The 10 Best Harrison Ford Movies

Raiders Of The Lost Ark

by Tom Nicholson |
Updated on

There are many, many legends about Harrison Ford. You’ll have heard some of them. His is one of the most Hollywood of Hollywood stories: the straight-shooting, no-bull regular Joe who made his chance count. As every profile of Ford points out, he was a jobbing carpenter around Los Angeles before his acting career really got going. He still needed a little push to get ahead, though.

The young George Lucas was many things, but a keen-eyed talent spotter he wasn’t. “George would be at the airport, and he’d see two guys arguing, and he’d say, ‘They’re the exact people I want for my movie,’ so he’d bring them in for a reading,” American Graffiti screenwriter Willard Huyck said later. “And Francis [Ford Coppola] would say, ‘George, I think we need real actors.’” One of those real actors was Ford, drafted in by producer Fred Roos to shine as a devil-may-care drag racer.

After American Graffiti, Coppola kept Ford around with small roles in The Conversation and Apocalypse Now, but it wasn’t until Lucas hired him to run lines with prospective actors during auditions for a little film called Star Wars and was won over by his easy charm that everything came together. From the moment he emerged as roguish smuggler Han Solo, Harrison Ford was a household name. Wry and funny without being quirky, extremely hunky but never greasy or creepy, and as reliable in the middle of a punch-up as he was slowly sleuthing out some murder in America’s heartlands, he could do it all. And he could do it with the air of a man who’s both hell-bent on making sure evil is defeated and also really quite grumpy that nobody else had the wherewithal to sort it out first. Beneath the god-level charisma, there’s always been a steely girder of moral rectitude and righteous anger just under the surface — one that all too often makes you feel he’s the only adult in the room. Here’s Empire’s official list of the 10 best movies of Harrison Ford’s career.

10) Air Force One (1997)

Air Force One

In the ‘90s there were only two casting choices for cinematic presidents. If you wanted one who could inspire humanity to unite against a rock hurtling from outer space, you got Morgan Freeman. If you just needed a planeload of terrorists taken care of, you called Harrison Ford. Gary Oldman turns in one of his great mid-nineties Screamin’ Gary Oldman performances as renegade Soviet Union revivalist Egor Korshunov, whose goons have taken over President James Marshall’s plane and want cash to rebuild their country. Marshall doesn’t take that kind of thing lying down, and John McClanes his way to justice. Given the size of Oldman’s Korshunov, the whole thing could have veered into a hillside, laden down by its own preposterousness. But Ford, gruff and grimacing, keeps the whole thing triumphantly airborne.

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9) American Graffiti (1973)

American Graffiti

After the austere futureshock of THX 1138 had flopped, George Lucas gathered himself up again and tried to make something more upbeat and wholesome. It’s funny, then, that though American Graffiti was a hit, that was partly because it provided an elegy for a sunnier, more innocent time of life in the States — no Vietnam, no assassinations, and no Watergate. The teens of Sacramento cruise around town looking for fun but end up finding themselves in the process. Ford is hot rod racer Bob Falfa, a snickering, sneering cowboy who runs both red lights and his mouth. “That can’t be your car, that must be your mama’s car,” he chuckles at John, a racing rival. “I’m sorta embarrassed to be this close to ya.” The wise guy persona is there already, but with a giddy glint in the eye.

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8) Working Girl (1988)

Working Girl

For a man who was so very obviously a hunk of rare excellence, there aren’t that many occasions on which Ford has thrown himself into a full-bore swoonsome romantic lead. Mike Nichols’ working girl is one of those lesser-spotted outings, and as a foil for Melanie Griffiths’ Staten Island ingénue Tess – a woman who’s frustrated by the sexism which keeps her at the bottom of the corporate ladder, until she’s forced to pose as her incapacitated high-flying boss – he’s marvellously smooth, mixing a slightly intimidatingly competent exterior with the conviction that, actually, he might be the last good man in New York City. It all just clicks together so satisfyingly and so unshowily, with all the magic the Cinderella-adjacent storyline demands.

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7) Witness (1985)


One of the most unexpected turns in Ford’s ‘80s was this mystery thriller, which proved beyond doubt that he was far more than just a guy who could run around cracking whips and dropping quips. When an eight-year-old boy from an Amish community witnesses a murder in Philadelphia, Ford’s detective John Book is called in to investigate and cracks open a can of worms. Discovering police corruption makes Book a marked man, leading him to seek refuge in an Amish community. Peter Weir’s beautifully crafted movie is a consciously unpatronising and thoughtful kind of a thriller, one that pointed the way to the second act of Ford’s superstardom, where grown-up movies with proper, serious acting became his benchmark for success.

