All Films Considered: Harrison Ford

  • Publish Date: January 22, 2010
  • Comments: ↓ 2 user comments

The good reviews? They were a long time ago, in a decade far, far away

Those of us who grew up during the 1970s and 80s probably still think of Harrison Ford as a major movie star, thanks, of course, to his prominent role in the Star Wars trilogy (back when it was just a trilogy) and his career-defining turn as Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark and its sequels. But what has he done for us lately? As it turns out, not much.

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In the early 1970s, a not-so-young man with a devilish grin and only a few minor TV roles to his name found himself manning a 55 Chevy as a bit player on the set of American Graffiti. From that humble beginning, Harrison Ford quickly emerged as one of Hollywood's biggest film stars. As Han Solo, he helped fight the Galactic Empire; as Indiana Jones he uncovered lost artifacts; as Blade Runner's Rick Deckard, he chased down renegade androids, and as Jack Ryan (in Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger), he protected the president.

Although he starred in the occasional misfire, Ford's movies generally received good reviews during the 1980s and early 1990s, and the actor even picked up an Academy Award nomination for his work in Witness. More importantly, his movies made money -- and lots of it. Few actors in history have topped his earning power; Ford's films have grossed a total of over $3.4 billion domestically and $5.7 billion worldwide. If you adjust for inflation, his movies have earned an average of nearly $222 million in the U.S. alone -- an almost unheard-of number.

However, that average drops down to $118 million if you look only at his 10 most recent films -- and to $95 million if you also subtract his only recent hit, the fourth Indiana Jones movie. And if his earnings decline means that his star power is dimming, a look at his Metascores indicates that his choice of projects might be partly to blame. There's no way around it: the man hasn't made a truly good movie in over a dozen years, and he hasn't appeared in a great film since at least the early 1990s.

With his newest film, Extraordinary Measures, hitting theaters this weekend, we take the opportunity to look back at his ten most recent movies prior to this new release. As the chart below indicates, consistency hasn't been a problem for Ford: his recent movies have been consistently mediocre.

Metascores of Movies Starring Harrison Ford, 1997 - Present

Movies are plotted by Metascore, a weighted average of scores from top professional critics, on a scale from 0 (bad) to 100 (good).

Let's examine each of these movies in more detail. The pie charts indicate the percentage of critics giving positive (green), mixed (yellow) and negative (red) reviews.

Movies Starring Harrison Ford, 1997 - Present
  Title Netflix Year Metascore Users
The Devil's Own 1997 53 5.0
Est. Prod. Budget: $90M
($120M adjusted for inflation)
Domestic Gross: $42.8M
($68.6M adjusted for inflation)
"If you've got Harrison Ford and Brad Pitt, do you really need a coherent script? Unfortunately for everyone concerned, the answer is yes."
--Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times

Director Alan J. Pakula's final film before his death stars Ford as a cop who befriends a member of the IRA (played by Brad Pitt), a move which puts his family in harm's way. Boasting a larger budget than the norm for character-driven dramas, The Devil's Own barely broke even (earning only $140 million worldwide), and it almost lost one of its stars. Pitt threatened to walk because he was unhappy with the way the production was running, calling it "the most irresponsible bit of filmmaking" he had ever seen. He stayed, of course, and the combined star power of Pitt and Ford managed to impress critics, even if the film itself did not.

  Title Netflix Year Metascore Users
Air Force One 1997 61 7.0
Est. Prod. Budget: $85M ($114M)
Domestic Gross: $173M ($279.9M)
"Ford makes such a dynamic president in Air Force One, you may find yourself favorably weighing his odds in Iowa and New Hampshire."
--Desson Thomson, Washington Post

In a no-brainer casting decision, Ford plays the President of the United States -- one of those ah-ha moments enjoyed by audiences and critics alike. A major success, Air Force One is one of nine Ford films to gross more than $300 million worldwide, and even made a fan of then-President Bill Clinton, who saw it twice. And while Ford may make the perfect on-screen president, his election as one of the most beloved film stars of all time is helped out by great chemistry with his co-stars. No one sunk into a role opposite Ford with more glee than Air Force One's Gary Oldman, playing a cold-blooded terrorist. It proved to be a better pairing than the one in Ford's next film.

  Title Netflix Year Metascore Users
Six Days Seven Nights 1998 51 8.5
Est. Prod. Budget: $70M ($92M)
Domestic Gross: $74.3M ($116.5M)
"Ford is the problem: He looks great for his age (56, to Heche's 29), but oozes a stolid gloom that snuffs out those sparks long before they can set the lush scenery on fire."
--Maitland McDonagh, TV Guide

In this 1998 romantic comedy, Ford returned to his swashbuckling roots as a pilot stranded on a deserted island with a spunky blond played by Ann Heche. In the course of falling in love, the couple battle each other as well as their exotic locale -- that is, until pirates (pirates!) give them a common enemy. Filmed on location in Kauai, the Ivan Reitman-directed film had a budget of $70 million, which it barely earned back domestically. Critics compared the movie unfavorably to the 1980s classic Romancing the Stone, and noted a lack of chemistry between the leads -- a problem that returned in Ford's next film.

  Title Netflix Year Metascore Users
Random Hearts 1999 38 4.0
Est. Prod. Budget: $64M ($82M)
Domestic Gross: $31.5M ($45.6M)
"Even a search party would be hard-pressed to find a spark between Harrison Ford and Kristin Scott Thomas in Pollack's latest tear-jerker."
--Peter Travers, Rolling Stone

Taking over a role intended for Kevin Costner, Ford plays a recently widowed man who discovers that his wife was having an affair. His investigation of the indiscretion leads him to develop a relationship with the spouse of his wife's lover. Dowdy in it's production style from its pacing to the clothes the characters wear, Hearts certainly didn't win the hearts of critics, who found Sydney Pollack's melodramatic romance about as unromantic as possible. Ford wasn't really to blame, however; reviewers clearly placed the blame on the script.

  Title Netflix Year Metascore Users
What Lies Beneath 2000 51 6.8
Est. Prod. Budget: $100M ($125M)
Domestic Gross: $155.5M ($212M)
"Ford and Pfeiffer deliver craftsmanlike work, but the film steadily unravels as Zemeckis tries to ratchet up the suspense."
--Jay Carr, Boston Globe

To allow Tom Hanks time to lose weight and grow a beard for 2000's Cast Away, director Robert Zemeckis distracted himself by making this love letter to Hitchcockian thrillers (with a definitely non-Hitchcockian supernatural twist thrown in for good measure). But the real surprise is Ford's turn in a bad guy role that plays against type. As Michelle Pfeiffer's deceivingly sympathetic husband, Ford achieves two firsts on film -- without spoiling the ending, let's just say he proves that sometimes an old hero can't save the girl, much less breathe under water. Despite middling reviews -- which, as with Ford's previous film, mainly hammered the screenplay rather than the actor himself -- the film drew a large summer audience and eventually went on to gross close to $300 million worldwide.

  Title Netflix Year Metascore Users
K-19: The Widowmaker 2002 58 7.2
Est. Prod. Budget: $100M ($119M)
Domestic Gross: $35.2M ($44.5M)
"Of all the A-list men playing dedicated authority figures, Star Wars alums Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson remain among the most amusing and pleasing, which is why [K-19] glides along engagingly rather than sinking."
--Gregory Weinkauf, New Times

Despite being manned by Han Solo (Ford as Capt. Alexei Vostrikov) and Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson as Capt. Mikhail Polenin) The Widowmaker failed to make a killing at the box office -- in fact, this movie about a Russian nuclear submarine was itself a bomb. The film was the most expensive independent picture in cinema history, proving that, like her ex-husband James Cameron, director Kathryn Bigelow is no stranger to over-inflated budgets. Of course, a few good things came out of the film: Bigelow got a chance to hone her skills at making a tension-filled military drama which would later surface to better effect in The Hurt Locker, and Ford got to save the day in a performance that had Russian survivors of the real-life K-19 applauding in approval.

  Title Netflix Year Metascore Users
Hollywood Homicide 2003 47 4.2
Est. Prod. Budget: $75M ($87M)
Domestic Gross: $30.9M ($37.7M)
"It's a humiliating comedown for Ford, and he looks creaky and grumpy, obviously aware that he is miscast and dreading every scene."
--Jami Bernard, New York Daily News

It seems that Ford failed to find his groove in this buddy action comedy about two detectives from the LAPD Hollywood Division investigating a string of murders in the hip-hop community. Ford's second consecutive box office disaster, the Ron Shelton-directed Homicide was hampered by one of the actor's most critically-panned performances, as well as a lack of chemistry between Ford and co-star Josh Hartnett.

  Title Netflix Year Metascore Users
Firewall 2006 45 5.4
Est. Prod. Budget: $60M ($64M)
Domestic Gross: $48.8M ($54.7M)
"The movie is as tired in its bones as Ford, who at 63 has crossed the line from robust, no-nonsense manliness to doughy-creepy grumpster. "
--Michael Atkinson, Village Voice

Though it grossed a modest $82 million worldwide, Firewall features a creaky performance from Ford, who's less spry here than he would be a few years later cracking a whip and chasing after an ancient crystal skull. Perhaps the material here didn't excite him: this technological thriller certainly didn't impress critics. The actor plays a banker who squares off against Paul Bettany's money-hungry psycho in order to save his family, and while the premise provided some action, the constant techno-babble was wholly unconvincing.

  Title Netflix Year Metascore Users
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull 2008 65 5.0
Est. Prod. Budget: $185M
Domestic Gross: $317.1M
"Harrison Ford? Terrific -- and re-energized."
--Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly

Although we like to think that Metascores are a pretty good guide to the general quality of a movie, here's one instance where the score -- and the critics -- let us down.

Sure, this fourth installment (and first in nearly 20 years) in the venerable Indiana Jones franchise did a lot of things right. It returned original director Steven Spielberg. It retained many of the original core cast members, from Ford -- who effortlessly slipped back into Indy's worn ensemble because his measurements hadn't changed in 19 years -- to Karen Allen as the scrappy Marion Ravenwood. It even painstakingly duplicated the original look of the series created by retired cinematographer Douglas Slocombe. As a result, it went on to collect over $786 million worldwide, putting it among the 30 highest grossing films of all time.

But -- and this is an important "but" -- it failed to truly impress its audience. So disappointed were fans that they coined a new term in its honor, accusing the franchise of having "nuked the fridge" and run its course, in reference to the film's literally unbelievable first action sequence. Many fans felt that both the special effects and the story were lacking, and they didn't approve of the forced introduction of Shia LeBeouf as the heir apparent to Indiana Jones. And don't get us started about the climax, which, among others things, was far too goofy for most viewers to swallow. But a fifth Indy film is currently in development, with a still-in-great-shape Ford eager to return. As the actor told MTV earlier this month, "The series is full of opportunity." (And, we might add, money. Big piles of money.)

  Title Netflix Year Metascore Users
Crossing Over 2009 38 5.7
Est. Prod. Budget: n/a
Domestic Gross: $0.5M
"Ford gives 'Crossing Over's' most effective performance, but it's downhill from there."
--Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times

Crossing Over was intended to be the next Crash, but even Ford's star appeal couldn't save this film from, well, crashing. Fraught with major problems such as massive edits, a delayed release and studio threats of sending it straight to DVD, Wayne Kramer's multifaceted meditation on immigration was so reviled, it prompted Sean Penn to yank his entire performance from the film. Grossing just under half a million in its North American run (and only $2.5 million internationally), the film proved that audiences are more comfortable watching Ford interact with aliens when they come from outer space.

  Title Netflix Year Metascore Users
Extraordinary Measures 2010 44 7.0
Est. Prod. Budget: $31M
Domestic Gross: TBD
"Harrison Ford has obviously enrolled in the Al Pacino School of Old Man Acting. He yells, sputters and glowers his way through the ultra-ordinary and well-intentioned Extraordinary Measures."
--Claudia Puig, USA Today

Ford's newest film is a based-on-a-true-story melodrama about one father's search for a cure to a rare disease that threatens to kill his young sons. Early reviews peg it as a run-of-the-mill tearjerker better suited for the small screen -- not surprising, considering that it comes from new distributor CBS Films (which shares a parent company with Metacritic). Pre-release polling foresees a difficult opening weekend, with box office estimates ranging between $5 million and $7 million.

Bonus films:

Metacritic's database is only complete going back to the late 1990s, so rather than paint an incomplete picture of Ford's acting career, we chose to focus on his ten most recent films (plus the brand-new Extraordinary Measures). However, a few of the actor's better, earlier films are in our database (albeit with a smaller collection of reviews), including:

The Metascore is a weighted average of scores from top professional critics, on a scale from 0 (bad) to 100 (good). User scores represent an average of scores assigned by site visitors on a scale from 0 (bad) to 10 (good). The scores listed for Extraordinary Measures are from January 22, 2010. The dollar figures in parentheses after the box office gross and budget numbers are those same figures adjusted for inflation. Source of box office grosses: Box Office Mojo.

We're sorry, but comments are closed for this article.

Comments (2)

  • Chad S.  

    As I was watching "The Hurt Locker" and its low-wattage cast, my thoughts instantly turned toward "K-19: The Widowmaker", and wondered how much better the film would have fared with actors who realized that their characters were Russian. Harrison Ford's half-assed attempt at a convincing Russian accent prevented "K-19" from reaching its potential. (When the second unit, led by Ralph Fiennes, blows up, I see it as a reference to "K-19", in which Bigelow is saying that she prefers her no-name actors to stars.) That said, Harrison Ford is perfectly cast as a megalomaniac in Peter Weir's "The Mosquito Coast". "Air Force One" is a total guilty pleasure: incredibly stupid, but fun, and Ford as a kickass president is great cheese.

  • Marc Doyle  

    Frantic & Regarding Henry - two of my cable faves....

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