Ridley Scott’s Movies Ranked From Worst to Best

When Ridley Scott was forced to recut his latest movie, All the Money in the World, to excise Kevin Spacey in lieu of Christopher Plummer, he did so quickly and efficiently. Directors whose perspective, style, and taste in subject matter are seemingly the exact opposite of Scott’s, including Ava DuVernay, came out of the woodwork to stare agape at his ability to get the work done. It’s hard to argue this fact in light of these stories about the reshoots but anyone who has kept an eye on Scott’s movies over the years would likely find this an obvious compliment, like telling Christina Aguilera or Arianna Grande that they have a nice voice.

Scott’s technical powers as a filmmaker have never been in question. The Duellists, his debut film, proved that right off the bat and for whatever your issues with their scripts, there is a similar sense of control in Alien: Covenant and All the Money in the World. That his ambitions beyond his technical knowledge have fluctuated over the years is reflective of his fascination with the duel nature of ambition and success. At the heart of many of his stories is the struggle between the precarious nature of risking cohesion for possible greatness and remaining steady and predictable at the risk of growing outdated. His taste in scripts and glowing reputation amongst the big studios has kept him relevant, thankfully, and yet every movie he makes shows a hint of a wilder beast lurking beneath. That’s the David storyline in Alien: Covenant, or Christopher Plummer’s performance in All the Money in the World, or Tim Curry’s scenes in Legend. He’s like Steven Spielberg in that way, an accomplished and influential artist who clearly still has the itch for adventure and the unknown yet is tethered to the comforts and connections that his life affords.

With All the Money in the World opening this weekend, I thought I’d rank Scott’s films from The Duellists to his two 2017 efforts. Enjoy!

24) 'Exodus: Gods and Kings'

Image via 20th Century Fox

Scott has always had a want to be the next David Lean and though there’s plenty to love and learn from in Lean’s filmography, it’s when Scott has followed this particular desire that he has often put out his worst work. At 150 minutes, this retelling of the legend of Ramses and Moses (Joel Edgerton and Christian Bale) has nothing but the scope of its imagery going for it. The story is familiar and the team of writers that produced the script, including Steven Zaillian, doesn’t do much of anything to break out the characters in any moving or interesting way. The effects look expensive but feel emotionally and physically weightless within the narrative, the result of which is that the biblical story’s biggest scenes come off as unimportant and empty action set-pieces. Really, the risible whitewashing that went on here, the kind that tries to pass Bruce Wayne off as an iconic and holy Egyptian, is the least of the issues with this mess.

23) 'Robin Hood'

Image via Universal Pictures

The longest motion picture ever made. Okay, not really, but holy hot jesus, it feels like it. Here, Russell Crowe takes on the role of the rebellious royal who helps Little John and must fight of the nefarious Sheriff of Nottingham. Other events transpire – I seem to remember Cate Blanchett as Maid Marian – but neither Scott nor writer Brian Helgeland labor to make any of what happens amongst the outlaws or the aristocrats compelling. Visually, there’s nothing sweeping or nuanced, neither beautiful nor reflective about how Scott shoots the world of Robin Hood and he strives for grim realism rather than building up a sense of wonder or inspiration. At that point, even if Scott and Helgeland had a unique take on the character, who could possibly care to stick around and find out about it?

22) 'A Good Year'

Image via 20th Century Fox

It’s nice when Scott steps away from life-and-death stakes but if A Good Year is any indication, he might need those stakes to really get himself engaged with the material. This is to say that Scott’s follow-up to Kingdom of Heaven is a definitive slog and arguably the whitest film to ever be released stateside. Scott pairs once again with leading man Russell Crowe, who plays Max Skinner, an investment banker living in London who inherits his uncle’s chateau and vineyard in France, a place he adored as a child. His attempt to renovate the land and house for sale allows him to get into the leisurely mood of the local townfolk, and he falls hard for Fanny (Marion Cotillard), a café owner, while also dealing with a daughter (Abbie Cornish) that he never knew he had. That’s the great struggle of Max Skinner’s life: a high-paying, demanding job with a great apartment in a fashionable district of London and an inherited French chateau with a promising vineyard and a beautiful girlfriend who runs her own business. It’s easier to care about the vulnerable side of Hannibal Lecter than it is to care about all of this, and Scott doesn’t do much more than make the surroundings look half as appealing as they actually are in reality. It’s a white noise machine with pictures.

