The Best Ridley Scott Movies and Where to Stream Them

Over the course of his 40-year-long career, Ridley Scott has managed to do things no other director has ever done. His groundbreaking work on films like Alien and Blade Runner forever changed the scope of science fiction, influencing numerous films, television shows, comic books, video games, and anime that followed, illustrating the new directions you could take with science fiction.

A bold visionary, Scott's films are usually grand in scale, such as his historical epics like Gladiator or Kingdom of Heaven, exploring numerous existential themes, such as mortality, fate, faith, artificial intelligence and technology, and characters' complex relationships and ability to bond with one another, such as a distant father and his daughter (Matchstick Men) or the friendships that exist between soldiers (Black Hawk Down).

The Best Ridley Scott Movies and Where to Stream Them

In a career that has spanned over four decades, Scott has directed some of the most well-known movies of modern cinema, as well as releasing some films that were, admittedly, far from great (don't even get us started on the heartache that is Robin Hood). With Scott's new projects, The Last Duel and House Gucci, set to be released within the remainder of the year, we thought we'd take a look back at some of Scott's best films, and provide information about where they are currently streaming.

Alien

Ridley Scott Movies Alien
Courtesy of 20th Century Fox/Courtesy Everett Collection

Flashback for a second to 1977. Star Wars has just come out and changed literally everything in both film and science fiction. With studios beginning to see the economic potential for action-adventure sci-fi movies, the market became quickly saturated with Star Wars-rip offs (heck, even James Bond went full-out Star Wars in that near-unwatchable mess, Moonraker). Then, in 1979, Ridley Scott released Alien, a science fiction horror movie that instantly became an overnight classic.

The film Scott is likely most associated with, Alien follows a space crew who answer a strange distress signal, and encounter a hostile alien lifeform that soon breaks loose on their ship and begins hunting the crew down one by one.

One of the most iconic sci-fi movies ever made, Alien has been acclaimed for its slow-paced, methodical approach to horror with sudden instances of shocking violence, its atmospheric tone and design (the Alien itself remains likely one of the easily-recognizable creatures in science fiction, probably even more so than E.T.), Scott's direction, and the believable performances of the actors involved—Sigourney Weaver's Ripley became a feminist icon and one of the most beloved protagonists in sci-fi and horror.

At its heart, Scott took an utterly terrifying idea (going out in the middle of space with nothing but a few walls separating you from the infinite cold, silent, dark space?) and made it all the more horrifying by adding in a hostile alien who has acid for blood, razor-sharp teeth, and a breeding method that involves infant aliens forcefully bursting out of your chest. The film is consistently ranked as one of Scott's best, and after seeing it, it's easy to see why.

Streaming on Hulu (premium subscription required)

Blade Runner

Ridley Scott Movies Blade Runner
Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Ridley Scott sure likes to make multiple edited cuts of the same movie. Just as it would be the case with virtually every one of his films that followed (Kingdom of Heaven, Legend, Black Hawk Down, Gladiator, The Martian), Scott's groundbreaking neo-noir dystopian film Blade Runner has seen an almost overwhelming number of alternative cuts and edited versions (seven, in total). The central story present in each edit is the same: Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is an expert detective tasked with identifying and “retiring” —IE killing—hyper-realistic androids who have become self-aware and escape into the world.

When he is tasked with hunting down a group of military-grade, ultra-intelligent androids, Deckard confronts the morality of his job and his complex feelings towards an android he develops romantic feelings towards (Sean Young).

While pretty much every version of the film is largely enjoyable, for our money, Scott's 2007 re-edited version, dubbed The Final Cut, is the definitive version of the film. The version that Scott had complete creative control over, The Final Cut best represents Scott's original vision for Blade Runner, full of smog-clouded streets clogged with people, monolithic neon-lit buildings, and an in-depth exploration of technology, mortality, artificial intelligence, and human emotion.

