Harrison Ford is one of the all-time biggest box draws in the history of Hollywood. He’s done action films, comedies, dramas, and everything else in-between. That’s in addition to his roles in Star Wars and the Indiana Jones series. With over 40 films to his credit since 1966, Ford’s longevity is truly impressive.
The amazing thing is that Ford’s first breakout role was basically a fluke. Ford knew George Lucas from American Graffiti and he was hired to do line readings for Han Solo before Lucas gave him the actual part. The audience’s response to Ford was so strong that he essentially became a “star” overnight… after nine years as a struggling actor-turned-carpenter. For a long time, Ford was perhaps the most popular actor as well, with a truly impressive string of hit movies to his name.
But times change and no one stays on top forever, not even Harrison Ford. In the last 15 years, hits have been few and far between for Ford. His last blockbuster film was Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull… which isn’t a movie that the Indy faithful were very happy with. However, Ford will reprise his role as Han Solo in the upcoming Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and his presence has been one of that film’s biggest selling points. It may even become the biggest hit in his career, if The Force Awakens can live up to the advance hype.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens will hit theaters on Friday, December 18. Ahead of that, ComingSoon.net is looking back at the ten most memorable film roles in Ford’s career. And barring anything unforeseen, Ford’s career is far from over.
The original Star Wars film turned its leading trio into household names. But it was Ford who left the biggest impression. Han Solo’s roguish demeanor, and his ultimately good heart resonated with fans. Ford went on to reprise his role in the first two Star Wars sequels. The cliffhanger of The Empire Strikes Back was largely about the unresolved fate of Han, and he received one of the happier endings in Return of the Jedi.
Nearly twenty years after the Star Wars Special Editions, “Han shot first” is still a popular rallying cry against the many changes that Lucas made to his films. Fans feel a certain ownership of his character, and they openly rebelled against the perception that Lucas was trying to soften Han’s sharper edges. What Lucas never seemed to realize is that he had already perfected Han’s character arc long before his attempts to change it.
From most accounts, George Lucas resisted casting Ford as Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark. And if Tom Selleck had been available, Ford would never have had his chance to play Indy. Lucas may not have initially wanted Ford for the role, but his casting provided to be good fortune that only elevated Ford’s status as a box office draw. Raiders of the Lost Ark led to three Indiana Jones sequels and it gave Ford another iconic character that helped shape his career.
Ford’s first major film after Raiders of the Lost Ark was another home run, but Blade Runner was not an instant hit with moviegoers. Director Ridley Scott’s adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was considered a box office disappointment at the time of its release, but it has since become one of the most influential sci-fi films of all time.
Within the movie, Ford played Rick Deckard, a man hired to track down androids known as replicants. There is still considerable debate about whether Deckard was also a replicant, but perhaps answers will be forthcoming in the long gestating Blade Runner sequel…
Stepping outside of his genre roots, Ford was cast as the lead in the crime thriller Witness, which put him in the role of Detective John Book. While attempting to protect a young Amish boy named Samuel (Lukas Haas) from corrupt cops, Book was injured and forced to take refuge within an Amish community. From there, Book developed an ultimately doomed relationship with Samuel’s mother, Rachel (Kelly McGillis).
Witness was one of the first films that established Ford as a star outside of his franchise roles. Because of that, Witness may have also paved the way for the rest of Ford’s post-Star Wars career.
After so many heroic roles, Ford took a darker turn in The Mosquito Coast, director Peter Weir’s adaptation of Paul Theroux’s novel of the same name. Ford played Allie Fox, a man obsessed with creating a utopian society in South America. River Phoenix played Ford’s onscreen son, which led Phoenix to get the role of Young Indiana in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
Patriot Games solidified Ford’s status as an action icon, as he added a third franchise to his résumé. Alec Baldwin did not reprise his role as Jack Ryan in the sequel to The Hunt for Red October, which paved the way for Ford to take the part in Patriot Games and its sequel, Clear and Present Danger.
Subsequent attempts to recast Jack Ryan and reboot the series with Ben Affleck and Chris Pine have come up short. Maybe it’s time to see if Ford wants to come back and play President Jack Ryan, and adapt some of Tom Clancy’s later novels.
Back in the early ‘90s, theatrical remakes of TV series were not a very common phenomena, but The Fugitive was just about the perfect cinematic reboot. Ford played the wrongly-accused Dr. Richard Kimble against Tommy Lee Jones as Deputy Samuel Gerard and the film was a smash hit.
The Fugitive was so successful that Hollywood couldn’t resist trying to make a sequel. U.S. Marshals put Jones in the lead and left out Ford, but it wasn’t able to recapture the alchemy of The Fugitive remake.
Ford may never have played Jack Ryan as President, but he did get to portray the President as an action hero in Air Force One. President James Marshall (Ford) and his family were trapped on Air Force One during a terrorist plot that left Marshall as the only man who could save his family and end the hostage crisis.
Air Force One was one of the most popular action movies of the ‘90s, and it still gets a lot of play on cable, but it also marked the beginning of Ford’s downward trajectory, as it was one of his last non-Indiana Jones blockbusters.
In perhaps his darkest turn to date, Ford starred opposite Michelle Pfeiffer in What Lies Beneath, a supernatural thriller that followed the haunting of Claire (Pfeiffer) and Norman Spencer (Harrison Ford).
Back to the Future director Robert Zemeckis helmed What Lies Beneath, and it was a surprise hit. Until 2008’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, it was also one the few successful films headlined by Ford since the turn of the century.
“Chewie, we’re home.”
Has there ever been a bigger applause line in a trailer than that? The marketing team behind Star Wars: The Force Awakens have masterfully promoted Ford’s return as Han Solo. It was unexpected because Ford kept his distance from the Star Wars franchise since 1983’s Return of the Jedi. The long held rumor was that Ford had come to despise the films that made him famous.
And yet Ford agreed to return alongside his former Star Wars castmates for at least one more adventure in a universe “Far, Far Away.” It’s easily the most anticipated film of the year, and we’re dying to see if director J.J. Abrams pulled it off.
Don’t let us down, Abrams!