With the death of British director Tony Scott on Sunday, the world has lost one of it’s great action directors. In honor of his memory, we take a look back at the man and his movies.
Tony passed away on August 19 in San Pedro, California, of an apparent suicide; he was 68 years old. A low-key figure in Hollywood, he was well-loved by the actors he directed and was easily spotted on sets by his trademark faded red baseball cap. While his public persona was laid-back, his movies were anything but; he’s most famous for directing high-octane thrillers like ‘Top Gun’ and ‘Unstoppable’, which he later referred to as “the most challenging movie of my life” because of the fast-paced train scenes.
Born Anthony D.L. Scott in 1944 in England, the man we know today as an action director originally pursued a career as a painter, winning a scholarship to study for a Masters of Fine Arts at the Royal College of Art. However, following several years of schooling and several years as a painter, he decided to forge a different (and perhaps more successful) career path and joined older brother Ridley Scott’s company, Ridley Scott Associates.
There, he took a job in the advertising department and began shooting commercials, the start of his long career behind the camera. However, his early career as a painter certainly influenced his career as a director, with his rich visuals and lighting tricks becoming hallmarks of his style.
Tony Scott arguably hit his peak early on, when producer Jerry Bruckheimer asked him to direct Tom Cruise in the 1986 film ‘Top Gun’. In the thirty-some years since, the movie has become firmly embedded in pop culture, with Maverick, those aviators, and other instantly recognizable tidbits filtering into everything from entertainment to fashion.
Yet, ironically, he almost didn’t make it in Hollywood: his debut film, the vampire flick ‘The Hunger’ (1983), received such poor critical attention that his worth sunk immediately. It would be a full three years before he would return to the director’s chair, but when he did so, he showed Hollywood that he was not someone to overlook.
After the smash hit of ‘Top Gun’, Scott directed Eddie Murphy in ‘Beverly Hills Cop II’ (1987), which was also well received. In the 1990s he had a string of smaller successes with ‘Days of Thunder’ (1990), which also starred Tom Cruise; ‘Crimson Tide’ (1995); and ‘Enemy of the State’ (1998).
It was in the next decade that Scott became much more prolific as a director and producer. He directed several action or suspense films, re-teaming with his ‘Crimson Tide’ star Denzel Washington for a total of four films: ‘Man on Fire’ (2004), ‘Deja Vu’ (2006), ‘The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3’ (2009), and ‘Unstoppable’ (2010), which would prove to be his final film. During the same time period, he also directed ‘Spy Game’ (2001) and ‘Domino’ (2005).
While he was busy directing, he did even more work as a producer or executive producer, working on over two dozen movies and TV series. In addition to his own projects, he helped produce movies like ‘The A-Team’ and ‘The Grey’ and worked as an executive producer multiple TV mini-series, including 2010’s ‘The Pillars of the Earth’. Fans of his action-heavy films might be surprised to know that he was also an executive producer on the popular TV drama ‘The Good Wife’ from 2009 to 2012, and earned an Emmy nomination for his work on that show.
While Tony Scott and his older brother Ridley were both incredibly famous, they took care not to invoke a sibling rivalry in Hollywood. Instead, they often worked together, forming Scott Free Productions in 1995; the Scott Free logo can be seen on dozens of films and TV shows. Tony directed literally thousands of TV commercials in his career, including many for Ridley’s company RSA in the 1970s and 1980s. They also earned Emmy nominations for their collaborations on several TV projects, including the 2008 TV mini-series ‘The Andromeda Strain’ and 2010’s ‘The Pillars of the Earth’.
Tony later worked as a producer on Ridley’s return to the world of ‘Alien’ with 2012’s ‘Prometheus’. At the time of Tony’s death, the brothers were working together on an original TV mini-series called ‘Coma’, set to air on the A&E channel.