This fall, British director Sir Ridley Scott, 83, is having one of the most productive years of his life — and it just so happens to be occurring four and a half decades into his impressive career. Within a little over a month, the four-time Oscar nominee will release two awards-bait films. The first, The Last Duel (Oct. 15), which stars Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and Adam Driver, is set in 14th-century France and details the country’s last legal trial by combat. House of Gucci (Nov. 24), which stars Lady Gaga, Adam Driver (again!) and Al Pacino (81), is a pulpy look at a high-profile fashion-world murder. With a filmography that has taken audiences from Ancient Rome to 1990s Somalia to an ill-fated ship careening through space, Scott always keeps viewers guessing. But how will his two new very different films stack up against his greatest? Here, 10 of our favorites — with a look at the epic moments that have kept the director a box-office success for almost half a century.
10: All the Money in the World (2017)
The plot: This true-crime thriller traces the wild story of the 1973 kidnapping of John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer) and his billionaire oil-tycoon grandfather J. Paul Getty’s refusal to pay the $17 million ransom. But what happened behind the scenes was almost as dramatic. The film had been completed for months when the actor playing Getty (Kevin Spacey, 62) was accused of sexual misconduct. Rather than let Spacey’s reputation tank the film, Scott sprang into action, casting Christopher Plummer in the role, reshooting 22 scenes in nine days, and finishing a new cut four days later — earning Plummer his final Oscar nod in the process.
The most epic moment: Getty III’s mother Gail Harris (Michelle Williams) and former CIA operative Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg) take matters into their own hands in a tense — if totally fictionalized — rescue scene in a Calabrian village.
9: The Duellists (1977)
The plot: Scott came out of the gate running with his assured first feature, which won him the best debut film award at the 1977 Cannes Film Festival. Based on a Joseph Conrad short story, which was itself inspired by a real newspaper article, this Napoleonic War epic may seem sprawling, but it actually traces a rather petty feud between two French officers. Feeling insulted by Armad d’Hubert (Keith Carradine, 72), Lieutenant Gabriel Feraud (Harvey Keitel, 82) challenges him to a duel — and they continue crossing paths and dueling, with swords, sabres and pistols, over the next 16 years.
The most epic moment: All roads lead to a climactic showdown in a ruined château in 1816 that finally decides the combatants’ fates. The ending might surprise you!
8: Matchstick Men (2003)
The plot: There’s a genuine sweetness to this black comedy, starring an underrated Nicolas Cage, 57, as Roy Waller, an L.A. con artist living with obsessive-compulsive disorder and Tourette’s syndrome, whose life is turned upside down by the arrival of a 14-year-old daughter he never knew he had (Alison Lohman). The screenplay is sharp and witty, and Sam Rockwell, 52, is excellent as Roy’s protégé Frank Mercer.
The most epic moment: There’s a doozy of a twist ending — but we won’t spoil it!
Watch it: Matchstick Men, on HBO Max
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7: American Gangster (2007)
The plot: Based on a true story, this cat-and-mouse thriller pits drug trafficker Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington, 66) — who smuggles heroin from Southeast Asia to the United States in the caskets of fallen Vietnam War soldiers — against detective Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe, 57). While it’s undoubtedly a bruising masculine film, screen legend and civil rights activist Ruby Dee proved an emotional powerhouse, picking up a Screen Actors Guild Award for best supporting actress.
The most epic moment: The final face-to-face between Richie and Frank is an acting masterclass. What else would you expect from two best actor Oscar winners?
6: Black Hawk Down (2001)
The plot: A sprawling ensemble — including Ewan McGregor (50), Josh Hartnett, Eric Bana (53), Sam Shepard and Tom Hardy — makes up the cast of this gritty, pulse-quickening war drama, based on a nonfiction book by journalist Mark Bowden, 70. During a 1993 U.S. military raid and humanitarian operation, Somali forces shoot down two American helicopters, and the soldiers must fight for survival as they battle in the chaotic streets of Mogadishu.
The most epic moment: The chopper crash that sets the film in motion is one of the most realistic and frightening war scenes in recent memory.
Watch it: Black Hawk Down, on HBO Max
5: The Martian (2015)
The plot: In this outer space twist on Robinson Crusoe — which won Scott an AARP Movies for Grownups Award for best director — astronaut Mark Watney (Damon) is presumed dead after a dust storm and left behind on Mars. It turns out he’s very much alive, and the rollicking survival tale follows Watney as he learns how to produce water, grow his own food (in, um, human fertilizer), repair equipment and fight loneliness. The film went on to earn seven Oscar nominations and won the Golden Globe for best musical or comedy; while some balked at that categorization, there’s no denying you’ll have a heck of a fun ride.
The most epic moment: You can’t beat the emotional rescue scene
Watch it: The Martian, on FXNow
4: Gladiator (2000)
The plot: Harking back to the sword-and-sandals epics of old Hollywood, this blockbuster racked up five Academy Awards, including best picture and best actor. Crowe stars as Maximus, a Roman general who is betrayed by the power-mad new emperor Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix), enslaved, and forced to fight as a gladiator alongside his closest ally, Juba (Djimon Hounsou, 57). Based on a 1958 Daniel P. Mannix book, the plot plays fast and loose with Roman history, but the emotional pull of the story is undeniable.
The most epic moment: There are some heart-racing battle scenes (such as when our hero takes on an undefeated gladiator and some tigers), but the movie’s most memorable moment is Crowe’s rousing “My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius” speech.
3: Thelma & Louise (1991)
The plot: Geena Davis, 65, and Susan Sarandon, 75, both earned best actress Oscar nominations for this landmark feminist road movie, in which the namesake duo goes on the lam in a 1956 T-Bird after Louise kills a would-be rapist. Roger Ebert wrote that the actresses “work together like a high-wire team, walking across even the most hazardous scenes without putting a foot wrong.” Keitel, 82, co-stars as an empathetic investigator, while a young Brad Pitt, 57, steals scenes as a charming drifter.
The most epic moment: There’s only one choice: the shocking freeze-frame ending.
2: Blade Runner (1982)
The plot: This gripping neo-noir film based on a Philip K. Dick novel imagines a dystopian future (actually the “past” now — it’s set in 2019!) in which advanced androids, or replicants, have been created to work in space colonies. When four of them commandeer a ship and return to Earth, former cop Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford, 79) sets out to find and destroy them. Far from a sleek, shiny vision of the future, the movie presents a decaying, claustrophobic Los Angeles, and that immersive world-building probably had something to do with AFI ranking it the sixth-best science fiction film in history.
The most epic moment: The final clash between Deckard and the replicant Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) is a rain-soaked nail-biter.
Watch it: Blade Runner, on HBO Max
1: Alien (1979)
The plot: Proving that genre pictures can be every bit as masterful as highbrow dramas, Scott spun this terrifying monster movie about the ill-fated crew of the commercial spaceship Nostromo and their extraterrestrial stowaway into artistic gold. The film, which won an Oscar for best visual effects, launched a media franchise that included sequels, prequels, novels and video games and was chosen for preservation by the National Film Registry. And while Swiss artist H.R. Giger’s “biomechanical” alien designs are memorable, they’re no match for the culture-changing impact of the alien-tail-kicking Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver, 71), who AFI ranked number eight on its list of the biggest heroes in cinema history — just between Rocky Balboa and George Bailey. (The Alien is number 14 on their accompanying villains list!)
The most epic moment: One word: chestburster.
Nicholas DeRenzo is a contributing writer who covers entertainment and travel. Previously he was executive editor of United Airlines’ Hemispheres magazine and his work has appeared in the New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler, Travel & Leisure, Sunset and New York magazine.