21) '1492: Conquest of Paradise'

Image via Paramount Pictures

Ridley Scott makes very long movies. Most of them – perhaps all of them – are over two hours, which translates into a lot of downtime depending on the script and the subject matter he’s tackling. In the case of 1492, the focus is on Christopher Columbus (Gerard Depardieu) and his adventure to find the world that would come to be known as the United States of America. The imagery, courtesy of Adrian Biddle, is alluring but rarely acts as anything but a delivery device for what’s in the script or, more accurately, the engine of the plot. Mind you, the plot doesn’t have much to say about the fact that Columbus was a graceless butcher who founded America for his own ego and liberation from a society he deemed unworthy of his aspirations. It’s not all sunshine and lollipops either but for an epic consideration of the foreign man who arrived on America’s shores for the first time, Scott’s follow-up to the far superior Thelma & Louise makes the act of discovery feel about as thrilling as an honors history class.

20) 'Legend'

Image via 20th Century Fox

After I first saw this, all I could remember really was Tim Curry’s horned devil, a miraculously malevolent image if there ever was one. Well, okay, there’s another scene. Early on, as a bunch of nefarious creatures and trolls are roaming the land, one suggests that they turn everything around them into garbage. They honestly might as well have done that for all that I can remember about what happens when Curry’s villain isn’t on screen. Tom Cruise plays a dashing hero, that I remember, and he’s helping a girl – I got that from the cover. Before I get fans of this movie really roiling, yes, I revisited the film before writing this, but it has no bearing on how little of an impression this movie makes. 3 days after rewatching it, it’s still difficult to remember anything aside from the hulking red colossus and that speaks to just how forgettable this movie is on the whole.

19) 'Kingdom of Heaven'

Image via 20th Century Fox

Remember what I said about Scott and his David Lean thing? This is where it comes back again, slightly improved yet still unwavering in its mediocrity. The whitewashing is still an issue here, but the story is thankfully much more involving and colored with perverse, dark nuances in William Monahan’s script. This begins with Edward Norton’s vocal work as the diseased Christian King Baldwin, who reigns in Jerusalem between the third and fourth Crusades in the name of peace. He’s isolated in this belief, for the most part, but he finds kin in Balian (Orlando Bloom) and his knight of a father, Godfrey de Ibelin (Liam Neeson). The cast, which also includes Marton Csokas, David Thewlis, Brendan Gleeson, Jeremy Irons, and Eva Green, gives the impressive set & production design and well-researched vernacular a pulse, which is more than what can be said about the ideas about religion, warfare, and class that Scott largely leaves unexplored. If you don’t pay much attention to it, however, it goes down pretty smoothly.

18) 'Hannibal'

Image via Universal/MGM

Scott does his best when horror elements are involved. It’s what made Alien: Covenant into the best volume in the franchise since Aliens and its what made The Counselor’s vision of the modern drug trade so hard to shake. It’s also what makes Hannibal such a minor yet resilient delight. It helps that Anthony Hopkins returned to play Dr. Hannibal Lecter to add ample bite (forgive me) to the proceedings, and the gothic Italian settings don’t hurt either. What Scott (and Hopkins) miss here is a sense of inner life, a more thorough understanding of who he is beyond his diet and taste for highbrow culture. With a better script and a bit more ambition, the character of Hannibal would be a perfect fit in Scott’s often skeptical, career-long fascination with the difference between work and passion, between art and entertainment, between duty and desire. As it stands, however, Hannibal is an amiable, ridiculous, and beautifully paced joyride for those (like this writer) who had been in need of a second helping of Lecter in the years following The Silence of the Lambs.

17) 'Gladiator'

Image via DreamWorks/Universal

This is one of those movies where the majority of the fanbase has, separate from the movie itself, tempered my enthusiasm for the movie, but hasn’t destroyed it. Of course, it is a little difficult to take a movie that takes itself so seriously all that seriously to begin with, but that’s not to say the movie has nothing to offer as a thoughtful entertainment. The fact that Russell Crowe is so compelling in the role of Maximus, the former military leader turned gladiator and slave after the murder of Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris), gives the film ample fuel, alongside sensational supporting turns by Joaquin Phoenix, Oliver Reed, Connie Nielsen, and David Hemmings. DP John Mathieson, who recently lensed Logan and King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, gives grand special scope to the world where Maximus fights for glory, but it’s the price of that glory that holds up Gladiator. Scott’s interest with the politics of the time is no deeper than rich vs. poor, and he has a natural, unchallenged fondness for honor won through bloodshed. Some of this is inherent in the script, a dull and uncurious narrative put together by John Logan, David Franzoni, and William Nicholson, but Scott is not absent from the blame here. That this also happens to be the favorite movie and ode to masculinity of noted conservative columnist Ross Douthat does not help matters.

