Harrison Ford is – hold onto something now – an unbelievable 77 years old today. Throughout the decades this most engaging of icons has lit up cinema with his unique brand of grit and wisecracks since the early 1970s.
He’s not due for a return for a while yet – the fifth Indiana Jones movie is still pencilled for a 2021 release – but the legacy of his classic Star Wars character Han Solo is due to be celebrated in this December's Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
The movie sees director JJ Abrams return to the franchise, as the Skywalker saga finally comes to its breathtaking conclusion. And although Han Solo won't be physically present (can we rule out a Force Ghost cameo?), his presence is felt through characters like Leia (the late Carrie Fisher) and war-mongering son Kylo Ren aka Ben Solo (Adam Driver).
We've therefore decided to champion Ford's career and his enduring contribution to Star Wars with a round-up of his 15 greatest roles.
15. Bob Falfa, American Graffiti
Ford was a bit-part actor and part-time carpenter when he was cast in the small but pivotal role of the cowboy hat-rocking out-of-towner Bob Falfa in American Graffiti, a character whose need for speed almost ends in tragedy. American Graffiti was George Lucas’ second movie after the hard SF head-scratcher THX-1138, and was a nostalgic drama set in the 50s Modesto, California of his youth.
14. John Book, Witness
Peter Weir’s engrossing 1985 thriller stars Ford as a Philadelphia detective who must travel to Amish country to protect the young eyewitness to a brutal murder. Ford won an Academy Award nomination for his role as the compassionate John Book, while the film itself won a host of awards, not to mention critical acclaim.
13. Martin Stett, The Conversation
Francis Ford Coppola’s 1974 surveillance thriller is a slow-burn classic in which sound recordist Harry Caul (Gene Hackman) goes off the rails while trying to decipher his own covert recordings. But it's also notable for a pre-Star Wars Ford supporting role as Martin Stett, a coolly sinister aide to one of Caul’s clients who warns him: “We’ll be listening”. Originally an unnamed cameo, the role was upscaled by Coppola thanks to Ford’s charismatic interpretation.
12. Henry Turner, Regarding Henry
One of Ford’s most underrated roles, this JJ Abrams-penned drama gives him a meaty part to enjoy as a narcissistic, morally questionable Manhattan lawyer who, after getting shot during a robbery, is diagnosed with brain damage. Essentially playing two contrasting parts, Ford is brilliant both as the former Henry Turner and the post-shooting Henry, who wants to rebuild his shattered relationships and make amends for his past sins.
11. President James Marshall, Air Force One
Wouldn’t it be amazing if Harrison Ford was a real-life US President? That’s the comforting fantasy at the heart of Air Force One, which has our birthday boy as a kickass POTUS who is forced to fend for himself when his official plane is hijacked by Russian terrorists (headed up by Gary Oldman, in maximum bad guy mode). We can’t imagine many US Presidents going mano a mano with terrorists in the way Ford does. Not only that, but he manages to fly the plane all by himself as well. You’ve got our vote, Mr President!
10. Richard Kimble, The Fugitive
Based on the cult 1960s TV series, The Fugitive starred Ford as Dr Richard Kimble, a man wrongly accused of killing his wife. In the 1960s, Kimble spent four seasons scouring the country in search of the one-armed man he believed killed his missus, but thankfully the movie truncates that down to 130 minutes. More action-orientated than the TV version, The Fugitive allows Ford to indulge his action man impulses, while giving him a solid, three-dimensional character to get his acting teeth into.
9. Jack Trainer, Working Girl
Heading back 30 years before #metoo, this quintessentially eighties romcom sees Melanie Griffith struggling to climb the corporate ladder in Manhattan. Ford plays her client-turned-lover, who plies her with tequila, carries her off to bed and then helps her snare the job of her dreams. The messaging may seem dubious today – “Can I get you anything, Mr Trainer? Coffee? Tea? Me?” asks one lovestruck lady – but ultimately Ford plays a suave second fiddle to the movie’s power women.
