Prometheus opens this weekend and promises to be one of the big hits of 2012.  So all eyes will turn to Ridley Scott.  But I want take a look at Tony.  At first glance of this article’s title you might look at this post and say, “Why bother, Tony Scott doesn’t hold a candle to his older brother Ridley Scott?”  Everyone always tells me that when I stand up for Tony.  And what I will concede right off the bat is that Ridley Scott has made more great movies than Tony. Ridley is also more critically acclaimed as a director.  Tony has zero academy award nominations as a director; Ridley has 3 (Blackhawk Down, Thelma and Louise and Gladiator).  Personally I think Ridley was robbed on Gladiator, Steven Soderbergh won for Traffic that year.  Traffic was a great movie, but Gladiator was amazing – it’s a debatable point.  I digress, the point here is that its easy to brush Tony aside when you look at critical acclaim, but that’s not what movies are all about.

My argument for Tony is based on three points:

  1. Tony has made some of the most entertaining movies of all time
  2. Tony’s top 3 and Ridley’s Top 3 films do not have a lot of separation
  3. In head to head competition using the same script, Tony made a better film

I would argue that Ridley’s best 3 titles as a director are:

  1. Gladiator
  2. Alien
  3. Blade Runner

I have gotten into arguments with people who think either Black Hawk Down, Thelma and Louise or American Gangster are better than Blade Runner but I am not buying that. Let’s use my three, I don’t think its going to matter.  I am taking the best three from an “entertainment” standpoint, not critical acclaim.

Tony Scott’s best 3 titles as a director are:

  1. Top Gun
  2. True Romance
  3. Man on Fire

There is little debate with Tony’s three, though Days of Thunder was in my mind originally as the controversial #3 for Tony.  I am not sure I can make the bold statement that it is more entertaining than Man on Fire  So you see where we are.

  • Top Gun v. Gladiator – Tie
  • True Romance v. Alien – Tie (maybe edge to True Romance?)
  • Man on Fire v. Blade Runner – I give it to Blade Runner here.

So when you look at their best work, it’s not like Ridley blows Tony away.  And Tony made Top Gun.  Top Gun is a movie that everyone knows.  You could say, “I feel the need…” and someone you don’t know can finish with “…the need for speed.”  It’s part of our culture.  I love Gladiator, its one of the best movies I have ever seen.  It is also one of the best movie experiences in the theater I have ever had, I think it’s an incredible film.  But if I had to choose between those two – I am going with Top Gun.

True Romance is a VERY underrated movie.  So I do think I am going to catch some heat for putting it in a league with Alien.  I could go on and on about True Romance but it was a great movie.  Gary Oldman as Drexl?  Phenomenal.  Brad Pitt, getting so high that he won’t be “condescended,” incredible. The scene with Walken and Hopper going at it amazing; that movie was awesome and it doesn’t get its due.  I also think it influenced a lot of other great movies, I see a lot of True Romance in Tarantino movies (Tarantino wrote True Romance), I also see it in John Singleton movies.

Man on Fire is a solid film.  Again you have Walken, you have Denzel.  It is an unapologetic “John Wayne” type of western where the tainted hero overcomes all obstacles and saves the girl (in this case the little girl).  Again, no film critic is going to say this was a good movie – but I know a lot of people who have this movie in their top 10, especially Denzel fans.

This brings me to my final point.  These two guys made essentially made the same movie: Spy Game and Body of Lies.  These movies are both about a young, up and coming super CIA agent who is mentored by an old and wise agent that now lives behind a desk.  The Scott’s went after their star power as always.  Tony lined up Robert Redford and Brad Pitt.  Ridley went to his big guns, Russell Crowe and Leonardo DiCaprio.  These guys weren’t fooling around.  You want love interest, let’s cast some relatively unknown “fresh faces.”  Tony goes with Catherine McCormack (from Braveheart) and Ridley goes with Golshifteh Farahani, who I think we may see more of.  You need an antagonist, Tony gets Stephen Dillane (who is in everything) and the quasi antagonist for Ridley was Mark Strong (who is starting to be in everything).  These movies are so similar.

I think Tony out-executed Ridley on this.  I prefer Spy Game to Body of Lies.  I liked them both, but I think Spy Game is a better movie.  The characters are better developed and the performances were stronger.  Leo gives his usual effort and Russell transformed himself into Jeffrey Wigand from the Insider.  In the end, I liked Redford and Pitt more.  I also thought the twists and turns are important in a spy flick.  Both plots had those, and Body of Lies was more surprising – but again I think Tony told a clearer story.