One of the greatest sci-fi movies ever made, the film also includes fantastic acting from Ford (although known for Star Wars and Indiana Jones, Ford might give his best performance in this film) and his co-star Rutger Hauer (whose final speech is still considered one of the best monologues in film), an awe-inspiring soundtrack by Vangelis, and numerous breath-taking shots and visuals that pay homage to classic noir films, but are brilliantly adapted to a sci-fi setting.

Streaming on Netflix

Gladiator

Gladiator Ridley Scott Movies
Courtesy of Dream Works/Everett Collection

On paper, Gladiator doesn't really bring anything new to the Roman Era sword-and-sandal historical epics of the 1950s' that it's heavily inspired by (movies like Spartacus, Julius Caesar, Ben-Hur, etc.) However, the modern filmmaking techniques Scott brings to the table and the increased amount of adult themes he explores in the movie (realistic violence, more explicit sexual content—you know, stuff they really couldn't get away with showing in the 1950s') helped establish a new era for the genre, paving the way for similarly updated historical epics set during the Roman and Greek eras such as 300, Troy, and Alexander.

None of those movies came close to capturing the same acclaim that Gladiator did. The film stars Russell Crowe as the highly accomplished Roman general, Maximus, whom the Emperor, Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris) greatly favors as a potential successor.

When the Emperor's son, the unstable Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix), hears this, he kills his father, and orders Maximus and his family also killed to secure his inheritance as the new emperor. Escaping from the new Emperor's forces, Maximus is captured and sold into slavery, eventually becoming a gladiator in the Colosseum, all the while plotting his vengeance.

An old-fashioned story of revenge, full of fantastic sword fights and battle scenes in and out of the Colosseum, the modern style Scott brings to this film is what really set it apart and makes it enjoyable, full of fantastic framing and tight shots juxtaposing the close-quarters combat with the vast stadium seating of the arena. After its release, Gladiator won numerous awards, including Oscars for Best Picture, Best Actor (Crowe), Best Costume Design, Best Sound, and Best Visual Effects, and continues to rank favorably among Scott's lengthy filmography.

Streaming on Netflix

Matchstick Men

Matchstick Men
Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Probably the most underrated movie of Scott's career, Matchstick Men is easily Scott's funniest movie to date. A dark comedy based on the Eric Garcia novel of the same name, Matchstick Men follows a pair of small-time con artists, veteran conman Roy (Nicholas Cage) and his protégé Frank (Sam Rockwell), who is still learning the trade from his far more experienced partner.

While they run a successful operation initially, Roy's mental problems (including severe OCD and agoraphobia) soon disrupt their work, forcing Roy to seek the help of a psychiatrist who believes Roy's problems can be fixed by reconnecting with his 14-year-old daughter who he has never met before (Alison Lohman). In a lot of ways, Matchstick Men feels like a spiritual successor to Paper Moon, another great movie featuring a con artist father (Ryan O'Neal) partnering with his young daughter (O'Neal's daughter in real-life, Tatum O’Neal). Anchored by great performances from the three principal actors, like all conmen movies, it also leaves you constantly wondering who exactly is conning who throughout.

We're not exactly sure why this film doesn't rank higher on many other critics' “best of Ridley Scott lists” (maybe because it's a lot more grounded and realistic than his usual lengthy historical epics), but it's a shame that it doesn't—this really is Ridley Scott at his best and funniest, and makes you wish that he focused on comedic films more often.

Streaming on HBO Max

Thelma & Louise

Thelma Louise
Courtesy of MGM

When people think of Ridley Scott, they tend to automatically associate the director with bigger, ambitious movies dealing with either historical and science fiction subject matter. Scott's other projects, though, namely those that follow smaller, more grounded storylines than his usual epics, tend to be highly overlooked or not receive enough praise as his larger-scale projects.

While Thelma & Louise certainly is a great movie that does receive a lot of attention and praise, it's not the first movie that immediately comes to mind when one hears Scott's name. Following the titular duo played by Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon, Thelma & Louise follows two friends who embark on a long journey across several states while being hunted by the police for killing a would-be rapist.

