Last week, the enter­tain­ment busi­ness was shocked by the news that suc­cess­ful direc­tor Tony Scott had com­mit­ted sui­cide for rea­sons that aren’t yet clear.  Immediately, cinephiles all over the world began dis­cussing the mer­its of his work and whether or not he ever emerged from the shad­ow of his broth­er and fel­low direc­tor, Ridley Scott.  Your Humble Reviewer’s respon­se was a mix­ture of shock and sad­ness: Tony Scott had been his favorite main­stream film direc­tor for a long time.

Indeed, there are sev­er­al Tony Scott films that are big favorites around Schlockmania head­quar­ters.  Like many a direc­tor of com­mer­cial fare, he was at the mer­cy of how good his cur­rent script was but when he got the right mate­ri­al, the results were always impres­sive.  Scott was a fine visu­al styl­ist who brought music-video styl­iza­tion to the Hollywood block­buster, had a flair for craft­ing com­pelling action set­pieces and, unlike some of his con­tem­po­raries, wasn’t averse to tak­ing chances with off­beat, edgy mate­ri­al.

The fol­low­ing five films rep­re­sent a high­ly sub­jec­tive “best of” list, one that caters to Schlockmania’s pref­er­ence for the tough and unusu­al in cin­e­mat­ic enter­tain­ment.  Though the films list­ed here weren’t always his most com­mer­cial­ly suc­cess­ful, each offers a strong exam­ple of the afore­men­tioned qual­i­ties that Your Humble Reviewer admired in his work — and each of the­se titles has its own cult fol­low­ing.

If you find a film on this list that you haven’t seen before, check it out.  No one did mul­ti­plex fare quite like Tony Scott.

The Hunger (1983): Scott’s direct­ing debut was a com­mer­cial flop dur­ing its orig­i­nal release but has become a major favorite with vam­pire film cultists, not to men­tion a touch­stone of goth cul­ture.  This adap­ta­tion of Whitley Streiber’s vam­pire nov­el essen­tial­ly plays like a chic 1980’s update of the les­bian vam­pire film trend that was so pop­u­lar in the 1970’s and boasts a cast that includes Susan Sarandon, Catherine Deneuve, David Bowie and Ann Magnuson.  Look out for some stun­ning make­up effects by Dick Smith and an amaz­ing open­ing sequence in a post-punk rock club that fea­tures Bauhaus per­form­ing “Bela Lugosi’s Dead.” It’s also worth not­ing that one of Scott’s future hits, Beverly Hills Cop 2, ends with a sequence that pays trib­ute to The Hunger in a big way.

Revenge (1990): using a Jim Thompson novel­la as source mate­ri­al, Scott helped Kevin Costner — then in the full throes of mat­inée idol star­dom — get in touch with his dark side.  Costner plays an ex-Air Force man who goes to Mexico to live the easy life work­ing for a crime boss friend (Anthony Quinn) but ends up falling for his arm can­dy, played beau­ti­ful­ly and soul­ful­ly by Madeleine Stowe.  When Quinn dis­cov­ers their betray­al, the sec­ond half goes into full-tilt noir/revenge tragedy ter­ri­to­ry, lay­ered with big help­ings of neon sleaze and bru­tal vio­lence.  Scott’s mix­ture of lus­cious visu­als and hard-hit­ting pulp sto­ry­telling gives this one a queasy kick and as a bonus there are also swell sup­port­ing turns from Miguel Ferrer and Sally Kirkland.  Legend has it that when Quentin Tarantino found out that Scott was going to direct True Romance, he told his pals “The guy who made Revenge is doing my script!” — if that ain’t a rec­om­men­da­tion for Schlockmaniacs, what else is?

The Last Boy Scout (1991): Scott teams up with screen­writer Shane Black and star Bruce Willis to cre­ate an action block­buster that wraps all the gloss of Hollywood around a twist­ed, vio­lent and strange­ly heart­felt feat of baro­que pop­corn-movie sto­ry­telling.  Willis plays a burnout detec­tive who redis­cov­ers his mojo when he inves­ti­gates the mur­der of a client and dis­cov­ers a crazy con­spir­a­cy that involves pol­i­tics, assas­si­na­tions and foot­ball.  Scott and Black inspire each oth­er to go for broke as they push the envelope as much as an ear­ly 1990’s action flick will allow, both in terms of sto­ry con­tent and style, while Willis pro­vides the cool cen­ter that holds all their per­verse flights of fan­cy togeth­er.  Endlessly quotable, end­less­ly rewatch­able and so much fun you’ll wish Scott and Black had teamed up again.

True Romance (1993): once Quentin Tarantino lit up the art­house cir­cuit with Reservoir Dogs, Hollywood was knock­ing itself over to make his old­er scripts.  Scott did the hon­ors with True Romance and it’s eas­i­ly the best exam­ple of anoth­er direc­tor han­dling a Tarantino nar­ra­tive.  Christian Slater toplines as a loser who becomes an out­law hero when he falls for a love­ly hook­er (Patricia Arquette), res­cues her from her pimp and steals his coke stash to finance their future lives togeth­er.  Of course, it doesn’t work out that easy and the remain­der of the sto­ry crams in an epic array of dream­ers, killers and var­i­ous lowlifes as it hurtles towards a John Woo-inspired finale.  Scott’s sleek visu­als and Tarantino’s quirk-shock-pulp style cre­ate fire­works and the all-star cast (Dennis Hopper, Christopher Walken, Brad Pitt, etc.) allows Scott to show off his under­rat­ed skill with actors.  Easily the biggest crowd­pleaser on this list and a great exam­ple of how Scott could trans­form edgy mate­ri­al into grand pop-Hollywood film­mak­ing.

Man On Fire (2004): the only remake on this list is the best vig­i­lante movie Hollywood pro­duced dur­ing the 2000’s.  Denzel Washington, who starred in more than one Tony Scott flick, toplines as Creasy, a for­mer mil­i­tary man whose cold exte­ri­or thaws when he takes a body­guard­ing gig for a lit­tle rich girl in Mexico.  However, things get dark when the girl is kid­napped for a ran­som and Creasy takes a scorched-earth approach to get­ting her back.  Like Taken, this film takes time to care­ful­ly build the rela­tion­ship between Washington and Fanning so when the revenge part kicks in, it packs a real punch.  Scott is real­ly on top of his visu­al game in this film, includ­ing a daz­zling titles sequence depict­ing how kid­nap-ran­soms work south of the bor­der and some inven­tive use/depiction of sub­ti­tles.  That said, it’s the emo­tion­al core of the film that makes it a keep­er: scripter Brian Helgeland sets up the film’s key rela­tion­ship beau­ti­ful­ly and Scott gets stel­lar per­for­mances from Washington and Fanning.  The end result is as grit­ty as it is heart­felt, the kind of one-two punch that Scott had an under­rat­ed skill for.