Ridley Scott cut his showbiz teeth as a British Broadcasting Corporation set designer and TV commercial director in the 1960s and 1970s, during which he was the eye and mind behind some of the most groundbreaking European commercials of the time. But North American audiences would be largely unaware of the Briton’s talent and unique visual flair until his breakout film, Alien, which scared moviegoers silly when it hit theaters in 1979.
The movie, which starred relative unknown Sigourney Weaver and whose movie poster tagline was the ominous, “In space no one can hear you scream”, was a visually chilling, claustrophobic mix of the horror and sci-fi genres. It also forecasted a possible future, and perhaps allegorized a present, in which super-corporations viewed humans as dispensable and would go to any length to harvest potential biological weapons, i.e., the acid-blooded, whip-tailed alien that would become Sigourney Weaver’s nemesis throughout Alien Saga. Alien also gave us one of Scott’s trademarks: an iron-jawed female lead.
Ridley Scott was born in Northumberland, England, on November 30, 1937. He studied at both the Hartlepool College of Art and London’s Royal College of Art, and then embarked on his set designing and directing career. One of his first and most successful directing achievements was the British police show “Z Cars“.
He would then go on to win the prestigious Best First Feature Film award at Cannes for The Duellist (1977), an ambitious, arresting Napoleonic War-era drama that foretold the grandness of vision Scott would display in later work.
After the storied making and success of Alien at the box office, Scott would then create BladeRunner (1982), an adaptation of sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep”, about artificially intelligent robots who rebel against their human makers and embark on a quest for meaning. Famously, Scott acquiesced to the studio’s demands that he edit certain sequences and insert a voiceover to make the film more accessible. Though the film initially received a lukewarm response, it would later be hailed as one of the best sci-fi films ever made, especially with the release of the director’s cut.
After the visually-stunning but uneven Legend (1985) and ho-hum Someone to Watch Over Me (1987), Scott had hits with Black Rain (1989) and Thelma and Louise (1991), though some critics saw the anti-Japanese bent of the former as pandering to cheap, jingoistic sentiment.
Not immune to the occasional flop and disappointment, Scott then made the expensive and unpopular 1492: Conquest of Paradise (1992) and White Squall (1996). 1997 brought something of a comeback in G.I. Jane, in which Demi Moore plays a soldier trying to become the first woman Navy Seal. Scott would then produce 1998’s Clay Pigeons (1998) and the TV movies “RKO 281” (1999) and “The Last Debate” (2000).
Scott returned to the big screen with Gladiator (2000), the blockbuster Roman Empire-set actioner starring Russell Crowe. The film won the Best Picture Oscar® and Crowe, playing the Roman General-turned-gladiator Maximus, won Best Actor.
Scott’s subsequent projects included the gruesome Hannibal (2001), the based-on-real-events Black Hawk Down (2001) and the comedy Matchstick Men (2003). Scott was knighted in 2003 and in 2005 brought the Crusades to the big screen in Kingdom of Heaven.
Scott shows no signs of slowing down either, he’s worked with Russell Crowe on several films since Gladiator including A Good Year (2006) and Body of Lies (2008). 2015 saw one of the biggest hits of Scott’s career so far with the Matt Damon starring The Martian. He’s also planning a sequel to Blade Runner for release in 2017.
Scott still keeps his hand on commercials too, taking directing duties on the commercial for Lady Gaga’s “fame” fragance in 2012.