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Six definitive films: The ultimate beginner's guide to Harrison Ford

“To me, success is choice and opportunity.” – Harrison Ford

Part of the allure of veteran Hollywood actor Harrison Ford is in the fact that when he’s on-screen as Indiana Jones, Han Solo, or even Rick Deckard, he doesn’t appear to be acting at all. Often portraying rogue antiheroes, Ford’s enigmatic public image is regularly channelled into each of his performances, creating gruff, stony characters that seem rather blase about their situation, but who still retain a strange beautiful charm.

It’s certainly an ode to Harrison Ford, a down-to-earth actor who retains endearing humanity no matter the role he takes on, even if he often denounces the jobs he accepts. “I have no fucking idea what a Force ghost is. And I don’t care,” the actor stated in an interview for the release of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, a franchise which, upon its premiere in 1977, would change the course of the actor’s life. 

His career has been one of circumstance and honest hard work, depicting some of cinema’s most iconic characters. Let’s take a look at the six films that define his life as a performer:

Harrison Ford’s six definitive films:

American Graffiti – (George Lucas, 1973)

Ford’s career began in 1964 once he travelled to Los Angeles from his hometown of Chicago, to apply for a job in radio voice-overs. Although he didn’t get the part, he stayed in California and signed a $150-per-week contract with Columbia Pictures to appear in minor roles in new movies. 

This, however, only led Ford to titbit roles, and he soon parked acting and became a self-taught carpenter to support his wife and two sons. During this time he did play one small role in George Lucas’ American Graffiti, depicting a young man named Bob Falfa who challenges one of the lead characters to a race in the director’s early coming-of-age drama. Though American Graffiti is now recognised as a classic of 1970s cinema, Ford’s performance is not significant, though what would be is his growing relationship with George Lucas, a filmmaker who would soon catapult Ford into international fame.

Star Wars – (George Lucas, 1977)

Remarkably, following the success of American Graffiti, Harrison Ford remained a carpenter, though was soon hired by none other than Francis Ford Coppola to expand his office, giving him small roles in his coming two films in return. Ford would appear in 1974s The Conversation and Apocalypse Now five years later, though he was soon to land his most significant role once George Lucas gave him a call. 

The cultural impact of the Star Wars franchise is so grand it’s almost impossible to articulate, with the first instalment becoming one of the most groundbreaking films of all time and bringing widespread recognition to Harrison Ford, as well as co-stars Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher. Ford was cast as Han Solo, a maverick smuggler who helps Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia and Obi-Wan Kenobi on their mission to destroy the death star and bring down the Empire. 

Solo would become one of cinema’s most iconic characters, pinned to the walls of teenagers across the world as an eccentric role model and 70s hunk.

Raiders of the Lost Ark – (Steven Spielberg, 1981)

A sequel to the cultural phenomenon of Star Wars would quickly follow, with The Empire Strikes Back being released just three years after in 1980, a film which would help establish the Han Solo character and Harrison Ford as a bonafide film star. 

Although Star Wars was never really Harrison Ford’s film, Solo may have been a fan favourite, but it was a franchise led by an ensemble cast, Steven Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark would however ground Ford as a leading actor. The heroic, archaeologist Indiana Jones would become yet another iconic character for Harrison Ford, a wise-cracking globe-trotter who is a far more structured character than Solo could’ve ever hoped. 

Raiders of the Lost Ark would go on to be the first of four Indiana Jones films, with each one helping to flesh out the character and set Ford on a course for continued cinematic success throughout the remaining 20th century. 

Blade Runner – (Ridley Scott, 1982) 

Immediately following Ford’s success as Indiana Jones in Spielberg’s adventure classic, he would join Ridley Scott to play Rick Deckard in Blade Runner, an adaptation of Phillip K. Dick’s iconic sci-fi novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Compared to his work on Raiders of the Lost Ark and Star Wars, Ford found working on Blade Runner far trickier, noting: “It was a long slog. I didn’t really find it that physically difficult—I thought it was mentally difficult”. His role as Rick Deckard was an altogether more challenging and serious role, one which would help to solidify the acting credentials of Harrison Ford as an actor capable of much more than just ‘character roles’. It would go on to become one of the actor’s most celebrated films, both critically and commercially, and would spark a later sequel, even if they didn’t know it yet.

The Fugitive – (Andrew Davis, 1993)

For Harrison Ford, the 1980s and early ’90s were marked by a career reclination as he embraced the power of the franchises that had created him as an actor. Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, the final film in the celebrated trilogy, would release in 1983, just before Indiana Jones’ second outing in The Temple of Doom one year later. 

Following the release of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade in 1989, by the start of the 1990s both Star Wars and Indiana Jones had completed their respective trilogies, with Ford now on the lookout for new streams of revenue. Whilst it was unable to spark a franchise, or indeed match the wild popularity of the aforementioned trilogies, Andrew Davis would represent one of Ford’s first great films outside of his success in the 1980s. 
Playing the role of Dr. Richard Kimble, a man wrongfully accused of murdering his wife, Ford must find the real killer whilst being pursued by the police force. It’s a stunning thriller that represented a new turn for the actor, known as an all American action star; he would also appear in Patriot Games in 1992 and Clear and Present Danger in 1994.

Blade Runner 2049 – (Denis Villeneuve, 2017)

As the 21st century dawned and commenced, Harrison Ford was flung into cinematic limbo, stuck in between a career in mediocre action/drama flicks like Hollywood Homicide in 2003, and revisiting characters of old in Indiana Jones’ fourth outing The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in 2008.

The following decades have been littered with seemingly random releases, hopping from comedy Morning Glory in 2010, to 2013s sci-fi Ender’s Game, to the bombastic X-rated action film The Expendables 3 in 2014. More recently his filmography tends to echo the success of the 1980s, with a return to the Star Wars universe in The Force Awakens as well as an imminent fifth instalment of the Indiana Jones series in the works. 

Though it was Denis Villeneuve’s sequel to Blade Runner which was the most significant of Ford’s recent releases, a film that showed the very best of Ford’s versatility. Where Ford feels like he’s trying to emulate a character long gone in Star Wars, in Blade Runner 2049 he represents an amalgamation of his very best performances, showing off the maverick, charming action spirit he displayed throughout the 1980s. Of course, he is reprising his role as Rick Deckard, and his return is a welcome one, though crucially his inclusion doesn’t feel like commercial fodder. His presence is required and his performance reflects that.

We hope for similar revolutionary ideas in Indiana Jones 5.