A modern-day road movie equivalent to Bonnie and Clyde with a story focused more on friendship and feminist values and themes, Thelma & Louise was applauded for its exploration of a female narrative, going on to win numerous awards, including an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, as well as Academy Award nominations for Best Director and Best Actress (Sarandon and Davis).

Streaming on YouTube (free with ads)

Black Hawk Down

Black Hawk Down
Courtesy of Sony Pictures

The early 2000s' was a pretty good period for Ridley Scott. He kicked off the new millennium with the award-winning Gladiator, then made another critically appraised film afterwards (a largely disappointing sequel to The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal, was filmed in between).

A war film based on the nonfiction book of the same name, Black Hawk Down dramatizes the 1993 US Army raid in Mogadishu that saw a combined force of Army Rangers and special operations personnel attempt to restore a secure government in Somalia and provide food to starving civilians. The movie features a huge ensemble cast of actors, with notable appearances by Josh Hartnett, Ewan McGregor, Eric Bana, Tom Sizemore, William Fichtner, Sam Shepard, and Jason Isaacs, all of whom are just great in this movie (as they usually are in everything they appear in).

While the film did face some slight backlash for its historical inaccuracies, it was more or less met with a positive reception, and won two Academy Awards, Best Film Editing and Best Sound. Admittedly, if you're not a fan of war films, this might not be the movie for you.

The film opens with about thirty minutes of exposition and setup, and the rest of it is pretty much nonstop shooting and explosions (although it presents such things with much more taste and heartfeltness than typical shoot-‘em-ups like Rambo; watching it, you end up wincing or flinching every time a bullet nearly hits one of the main cast, and feel legitimate sadness when one of the soldiers is killed).

Streaming on HBO Max

The Martian

The Martian
Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

After a string of films that underperformed critically for about 10 years, Scott returned to his peak form with his 2015 hard science fiction project, The Martian. Based on the best-selling novel by Andy Weir, the film follows a lone astronaut (Matt Damon) accidentally left behind on Mars by his team and who must now survive on his own, all the while trying to contact Earth so that they send rescue.

Thanks to his earlier films like Alien and Blade Runner, Ridley Scott is a name closely associated with sci-fi, and seeing him return to the genre that made his career was a welcome sight. The faithfulness to the source material that Scott took adapting Weir's novel could've been a disaster, with audiences' eyes glazing over at the scientifically accurate discussions of space travel or hearing Damon's astronaut talk about the botanical logistics of growing potatoes on Mars, but Scott manages to shuffle between three fascinating plotlines (Damon's survivor story, his team coming to terms with unknowingly abandoning him and then resolving to save him, and NASA trying to figure out a way to bring him back) in a way that keeps the plot constantly moving forward.

It's a welcome addition to Scott's science fiction projects, and while it may not be as suspenseful or engrossing as Alien or Blade Runner, it still makes for a very interesting watch.

Streaming on Hulu (premium subscription required)

Kingdom of Heaven

Kingdom of Heaven
Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

There's a critical distinction to make between the Kingdom of Heaven theatrical cut and Kingdom of Heaven the director's cut. Like many of the director's other released movies, Scott has overseen the production of a few edited versions of this film, with the severely chopped down, far less entertaining shorter version being the one shown in theaters. Whereas the theatrical cut is a choppy mess full of poorly defined, inconsistent characters and an overall story that's hard to follow, Scott's director's cut greatly expands the main narrative.

In both versions of the movie, the film revolves around a 12th-century blacksmith (Orlando Bloom) who travels to Jerusalem in order to defend the Holy City against the Muslim Sultan, Saladin during the Crusades. On par with Scott's other historical epics, the three-plus hour director's cut stretches the film's storyline into a masterpiece, chronicling the lengthy journey of a humble commoner (Bloom) struggling to come to terms with his faith, as well showcasing the conflicts and ultimate peace that might coexist between individuals of varying religious beliefs.