Ridley Scott is one of the greats, he really is.  The guy makes great movies, but he made Legend.  So he’s not perfect either.  A lot of people don’t know what Tony has done, when your brother is Ridley Scott, you sometimes get overlooked.  But I am a huge fan of Tony Scott.

Tony has made some bad movies that I didn’t like.  I didn’t like The Fan at all, in fact before I saw that movie I didn’t think it was possible for a movie to be bad if Robert DeNiro was in it.  I was wrong.  He also made Domino which is one of the all-time flops, no one has seen that movie (me included).  And lately I think that Tony has been a bit “Michael Bay-ish” for my taste.  But he made some of the best movies I have ever seen.  Tony Scott, I salute you.

Here is a bonus point on whose movies are more entertaining – Lutz gave me the idea about looking into this; take a look at where these guys rank all time in terms of Total Box Office Gross (as directors, note that Ridley has more production credits than Tony).  You can see below that they are neck and neck.  PLUS – Tony’s AVERAGE Gross Per film is higher than Ridley’s by almost 10% $68.1MM v. $62.5MM.  Also when you adjust the box office gross for ticket price inflation, Top Gun checks in at $379MM v. and adjusted gross of $277MM for “Gladiator.”  Plus there were about 1600 movie theaters in the US when Top Gun came out – when Gladiator came out there were more than twice as many.  So on an adjusted dollar basis Top Gun was even more successful than Gladiator.

18 Ridley Scott $1,124.8
Gladiator $187.7
20 Tony Scott $1,089.6
Top Gun $176.8

Did I convince you that you should at least give Tony more credit?  I am sure that people are going to question the Top 3 from each of these guys (maybe more from Ridley).

5 Responses to Tony Scott v. Ridley Scott, no contest? Not so fast.

  1. Kenzo Hara says:

    I hold a special place in my cinematic heart for Ridley as Blade Runner was the first movie I saw that I can actually say I got completely lost in and truly felt like I was “in” the movie. Ridley has a knack for doing that. Tony’s movies are great and entertaining, don’t get me wrong. Tony keeps the audience at arms length, as a spectator. Which is totally fine. Ridley is more “experience” driven and Tony is more “spectacle” driven. There’s more tongue and cheek humor, whip pans, zooms in Tony’s films to remind us that we are watching characters in a film. Generally speaking, Ridley works to keep the audience within the film. I’m not knocking either of them, I’m just opining about their personalities in their filmmaking styles and choices. Both successful and while I’ve been somewhat disappointed in Ridley’s last several offerings (and his strange man crush on Russell Crowe), I am very pleased that he has finally come back to do a science fiction film where his style of filmmaking is just awesome.

    • John says:

      I too loved blade runner. Ridley has an eye for design, he can create worlds…I felt Blade Runner even though older -accomplished a look and a feel that modern CG pictures fail to grasp. Tony aims to entertain, and as you say he uses the camera a lot. Lately a lot of his pictures have this desaturated look…not quite Tarem, but approaching that. Tony hasn’t made a good picture in a while, Spy Game was probably his last solid offering. Ridley has hit a rut but he has his groove back. He is making “The Counselor” by Cormac Mcarthy, and then Blade Runner sequel, not bad for a 74 yr old. I am a fan of both…haven’t seen Prometheus yet, goal is next week.

  2. Eric says:

    Great Article, John. I love director comparisons. While I agree Tony Scott doesn’t get credit for his work, I am reminded of the Spielberg v. Scorsese debate. What are the Scott brother’s trajectories in the future.

    Also, before I criticize Tony, I should mention that five of my top twenty favorites are his. More than any other director. Unfortunately, I haven’t enjoyed one of his films in a long time. The last one was Man on Fire–8 years. That’s a lot of bad movies to see, and I have seen them all. Worse, I will probably keep watching them, because it’s Tony Scott. Worse still, that means I am going to have to watch this: They are making Top Gun 2! This makes Twins 2 with Eddie Murphy seem like a great idea.

    As for Ridley, his going back to the well projects are Prometheus and a Blade Runner project. Tony is good, but Ridley is better.

    • John says:

      Thanks Eric. I agree on both counts, Tony has lost his way and Ridley is the better director…I appreciate that Tony is getting some credit for what he has contributed. In his prime he was a top notch entertainer. Lutz reviewed a draft of this post and said “Days of Thunder” is not a good movie…I nearly de-friended him from my social network.

      Ridley is one of the greats and I love that he is making good movies right now.

      I laughed out loud at the Twins 2 call. Top Gun 2 is going to probably hurt us all…like Rocky 5 did.

  3. kenzohara says:

    Rest in peace, Tony.

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