Honorable Mentions: The Frisco Kid (1979), Patriot Games (1992), Air Force One (1997), Presumed Innocent (1990)
5. Six Days, Seven Nights (1998)
I know I'm not supposed to like this movie but I do. Ford gets to do comedy again, something he hadn't done since Working Girl (or Sabrina, but that's more of a romance than comedy), and he has great chemistry with co-star Anne Heche. Ford plays a grumpy slob who is straight laced on the job (he's a pilot), and Heche is an uptight magazine editor who doesn't like him at all. They end up on a deserted island which is then attacked by pirates, and Ford and Heche have to find a way to survive together. The scene where Heche ends up trapped inside the plane because of the opened air raft is my favorite in the movie. The movie's ending is a tad problematic, as I doubt that Ford and Heche would want to become a couple, even after what they went through. But then, when I think about it, it doesn't bother me as much. If there had been a sequel we would have seen them hate one another again. It's their natural state.
4. Blade Runner (1982)
While I've never been a big fan of Blade Runner, there's no denying that it's one of the most influential sci-fi movies of all time. A big part of that enduring reputation is Ford's Rick Deckard, the cop that's hunting down 4 clone robots. He's a badass, sure, but he isn't a brute killer. He's a "thinking man's" hero that deals in violence. Now, everyone in the world still seems to be debating whether or not Deckard is himself a clone replicant. Director Ridley Scott has said that he thinks Deckard is a clone, but Ford doesn't. I really don't know if he is or not. I think it's deliberately left unanswered so the audience can debate the question after watching the movie. We'll probably keep doing so for decades, unless that Blade Runner actually happens.
3. The Fugitive (1993)
After abandoning fantasy (I'm going to include the Indiana Jones movies in this eventhough they're probably not what you would normally call "fantasy") Ford became a man of real world action. The Fugitive is the best of that part of Ford's career. His Dr. Richard Kimble, an innocent man on the run from the law trying to prove that he was framed for murder, is a smart guy who manages to rise to the occasion because he's fighting for his life. While on the run Kimble has to think on his feet, adapt to his surroundings, try to blend in, etc. Tommy Lee Jones won an Oscar for his role of U.S Marshal Sam Gerard, the agent trying to capture Kimble, but I think it's a shame that Ford didn't get nominated for Best Actor. The movie wouldn't work without him, and since the movie itself was nominated for Best Picture, his lack of a nomination just seems odd.
2. Return of the Jedi (1983)
Ford is outstanding in all three Star Wars Original Trilogy movies as Han Solo, but I find his Return of the Jedi performance the best. He isn't holding back at all as Solo, and since he isn't confined to the Millennium Falcon's pilot seat he gets to do some other stuff besides jump to hyper space. He's out in the woods, hanging out with midget bears, and shooting the bad guys right in the head. And I've always been a fan of the way he gets back into the swing of things after being released from the carbonite. He gets out, he tells Jabba he shouldn't be a fool, and then he's cracking jokes while on the way to his certain death. That is Han Solo, man.
1. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
Much like with the Star Wars Original Trilogy, Ford is great in all of the Indiana Jones movies, but there's one movie that tends to stand out more than the others, and for me that's Temple of Doom. From the opening "get the antidote" chase to the crashing plane scene to the "just eat the mush" scene, Ford is nothing short of brilliant. He's a badass, yes, but he's also got the experience to not act like an idiot (the mush scene). He's supremely confident, but he's also aware that he can die at any second. The spiky room scene is a good example of that. And when you look at the iconic bridge scene, watching him signal to Short Round what he's going to do without saying a word is another example (think about what would have happened if the bridge fell "the wrong way"). If and when we do get another Indy adventure, hopefully it's similar to this one. I won't complain if it's like The Last Crusade, but, yeah, I'd like to see another Temple of Doom.
5. Presumed Innocent
Overlooked a lot, this 1990 adaptation of the Scott Turow bestseller has Ford as a prosecutor assigned to the murder of a woman he'd been having an affair with. As evidence mounts, Ford is soon accused of the crime, hiring a defense attorney (a brilliant Raul Julia) as he faces his own boss in trial. It's marked with great twists and turns but Ford's performance is great as he makes you doubt constantly whether or not his guy really commited the crime or not, a cheater who seems devoted to his wife still and hiding a lot of secrets while snapping at friends. Yet Ford is sympathetic to help the film along, leading to its great final twist and how justice isn't as obvious as it seems.
4. The Fugitive
One of the few examples of a TV show adaptation that truly works, Ford is a great choice for Richard Kimble, the surgeon unjustly convicted of murder. The opening scenes where he defends himself against cops convinced his story of a one-armed man is garbage, show a frantic power, a man who knows the truth unable to convince anyone else. Ford handles the great train wreck stunt and other moments like when he's confronted outside a pipe by Tommy Lee Jones' Gerard, showing the agony of the choice before him before finally jumping into the river below. The chase scenes between him and Jones are great as Ford shows how an ordinary man would have to handle such a terrible event, centering a wild action escapade to make it more than just a popcorn flick but a great drama in its own right.
