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'Blade Runner' director Ridley Scott turns 85

Jochen Kürten sb | Sven Töniges
November 30, 2022

The prodigious British director is still making bold, big budget, cult films like "Alien" and "Gladiator" that have marked his 45-year career.

Ridley Scott on the set of Black Rain (1989).
Ridley Scott on the set of 'Black Rain' (1989) Image: picture-alliance/kpa

"I've seen things that you people wouldn't believe." A final sentence uttered by an artificial human in the face of death to a replicant-hunter, Rutger Hauer's soliloquy to Harrison Ford in the finale of Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner" is still, 40 years after it premiered, ever-present in the minds of moviegoers.

Harrison Ford in Ridley Scott's cult classic film, "Blade Runner."
Harrison Ford in Ridley Scott's cult classic film 'Blade Runner' Image: mago/AGD

Unlike later Oscar-winning blockbusters like "Gladiator," the dystopian thriller from 1982 was not immediately embraced by critics. Yet Scott's visionary sci-fi film is arguably best-remembered by fans of a director who has successfully tackled multiple movie genres across four decades.   

His upcoming film will see Joaquin Phoenix as Napoleon

Scott learned his trade in television and advertising and only began directing at the age of 40. Since then he has been directing feature films in Great Britain and Hollywood for 45 years - that makes a total of 85. That's how old Scott will be on November 30, 2022. It's hard to believe, really, that he's still around and directing. Several projects are still in the works, such as the historical drama "Napoleon," co-produced by the streaming service Apple+.

The fact that a man of this age is still able to direct legions of people on a film set is an achievement in itself. His more recent films, "Alien: Covenant," "The Martian," "Exodus: Gods and Kings" and "House of Gucci" were anything but quiet works of old age. They offered what Scott is famous for: great sets and exquisite animation. They are star-studded films that know how to overwhelm, just by their visual brilliance.

Cult masterpieces

Sir Ridley Scott — he was knighted by the Queen in 2003 — was born in South Shields, a small port town in northeast England. His rapid ascent into Hollywood's filmmaking elite, while based partly on box office successes like 1979's "Alien," was mostly founded on films with cult appeal. He also had to cope with a few commercial setbacks, but this did not harm his directing career in the long term.

Before "Blade Runner," the sci-fi horror epic "Alien" had already cemented Scott's reputation for bold cinematic innovation, a renown that continued with later works like "Thelma & Louise," "Kingdom of Heaven," and even the ancient action saga "Gladiator."

Scene from the film "Gladiator" starring actor Russell Crowe.
Russell Crowe in 'Gladiator,' which won 5 OscarsImage: imago

An unfeeling 'visual hypnotist'?

But Scott has often been accused of focusing too much on stunning visuals and innovative cinematic technique, including extended tracking shots with armies of extras. As a result, his films look incredible but are said to sometimes lack heart.

As a German critic put it once, Scott is "a beautiful but cold filmmaker." His "posthuman" stories can fail to connect with real human emotions.

Reviewing "Blade Runner," American critic Pauline Kael famously wrote that the film "has nothing to give the audience... it hasn't been thought out in human terms." Nonetheless, Kael had to admit that the director was a "visual hypnotist."

Whether one agrees with this aspect of Scott's filmmaking, few could dismiss the narrative density and visionary power of the Crusades epic "Kingdom of Heaven," or 2001's "Black Hawk Down" — and his ability to effortlessly switch between genres.

Ridley Scott on the set of Black Rain (1989).
Ridley Scott on the set of 'Black Rain' (1989) Image: picture-alliance/kpa

Scott is known for shooting his often visually stunning films unusually quickly. It took him just 43 days to make the feature film "All the Money in the World," Scott told U.S. magazine Vanity Fair in October 2017. “I'm super fast," the director added.

A little later, Scott reacted with lightning speed to a scandal involving actor Kevin Spacey who was cast in the role of aging oil tycoon J. Paul Getty and was accused of sexual harassment. In an unprecedented step, Scott decided to cut Spacey's scenes from the film and reshoot them with a new actor, Christopher Plummer. The film was released on schedule in December of that year.

Read more: Kevin Spacey cut from a new Ridley Scott movie a month before release

Ridley Scott (right) has cut Kevin Spacey from his latest film, "All The Money in the World."
Ridley Scott (right) has cut Kevin Spacey from his latest film, 'All The Money in the World'Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo

Where is the Oscar for Ridley Scott?

Despite many films and awards, Ridley Scott is yet to win an Oscar. He has already been nominated three times in the directing category — in 1992 (for his road movie "Thelma & Louise"), in 2001 (for "Gladiator") and in 2002 (for the war thriller "Black Hawk Down"). At the moment, Ridley Scott is in the middle of post-production — and the film industry is puzzling over whether Apple TV+ will bring the eagerly awaited prestige project to theaters before the end of the year. That would be a prerequisite for "Napoleon" to be in the 2023 Oscar race.

This is an updated version of a 2017 portrait.