The Best and Worst of Harrison Ford
As one of the last of his kind, Harrison Ford is nearly 76 years old and still continues bringing laughs, thrills, and heartfelt emotions to our screens. From humble beginnings, Harrison started out as a carpenter and was actually famous for his skills long before he was ever famous on screen. A chance encounter changed his life forever, landing him roles in American Graffiti, Star Wars, and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Now, after a career spanning nearly 50 years, Harrison tends to have more fun and focuses on raising awareness for his nature charity. He still makes films, and can be heard next year in the animated sequel to The Secret Life of Pets and, in 2020, he will don the fedora one last time in the fifth and final Indiana Jones film. In the following article, I will list his best and worst films to date. As always a complete filmography will be included along with my ratings of each film.
Best #1: Blade Runner
What makes Blade Runner so great is how much thought and depth and devotion was poured into it. Based on the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, the film dives into a futuristic world In which replicants (genetically engineered artificial beings designed to look, act, and feel identical to real people) are created to work as slaves in colonies off-world. They're illegal on earth. Well, if any sci-fi film has taught us anything, it's that machines taught how to learn will learn more than any human ever could. Four replicants escaped a colony and went to earth in an attempt to blend in with the rest of humanity and hide from their owners/creators. Blade Runner Rick Deckard is sent to earth to find and terminate these replicants. Along his journey, however, he begins to question his job and whether replicants have just as much rights as humans do.
The film is deeply philosophical, asking questions that can't possibly be answered. Not because there isn't an answer, mind you, but because there is no right or wrong answer. Everyone will feel differently about everything. Is enslavement of human beings right? No. Are machines human? No. So even if a being isn't human but can think and feel, is it still wrong to enslave them? Does artificial life matter outside of work? It's a very interesting film which thrives on unpredictability and makes you appreciate life in a way no other film ever has before. I give Blade Runner a perfect score: 4 out of 4.
Best #2: Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
It's not often that a sequel rises above and improves on its predecessor so when one does pop up, it's a special event. The Empire Strikes Back, the first sequel to the original Star Wars film, is clever from beginning to end. From its well-written script to its widely loved cast to its impressive directing, the film grabs your attention and doesn't let go.
The film follows our iconic trio as they split up and go on separate paths. With the rebel base under attack, Han and Leia try to escape, ending up on Cloud City with Lando Calrissian, Han's old friend. Luke goes to the planet Dagobah where he meets Master Yoda, an old Jedi who is destined to train Luke in the ways of the Force.
There are tons of twists and surprises throughout and you are never truly sure who to trust. Everyone has a motive, it seems, and we're never 100% sure if our heroes will make it out alive. I give Empire Strikes Back a 4 out of 4.
Best #3: Raiders of the Lost Ark
The great adventure genre returned to the screen with a bang and a whip in the film that introduced the world to famed archaeologist Dr. Henry Jones Jr, aka Indiana Jones.
As a lover of history and a hunter of long-hidden objects of great significance, Indiana is tasked by the government to find and recover the Ark of the Covenant before the Nazis do. Things soon become personal when Indiana finds out long-time rival Belloq is leading the excursion and old flame Marion Ravenwood re-enters his life.
While I'm not entirely sure where the actual Ark of the Covenant is located or what would really happen if it was opened, the film offers some wildly interesting theories all the while taking us on an incredible adventure that never disappoints. What director Steven Spielberg accomplished with this film is something that very few directors are able to, especially in today's world. Spielberg didn't just show us a film, he created Indiana Jones' world around us, making us feel like we were along for the ride as we watched it. Raiders focused on personal stakes and got us emotionally invested, making us care for Indiana and Marion. I give the film a perfect 4 out of 4.
Best #4: The Fugitive
The plot starts out fairly cut and dry. Dr. Richard Kimble is called in on an emergency surgery, leaving his wife home alone. When he gets home, he finds her brutally murdered. He's interrogated, charged, tried and convicted, and put on a prison bus to face death row. And that's just in the first ten minutes.
