Welcome to 5 Favorites. Each week, I will put together a list of my 5 favorites (films, performances, whatever strikes my fancy) along with commentary on a given topic each week, usually in relation to a specific film releasing that week.
In honor of the impending release of The Call of the Wild, the latest adaptation of Jack London’s classic novel, we’re going to look at star Harrison Ford’s filmography, an impressive span of films dating back to 1966 in an uncredited appearance in a film likely few remember (Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round). His appearance in American Graffiti in 1973 made him a familiar face in film, but it was 1977’s Star Wars that made him a legend. Here are five of my favorite films featuring Harrison Ford in mostly large, but sometimes smaller, parts. The larger majority of them are from his early career with films like American Graffiti and Witness falling just outside of the top five.
The Conversation (1974)
Francis Ford Coppola’s fascinating film stars Gene Hackman as a surveillance expert who takes on a job from a wealthy client wanting to make sure his wife isn’t cheating on him. As the narrative unfolds, Hackman’s paranoia increases. After the tapes that he has refused to turn over to his client for fear they might incriminate the wife and lover of a crime are stolen, he seeks confirmation from his client and later begins surveilling the client and his wife in a heated argument in which he’s certain he has killed her.
What Coppola does with this tense, riveting film is nothing short of spectacular. Superb performances abound, especially Hackman, with Robert Duvall, John Cazale, and Harrison Ford in a relatively small part lending excellent support. This is a film that’s as much about the intricate, unwinding narrative as it is the technical elements on display. It was nominated for Best Picture, Original Screenplay, and Sound and it deserved every one of them, especially the citation of sound designers Walter Murch and Art Rochester who do incredible work. It should also have been nominated for its editing.
Star Wars (1977)
After working with Ford in the earlier American Graffiti, George Lucas brought the burgeoning star on board his space opera Star Wars in the role of Han Solo, the roguish smuggler who brings moral gray areas to a film filled with black-and-white heroes and villains. Ford’s work on the film is part of its success, but it would have been nothing without fellow stars Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher.
Being one of the all-time most popular films helped boost Ford into a career as a leading man that would successfully span almost two decades. His performance certainly elevated him to super-stardom and he would prove to be a capable actor in his own right in four of the follow ups to this very feature.
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Harrison Ford’s presence in film was ubiquitous throughout the 1980s and while he was part of science fiction’s greatest achievement, he also starred in a film that has become synonymous with big screen action adventure films. Steven Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark features Ford as Indiana Jones, an archaeologist and college professor who explores dangerous ruins in his spare time. In his quest for the Ark of the Covenant, one of history’s most prominent religious artifacts, he faces off against Nazis who wish to harness the power of the reliquary.
Raiders of the Lost Ark has, to date, spawned three direct sequels with another one in the works along with a television series exploring the young adventures of Indy’s character. It’s a film that holds up extremely well for modern audiences. While some elements of the film might seem outdated, Spielberg did a tremendous job creating a timeless feel that makes it an enduring big budget classic.
Blade Runner (1982)
Star Wars and its sequel films might have epitomized space-faring adventure, but Blade Runner kept audiences firmly grounded in a dystopian future where robots who look and act just like humans have put the future of civilization in danger, at least according to the government.
Ford plays a blade runner, a futuristic cop who goes after the cyborg replicants in order to stop them from wreaking havoc. Based on the popular Philip K. Dick novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” the film set a tone for subsequent dystopian science fiction films that would bring the cyberpunk literary movement into the mainstream. Blade Runner is still one of Ridley Scott’s best films and helped establish Scott as a preeminent voice in genre filmmaking. Ford was a tremendous part of the film’s success where he starred opposite Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, and Edward James Olmos among others.
Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
I’m not often a fan of specifying sequels on my list of favorites as there are often too many unique and inspiring choices to go for a list comprised of mostly derivations of an original concept, but Blade Runner 2049 brings the original film a little farther into the future and does so with the kind of creative energy that merits an individual listing.
Ford takes a supporting role in the film to Ryan Gosling. Gosling is also a blade runner going in search of Ford’s character, hoping to find answers to a recently-uncovered secret that threaten to bring down the corporate and governmental programs that treat replicants as dangers to society. Denis Villneuve, with the help of cinematographer Roger Deakins, creates a superb follow-up to the 1982 original, exploring similar themes and also investigating original ideas in a whole that’s equal to and in some ways better than its predecessor.