Best: American Graffiti (1973)
George Lucas’ seminal teen flick is rightly feted for launching the careers of a host of Hollywood heavyweights, with Harrison Ford getting his big break alongside the likes of Ron Howard, Richard Dreyfuss and Kathleen Quinlan. The end of an era feel is intoxicating, with the device of a graduating high-school class mirroring the wider context of post-Vietnam America.
Ford’s role may be slight, but his obnoxious drag racer hints at the charisma he would go on to trade upon throughout his career. Alongside a similarly tiny role in 1974’s The Conversation , this was the part that made Hollywood sit up and take notice.
Worst: Crossing Over (2009)
Ford plays a gruff (naturally) immigrant-buster in this knock-off version of the Oscar-hogging Crash . Post-9/11 angst is the order of the day, as heart-of-gold idealists vie with foul-mouthed bigots in the battle to see who can learn the biggest life lesson.
None of it really comes off, and the murder mystery plot strand seems little more than an afterthought chucked in as a makeweight for the wealth of earnest emoting on show. Harrison, as was his wont for most of the decade, simply looks bored.
Best: Witness (1985)
Peter Weir directs Ford to one of his finest performances in this romantic thriller. The usual swagger is nowhere to be seen as Ford imbues Detective John Book with loneliness and self-doubt in equal measure.
His tentative, longing relationship with Kelly McGillis is utterly believable, whilst the otherworldliness of the Amish way of life provides an unusual canvas upon which their affair plays out. A triumph for Harrison Ford the actor, as opposed to the Movie Star we’re more familiar with.
Worst: Random Hearts (1999)
Harrison stars opposite Kristen Scott Thomas in an on-screen relationship that shows initial promise before degenerating into unadulterated slush. Having initially displayed intriguingly dark and brooding tendencies, Ford’s character ends up as something akin to a loveably sappy martyr.
Scott Thomas comes out of it even worse, veering from ice queen frostiness to giggling schoolgirl in the blink of an eye. Neither extreme is particularly charming, a criticism that could also be levelled at the picture as a whole.
Best: Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981)
Spielberg and Lucas join forces to create one of the greatest adventure series ever made, based around the frankly improbable premise of a whip-cracking, fist-fighting, ladykilling archaeologist.
Raiders is probably the finest of the three films (sorry, four films, but more on that later), balancing a string of heart-pounding set-pieces with the franchise’s now signature wit.
Ford is peerless in his finest role (Indy just edges out Han for us), and is party to one of the coolest moments in cinema when he blows away a swordsman with his pistol. The set-up is brilliant, but its Ford’s expression of languid contempt that really makes it.
Best: Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom (1984)
Ford dons the fedora once more in this underrated second installment of the Indiana Jones series. Granted, Kate Capshaw makes for a profoundly irritating love interest, whilse the character of Short Round demands a particularly high tolerance for comedy sidekicks.
However, when assessed in its entirety, Temple Of Doom more than measures up to most comparable adventure movies.
From the nightclub scuffle to the rope bridge showdown, the film can boast more than its fair share of jaw-dropping action. And in the fiendish Mola Ram, Indy is up against a truly memorable adversary.
Worst: The Devil's Own (1997)
The Devil’s Own is on many levels a perfectly competent thriller. Ford is as watchable as ever, as is Brad Pitt give or take a slightly iffy accent. The action comes thick and fast, and the climactic chase scene makes for a suitably pulse-quickening finale.
Where it falls down spectacularly is in its decision to stage all its explodey mayhem against the background of Northern Ireland. Its take on the political motivations behind the terrorism is naïve in the extreme, whilst Pitt's eventual redemption is a slightly bitter pill given the contemporary nature of the atrocities portrayed.
Best: Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade (1989)
Part three of the Jones chronicles is unquestionably the funniest entry, with the addition of Sean Connery as Henry Jones Sr providing a wealth of comic interludes. His chemistry with Ford is one of the series’ greatest pleasures, the two bickering like a pair of old maids, whilst managing to convey a depth of feeling behind the antipathy.