8. Jack Ryan, Patriot Games/Clear and Present Danger
Over the years, a number of actors have played Tom Clancy’s CIA analyst Jack Ryan – Alec Baldwin, Ben Affleck and Chris Pine – but none have bettered Harrison Ford, who played the part in two gripping, era-defining thrillers. One of the more cerebral action heroes out there, Ford perfectly captured the intelligence and bravery of the character, and it pains us still that we were cheated out of more Ford-Ryan movies (both Ford and director Phillip Noyce were down to make The Sum Of All Fears, before it was recast with Ben Affleck).
7. Dr Norman Spencer, What Lies Beneath
Robert Zemeckis’ 2000 supernatural thriller sees Ford play alongside Michelle Pfeiffer as a seemingly perfect couple caught up in a haunting. It’s a feast of a role for Ford, whose character shifts gradually from concerned husband to cheating lothario to homicidal maniac. Watch it for the rare experience of seeing Ford play an out-and-out bad guy, but be warned: the movie has more jump-scares than a fairground ghost train.
6. Rick Deckard, Blade Runner
One of Ford’s most enigmatic roles sparked a 35-year debate as to whether Rick Deckard, this character from Ridley Scott’s dreamy SF classic Blade Runner, is a Replicant (a synthetic human) or not. The movie’s famously influential dystopian look is matched by Ford’s definitive performance as a futuristic gumshoe in a world gone to seed.
5. Indiana Jones, the Indiana Jones films
Thank God for Magnum PI, that’s what we say. Back in 1980 George Lucas and Steven Spielberg had their Indiana Jones and were ready to roll with the filming of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Except the actor they wanted – Tom Selleck – suddenly became unavailable due to his commitments on the CBS crime show Magnum PI.
So it was that Harrison Ford was offered the role of the whip-snappin', hat-lovin' snake-hatin' archaeologist Indiana Jones, and history was made. Ford has played Indy in four films and a fifth is currently in pre-production, with a planned release date of summer 2021, by which time Harrison Ford will be knocking on 80. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Stairlift, anyone?
4. The older Han Solo, Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Few moments in cinema history have delivered such sheer heart-thumping pleasure as watching a grizzled, grey-haired Han Solo step aboard the Millennium Falcon once again. Or have offered such a shockingly unexpected demise, as one of the big screen’s most beloved characters meets his end at the light-sabre-wielding hands of Kylo Ren, in a patricidal denouement to match any Greek tragedy. Ford’s take on the older Han Solo, his youthful swagger curdled into a world-weary sense of duty, is one of his finest hours.
3. The older Rick Deckard, Blade Runner 2049
Ford has form returning to his iconic roles in later life (see Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull) but his reprise of the role of Rick Deckard is perhaps his most poignant and nuanced. For an actor whose career has spanned sci-fi and real-world drama, it’s strangely appropriate that he plays an ambiguous human/replicant whose child potentially ushers in a new era of humankind. Ford has never been on more haunting form.
Ford has lit up the screen for five decades, but he’s always been a reluctant participant in the publicity hoopla surrounding his films. “I never thought of myself as having potential as a leading man,” he told Radio Times recently. “I wanted to hide, to be somebody else, to live somebody else’s life.”
He’s a famously grumpy interviewee, known for giving one word answers and being generally curmudgeonly to journalists. Which is why his giggling, alcohol-fuelled 2017 interview with ITV’s Alison Hammond, alongside Ryan Gosling, made worldwide headlines, and gave us a hint of the man behind the roles.
1. Han Solo, the original Star Wars trilogy
Put simply, Han Solo isn’t just the greatest Harrison Ford character, he stands a pretty good chance of being the best ever movie character, period. Cynical, egotistical but ultimately on the right side of The Force, his flaws are what make him great.
And although the bare bones of Han Solo may have been dreamed up by George Lucas, the characterisation is all Ford. After all, it was Ford who changed Lucas’s script and improvised Han’s most famous line, in The Empire Strikes Back, in response to Princess Leia’s “I love you”…