on mescaline. With a screenplay by Donnie Darko scribe, Richard Kelly, Scott attempts to make sense of his real-life pal Domino Harvey. Keira Knightley throws herself into the model turned bounty hunter, giving as much shit as she gets. The Posh Spice attitude reinforced with a pair of nunchaku and the double dragon brute force of Edgar Ramirez and Mickey Rourke. Domino is a fever dream in which Tom Waits can appear as an angel from Heaven while his own music scores his arrival. It’s beautiful madness. Take a hit. – Brad

The Taking Of Pelham

11. The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009)

Having pushed the boundaries of his cinematography and editing style about as far as he could with Domino, Scott had to rein it in with his final three pictures. The Taking of Pelham 123 could have been a total bore of a remake. The original film is a classic 70s battle of wits between Hollywood eccentrics Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw. Scott’s take struggles to live up to those personalities, and your mileage may vary depending on how much you can tolerate John Travolta’s spastic hijacker. However, the dialog remains sharp, and the humor savage. – Brad

10. Enemy of the State (1998)

Movies about the dangers of “Big Brother” have been around as long as movies have, but Scott’s dip into the dangers of a government out of control benefits from his eye for technical detail and endless energy for action, movement, and stimulation. Yes, it’s even more fun to watch believing that Gene Hackman is playing his character from The Conversation, but even if you don’t roll that geeky Hackman’s cranky turn fascinates and reminds why we love him so damn much. Will Smith is good fun as the everyman caught up in this high-tech Hitchcockian web, and the action set-pieces that follow these two around are thrilling, exciting, and everything you want from a studio action picture. – Rob

9. The Hunger (1983)

1983’s The Hunger opens up with Bauhaus performing their hit “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” in a New York nightclub intercut with Miriam Blaylock and David Bowie seducing a young couple before slashing their throats and drinking their blood. It’s a striking opening that sets the table for the rest of the film. It’s a vampire movie, but this isn’t your Grandpa Munster’s vampire movie, hence the use of “Bela Lugosi’s Dead.” The Hunger is less about the story – a love triangle (sort of) between a doctor (Susan Sarandon) and a vampire couple – and more about the style and atmosphere that comes with the dark and sexual side of vampires. The film’s heavy focus on set design and flashy cuts does tend to make the story elements that are present a bit incoherent and yet I can’t help but be mesmerized.  The Hunger has a power to it that is able to pull you and leave you thinking about it days after you viewed it, eager to re-visit it even if you can’t fully understand why making it quite possibly the most vampiric movie to ever sink its fangs into you. Side note: The scenes of Bauhaus focused almost exclusively on Peter Murphy and this helped contribute to the tension that eventually resulted in their breakup. – Chris

Revenge

8. Revenge (1990)

My Kevin Costner love is well-documented and most certainly plays a role in my appreciation for this darkly somber character drama, but luckily I’m also a sucker for doomed love stories. It’s a far more sedately paced film than you’ll find across much of Scott’s filmography, and while time is given to the ridiculously steamy affair between Costner and Madeleine Stowe, even more is afforded to his desperate search for her after they’ve been violently separated. It’s not a pleasant movie for anyone involved, but its grip on human nature is undeniable as a man’s best and worst intentions and abilities lead to tragic consequences. Scott released a director’s cut of the film years later that actually runs 23 minutes shorter, and as with Mel Gibson’s Payback there’s value in both distinctly different versions. – Rob

7. Top Gun (1986)

Call it trite. Call it superficial. Call it cheesy. Call it homoerotic. No one is going to disagree with you. That being said, these are just a few of the reasons why Top Gun is so endlessly endearing (assuming you have a heart, of course). Here, Tom Cruise takes to the skies as a cocky young pilot who risks losing his promising career when a heartbreaking tragedy forces him to lose his mojo. But like every 80’s underdog story, Top Gun’s beauty lies in watching our hero come back from the brink and overcome demons, etc.. What the movie lacks in substance it more than makes up for in simple, feel-good charm, as well as some of the finest aviation action scenes you’re likely to see. Throw in a tremendous soft rock soundtrack and some volleyball, and what you have is a movie that soars to higher heights than any fighter jet ever could. – Kieran

6. The Last Boy Scout (1991)

The second film in Scott’s unofficial “sloppy quadrilogy” (along with Beverly Hills Cop 2, The Fan, and Domino) is the best of the bunch for various reasons, but first out of the gate is the script by Shane Black. He’s riffing on his own Lethal Weapon, but while Richard Donner’s film wants to be liked, Black’s in a far more aggressive and mean-spirited mood here. Scott’s direction meets him beat for beat delivering memorable action set-pieces and a pair of charismatic leads (Bruce Willis, Damon Wayans) against an ugly story populated by uglier supporting characters. It’s a terrifically scuzzy affair delivered without the exaggerated stylistic flourishes that mar those previously mentioned titles, and it entertains like gritty gangbusters. – RobUnstoppable