3. Blade Runner
Ignored in its initial release, Ridley Scott's sci-fi film is now seen as a true groundbreaking masterpiece. The 2007 "Final Cut" is the version Scott wanted but any one of them stands out thanks to Ford, who puts aside his usual heroic persona to play a cynical private eye in a dark future, his mood matched by the constant rain as he hunts down renegade Replicants. Good moments include him putting on a nerdy voice to put one target off-guard and handling the hard fights as well as the question of what makes humanity. The true genius is that it's partially thanks to Ford's dry acting that the theory of whether or not his character is a Replicant takes hold, a testament to how fine an actor he really is and helping to make this cult fave such a standout.
2. Star Wars
Now we get to it. To be able to play one character in your career who becomes a cultural icon is an achievement. To play two is a testament to your skill and star power. As with the number one pick, it's hard to imagine anyone but Ford as Han Solo, cocky as hell, sardonic and a "been there, done that" attitude toward life. He's good in a fight but clearly jumping into things without thinking, claiming to be in it for the money but willing to help out in the end. He's a true old-styled movie hero and Ford put his stamp on Hollywood with that part, a key reason the movie became such a cultural institution.
1. Raiders of the Lost Ark
Make no mistake, Star Wars is my all-time favorite movie but it's more the effects and story and such than Ford himself. No, if you have to pick a "best" for the actor where he's front and center, it has to be the first go as Indiana Jones. This remains a near-perfect action film, amazing stunts, story and humor and Ford is a key reason it all hangs together. It's almost impossible to imagine anyone else in the part, Ford just imbues Indiana perfectly, a rough fighter, a scholar, a man who knows when he's outmatched (as when he shoots a swordsman rather than fight him on his own terms) yet carrying himself with a weariness that you have to love. The moment where he's asked what he's going to do and admits "I'm just making it up as I go," sums it all up, Indiana Jones is a man of instinct but willing to do what's right and it's thanks to Ford's performance that the ultimate adventure film still thrills you today.
5. Morning Glory
I am not a big fan of "chick flicks" but this is one that actually walked the line between girly movie and funny comedy almost perfectly, and I was shocked that I liked it as much as I did. Rachel McAdams is an upcoming newsperson who gets the lucky break of becoming the executive producer for a morning news show – the kind that it turns out is just a fluff show with little in news and a lot in cute dogs and lazy talk. What makes this movie perfect is the relationship between Diane Keaton's morning show veteran, who made her name on this type of news shot, and Harrison Ford's serious newsman, who is thrown into working on a show he despises. Ford is so crotchety and obnoxious and he is perfect in his deadpan comedy. It might be Ford's funniest role to date.
4. Blade Runner
Ridley Scott has made some of cinema's greatest films, but nothing really compares to his one-two punch of Alien and Blade Runner. The first was a sci-fi horror movie, but Blade Runner was a perfect science fiction movie, smart and intelligent and one that actually leaves interpretation open to the viewers. It is so open ended that Scott and his star – Harrison Ford – disagree on whether Ford's Blade Runner is even a human or not. The movie starts after a war between humans and "replicants," androids built to serve humans who rose up against oppression – and lost. Ford plays a man who is tasked with killing replicants who return to earth after their banishment. It is brilliant and one of the best sci-fi movies of all time.
3. The Fugitive
It is rare that a movie is adapted from old TV show and actually ends up surpassing the original source material. That happened with The Fugitive. Harrison Ford played a doctor named Richard Kimble whose wife was murdered by a one-armed man. The courts wrongly convicted him of her murder and sent him to prison. He broke free and went on the run, trying to find the one-armed man to prove his innocence while a federal marshal played by Tommy Lee Jones was in pursuit. The movie was fantastic and was actually nominated for seven Oscars, impressive for a basic action movie.
2. The Empire Strikes Back
So, Bryan listed Jedi and Michael listed Star Wars. I like both movies, but I still consider Empire Strike Back to be the best of the entire franchise. It had the balls to end on a down note and really brought the entire story up to a different level. What made the ending so bleak wasn't Luke Skywalker losing his hand. It wasn't Darth Vader getting away. It was Han Solo being betrayed by his friend Lando Callerisian and getting frozen in carbonite while his best friend Chewbacca and love interest Princess Leia watched on. Han Solo was – by far in my opinion – the best good guy in the Star Wars movies, and seeing him lose here made this movie pack an emotional punch that few other movies ever accomplished. Plus, there were no Ewoks.
1. Raiders of the Lost Ark
The greatest action movie ever made was Raiders of the Lost Ark. The Indiana Jones franchise had peaks and valleys (I still consider Temple of Doom to be the worst of them all), but this first movie was the action film that all others have attempted to live up to over the 30-plus years since its release. Harrison Ford played Indy with the perfect arrogance and cocky humor and the set pieces and stunts were perfectly executed. This might be Steven Spielberg's best movie and remains one that I will watch anytime, anywhere, no matter when I see it on. There aren't many movies that are this much fun.