16) 'G.I. Jane'

Image via Buena Vista

This is sadly one of those movies that you understand in total by the point the trailer ends. Yes, plenty happens in Scott’s 1997 military drama centered on officer Jordan O’Neill (Demi Moore) and her struggles in training with the Combined Reconnaissance Team, and some of it is engaging enough. Her face-off with her Master Chief (Viggo Mortensen) are riveting and some exchanges brush up against complex concepts of gender, sexual assault, and misogyny for a quick second. On the whole, however, the whole point of G.I. Jane is to prove that women can be just as tough as men, and that belittling them is wrong and harmful to society. As dedicated and occasionally thrilling as Moore is in the role, one could just as well force your Fox News-watching uncle to read a clever bumper sticker than watch this.

15) 'White Squall'

Image via Hollywood Pictures

This is another oddity, though in form, it’s a relatively tame beast. Scott’s adaptation of The Last Voyage of the Albatross tells of a group of adolescent young men who come of age while serving on the brigantine Albatross, where they are learning sailing from the Skipper, played by the unerringly inviting Jeff Bridges. Then a severe storm hits and the tragic aftermath of the ship’s journey leads to the Skipper and members of the crew being questioned about their responsibility in a court of law. Had the movie not been sold distinctly as a shipwreck movie, and the script had not framed the story as to accentuate the inevitability of the storm, White Squall might have been in the top ten, considering the camaraderie that’s evinced in the young men, played excellently by the likes of Jeremy Sisto, Ryan Phillipe, and Scott Wolf, amongst others, and how riveting Bridges proves to be in the role of the Skipper. Unfortunately, the entire movie seems to only really come alive when its telegraphing the arrival of the climactic event, which renders the rest of the drama somewhat innocuous.

14) 'Matchstick Men'

Image via Warner Bros.

For all the missteps that led him to a life of mostly straight-to-DVD releases, Nicolas Cage remains a fiery, enlivening performer, enough so that he can still make bad movies into somewhat watchable movies by his presence alone. Back in the aughts, however, he was still able to topline big releases by major studios and thus we have an oddity like Matchstick Men. Here, Cage plays Roy Waller, a master conman who works tightly with his protégé Frank Mercer, played by frequent scene-stealer Sam Rockwell, but begins questioning his career when he meets his daughter, Angela (Alison Lohman). Scott, working from a script by Nicholas and Ted Griffin, avoids the sentimental when he can and puts the focus on Cage’s inherent charisma, as the movie is as much about how he as an actor sells the conman as about how Roy sells one of his cons. It’s only when the plot takes a predictable climactic turn does the movie itself sell out its sense of character and behavioral nuance for the promise of a “good twist.” It cheapens everything that came before it and makes you wish the movie started exactly where it ends.

13) 'Black Rain'

Image via Paramount Pictures

A moody crime thriller in the same veil as Sea of Love or Year of the Dragon, though not quite as unique as either. What Black Rain is missing is personality beyond the dusky visual timbre that Scott sets from the beginning, as NYPD officers Conklin and Vincent (Michael Douglas and Andy Garcia) bust and escort a Yakuza honcho back to Japan. The director leans on the natural visual splendor of Japan’s cities and tourist sites, which works well for the most part, but the plot that writers Craig Bolotin and Warren Lewis have fashioned here is plainly predictable even in its most exotic settings. Douglas has more natural presence than most, so he keeps things percolating throughout, and Garcia gives even his blandest lines zip in his delivery. Strong performances from Ken Takakura, John Spencer, and Kate Capshaw also help elevate Black Rain slightly above the fray, but there’s much more to mine in the story than Scott, the screenwriters, or even the actors seem interested in confronting.