The scene at the Cliffside sums their relationship up perfectly. As Indy’s tank goes ploughing into a fiery end, his father stands distraught at the precipice, only to be joined by the son he has just begun to mourn. From trembling top lip to belly laugh in the blink of an eye, it’s a scene that sums up everything that’s great about the film.
Worst: Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull (2008)
Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. What can we possibly say about this one, that hasn’t already been said many times over? You’d have been hard pushed to find anyone that thought the original Indiana Jones trilogy could be improved upon, but equally, not many could have anticipated just how bad Crystal Skull would turn out to be.
From the nuclear fridge debacle onwards, it’s less a summer blockbuster and more an exercise in finding out just how many misfires can been squeezed into a single film. As for the worst moment, there are almost too many to choose from (Shia and the monkeys, anyone?), but we’ll stick our neck out and go for the grand finale. Aliens? Seriously?
Best: Blade Runner (1982)
Ridley Scott’s mean and moody sci-fi is the perfect showcase for Ford’s patented brand of world-weary sexiness. As Rick Deckard, Ford is the battle-hardened focal point of Scott’s dystopian fable, his downtrodden ballsiness perfectly in sync with his nightmarish surroundings.
Visually spectacular, ethically probing and above all, cracking entertainment, Blade Runner is everything a successful sci-fi should aspire to be. We were initially flabbergasted by the decision to remake/reboot/generally tamper with a great, but as Ridley Scott's will be directing , consider us intrigued…
Worst: K-19: The Widowmaker (2002)
When it should be a taut, tense and claustrophobic thriller, this submarine-set snooze is simply tedious.
While the historical context of US-Soviet brinkmanship should be ripe with dramatic potential, it’s hopelessly squandered by the usually kinetic Kathryn Bigelow, who turns in a film mired in stodgy storytelling and hammy, grandstanding dialogue.
Ford is particularly shoddy as the gruff Captain Vostrikov, playing him as tough as a paving slab and every bit as interesting. Throw in a truly heinous Russian accent and it’s definitely a performance to scrub from the CV.
Best: Star Wars (1977)
Lucas and Ford’s lucrative working relationship hits paydirt with this phenomenally successful soap opera in space. Whilst Mark Hamill’s Luke was the nominal hero, it was Ford’s fast-talking, perma-swaggering space cowboy who really set pulses racing.
As Han Solo, Ford provides a welcome counterpoint to the clean-cut Skywalker and is undoubtedly the trump card of the original trilogy. Indeed, the prequels don’t have any one character who comes close to matching up. Apart from Jar-Jar of course…
Worst: Hollywood Homicide (2003)
Harrison is a jaded old copper with a string of divorces, a younger model girlfriend and an internal affairs investigation on the horizon. Josh Hartnett is the conflicted young rookie with a hatred of guns but a longstanding lust for revenge. The audience meanwhile, is bored senseless.
Ford struggles with the half-hearted comedy throughout, whilst his chemistry with Hartnett is non-existent. On top of that, Ron Shelton tries to cram far too much plot into a two hour runtime, the result being an unconvincing and incomprehensible mess.
Best: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Oft hailed as the crowning example of a sequel that outstrips the original, Empire is unquestionably the finest entry into the Star Wars canon. Freed of the reams of backstory that slightly bogged down the first film, Empire is all action, from the frozen wastes of Hoth to the superficially tranquil Cloud City.
Ford has plenty of scenery-chewing moments to savour, but this one is more about the dynamic between Vader and Luke, which reaches fever pitch with the revelation of that twist…
Worst: Six Days Seven Nights (1998)
Harrison Ford and Ann Heche must go down as one of the worst romantic couplings ever crowbarred into a motion picture. At no point in this shoddy adventure romp do the pair ever display a romantic spark, which makes their eventual swooning all the more difficult to swallow.
