The Good, The Bad & The Badass: Tony Scott

Last week, we took at look at the career of the legendary Lee Marvin. This week's subject is no-less legendary, being one of the most successful action movie directors of all time…

Tony Scott


It's stunning and sad think that that Tony Scott has been dead a full three years now. His passing took all of his fans by surprise with him still seeming so vital as a director and with seemingly dozens of projects in some stage of development, including a potential sequel to TOP GUN (which is only now moving forward). Along with his brother Ridley, Tony Scott is one of the definitive Hollywood directors of the eighties/nineties, having done much to establish the style and tenor of the modern action movie. It's tough to overestimate just how influential he was. Even though it came out nearly thirty years ago, the ultra-cool, super-stylized vibe of TOP GUN is still in vogue. A few years ago, Paramount gave the film a fancy IMAX 3D upgrade – proving just how much the studio is still invested in its legacy (thankfully this is one film that seems relatively safe from ever getting a remake).

If he had only made TOP GUN, Scott's place in the pantheon of great action directors would be assured, but Scott regularly cranked out action epics. He could always be relied upon to upgrade even formulaic thrillers like DEJA VU and UNSTOPPABLE, but when he was operating at full-steam on movies like CRIMSON TIDE, ENEMY OF THE STATE, MAN ON FIRE and more, there were very few directors out there that could compare to him. He was simply one of the best and a favorite of some of Hollywood's most dynamic leading men, including Tom Cruise and Denzel Washington (with whom he made five films) and producers (Jerry Bruckheimer arguably owes the house-style of his company to him). He never really got much in the way of critical respect, with a common criticism being that he valued flash over substance, without them realizing that flash was his substance and that was just the way the people who made the movies gross hundred of millions liked it.

His Best Film

While I have a soft spot for TOP GUN due mostly to the fact that it was such a childhood favorite of mine, it can't be denied that Scott's best movie is without a doubt TRUE ROMANCE. A super-sexy, flashy, thriller-romance, the marriage of Tony Scott's vision to Quentin Tarantino's screenplay was a match made in movie-heaven, even if the film actually flopped theatrically – only to turn into a massive cult-classic years later. Now it's beloved, with dozens of classic sequences, two extremely likable lead performances by Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette, and one of the best supporting casts in Hollywood history, with scene-stealing turns by Dennis Hopper, Christopher Walken, Val Kilmer (as the ghost of Elvis Presley), Tom Sizemore, Chris Penn, Bronson Pinchot, and even a young Brad Pitt. It's a pop-art masterpiece and one of my all-time favorites.

His Most Underrated Film

Tony Scott made a whole bunch of underrated movies. While BEVERLY HILLS COP II, THE LAST BOY SCOUT, THE FAN and especially the much-maligned DOMINO are all under-valued, one of his best movies is actually the little-seen 1990 thriller REVENGE. An atypically violent and sexy Kevin Costner vehicle, REVENGE was a huge flop originally even though it had some vocal admirers, including Quentin Tarantino. The film's reputation has improved a lot since Scott released his harsh director's cut, which reinstated a lot violence he was forced to cut by the studio and a really hot sex scene between Costner and the gorgeous Madeleine Stowe that could have landed the film an NC-17 rating. If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend checking it out. Costner is very tough in the lead role, while Anthony Quinn is a memorably conflicted villain. The film also has a very unconventional ending for an action flick that I'm shocked Scott was able to push through the studio. It all ads up to a really solid action-thriller/romance and one that I revisit pretty often.

His Most Overrated Film

When I wrote that Scott never really got his critical due, towards the end of his career the critics started to come around a bit and many raved about his remake of THE TAKING OF PELHAM 123. I've never been a huge fan of it as the original Walter Matthau-vehicle was a far-superior thriller that never really needed a reboot and felt like a bit of a minor addition to his filmography. It's not bad – it's just not that great either.

His Best Scene

Now, obviously I had to devote this category to TRUE ROMANCE but the question was, which scene in a movie full of great scenes should I highlight? The obvious choice would probably be the Christopher WalkenDennis Hopper scene (although a strong case could also be made for the Patricia ArquetteJames Gandolfini fight) but in the end I opted for Christian Slater's bad-ass throw-down with Gary Oldman's memorably dread-locked pimp, Drexl. 

His Five Best Films


Up Next

Scott's passing leaves behind a huge hole in contemporary action filmmaking, but his style is still ultra-fashionable, with him clearly having a big influence on directors like Joe Carnahan, Christopher Nolan and more. Three years later, Scott is still very missed but his legacy lives on.


About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.