12) 'Someone to Watch Over Me'

Image via Columbia Pictures

A slick and satisfying crime thriller, if also an inarguably bloated one as well. Tom Berenger plays Detective Keegan of the NYPD, who must look after a wealthy socialite, Claire (Mimi Rogers), after she witnesses the bloody murder of her friend by crime lord Joey Venza (Andreas Katsulas). An illicit affair begins between the married cop and his charge, even as Venza sends numerous hitmen to take Claire out, and well, you know just about where all of this lands. In this particular case, the straightforward nature of the plot is at once its main detriment and perfect for Scott’s needs, as he uses the storyline as a springboard to study matters of class and matrimony. The hour-to-hour beats of married life make up a solid part of the runtime, as does the community of police officers that Keegan works with, and Scott mines portions of that for flashes of philosophical dread, the joys and pitfalls of having a family, and the excitement and secrecy of infidelity. Its triumphs are resolutely minor but they are triumphs nonetheless.

11) 'Prometheus'

Image via 20th Century Fox

The predecessor to Alien: Covenant is a magnificent thing to behold on the big screen. The scenes of creation in the opening sequences and the final scenes of chaos, death, and rebirth radiate grandeur in a way that only Scott’s very best do, and staring up at the screen, you can see what Scott probably saw in those Fritz Lang and David Lean movies he loves so much. Then, of course, the people start talking and all is lost. The amount of scientific gibberish, expository and explanatory dialogue, and sideplot detours that are packed into this epic is frankly obscene, and it weighs down the rest of the movie. Sure, it gives some good scenes to actors like Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, and Guy Pearce, but in the bargain, Scott loses the pacing that made Alien and The Counselor sing. Still, when Scott finally gets down the the business at hand – gory deaths, suspenseful face-offs, eruptions and crashes, foot chases, etc. – Prometheus delivers the goods. You just wish it had done a little more than that.

10) 'Black Hawk Down'

Image via Columbia Pictures

The modern warfare movie I always wanted Ridley Scott to make and to be honest, its almost as good as I’d hoped It would be. Detailing a catastrophic and fatal mission enacted by Army Rangers in Somalia back in 1993, this is the most immediate film that Scott has ever made, tossing us head first into a splintered-off unit of rangers trying to recover soldiers from two black hawk crash sites in Mogadishu. Eric Bana, Ewan McGregor, Josh Hartnett, Hugh Dancy, and Ewen Bremner make up different sides of the story and different perspectives on the life of a soldier, but for the most part, Scott keeps pummeling the audience with action, explosions, and chases through the streets of Somalia’s capital city. The uncomplicated and timid script from Ken Nolan represses character and intimate talk to reiterate how dangerous and exhausting soldiering is as a career, and he has a certain unshakeable belief about the character-building powers of the armed forces and the glory and honor of warfare. Most of this, thankfully, is held at bay by Scott’s virtuosic filmmaking and Pietro Scalia’s ingenious editing and as a testament to the director’s talents, its more powerful than almost any of these films.

9) 'Body of Lies'

Image via Warner Bros.

The empty horror of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars is the backdrop of Scott’s 2008 thriller and the director makes that emptiness and subsequent confusion the focus of his attention. William Monahan’s script, adapted from David Ignatius’ novel of the same name, points the way, anchoring the story to the uneasy relationship between Leonardo DiCaprio’s Farris, a nimble, dutiful CIA agent, and his handler, Hoffman (Russell Crowe), a Southern boy who often undermines Farris’ good work for a chance at a bigger target or to assert militaristic and intelligence dominance in Jordan. The man on the ground barely sleeps, has friends and close contacts killed abruptly, and must take ludicrous missions with the full knowledge that his overseers are just going to do what they want anyway, while the boss just laughs, makes a vague threat, and enjoys a largely leisurely life. It’s a cynical view of these wars and the people who run them but then, how else are you supposed to see them? At the heart of the story is yet another treatise on the dangers of ambition in the guise of greedy, hungry Hoffman, but few (if any) Scott films feel so angry and politically opinionated. What sets Body of Lies apart, despite some glaring issues, is how clear-eyed Monahan and Scott are in facing the confusion of the war and its not-so-secret reasoning, as well as the rage that is too often ignored until its too late.

8) 'American Gangster'

Image via Universal

Scott’s most consistently rousing movie in the crime genre, elevated by a majestic, forceful performance from Denzel Washington. The director and the star collaborate to tell the story of Frank Lucas, the international drug kingpin who shipped Vietnamese heroin back to the states in the coffins of dead soldiers. His rise, which Scott recounts vigorously and with bountiful stretches of humor, is also the rise of black entrepreneurship in a business that was spearheaded, maintained, and constantly demonized by old white men who have done more drugs than most Motley Crue members. That fact is never too far from Scott’s mind or Steve Zaillian’s, who adapted the script from Mark Jacobson’s stunning article, and it makes the difference in the storytelling, even when the focus shifts to Detective Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe), the cop who eventually nailed Lucas’ entire operation. One could easily dismiss the entire production an homage to 1970s New Hollywood films from New York, what with its well-researched, lovely set design and wardrobe, and sprawling, wildly talented cast. To watch it again, a decade later, the movie does not feel like the tip of the cap. Rather, it feels like a far more defiant type of hand gesture.