Even less tolerable is the woeful script and the various misadventures Ford is forced to endure in the name of “comedy”. “I’ve had just about as much vacation as I can stand,” quips Heche at one point. Haven’t we all.
Best: Return Of The Jedi (1983)
Ok, so it doesn’t quite manage to live up to the first two, but Return Of The Jedi (much like Temple Of Doom ) is still an enjoyable romp on its own merits. On reflection, the Ewoks aren’t half as bad as everyone makes out and in Jabba The Hut, the film serves up a truly iconic villain.
On top of that there’s also the Sarlaac’s Pit (poor old Boba), Vader’s redemption and Leia’s gold bikini to be enjoyed. When you consider how the shambolic prequels turned out, this is still a Star Wars film to be cherished!
Worst: Regarding Henry (1991)
Harrison does his best to enliven this potboiler as the nasty bigshot lawyer who catches a stray bullet in his bonce while popping out for cigarettes. However, it all goes downhill from here as Bill Nunn’s saintly nurse teaches poor Harrison the error of his former ways during a spell in hospital.
The rest of the film is a sickly mess as Ford learns that money ain’t everything after all, and that a game of catch with your son is worth more than any convertible and blah blah blah. Preachy, sentimental tosh of the worst kind.
Best: The Fugitive (1993)
Arguably the most enjoyable of Harrison’s mid-’90s action flicks, The Fugitive is an enjoyably overwrought thrill ride boasting a pair of cracking performances from macho leading men Ford and Tommy Lee Jones. The cat and mouse dynamic might be a well-worn conceit, but the two grizzled warhorses ensure that this is a distinctly above-average genre piece.
Ford is great as the wronged man on the run, whilst Jones has got the lawman’s dogged determination down to a tee. “I didn’t kill my wife,” barks Ford in the opening exchanges. “I don’t care,” comes Jones’ unyielding response. Cracking stuff.
Worst: What Lies Beneath (2000)
Harrison subverts his heroic reputation for a rare villainous turn in this schlocky horror show from director Robert Zemeckis. Ford plays the husband of Michelle Pfeiffer’s spooked housewife, and it turns out he’s hiding a less-than-savoury past.
Sadly, the scares on offer are cynically cheap (no one in that window, no one in that window, no one in that window, oh no, there’s someone in the first window!), whilst you can almost hear the gears grinding during Harrison’s mid-act shift from slightly gruff husband to out-and-out shit!
Comparisons with Hitchcock are superficial at best. Yes, Michelle Pfeiffer is blonde, but in terms of quality, it’s a total no-contest.
Best: Apocalypse Now (1979)
Ford re-teams with American Graffiti producer Francis Ford Coppola for a small role in his nightmarish journey into man’s dark heart. Ford plays Colonel Lucas, one of the intelligence officers who presents Martin Sheen’s Captain Willard with his perilous assignment.
Harrison keeps his trademark charm firmly under wraps to play Lucas as a jittery and nervous man, his fidgety description of Colonel Kurtz playing on the audience’s expectations of what Willard will find at the end of his journey.
Worst: Firewall (2006)
If you’ve seen more than one Harrison Ford thriller, you’ll know what to expect here. Ford plays another stout-hearted family man who finds himself manipulated by a villainous figure via the newfangled medium of computers.
With his face set resolutely to “grimace”, Harrison phones this one in with all the enthusiasm of a bus conductor, whilst Paul Bettany fares little better as an identikit British villain. Utterly ho-hum, and indicative of a distinctly fallow period in Ford’s career.
Best: Presumed Innocent (1990)
Ford is at his bewildered best as the seemingly decent man who finds himself in the frame for his lover’s murder. An otherwise upstanding family man, Ford’s marital guilt is played off nicely against his assumed innocence in the case, whilst Brian Dennehy has a ball as his slippery boss.
Bonny Bedelia and a flamboyant Raul Julia add to the strong supporting cast, while the twisty-turny plot will keep viewers guessing to the final reel. All in all, an excellent hybrid of talky courtroom drama and pulpy whodunit, delivered with panache.