One of the most promising directors of the late '70s, Ridley Scott displayed stylistic flair and remarkable storytelling abilities in such films as The Duellists (1977) and his landmark Alien (1979). Although he remained a respected director on both sides of the Atlantic, his career suffered repeated blows throughout the 1980s and '90s with a series of critical and commercial missteps, beginning with the costly and unsuccessful 1492: Conquest of Paradise.
Born in 1937, in Northumberland, England, Scott was educated at the West Hartlepool College of Art and London's Royal College of Art. After completing his education, he became a set designer for the British Broadcasting Company in the early '60s, eventually getting promoted to director of such popular BBC series as the long-running police adventure Z Cars. With the establishment of his own firm, Ridley Scott Associates, Scott was in on the ground floor of some of the most inventive European TV commercials of the 1970s.
The director's transition to the big screen came with his direction of 1977's The Duellists, a visually striking Napoleonic war film that won the Jury Prize for Best First Feature at the Cannes Film Festival. Further success followed with 1979's Alien, which established Scott as both an important director and a shining knight for horror and sci-fi devotees. In 1982, the director found himself at the center of a storm around his production of Blade Runner. After repeated clashes with studio executives over the film's complex content and downbeat finale, Scott added a voice-over narration and a more positive ending. The results sparked an outcry from film purists, and Blade Runner fell victim to negative reviews and poor box-office results. It wasn't until the early '90s that the director's cut was finally released, theatrically and on video cassette, and the film was recognized as a science fiction masterpiece.
In the meantime, Scott continued to direct such films as the 1986 fantasy Legend, starring Tom Cruise, and 1989's Black Rain, which featured Michael Douglas as a vice cop on a mission to Japan. In 1991, he encountered critical and commercial triumph with Thelma & Louise. Starring Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon, the film was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Director for Scott. After the film's success, it seemed that the director could do no wrong. Unfortunately, he did just the opposite with his next project, 1992's 1492: Conquest of Paradise. The film proved to be a complete flop, and for the next few years Scott relinquished his directorial duties in favor of producing such films as Monkey Trouble and The Browning Version (both 1994).
Scott returned to the director's chair in 1996, with White Squall, an action-adventure film set on a boat full of troubled teenage boys. Unfortunately, the film performed poorly among critics and at the box office, and Scott's next feature, G.I. Jane (1997), suffered a similar fate. He then returned to producing, working on the 1997 TV series The Hunger, which was based on the 1983 movie directed by his brother, Tony Scott, who was best-known for such action fare as Top Gun (1986) and Enemy of the State (1998). After producing the 1998 black comedy Clay Pigeons, Scott returned to directing with Gladiator (2000), a Roman epic starring Russell Crowe as its titular hero. Budgeted at 100 million dollars and weighing in at 154 minutes, the film was hailed by some critics who saw it as a return to grand-scale moviemaking, while others saw it as merely overblown. Regardless of the critics' opinions, Gladiator was undoubtedly wildly popular, earning five Oscars, including Best Picture, at the 73rd Annual Academy Awards.
In 2001, Scott applied his icy-cool visual style -- but little else of note -- to Hannibal, the much-anticipated sequel to 1991's Silence of the Lambs. Although the film broke the box-office record for the largest opening weekend for an R-rated film, critics were less than pleased with Hannibal's combination of smug, stuffy disaffection and vomit-bag-worthy gore. Scott's skills as a director of action were better put to the test later that year with Black Hawk Down, the account of the United States' unsuccessful 1993 attempt to take down the regime of a brutal Somalian warlord. Though there was no contesting the helmer's adroit camera and editing choices in the film's visceral, tactically challenging battle scenes, some critics objected to Black Hawk's simplified portrayal of the U.S. military involvement in the region. Still bruised from the tragic events of 9/11, however, the American public lined up in droves for the flag-waving Jerry Bruckheimer production, which would also garner Scott his third Best Director Oscar nomination.
Recoiling from the high-profile prestige projects for a spell, Scott turned his focus to the big-screen adaptation of Matchstick Men, a dysfunctional-con-man tale starring a tic-laden Nicolas Cage as well as up-and-comers Sam Rockwell and Alison Lohman. Though hardly a blockbuster, the heist comedy garnered mixed but generally positive reviews, most noting Scott's ability to evince vivid performances from his trio of actors.
In 2005, the director helmed the would-be epic Crusades historical film Kingdom of Heaven with a Gladiator-esque budget and all-star cast. Unfortunately, the film was a dud both with critics and audiences, so Scott returned to a more intimate kind of storytelling with the 2006 drama A Good Year. The film starred Russell Crowe as a hotshot broker who finds himself in the depths of a life-crisis when he inherits his beloved uncle's estate and discovers that the simple lifestyle it offers may give him more satisfaction than his fast-paced, high-power job.