As the film progresses, the plot deepens and we find out things aren't as cut and dry as we were led to believe. Richard escapes within an inch of his life and goes on the run in search of the truth. Who killed his wife? Why? The answer may surprise you.
This is one of Harrison Ford's finest moments in his career. Everyone involved worked hard to make the film emotional as well as action-packed and mind boggling, which must have been a strain. The effort paid off though, often sending chills down our spines as the chase heats up again and again. From a jump off of a dam to a foot chase to cat-and-mouse mind games, the film has everything you could ask for. Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones played off one another very well, and I'd love to see them in a film together one more time before one of them retires. I give The Fugitive 4 out of 4.
Best #5: Witness
Witness is a thriller with a lot of heart. It's partly an "undercover cop" piece and it's also partly a forbidden love story. Detective John Book is called to a crime scene in a train station. It seems like a usual day until he arrives and discovers that the only witness to the murder is a young Amish boy who is too afraid to speak. After the young boy, Samuel, finally identifies one of the murderers, Book puts Samuel and his mother Rachel in protective custody. John is soon attacked by the identified man, a cop. John realizes there's corruption within the police force and tries to get Rachel and Samuel back home to their community. Because of an unfortunate injury, John is forced to stay in Amish country while he tries to figure out his next move.
The best thing about Witness is how intelligent and real it is. It doesn't try to be over-the-top as some cop thrillers are, but rather stays grounded in reality and opens your eyes to the lives of the Amish. Their rules and customs are somewhat displayed in the film, not heavily but enough so that you understand what they are like and how they live. It's nothing like For Richer or Poorer, mind you. This is more realistic and doesn't shy away or make a joke of their customs.
Harrison Ford gives one of his best performances in this film. It's quite apparent that he's devoted and invested in this story and character. Kelly McGillis, pre-Top Gun, shows her talent as the quiet and timid Rachel who is conflicted in her heart. She's supposed to marry a fellow Amish man yet she finds herself falling for Book. It's a forbidden romance that's tested throughout the film. Will he stay? Will she leave? For once, it's difficult to tell what will happen. I give the film a 4 out of 4.
Honorable Mention: Crossing Over
Crossing Over was unfairly bashed by critics. Many called it melodramatic, a rehash of Crash, a hateful outlook on humanity, and manipulative. These critics missed the very point and heart of the film. As I watched this film, I found myself remembering things I've seen on the news or heard about by word-of-mouth from people who actually work in the government. This film is more true-to-life than one might think, even if it's too tough to accept.
The film follows the stories of several different people, oftentimes the stories connecting to one another. Harrison Ford plays an immigration agent who has been on the job for far too long. He makes busts, tracking and arresting illegal immigrants. The illegals are then loaded onto a bus and shipped off to a center where they will be processed and taken back over the Mexican border. Ray Liotta plays an agent who approves or rejects green card applications. He unexpectedly meets an Australian who came to America on a tourist visa and illegally started looking for work in showbiz. He blackmails her, forcing her to do whatever he wants with the promise of approving her green card...eventually. Ashley Judd plays Ray's wife, who is also in the immigration business. She more or less tells people their options and tries to help them if she possibly can. What gets me is how unfair the reviews for this film are. A rehash of Crash? Well, considering life itself is a bunch of individual stories interwoven together by a single connection, I don't see this as a rehash of anything. It's life unfolding right before your eyes. What they call manipulative, I call truth. Innocent people do get blackmailed on a daily basis. There are immigration busts and deportations. A hateful outlook on humanity? Well, if you work within the government long enough, especially immigration, then I'd suspect you'd develop a poor outlook on humanity too. Yes, it does show how illegal immigrants are affected by being deported. But they're people too. To hide their side of the story would be lying to not only the public but to our own selves. There are two sides to every story and both sides should be heard. I give the film a 4 out of 4.
