The 10 Best Tony Scott Scenes

Tom Cruise as Maverick in Top Gun
(Image credit: Paramount)

It’s hard to find the right words. Even the inclusion of one that’s only a single letter long, I, takes a lot of thought, especially when you’re trying to talk about the life of another, not to mention one that has so recently ended. Pictures, of course, are worth a thousand words, so I’ve included ten but by no means can take the credit since they all belong to Mr. Tony Scott. Now multiply that by 24 per second of every film that the late director carefully composed and that’s the size of the body of work that obviously one article cannot ever offer a proper and complete summation.

This is where that one letter word comes in--"I." I didn’t know the man, I only knew the director but after thumbing through the list of his titles, it was easy to see why Scott made such an indelible impression on me: I saw a lot of his films during my formative years, each like a million times, and most of them are quite good.He’s responsible for some truly iconic movies and I wanted to celebrate his life by looking at some sequences from throughout his career that resonate with me. The sad cherry to top this list is that most of these movies were watched on weekend evenings with my older brother while he was stuck babysitting me. Our thoughts go out to the Scott family and friends.

Tony Scott directed over a dozen feature films, produced many, many more under his Scott Free banner with his brother Sir Ridley Scott, and here are ten unforgettable scenes from his body of work. Of course, there are many more, so chime in with your favorites in the comments.

[Click the images for corresponding video, if available…]

The Opening Sequence, The Hunger [1983]

One of Scott’s first features was The Hunger, an erotic, horror film starring Catherine Deneuve, David Bowie and Susan Sarandon. And no, I didn’t go with the famous Deneuve-Sarandon sex scene but instead the music video-like title sequence that not only introduced an interesting twist on the vampire film but more importantly an interesting new filmmaker. What better way to pick up some unsuspecting, and totally sexy, victims than stalking the local disco? Especially when they’re playing “Bela Lugosi is Dead” by Bauhaus.

Beach Volleyball, Top Gun [1987]

Top Gun is a pop culture landmark. I’m sure many people would name the Tom Cruise vehicle as the epitome of 80s action flicks, the pre-Michael Bay culmination of the Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson school of filmmaking. And they wouldn’t be wrong but, for whatever reason, the scene that seems to get the most play isn’t a dogfight in the air or the group serenade of Kelly McGillis at the bar but the intense, shirtless (in jeans) scene of the two rival cockpits going at it on the beach volleyball court. A lot of high-fives, flexing and the occasional shot of a volleyball, the homoerotic action only ends to remind the audience that Maverick likes the ladies and has to run to McGillis’ for a sweaty shower.

Hospital Hallway Race, Days of Thunder [1990]

A couple years later, Scott turned to Days of Thunder, once again with Tom Cruise in the lead, and I still can’t believe I actually enjoy a movie about stock-car racing. The racing sequences themselves are well shot at all but it’s the antics off the race track that I remember most-- unsurprising, since it was scripted by Robert Towne. There are two misunderstandings (first with the cop, then with the Nicole Kidman’s doc) and tearing through the city streets with arch rival Rowdy Burns (Michael Rooker) but it’s the scene where Cruise’s Cole Trickle and Bruns race wheelchairs in the hospital hallway that takes the checkered flag.

”Play some rap music,” The Last Boy Scout [1991]

The Last Boy Scout was one of my favorite films growing up. Die Hard was already top of the list so it’s no surprise that Scott’s action movie starring Bruce Willis also received regular rotation on the VHS player. Written by the Shane Black, Willis is joined by Damon Wayans in this modern day noir set to investigate the shady side of professional sports. Willis plays the prototypical Private Eye, this time a disillusioned former Secret Service Agent, and when he and Wayans’ ex-football star are captured by the bad guys it takes his daughter (Danielle Harris) and her puppet Furry Tom to bail them out with some riddle time.This is an underrated action flick. Great, dark, fun. Go watch this one in full.