5. Unstoppable

Unstoppable is a bittersweet film because while it’s one of best Tony Scott ever directed, it’s sadly the last film he ever made. If we want to keep it positive, however, we can focus on the fact that Scott went out like a goddamn champ. Inspired by the events of the CSX 8888 incident, Unstoppable is the story of a runaway freight train and the two men who try and stop it. As the unmanned train goes barreling down the tracks the initial plan is to derail it, but after discovering it is moving too fast veteran engineer Frank Barnes (Denzel Washington) and a new young conductor named Will Colson (Chris Pine) devise a plan to stop it themselves. Despite the fact that it is based on real-life events, Unstoppable is the sort of movie that can quickly spiral out of control and feel really silly real fast. In order to pull this off successfully, you need a skilled director, a master at his craft. You need a Tony Scott. Roger Ebert summed it up best in his review saying, “In terms of sheer craftsmanship, this is a superb film.” It’s visually impressive, making great use of the stunning industrial steel scenery of Pennsylvania and the action sequences are breathtaking and high on tension. Unstoppable is the perfect swan song for one of the greatest popcorn directors to ever tackle the silver screen. – Chris

4. Days of Thunder (1990)

I don’t watch NASCAR — or any motorsports for that matter — but I could watch racing movies all day long. Days of Thunder also just so happens to be the best racing movie ever made, and yes, before you ask, I have seen and do enjoy Rush and Death Race 2000. Inspired loosely by the career of real-life racing hotshot Tim Richmond, the story follows a young stock driver and upstart (played by Tom Cruise) who’s given an opportunity to live life in the fast lane when he becomes a NASCAR driver. As far as sports dramas go, this is formulaic fluff that’s unabashedly sentimental; however, under the guidance of Scott, that’s not a bad thing by any means. – Kieran

3. Man on Fire (2004)

Based on A. J. Quinnell’s novel of the same name, this was a passion project for Scott that he wanted to make since the 1980’s with Marlon Brando as his lead. The original plan was adapt the novel as his second feature and set it in Italy as the country was rife for kidnappings at the time. But the director’s lack of experience saw the project escape him only to be adapted by Élie Chouraqui in 1987. Fortunately, though, he got to realize his dream eventually and the long wait paid off, because Man on Fire is a goddamn masterpiece. Denzel’s characters have rarely been this emotionally-charged or vicious as he plays a washed-up former mercenary who’s hellbent on revenge when the young girl he’s tasked with protecting gets kidnapped by some scumbags. This desire for both vengeance and redemption reignites his spark — and things get bloody. The brutality is ample and our sick demand for violent thrills is more than satiated, but the movie is also peppered with some touching and moving moments which make it so much more than your average body count action flick. – Kieran

Crimson Tide

2. Crimson Tide (1995)

Submarine-set movies are few and far between, and perhaps because of their scarcity, the ones we’ve gotten are typically pretty good. They typically offer a blend of intensity and claustrophobia, and to that end, they don’t come any better than Crimson Tide. Scott’s film pairs two legends in Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington, and while there are action and suspense aplenty the film’s greatest strength is the mental and verbal battle between them. There’s a combustible energy packed into a confined space, like a powder keg that continually feels like it’s about to blow. Quentin Tarantino famously did some touch-up work on the script to flesh out the characters, but the film’s brilliance rests mostly in commanding performances and Scott’s vibrant direction. It’s a film I can never turn off once it starts, and it’s eternally tied with the movie below for my favorite of Scott’s filmography. – Rob

1. True Romance

A story about an Elvis fanatic that marries a call girl and murders her pimp forcing the two go on the run may not sound like the most romantic tale around, but if you ask me what my favorite love story is I’ll say True Romance 50% of the time (the other 50% is reserved for Wild at Heart). A great romance requires two likable leads that are inseparable and willing to do anything for one another. In True Romance the lovebirds are played by Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette, and that’s a couple that’s easy to get behind. When you look through Tony Scott’s filmography True Romance, along with The Hunger, sticks out like a bit of a sore thumb. He’s a director that is largely remembered for creating enjoyable popcorn fluff and True Romance couldn’t be further from that. This is a movie with pimps, kung fu, Elvis, cocaine, stoner Brad Pitt, and dreaded Gary Oldman. Yes, it is a love story at its core, but the edges are filled in with black comedy and bloody violence. It’s a Tarantino script that Scott handles masterfully. Would’ve been cool to see the two work together on something else, but at least we’ll always have this. – Chris

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