As Top Gun: Maverick blasts into theaters an astounding 36 years after the original, the celebration has a bittersweet note due to the absence of director Tony Scott. It’s been almost a decade since Tony, the younger brother of fellow director Ridley Scott, took his own life. But he left behind a legacy of movies that were both daring and beloved.
"The biggest edge I live on is directing," he said in a 1995 interview for Crimson Tide. "That's the most scary, dangerous thing you can do in your life."
Thanks in large part to the success of Top Gun, Tony was able to carve out a niche for himself directing highly commercial thrillers and action movies with big name talent. His list of collaborators reads like a who’s who of action icons – Tom Cruise, Bruce Willis, and Denzel Washington, who starred in four of his films.
While his first film, 1983's The Hunger, opened to mixed reviews, his stunning visual style and Stephen Goldblatt’s lush cinematography marked the arrival of a filmmaker to watch. A cast that included David Bowie, and a steamy love scene between Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon didn’t hurt the film’s longevity either.
But it was Top Gun that made the filmmaker synonymous with high-octane action. Longtime Paramount executive David Kirkpatrick remembered meeting with Tony about Top Gun, after 35 other directors had already turned the project down. "I first met Tony in an interview with Ned Tanen, the head of the studio, at Ned’s house in Malibu on Channel Road," Kirkpatrick wrote in one of several Facebook posts about the film and the director earlier this month. "The meeting was to determine if Tony should direct Top Gun. During the high-tension meeting, Tony fell asleep. In mid-sentence. Explaining his vision in Ned’s favorite chair."
Tony had flown from London to Los Angeles and gone straight to the meeting from the airport, and the jetlag had finally caught up with him. Despite that rather inauspicious meeting, Paramount agreed with producers Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson to hire him for Top Gun.
Carrying on a cinematic tradition going all the way back to Howard Hughes’Hell’s Angels (1930), the planes were manned by Navy pilots and filmed in actual flight, executing the maneuvers required for the scenes. Hollywood lore has it that, at a certain point, the studio started billing Tony personally for the jet fuel he was using up. But all was forgiven when Top Gun was released and became one of the highest-grossing films of 1986.
This was a preference that Tony continued to have throughout his career. He told Collider in 2009, "I love shooting with real things in the real world. I think it gives a level of drama, performance, and everything seems to rise to the occasion."
Tony followed up Top Gun with more hits, including Beverly Hills Cop II, Days of Thunder and The Last Boy Scout. True Romance, written by Quentin Tarantino, brought him commercial as well as critical acclaim.
He continued to direct exciting and inventive films in the action genre up until 2010, including Crimson Tide, Spy Game, Man on Fire, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, and Unstoppable.
He was also an accomplished producer. He created the production company Scott Free Productions with his brother Ridley. Tony always maintained that the secret to their success was that they had contrasting styles.
"Ridley makes films for posterity," he told the Sunday Times Magazine. "His films will around for a long time. I think my films are more rock ’n’ roll. I experiment more."
Reflecting on his legacy, Tony shared with Cinemablend, "I always get criticized for style over content, unlike Ridley’s films like Alien or Blade Runner or Gladiator that go right into the classic box right away. Mine sort of hover. Maybe, with time, people will start saying they should be classics."
To have made so many films that are still as gripping today as they were when they were released, it's safe to say that he too made his share of classics.