Remembering Tony Scott: Five Movies By The Late Director That You Must See

Tony Scott Death: Five Best Movies

As Hollywood processes the apparent suicide of filmmaker Tony Scott  reports — included a report that he jumped to his death wearing the lucky (faded) red baseball cap that he first donned on the set of his blockbuster his Top Gun — I prefer to dwell, not on Scott's tragic death, but his life in movies. In Roger Ebert's review of Scott's essential True Romance, the critic wrote: "This is the kind of movie that creates its own universe, and glories in it." I actually think that assessment applies to most of Scott's work and is what made him special as a filmmaker. Even when his movies weren't cohesive — Domino or The Hunger come to mind— they were still worth watching and impossible to dismiss because they were filled with provocative ideas, images and themes that amounted to something more than a collection of scenes, acts and dialogue. Below, my list of Scott's best movies.  If you have a different list in mind, check out our Movieline poll where you can vote for your favorite Scott movie.  

1.  True Romance (1993): Quentin Tarantino usually gets the lion's share of the credit for this adrenaline-stoking orgy of action and violence because he wrote the script, but it was Scott who shaped QT's words and the performances of  a killer cast — Christian Slater (at his peak), Patricia Arquette, Dennis Hopper and Christopher Walken (both memorable), Brad Pitt and an undiscovered James Gandolfini — into a sexy, bloody rocket ride that, almost 20 years later, still thrills and still influences filmmakers.

2. Top Gun (1986):  Arguably the movie that defines American confidence — and cockiness — during the Reagan era.  Full of hard bodies, fast aircraft and Tom Cruise's beautifully aerodynamic smile, Top Gun makes you feel, as the line goes, "the need for speed." Scott was working on a sequel before his death, and Cruise was supposed to play a role in it.  I was looking forward to seeing where Scott was going to take this idea.

3. Crimson Tide (1995):  This movie has been given short shrift in the obituaries of Scott that are accruing, but it is not to be missed.  Crimson Tide is that rare thing: an intelligent popcorn movie.  Like the U.S. nuclear sub Alabama on which the movie is set,  Crimson Tide runs fast and deep--and yet inside its sleek Hollywood hull are a lot of smart and thorny ideas about leadership, compliance and the ramifications of nuclear war. Scott makes the most of Michael Schiffer's screenplay and memorable performances by Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington.

4. Enemy of the State (1998):   A prescient film and a fine example of Scott's fascination with the technological — and by extension, social and cultural — revolution that took place during his career as a filmmaker. Almost three years before the Bush administration's reaction to 9/11 had Americans questioning how much of their First Amendment rights they were willing to sacrifice for national security, Scott gave us this over-the-top look at our surveillance society run amok. Technology is as much the star here as Will Smith, but the actor who steals the show is Gene Hackman, who pays  clever homage to his performance as surveilliance-expert Harry Caul in Francis Ford Coppola's 1974 film, The Conversation.

5 . The Hunger (1983):  Scott's first feature film is a mess, but it's worth watching again, if only for the memorable opening scene (below) in which ultra-hip vampire couple David Bowie and Catherine Deneuve catch Goth pioneers Bauhaus performing "Bela Lugosi Is Dead" at a nightclub, where they pick up their next meal: Ann Magnuson. The concert-to carnage sequence plays like the creepiest MTV video ever.

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  • In the past I've described Scott films as being "subtly audacious", in that he was often overlooked while at the same time most people were very aware of his style. He managed to make arresting visual decisions while sidestepping all the attention being drawn onto himself.

    I'd replace ENEMY on this list with SPY GAME, where he had a ripping story and filmed scenes with powerful focus. While watching I always say that kind of story should not look so good, and such a visual treat should not be so compelling.

  • Phil K says:

    Only Crimson Tide was a top 5 from him. Man on fire, BHC 2, Last Boy Scout, Spy Game and Crimson Tide was his real top 5. I can not include True Romance, Gary Oldman getting balls blown off, Walken saying that Sicilian's are all half Ni**ers? That Movie was too much extremities, like The Fan. I should have loved The Fan, cause i love Deniro, love Snipes, love Scott, Love Baseball, and violent movies. I didn't tho cause it was too much

  • Shawn Gordon says:

    I love Tony Scott's movies, when Quentin Tarantino learn that Scott would direct his script for TRIUE ROMANCE, he was proud.

    My Top 5
    1) True Romance
    2) The Last Boy Scout
    3) Man on Fire
    4) Enemy of the State
    5) Revenge (Director's Cut)

    • I'm surprised that "The Last Boy Scout" is getting so much love. I liked that movie, but I certainly don't think it was one of Scott's best. I'm genuinely interested in hearing from Shawn Gordon or Phil K or both about what makes the movie so superlative.

      • neil says:

        Last Boy Scout...LOL. Whenever that is on I role my eyes and pick up my remote. When True Romance is on (rarely) I feel like I've won some kind of lottery.

      • I think LAST BOY SCOUT is a charmer, a crowd pleasing action flick chocked full of great dialogue and features one of Bruce Willis' very best performances. It's not great art, but then again Tony Scott was no Stanley Kubrick.

  • The Pope says:

    Here is Tony's graduate film. Well worth a look.

  • retrojam says:

    Any top 5 Tony Scott film list that does not include Man On Fire is lacking in credibility.

    • Seriously considered it. Paul Schrader told me that, for him, it's the most influential of Scott's films "he pioneered multi-cam rapid editing in an extremely effective way." The love between Denzel Scott's Creasy and Dakota Fanning's Pita is also palpable in a pretty amazing way, so I guess I could be swayed. But the movie's soul-sucking cynicism is the reason I left it off.