There's no question that the most successful actor to ever come out of Star Wars is Harrison Ford. It's something he's constantly reminded with every interview he does. As much he spends his entire career telling fans he's in more than just his two most famous Lucasfilm franchises including Indiana Jones, the actor can't cut a break. Recently celebrating his 78th birthday, the venerable Ford knows at his age any time he can spend up top again is a prime opportunity. Before we start with the list, obviously, he has a love-hate relationship with both franchises since he wants to be known for his body of work.
First, let's get the honorable mentions out of the way. Ford's turn as the second Jack Ryan from the Tom Clancy espionage franchise with his turns in Patriot Games (1992) and Clear and Present Danger (1994). Sure, Alec Baldwin was the first in The Hunt for Red October (1990), but Ford is to Jack Ryan as Sean Connery is to James Bond. The franchise wouldn't get as far as it did without the success of Ford's films, even as Ben Affleck took over in The Sum of All Fears (2002) and now John Krasinski in the television series Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan took their turns. The second honorable mention goes to his performance in the paranormal thriller What Lies Beneath (2000). Directed by Robert Zemeckis with the script by Clark Gregg, star of Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., it provided a rare opportunity for Ford to play against type in a film genre he's not typically seen in. Without further adieu, here is my list of top five Ford films not named Star Wars or Indiana Jones.
5 – 42 (2013)
When it comes to Ford's roles, he's not exactly synonymous with biopics. As the fictional Indiana Jones, he did interact with the Nazis, Soviets, and an Indian death cult. The actor was near unrecognizable as Brooklyn Dodgers owner Branch Rickey, who signed Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) away from the Negro Leagues to play for Major League Baseball. Branch wasn't a character that needed to be featured significantly, but Ford's stoic presence made the most from all his scenes. It's a testament of writer-director Brian Helgeland, who was able to use him so effectively most others never thought to use the actor. The film shows how much of a shame Ford is underutilized, especially at his age and his leading man status in Hollywood. 42 handled Robinson's story with respect and is one of the most underrated baseball films of all time.
4 – Air Force One (1997)
In all of Ford's action-espionage-thrillers, Air Force One remains his best, and that's saying a lot considering how he put Jack Ryan on the map on the big screen. Directed by Wolfgang Petersen and written by Andrew W. Marlowe, Ford plays President Jack Marshall, a no-nonsense Commander-in-Chief whose tough policies on terrorism gets his aircraft hijacked by a radical group led by Ivan Korshunov (Gary Oldman). The bulk of the film reeks of so much action and testosterone wholesome mindless violence; it makes you wonder how this country ever ended up with such a thin-skinned sociopath as president. Plus, it contains Ford's most quotable line in a non-Star Wars and Indiana Jones setting, "Get off my plane!"
3 – Witness (1985)
Witness is Ford at his dramatic best and his lone Oscar-nominated work. After everything he's done in his career, it's tragic such quality projects haven't come his way since. Directed by Peter Weir and written by William Kelley, Pamela, and Earl W. Wallace (which won Best Original Screenplay), the story follows Det. John Book (Ford) tasked to protect a young Amish boy (Lucas Haas), who is the sole witness to a murder. John forms a relationship with the boy's mother (Kelly McGillis) while in hiding as he gets accustomed to life among the Amish. Aside from his work in Regarding Henry (1991), this is his best pure dramatic work. One can attribute Witness's success as an immersion film in the vein of others like Dances with Wolves (1990), The Last Samurai (2003), and Avatar (2009). What distinguishes the Ford film from the aforementioned titles is there is no "white savior" trope that dominates the narrative.
2 – Blade Runner (1982)
With respect to Denis Villeneuve's sequel in Blade Runner 2049 (2017), there's simply no topping the original inspiration from Ridley Scott's 1982 sci-fi epic. Adapted from Philip K. Dick's "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep," the film provided a rare balance where the universe's characters are as developed and fleshed out as the dystopian future. It's a testament to Scott's direction and writing from Hampton Fancher and David Webb Peoples.
Ford plays Rick Deckard, which he reprises in the Villeneuve sequel, whose job is to vanquish rogue replicants, which are androids created by the Tyrell Corporation to serve humanity. Aside from the timeless futuristic visuals, the 1982 original had all the principle elements come together in an organic fashion from maintaining Decker's noir perspective throughout. The bond he builds with Rachel (Sean Young) and the ultimate confrontation with the alpha replicant Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer), who become one of cinema's most thought-provoking anti-antagonists. It's difficult to paint Roy as a true villain despite his heinous acts. Nobody matched Batty's ambiguity and dominating presence in the 2017 sequel.
What makes Scott's work far superior to Villeneuve's is that despite the latter's best intentions, Ryan Gosling's K was always placed at a disadvantage simply because he's never really allowed to grow on his own. He just acts as a glorified exposition to connect the dots back to the 1982 film. It plays far more as an homage than a true sequel, which is saying a lot considering the achievements of the movie in its own right. It's like recreating a Vincent Van Gogh or a Leonardo Da Vinci. For an artist, it's a feat of its own to recreate such greatness, but the 2017 film reminds us, it's just a recreation. As far as iconic sci-fi goes, many may regard as blasphemy, but Ford's Rick Deckard is a far more interesting and better-written character than Han Solo ever was.
1 – The Fugitive (1993)
If there were ever a perfect crime-drama film that followed the original TV series, it would be 1993's The Fugitive. Based on the 1963 series created by Roy Huggins, starring David Janssen of the same name, The Fugitive follows Richard Kimble (Ford), a medical doctor falsely accused of murdering his wife. When his alibi doesn't check out, he's arrested and later convicted in a trial. He's transported on a prison bus to start his sentence, but the bus is overrun when prisoners stage an escape. Richard becomes the beneficiary of the coup he had no part of. As the bus is stuck on a track on the path of a train, the doctor saves one of the guards from the collision before fleeing himself to try to clear his name. Directed by Andrew Davis and written by Jeb Stuart and David Twohy, everything from the cast, cinematography, and writing fired on all cylinders. Not only did the film permanently solidify Ford as an action staple in the 90s, but I would also argue even more than the Lucasfilm franchises. It also skyrocketed those around them with Tommy Lee Jones (winning an Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role), who plays Deputy U.S. Marshal Samuel Gerard and Joe Pantoliano, who plays Deputy U.S. Marshall Cosmo Renfro.
The success of the film gave Jones and Pantoliano their own inferior sequel U.S. Marshalls (1998) with Wesley Snipes as the fugitive if that doesn't spoiler the original for you. Aside from the fact the film brilliantly condenses what's supposed to last an entire season into a movie that just clocks at over two hours. Not only has the success of the film been parodied into oblivion (see Leslie Nielsen's Wrongfully Accused or better yet, maybe not), it unintentionally pigeon-holed him into the "pre-meme" status as the man having to save his family from peril constantly. He was doing the Liam Neeson Taken s*** before it was cool. There are a ton of candidates throughout Ford's body of work, but of all the films that defined his career even more than Star Wars and Indiana Jones, The Fugitive is the most Harrison Ford film of them all.