And now we come to our worst section. While I'd love to say Harrison Ford never made a bad film, I sadly can't. There have been a couple stinkers and there have been some that could have been good had the proper effort been applied. Of my following selections, none of them are at the fault of any of the actors. These films have either writing, directing, or editing issues or all three in a couple cases. Shall we begin?
Worst #1: The Star Wars Holiday Special
This Christmas special is proof that some things should just be left alone. As valiant as the effort was, the special turned into one giant mess that even George Lucas and the actors themselves try their best to disavow all knowledge of its existence.
The film centrally follows Chewbacca's previously unknown family as they live out their lives happily growling at one another. Considering how much screen-time we had of them, some subtitles would have been nice! The way musical guests were fit in was absurd and very little time was given to the people we actually want to see. Luke speaks as though he's talking to kindergarteners, Leia is on-screen all of 5 seconds, and Han is escaping an Empire attack in the hopes of getting Chewie home to his family in time for Life Day celebration...all off-screen. It was poorly written and executed worse. I hate to do this because of my love for Star Wars but I am forced to give this special TV movie a 0 out of 4, thereby sentencing it to Death by Exile.
Worst #2: Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
Nine years seems like a suitable time frame for people working on a sequel to one of the best modern comedies to think up a plot and some fresh jokes. Alas, they decided to throw themselves into a bottomless pit called "Rehash" rather than bringing something fresh to the sequel.
Most of the time, comedy films are grounded in some sort of reality and expands into borderline ridiculous. Usually, they don't cross that line. When they do it's a crapshoot. It could have a good pay off or it could be the worst thing one's ever seen. While I've definitely seen worse than Anchorman 2, it still flops like a fish out of water. The proverbial final nail in the coffin was the big fight scene towards the end. You know how the first one had that gang fight between the two rival groups? That was all well and good and had a funny outcome. This one, however, brought in the biggest names in comedy and pitted them against each other. The fight then spins out of control when we discover Harrison's character is in fact a werewolf. No, the werewolf never gets in on the action. I guess he's still standing by the tree, growling.
In an interview promoting the film, Harrison almost seemed regretful that he had any part of it in the first place. He says of Ferrell and the cast, "Everyone there was insane. They didn't care about anything except the joke and I wasn't really sure what the joke was." He goes on to say, "I knew it was a comedy but I didn't know what kind of comedy." Poor Harrison.
If you loved the first Anchorman or if you're just a passive fan of Ferrell or Carell, skip this film entirely. It doesn't help the original nor anyone's careers. I give it a 1 out of 4.
Worst #3: A Time for Killing
Harrison's first credited role was a bit of a rough one for him. The plot seemed promising: a group of Union soldiers chase a group of escaped Confederate prisoners, both groups oblivious to the fact the war was over. There's one particular problem with this description. The groups both discover about halfway through that the war is over. No one is oblivious to anything. The fact of the matter is, the Union leader was too greedy and stubborn to let the escapees go. With the war over, the escapees couldn't be imprisoned again. They were really wasting time chasing them.
The performances were so choppy, a 3rd grader could have done better. The editing and direction were both all over the place and seemed like it was thrown together with very little care. The good thing about Harrison is that he pays attention. He learned from the film and thankfully seeked projects that actually had a sensical plot and a crew that actually cared about the material.
I give A Time for Killing a 1.5 out of 4.
Worst #4: Force 10 from Navarone
Force 10 from Navarone was one of those films in which you get so mesmerized by the convincing performances that when the credits roll you find that you have no clue what the film was about. I know that troops were sent in to rescue some people but after that, it's all mud. The big issue with the film was the editing. It felt like there were necessary scenes taken out of the film which resulted in plot holes and unexplained sequences. The ending was sudden and a bit of a cliffhanger, which means there was no real resolution.
While Harrison's performance was outstanding, it wasn't enough to make the film above average. I give it a 2 out of 4.