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6) The Fugitive (1993)

The Fugitive

Throughout his career, Ford has kept coming back around to try and make the perfect thriller. This Hitchcockian take on the ‘60s TV series is about as close as anyone’s managed since Sir Alfred got taken to the great cutting room in the sky: punchy, claustrophobic, inventive and with ample room for Tommy Lee Jones to gobble up steaming chunks of scenery as US Marshal Sam Gerard. At the centre of it is Ford as Dr Richard Kimble, who arrives home one night to find his wife dead. Despite his pleas of innocence, he’s found guilty and put on death row. But he manages to get away and is soon in a race against time, evading capture while trying to find the one-armed man who killed his wife. It isn’t subtle, but it’s thunderingly, propulsively compelling.

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5) Star Wars (1977)

Star Wars

Given the circumstances, A New Hope was a more apt subtitle for Star Wars than anyone realised. George Lucas felt fragile. He had a sneaking feeling his crew were laughing at his new space film, and he hobbled about on set with a terrible foot infection. But he’d made a juggernaut. While Luke and Leia carried the story, Ford’s galactic smuggler and all-purpose bad boy Han Solo hogged the best lines, had the most swagger, injected the most fun. Han was the sour tang to the sweetly wibbly-woo Jedi stuff, the cynic who turns believer – not just in the Force, but in friendship, and love, and a life lived for others as well as yourself and your loot. Soon after Star Wars landed, he turned up at a director’s house looking haggard, his shirt ripped to pieces. “I went into Tower Records to buy an album,” he said, “and these people just jumped on me.”

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4) Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade (1989)

Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade

In retrospect, the last of the original Indy trilogy marks the final moment of Peak Harrison Ford: he’d continue to be box office bullion, but his ‘90s leaned more mature, more consciously heavyweight. But who wants to be mature and heavyweight when you’ve got Sean Connery in your sidecar? When Indy’s father, Dr Henry Jones, goes missing while searching for the Holy Grail, it’s up to Junior to find his dad and the cup of Christ before the Nazis get to both first and rule Earth forever. Lightweight it might be, but it beautifully recaptures the fun of Raiders: the Jones boys’ escape from Germany via airship (“No ticket,” growls Indy after launching a Nazi officer out of a window) and regular bristling and bickering (“I should have mailed it to the Marx brothers!”) set this one apart.

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3) Blade Runner (1982)

Blade Runner

Ridley Scott once declared Harrison Ford to be the biggest pain in the arse he’d ever worked with. “He knows a lot,” Scott said later. “That's the problem.” After all the mangling, recutting, reworking and behind-the-scenes needling that produced Blade Runner, it’s faintly miraculous that a coherent movie came out of it at all, let alone something as staggeringly influential as the film became. Scott pitches you in at the deep end of a neon-drenched dystopia, and the hellish cityscapes he conjures up might feel completely overwhelming if there weren’t a steady, relatable presence at its heart. Ford’s Deckard is that: a neo-Bogart splashing through future Los Angeles. But there’s so much more there, too. What is that in Deckard’s face as Roy Batty runs through the things he’s seen (things you people wouldn’t believe)? Is it fear? Awe? Sympathy? Understanding? Like the rest of Blade Runner, Ford’s performance is a mutable, shifting thing, and one of his greatest triumphs.

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2) Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

On the set of Cloud City’s carbon-freezing chamber, the vibe was not good. The whole sequence around Han Solo’s imprisonment as a silently screaming objet d’art had taken three weeks to film. The smoke and fog was starting to make people feel queasy. Leia and Han were meant to say they loved each other, but it wasn’t working. Ford improvised, chucking out line after line until he became exasperated. “Let's do it one more time and that's it,” he said. “I love you too,” became, “I know”. Han Solo went into that freezing chamber a badass; he came out a fully-fledged legend. It’s the ultimate cocky kiss-off, but the little tremble in Ford’s voice, showing real emotion beneath the bravado, really makes it sing. Han Solo will forever be the heart of the original trilogy and nowhere is that clearer than in Lucas’ tragedy-tinged middle instalment.

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1) Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981)

Raiders Of The Lost Ark

It’s a quirk of Ford’s career that, despite his slightly curmudgeonly persona – you get the sense that his most enduring characters could definitely save the day, but while rolling their eyes and inwardly going ‘urgh, FINE’ – he’s made some of the most purely fun pieces of pop cinema ever created. Raiders is the greatest of them all. When the Nazis start chasing down the Ark of the Covenant, said to be a supernatural wonder-weapon which could make their army invincible, it’s up to archaeologist-slash-adventurer Indiana Jones to get there first. This first Indy outing is a potent mixture of old Hollywood and new: Steven Spielberg’s direction allows space for both derring-do and thoughtfulness; and Ford’s Indy is a beefed up matinée idol who’s both cocky and never entirely sure what he’s doing. Perfect.

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