Harrison Ford emerged from the eighties as the biggest male movie star in the world. Films made by no less than Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, Roman Polanski, Ridley Scott, Peter Weir and George Lucas made the actor an international superstar, and an array of fine performances silenced his critics about his abilities as an actor. His first great film work came in the wonderful nostalgia film ‘American Grafitti’ (1973) and then he was cast as space pirate Han Solo in the original three Star Wars (1977-80-83), making him a household name. But incredibly that was not the peak just yet. His bull whip cracking Indiana Jones in ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ (1981) put him into the stratosphere of actors. With the fame that came with those films, came offers from international directors to work with them.
He was Oscar nominated as the tough cop John Book hiding among the Amish in Witness (1985) and the following year gave his finest, and most daring performance in The Mosquito Coast (1986). Both films were directed by Peter Weir, who challenged Ford to go where he had not ever gone as an actor. Sequels followed with Ford reprising his role as Indiana Jones, and he continued to explore as an actor. Dabbling in romantic comedy, he was superb in ‘Working Girl’ (1988), gave a smashing good performance as a wrongly accused lawyer in ‘Presumed Innocent’ (1990), and as he got older he seemed to deepen as an actor.
Moving easily between major box office far such as ‘Regarding Henry’ (1991), ‘Sabrina’ (1995), ‘Air Force One’ (1997), and a rare role as the villain in ‘What Lies Beneath’ (2000) and small films that challenged him as an artist, he has remained on top for four decades now. Fine work in ’42’ (2014) as the baseball manager who took a chance on Jackie Robinson and changed history should have earned him another Oscar nod, but he was ignored. He has in the last ten years reprised his most famous roles, as Indiana Jones in ‘Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’ (2008), as Han Solo in ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)’, and best of all as Deckart in the stunning sequel ‘Blade Runner 2049’ (2017).
He is that rare actor who has returned to the same character many times, three after many years had passed. How many actors can lay claim to so many iconic characters who exploded into pop culture and film history? Very few. He remains a much loved actor who is also a major movie star. With all that said now, here is a list of his top 10 movie performances:
1. The Mosquito Coast (1986)
A seething performance from Ford as Ally Fox, a brilliant inventor who breaks from society, buying an island in the tropics where he takes his family to live off the land. Ford stalks the film, always talking, always moving, building his own paradise in the jungle, but doing so with an edge, something that should warn us. When a group of soldiers come to his camp, he tries to kill them in the freezer he built, but their weapons destroy the camp. Devastated by his failure, Fox takes it out on his family, who one by one break from him. It is a startling performance because we have not ever seen him like this, then or since. It is a journey into a man’s heart of darkness, and it is a journey from which there is no escape.
2. Witness (1985)
Ford was nominated for his only Oscar as Best Actor for his forceful performance as John Book, a tough Philadelphia cop who flees into the world of the Amish to both protect a boy and his mother, and to hide from corrupt cops on his trail. With no thought of killing the boy, Book knows the child is in grave danger so stays to protect him, falling in love with his mother. Ford is superb here, whether violently defending the peaceful Amish, dancing in the barn to sixties music, or fearlessly risking his life to protect the mother and son, he is flawless. We see the yearning between them, the love they share, and long to be together in an impossible world.
3. Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
Years have passed since Deckard fled the city with Rachel, his lady love, a replicant. Was he, is he a replicant? It was more than hinted at in the many incarnations of the first film, released in 1982 to weak reviews and poor box office before finding a life and audience on video and DVD. What the world has become has eaten at Deckard like battery acid, leaving him darker than was, more cynical, and angry at what he sees ahead for the human race. But what can he, what will he do about, once found? It was a genuine surprise to see Ford giving the performance he gave in this film, darker, more complex, more human than ever. A nomination for supporting actor is not out of the realm of possibility.
4. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Burt Lancaster was among the first to praise Ford for his superb performance, a great physical performance as the cocky hero Indiana Jones (great name). Lancaster understood from his early films that such a performance is indeed challenging and Ford who was not the first choice for the role, delivered. When Tom Selleck could not do the movie due to TV commitments, Ford was cast and the rest is history. From the first moment we see him, through to the last he is the perfect hero, fearless and yet funny. He often says more with the cock of an eyebrow than with words.
5. 42 (2013)
Let me state that without doubt, Ford richly deserved to be nominated for supporting actor for his brilliant, compassionate and powerful performance in this under appreciated film. Hollywood had long wanted to make an honest film about baseball great Jackie Robinson and the shattering of the color barrier. As Branch Rickey, the tough but smart owner of the team that brought Robinson up to the majors, Ford is remarkable, and I question his placement, and whether it should be higher here. The actor, the movie star disappears under the skin of the character to become Rickey, Ford is gone, only the character is there. Brilliant.
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6. The Empire Strikes Back (1980)/ Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015)
When told the Princess loves him, he says to her with perfect re-assurance, “I know”. That is Han Solo, as Ford portrayed the likeable space pirate drafted into duty by Luke and the wizard Obi Wan. On the ice Planet Toth, he leads the rebels against the empire, saving Luke from certain death before being captured by a bounty hunter. Darker than the first film, it is richer and deeper, far better than the first. Years later he repeats the role in the new Star Wars films portraying the father of the new villain. Han and Princess Leia have had a son who has turned to the dark side. As the doomed Han Solo, Ford was perfect, older, with more wear on him, but so at home in this world.
7. Presumed Innocent (1990)
After having a near marriage ruining affair, a hotshot lawyer is accused with her murder. Ford is excellent as Rusty, the man accused of killing his mistress because she was no longer interested in him. His wife found out, but stayed and stands by him during the accusations and trial, not an easy thing. Ford is very good as an innocent man accused of a terrible crime, yet the real crime is who did kill the woman, and how Ford will live with that the rest of his life. The look on his face as it is detailed to him how the woman was killed, by the killer is haunting, some of the finest acting he has done. A tightly directed thriller by Alan J. Pakula, written with precision, acted beautifully.
8. Heroes (1977)
This little film was a Henry Winkler film, a starring role for the actor who had portrayed Fonzie on TV. But this is Ford’s film, he is haunting as a Viet Nam veteran who misses the war because he liked it. Lanky and lean, his eyes have seen far too much in combat, altering the course of his life in every way. The film was a critical bust, though many critics praised Ford for his exceptional work. Winkler and Sally Field are blown off the screen by Ford. The film was made a year before the onslaught of films about Viet Nam began, and was lost if the year end mass of Oscar contenders, not that it ever was one, though Ford would not have been out of place for supporting actor. A case of a single actor making a film far more watchable than it deserves.
9. Blade Runner (1982)
Ford is Deckard, a futuristic cop, called a blade Runner, often sent to dispatch human replicants who have come back to earth after being banished. Sent to find a group of them, he will discover elements of himself he did not previously know and come to see the replicants love life as much as we do. Deckard is a melancholy man, sad at what the world has become, a land of near constant rain, skyscrapers, neon and dark, where no one trusts anyone. He finds his prey and is stunned when the replicant saves his life, leaving the cop to watch it die. The first version of the film, the one in cinemas had a narration from Ford that has since been removed, as the film was cut and edited several times, giving us eventually the final cut, which suggests Deckard himself is a replicant. A groundbreaking, brilliant film with Ford giving one of his finest performances. He surpassed his work in the sequel.
10. The Fugitive (1993)
In this surprisingly outstanding big screen version of the long running TV series popular in the sissies, Ford is terrific as Dr. Richard Kimble, wrongly accused and convicted of murdering his wife. While being taken to prison, the train crashes allowing Kimble to escape, and he begins working his way back to the city to clear his name. On the hunt for him is a tenacious US Marshall, portrayed with single mindedness by Tommy Lee Jones. Ford creates a man barely able to contain his fury and indignation as he digs deeper and does indeed find who set him up. Again the actor delivers a great physical performance but brings great credibility to a film that could otherwise have been ordinary.
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