Worst #5: Ender's Game
Ender's Game actually was mildly interesting. It's set up a bit like Kingsman only in space. A young kid is accepted into the training academy where he'll become a fighter for Earth's one-world army against alien threats. Now, I have never read the books so I don't know how accurate the film is to the source material. The film begins strong and dwindles over time, resulting in nothing much more than a popcorn flick for slow days. It's flashy and cool to look at but there's very little substance and no emotional content whatsoever. I give the film a 2 out of 4.
Dishonorable Mention: Paranoia
Paranoia made an effort, I'll give it that. The film centered on a young man who thought he had a great idea for a product. He presented it to his boss and his boss was so infuriated by the idea that he fired him. The young man used his company card to go drinking with his friends, somehow amassing a debt of over 16,000. So his former boss decides that he'll force the wayward ex-employee to be his mole in a rival company and bring back information about future projects.
The film is so ridiculously over complicated when it doesn't need to be. Less is more. The film pits Harrison Ford against Gary Oldman which honestly could have been a great rivalry. They were enemies in Air Force One but one was all good while the other was all bad. Paranoia on the other hand depicted both as cutthroat businessmen who were constantly one-upping each other. Couldn't we have just had a movie about that and cut out Liam's character altogether? So many possibilites and yet the outcome we got was mediocre at best. I give the film a 2 out of 4.
Complete Rated Filmography
- A Time for Killing - 1.5 out of 4
- Journey to Shiloh - 3.5 out of 4
- Getting Straight - 3.5 out of 4
- The Intruders - 3 out of 4
- American Graffiti - 4 out of 4
- The Conversation - 3 out of 4
- Judgment: The Court Martial of Lieutenant William Calley - 3.5 out of 4
- Dynasty (1976) - 2.5 out of 4
- The Possessed - 3 out of 4
- Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope - 4 out of 4
- Heroes - 3 out of 4
- Force 10 from Navarone - 2 out of 4
- The Star Wars Holiday Special - 0 out of 4: Death by Exile
- Hanover Street - 2.5 out of 4
- Apocalypse Now - 4 out of 4
- The Frisco Kid - 3 out of 4
- Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back - 4 out of 4
- Raiders of the Lost Ark - 4 out of 4
- Blade Runner - 4 out of 4
- Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi - 3.5 out of 4
- Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom - 3.5 out of 4
- Witness - 4 out of 4
- The Mosquito Coast - 2.5 out of 4
- Frantic - 3 out of 4
- Working Girl - 3.5 out of 4
- Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade - 4 out of 4
- Presumed Innocent - 3 out of 4
- Regarding Henry - 3.5 out of 4
- Patriot Games - 3 out of 4
- The Fugitive - 4 out of 4
- Clear and Present Danger - 3.5 out of 4
- Sabrina - 3 out of 4
- The Devil's Own - 2.5 out of 4
- Air Force One - 3 out of 4
- Six Days Seven Nights - 3 out of 4
- Random Hearts - 2.5 out of 4
- What Lies Beneath - 3 out of 4
- K-19: The Widowmaker - 3.5 out of 4
- Hollywood Homicide - 3 out of 4
- Firewall - 2.5 out of 4
- Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull - 3 out of 4
- Crossing Over - 4 out of 4
- Extraordinary Measures - 2.5 out of 4
- Morning Glory - 2.5 out of 4
- Cowboys & Aliens - 3 out of 4
- 42: The Jackie Robinson Story - 3.5 out of 4
- Paranoia - 2 out of 4
- Ender's Game - 2 out of 4
- Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues - 1 out of 4
- The Expendables 3 - 3 out of 4
- The Age of Adaline - 4 out of 4
- Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens - 4 out of 4
- Blade Runner 2049 - 3.8 out of 4
What's your favorite Harrison Ford film?
Harrison Ford may have had a few stinkers in his career but overall his films have been one hit after another. He became an international icon with his Han Solo and Indiana Jones films and captured our hearts with films such as Working Girl and Sabrina. 95% of the time, you can't go wrong with Harrison Ford and that's something that can't be said about many actors today. It's been an absolute honor to enjoy his films and I hope we all get to enjoy many more.
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© 2018 Alec Zander