The end of director Tony Scott’s life (the filmmaker committed suicide late Sunday, August 19) was both sudden and tragic. A renowned presence in Hollywood, Scott spent over forty years working in the business, carving out a career as both a director and producer. He wasn’t slowing down either — at the time of his death, Scott was developing a handful of projects, including a long-gestating sequel to his 1986 film Top Gun. While his passing is unfortunate to fans and colleagues alike, Scott’s many contributions to the world of movies will forever remain profound and thrilling. At the age of 68, Scott continued to push the action genre in new directions, and the ripple effect of his contributions is easily identifiable in today’s big budget blockbusters.
Taking a look back at Scott’s impressive career, here are a few of the standout films that solidify the late director as one of contemporary Hollywood’s most important names:
Arguably Scott’s best known film, the Tom Cruise-starring jet fighter action picture swept up audiences back in the ’80s and continues to wow with its stunning aerial photography. The movie was a huge success around the globe, grossing more than $350 worldwide. But on an artistic level, it was an explosive beginning to Scott’s exploration between man and machine that fueled his career.
Like Top Gun, Scott’s Days of Thunder plays to two of Scott’s major sensibilities: his love for raw adrenaline and of immersive worlds that exist behind the curtain of reality. Stock car racing is a fun sport to watch, but in the hands of Scott, it’s a visceral rush with a vibrant, dramatic underbelly.
Backtracking to 1983, Scott’s The Hunger is a wonderfully bizarre gem that the director always longed to revisit, with a short-lived TV adaptation and a self-helmed remake always at the front of his mind. Catherine Deneuve, David Bowie, and Susan Sarandon star in the steamy vampire drama, a film that shows off a completely different side of Scott.
Taking over a franchise is no easy task, but Scott managed to build upon the original Beverly Hill Cop with heightened action and, perhaps even more importantly, even wilder humor. Known for his kinetic filmmaking, Scott always had a sense of humor ground his films, making the larger-than-life action easy to digest.
Scott’s team-up with Bruce Willis and Damon Wayans may be the best example of that sense of humor. Filled to the brim with explosions, crazed shootouts, and one of the greatest on-screen kills of all time (the big bad is hit by a football, knocked off a ledge, shot a couple times, then sliced up by a helicopter blade), The Last Boy Scout is off-the-wall, pure ’90s action cinema. But Scott knew his talent too — he utilized Willis spot-on timing for one of the movie’s best, small scale scenes:
Working from a script by Tarantino, Scott crafted another wild adventure that rarely relied on “action” to keep audience mesmerized and on their toes. Scott feels restrained in True Romance in the best of ways, letting the actors doing the talking. Christian Slater, Patricia Arquette, Val Kilmer, Gary Oldman, Christopher Walken, and the rest of the cast light up the screen in True Romance. Walken’s standoff with Dennis Hopper is one of the great dialogue moments in movie history:
Scott found the perfect match in Denzel Washington, an actor who can bring intensity to the largest set piece or most intimate spat of words. In Crimson Tide, Scott and Washington built momentum in the pressure cooker confines of a submarine. You feel the heat in this movie, even in a 65 degree movie theater.
Scott’s bravado for moviemaking attracted many of Hollywood’s A-Listers over the years, but he hit pure thespian gold when he paired Robert Redford with his spiritual successor Brad Pitt in Spy Game. Underseen by audiences and a little murky in the logic department, Spy Game shines thanks to the brilliant casting, and to Scott finding perfect ways to let the duo spar.
Late in his career, Scott continued to experiment with camera fluidity, color schemes, and action geography in his movies. “Stylistic” is an understatement when it comes to Man on Fire, a movie where tension builds from everywhere. The script, the action… heck, even the subtitles are rousing!
Scott had a number of film’s in the works, but his last big screen endeavor is 2010’s Unstoppable, a movie that took a simple premise (we can’t stop this train!) and embraced it wholeheartedly. Rarely does Unstoppable feel cheap — a surprise based on the logline. That’s all thanks to the pairing of Washington and Chris Pine, and Scott’s precision for depicting the real life technical aspects that went into solving this shocking incident (the movie is based on true events). This is a Hollywood action movie. Everything is going to be all right in the end. But with Scott in the driver’s seat (and this is true for all of his films), there are still unexpected thrills around every corner. It’s why we, and Hollywood, love his movies.
Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches
[Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox]