Monday, December 17, 2012

Ask JKM a Question #59: Is Ridley Scott a Genre Director?

A reader named Caitlan writes: 

Settle something please Mr. Muir.

Exactly what is your definition of a genre director? Or does that moniker even apply anymore?

My inquiry stems from Ridley Scott.

I say he is one of the greatest genre directors ever. Alien. One of the great horror films ever. Blade Runner. Considered one of the great sci-fi films of all time.

And now with Prometheus and a Blade Runner remake due, I say Scott is a genre director on the level of Gilliam, Carpenter, and Cameron.

 My husband, on the other hand, is a HUGE Cameron fan and claims that Scott is a mainstream director that HAPPENED to have directed great genre films, but is not, himself, a genre director. That out of 32 films directed, only 5 can be considered to be horror/sci-fi and that regardless of how well received those 5 films are, 27 of his films have been mainstream and THAT alone makes him a mainstream director.

That it would be tantamount to calling William Friedkin a horror film director like Craven or Hooper just because he directed The Exorcist 40 years ago.

If you choose to answer this, we will both accept your response as THE final word on this rather intense disagreement. :)”

Caitlan: that is a tough one and I hate to take sides. 

I can, honestly, see both sides of the debate.  But I tend to side with you for a couple of reasons. 

First, I define a genre director as someone who works in the genre frequently.  It’s that simple. 

More than three films in the genre is generally sufficient for me to qualify someone as a genre director.  The distinction is still an important one because it helps us contextualize a director's career, and organize his other work.

Secondly, I make no bones about my desire to claim as many good directors as possible for the “genre,” thus making my definition, admittedly, a liberal one.

And thirdly, Scott’s canon, as you rightly note, now includes Alien (1979), Blade Runner (1982), Legend (1985), Hannibal (2000) and Prometheus (2012), with sequels to Blade Runner and Prometheus to come. 

That grouping represents a truly significant genre body of work. To not speak of Scott in terms of genre seems a disservice when many would legitimately claim, as you do, that he has made some of the best films in sf and horror.

By contrast, Scott has made two war movies (G.I. Jane, Black Hawk Down), two “cop” movies (Black Rain, American Gangster) and four movies you might call historical dramas (Gladiator, 1492, Kingdom of Heaven and Robin Hood). 

So in terms of the films Scott has made, he has deliberately selected science fiction, fantasy, and horror more than any other specific film form.  His selection tells us which films he enjoys making, and which films he thinks he can get made.

So I say, let’s grab him! We need him.

And regarding William Friedkin, in addition to The Exorcist, he did also give us Rampage (1987), The Guardian (1990), Bug (2006) and Killer Joe (2012), so I feel like he’s skirting the edges of the genre, though the case is probably tougher to make in that instance.  He’s another favorite director with titles like Cruising, Sorcerer and To Live and Die in L.A., but I can’t make as clear cut an argument in his favor.

I hope that answer helps at least a little, and that peace is soon restored in your household.  Thank you for asking a terrific question.  I appreciate it! Happy Holidays!

Don’t forget to ask me your questions at


  1. Honestly, fair arguments all around.

    Someone like Scott is special and I think it's fair to say he's not exclusive to any one genre.

    To be honest Scott is simply one of those directors that prides himself in excpetionalism with an interest all kinds of categories.

    A film like Matchstick Men, a terrific film, certainly isn't a genre film in strict terms and is hardly a mainstream picture.

    Scott shoots stories and aims his camera at making them big, bold and the best they can be whethere big or small.

    I agree too that he has created some genre masterpieces while certainly making films that have been mainstream successes, but Scott makes pictures he loves.

    Let's face it, Black Hawk Down is arguably one of the best war pictures ever. I say one, but Scott never spares expense when making a truly great picture whatever the genre.

    I love Scott and I welcome his eye in film on any subject. All the better, of course, he still loves the science fiction genre. It needs him.

    All in all, I'm not sure you can put that guy in a box - not that you were doing that at all John. I'm just making the statement that he's not an easy director to pigenhole one way or another. He just makes amazing films - most of the time. How many male directors look to create powerful female leads?

    Great question and and a great response here all around. Just adding jumping into the conversation.

  2. Great question. I never considered Ridley Scott a genre director, but looking at the sci-fi/horror films he directed (along with their overall success) I see your point.

    Along this same train of thought, what about Steven Spielberg? He definitely makes films across genres, but looking at his body of work, he does have quite a few in the sci-fi/horror genre (including some definite classics!) Poltergeist, Jaws, Duel, Close Encounters.., A.I. to name a few.