While Orlando Bloom isn't exactly the best actor to take the lead on a film of this size and subject matter, coming off pretty flatly and with a subpar emotional range, the movie manages to redeem itself by excellent performances from supporting cast members like Liam Nesson, Edward Norton, Eva Green, Jeremy Irons, Ghassan Massoud, and David Thewlis. Just make sure you watch the director’s cut of this one — don’t settle for anything less.

Not currently streaming, but can be rented on Prime Video

The Duellists

The Duellists
Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Scott's newest film, The Last Duel, seems to have more than a few similarities to his directorial debut, The Duellists. Based on a short story by Joseph Conrad, The Duellists tells the story of a pair of Napoleonic Era French officers (Harvey Keitel and Keith Carradine) who continuously duel each other multiple times over the years.

Released when Scott was 40-years-old, The Duellists is a movie clearly based around the style of Stanley Kubrick's earlier Barry Lyndon on a notably much smaller scale (Lyndon was three and a half hours whereas The Duellists is an hour and forty minutes), but on its own, The Duellists manages to be a largely entertaining film and a very impressive debut work. Included are themes that would become central points of interest that Scott continued to explore in later movies, such as the meaning of life and general concerns about mortality (there's an excellent scene where Keitel's character's life flashes before his eyes as he nearly loses a duel). It's a decent period film that also illustrates another of Scott's interests (historical films) that would again become a recurring area of interest for Scott to flesh out further in his filmography.

You may have to look pretty hard to see Scott's style in this film, but from its content, themes, homages to Kubrick, and some bold artistic choices (namely creative shot types used during the actual dueling sequences), you can see his fingerprints all over it.

Not currently streaming, but can be rented on Prime Video

Alien: Covenant

Ridley Scott Movies
Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

No doubt this will be a controversial pick to appear on a list titled “Ridley Scott's best movies.” Scott's efforts to create an origin series to his most popular film, Alien, leading up to the events of his 1979 classic, have been received with a somewhat lukewarm response. The first film of his new trilogy, Prometheus, was criticized for having a nonsense script with equally idiotic, nonsensical characters.

Its sequel, Alien: Covenant, received an only somewhat more favorable response from critics and fans, with some enjoying the existential themes depicted in the film—such as discussions about humanity's origins and where it's going to go next in terms of interplanetary travel, and whether it'll be able to coexist with other lifeforms—and others believing it a bit on the pretentious side. The plot of Alien: Covenant follows a group of intergalactic colonists traveling from Earth who find a remote planet they believe might be habitable. As they continue to explore their potential new home, however, they soon encounter a horrifying threat endangering the entire group.

It's more of an individual opinion regarding your thoughts on Alien: Covenant are, but either way, you can't deny the movie's strong points, especially Michael Fassbender's performance as David, the cynical, unstable android who's become essentially the Alien franchise's equivalent of Dr. Frankenstein, and Walter, the much more benevolent, conventional, newer model android who is just beginning to question his own programming and whether he's capable of emotion. Alien: Covenant might not be everyone's cup of tea, but at the very least, it's far better than Prometheus.

Streaming on Hulu (premium subscription required)

Final Thoughts

Ridley Scott's impact on science fiction and film, in general, cannot be understated. For his work on movies like Alien and Blade Runner, his influence on science fiction is equal to that of his contemporaries, George Lucas and James Cameron. His larger historical epics, like Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, and Kingdom of Heaven, also continue to win notable acclaim from viewers and award associations alike, as do Scott's smaller, more grounded projects like Thelma & Louise.

With Scott's newer projects, the historical epic The Last Duel, and the biographical crime film, House of Gucci, set for release on October 15 and November 24 respectively, we're as curious as anyone to see how these two movies will fit into Scott's already impressive filmography. For those looking for other Scott films worth your time, we also really enjoyed his vastly underrated 2013 collaboration with novelist Cormac McCarthy (one of the best writers currently living), The Counselor, and his 2007 biographical crime film, American Gangster.

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Richard Chachowski is a freelance writer based in New Jersey. He loves reading, his dog Tootsie, and pretty much every movie to ever exist (especially Star Wars).