7) 'The Martian'

Image via 20th Century Fox

Easily the funniest movie on this list. Drew Goddard, the man behind The Cabin in the Woods and a contributor to NBC’s fantastic The Good Place, adapted Andy Weir’s beloved bestseller with enough sarcasm, insight, and research that Scott really didn’t have to get too creative to make the movie work. And yet, this story of an astronaut, Mark Watney (Matt Damon), who gets marooned on Mars brings out a breeziness in Scott that has largely evaded him elsewhere in his career. Similar light tones can be found in A Good Year and Matchstick Men, but mostly as a pretense for a zero hour bait-and-switch that leads toward darker terrain without the insight to back it up. This is not true of The Martian, which builds out from Watney as a character intent on survival to become a kind of galactic Western, where a community of scientists and technicians must come together to save him. Scott doesn’t get too fancy with the imagery but this film, more than any of his others, doesn’t feel entirely preordained or mapped exclusively by the mechanism of the plot. It’s about as close as Scott has ever gotten to a character study but it functions most prominently (and wonderfully) as a rollicking space adventure.

6) 'Alien: Covenant'

Image via 20th Century Fox

This turned out to be one of Scott’s more divisive pictures. Detractors will rightfully question the logic (or sanity) of anyone manning a mission to an unknown planet in this fashion. Boosters, such as this writer, will point to the roaring ideas about creation and electrifying advances in the origin story of the Xenomorphs. For me, this was the first film since the much-maligned Alien 3 that had some genuinely furious things to say underneath its stylish monster movie trappings. Unlike his own maker, who despised him for his relative immortality, David sees the creatures he developed and the morbid work he’s done as progress, whether they overtake him or not. Where David was made to serve without consideration, Xenomorphs were bred to conquer and devour. Does what you make destroy you either way? Scott’s not a particularly personal director but in his best movies, he reckons with the personal stakes of being a well-funded, globally recognized artist working in the mainstream and the ill effects that your work can have long after the celebrating is done. The unsettling, obsessive certainty that is required to do such work is in David and as the movie ends with him about to start another project, it’s hard not to feel a sense of grim resignation in Scott’s persona.

5) 'Thelma & Louise'

Image via MGM

Arguably the most pure and lively film in the Scott canon. Where so many of Scott’s films are overshadowed by the hook of their premise and the allure of design, Thelma & Louise is notably earthbound, following Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon’s titular outlaw diptych who hit the road in search of freedom from know-nothing, no-good men, of which there seems to be an awful lot of all around. At the time of its release, this was seen as a genuine risk, and it paid off in Scott’s favor. In 1991, the movie made $45 million off of a $16 million budget, and spawned a variety of catchphrases that proliferated on sitcoms, late night talk shows, and bad big-screen comedies. Despite the movie being known more for big scenes and snippets of dialogue more than its actual quality, Sarandon and Davis make the movie a resiliently enthralling viewing experience. It’s their chemistry that give the movie life, and Scott smartly puts them at the center of nearly every scene. Harvey Keitel, Brad Pitt, and Michael Madsen are all very good in supporting roles, but the film’s power almost inevitably lies with its leads.

4) 'The Counselor'

Image via 20th Century Fox

A truly nasty piece of work, and I mean that in the best possible way. Scott portrays the brutal, bare-bones capitalism of the drug trade as an cutthroat, merciless machine of efficiency, and his frustrating taste for tight, plot-centric pacing actually comes in handy here. Much like the events that are set in motion after Michael Fassbender’s dirty lawyer gets in on a drug deal that goes south, Scott’s film moves without much care for the emotional relationships involved, spilling much of their blood as the movie comes to its harrowing conclusion. Cormac McCarthy’s severe script familiarly paints these characters primarily in the deeds that they do to advance and secure their money, but he also doesn’t lack for flavor. This is, after all, the movie where Cameron Diaz fucks Javier Bardem’s car in the middle of the night. Scott’s flair for cynicism has held back other projects but in detailing the insidious nature of dirty money, few films seem to seethe with such visceral anger and bitterness at the effects of a society based off of a slightly cuddlier version of this kind of transaction.