”You’re Part Eggplant,” True Romance [1993]

Hands down the best, and most cited, scene of Tony Scott’s career comes from True Romance. Scott’s film is the best from a Quentin Tarantino script not directed by Tarantino himself (and even then, I’d say Romance gives a few more than a run for their money). The sequence between Christopher Walken’s gangster and Dennis Hopper’s father and former policeman is absolutely genius. Attribute as much of the scene’s success to the writing as you want but let me say this--you can give a director Shakespeare and nine times out of ten they’ll turn it to shit. I’ve used this scene to teach on many occasions, and will continue to do so until I find something better. So, not anytime soon.

The Lipizzaner Stallions, Crimson Tide [1995]

You can’t talk Tony Scott and not talk Denzel Washington. The director-actor duo are a regular Scorsese and De Niro (or DiCaprio), having worked on five features together in a span of 15 years that started with Crimson Tide. This movie also marks the first of two team ups with the great (but supposedly insufferable) Gene Hackman and it’s largely the two heavy weight performers thrown into close quarters that creates such a combustible situation. Not to mention the threat of war all riding on whether or not a message was properly received. The film wound up where a lot of Scott film’s do--nominated for technical Oscars like sound and editing--but it’s the simmering exchange between the now two Captains that stands out.

Hotel Debugging and Escape, Enemy of the State [1998]

It wasn’t long after they worked together on Tide that Tony Scott managed to bring Gene Hackman on board for another flick, which was kind of important since the addition gives Enemy of the State the bonus of being a pseudo-sequel to Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation. Don’t think Tony Scott didn’t know that. Film-geekery aside, the Will Smith starring conspiracy thriller was another one of my favorites growing up. When secretly slipped a sensitive package, Smith has to turn to the off-the-grid Hackman for help, but their first unpleasant encounter ends abruptly when the NSA arrives and starts chasing the former through the hotel. And outside it. Then back inside. Then there’s a fire. You get it.

Training, Spy Game [2001]

I was already a sucker for action flicks’ recruitment and/or training montages before Scott put together the perfect mentor-protege relationship on-screen. Robert Redford plays a high ranking but retiring CIA operative who has to try to work with, and then eventually against, his own government to try and free Brad Pitt’s spy from a Chinese prison. The pair don’t have too many scenes together and they make them all count but there’s a meta-level of enjoyment in watching the aging Redford train the still relatively young Pitt. Too bad nobody ever got Newman and Clooney together. Finally, beyond the multiple levels of enjoyment, the sequence is also a great example of Scott’s evolving, and increasingly experimental, aesthetic with the quick cutting, lapse pans and ‘snapshots.’ And try not to grin when Pitt’s trainee holds up the cup of tea.

”Kill Them All,” Man on Fire [2004]

The second of Washington and Scott’s five collaborations didn’t come until almost a decade after their initial pairing. but the two would work together on all the rest of the director’s films save the Keira Knightley led Domino. And Man on Fire might be the quintessential Tony Scott film. It’s got Denzel, exciting, but not overbearing, formal experimentation and a simple, focused narrative. It’s the best character that the pair managed to create together and Creasy’s revenge, or even his early depression fueled rages, provide many memorable scenes. But I love the quiet before the storm when he’s found looking for his bible in Pita’s room by her mom, played by Radha Mitchell. She doesn’t know how to go on but he does, he’s going to do what he does best. That she agrees, hands over the teddy bear and kisses him goodbye makes it all the more intense. Scott using Nine Inch Nails’ “The Mark Has Been Made” doesn’t hurt.

Denzel on a Train, Unstoppable [2010]

Scott’s final film, Unstoppable, was well-received and loosely based on a real incident involving a runaway train carrying dangerous chemicals. Denzel is joined by Chris Pine, another of many great casting calls over Scott’s career, as one of the two heroes who risk their lives in order to stop the locomotive from hopping into a heavily populated area. With Pine’s rookie hurt and time ticking away, Denzel’s grizzled veteran hops on the speeding train to run down the manual breaks and keep them from spilling over the hairpin turn. It, and the film’s last few minutes offer an exciting and crowd pleasing final sequence.