3) 'The Duellists'

Image via Paramount Pictures

The only time Scott seemed to genuinely highlight the absurdity of rivalries and warfare while also taking stock of its cornerstone in not just international relations but most social behavior. Keith Carradine and Harvey Keitel, both distinctly charming and enthralling as Napoleonic officers D’Hubert and Feraud, face-off against one another through the years, as their professional and personal lives hit their peaks and valleys. It’s one of Scott’s shortest films and its weird to say this, but it really does make a difference. At 100 minutes, The Duellists is a far better film in terms of pacing than Blade Runner or The Counseolor, and it doesn’t weigh down the exhilarating, tense action with too much empty melodrama. Does it live up to Joseph Conrad’s short story “The Duel,” which its based on? No, not even close, but its easy to see how this raised the eyebrows of more than a few major studios and proved his mastery of classical filmmaking. It’s an angry and surprisingly political film from a young director who has something to prove, but you can see the technical genius working as efficiently here as he does in Alien: Covenant.

2) 'Blade Runner'

Image via Warner Bros.

The things that were exciting about the best silent-era spectacles, from Metropolis to Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, are most of the same things that make Blade Runner so remarkable. This, more than even Alien, is where Scott’s talent for meticulous yet immediate world-building is evident, and he sets a moody, apocalyptic tone from early on. The hit against Scott’s vision is that its all surface and no detail, that there’s a lack of definition in the gears of how this world works. Blade Runner likely would have been a better and certainly longer movie with this addition, but the lack of definition, save for a few crucial flashes of the future society’s mechanics, is also key to what Scott’s getting at in the movie. Dekker is not some misunderstood hero but rather an empty, angry, and confused killer, one who has taken his titular role in an effort to deny the very idea that he might be a replicant.


This goes way beyond whether or not its ever confirmed if Dekker is a replicant. That’s almost besides the point. The majestic, enigmatic, and cold landscape of the city hides a world built on little more than survival and money, and Dekker’s charming visage hides a similar selfish and singular compulsion. In the face of the liberation that the replicants find in killing their overseers, rebelling against all-powerful godlike corporations and societal norms, Dekker seems to be in awe as much as he’s on the hunt. He’s probably more than a little jealous of Rutger Hauer when he talks about the sights he’s seen, but something holds him back. These aren’t things I thought about Blade Runner on first watch. When you first watch, its hard not to see Dekker as the good guy with the cool name, played by Indiana Jones and Han Solo. Its entirely fitting that a movie so concerned with how androids will sleep, dream, and remember seems to never quite be the movie you remember it to be.

1) 'Alien'

Image via 20th Century Fox

The amount of movies that have essentially duplicated the plot of Scott’s magnum opus is frankly innumerable, and that’s if you only count the American rip-offs. Earlier this year, Life came out and did little more than try to get a bit more accurate about what a realistic alien life-form would look like to advance on Alien’s structure. To put it another way, it was Alien without the imagination and without the nimble world-building.

Life certainly isn’t the worst photocopy of Scott’s brooding, caustic science-fiction epic, but its mild success speaks to the longevity and popularity of Scott’s narrative. Dan O’Bannon’s script smartly underlines the blue-collar nature of the work on the spaceship Nostromo, and Scott never overplays his hand or holds back too much. The creature is elusive but not conspicuously so, and the gory bits are memorable without tripping over into splatter territory. Tom Skerrit, Sigourney Weaver, John Hurt, and Yaphet Kotto make their characters feel lived-in and relatable, despite the impossibilities of the scenario and the relative scarce amount of dialogue that exists outside of plot-building. The imagery is at once stirring and inventive but never overwhelms the paranoid tempo that Scott fashions with his numerous editors.

These are all good reasons to love Alien but it really doesn’t get at why Alien has survived and remains such a riveting watch. The truth is that the movie works so well because it’s open and clear about the helplessness of such a situation. Our heroes do not have a particularly good move outside of sacrificing their own lives, and that idea only dawns on them when there are three or four of them left. The isolation and horror of the crew’s predicament is matched only by the unmistakable feeling of discovery, of being genuinely amazed by the very thing that could be your end. For a director that has often harped on the duel nature of discovery and ambition, Alien comes off like a sort of manifesto.

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