RIP, Tony Scott

If you’re a fan of film, take a moment in your day to remember Tony Scott, who apparently committed suicide yesterday in San Pedro by jumping off a bridge. Scott left notes explaining his actions but at the moment what’s in those messages hasn’t been made public. Scott’s probably best known for the film Top Gun, and also made Crimson Tide, True Romance and most recently Unstoppable, starring Denzel Washington (with whom he made several hit films).

I was a fan of much of Scott’s work. He didn’t have the critical acclaim that his brother Ridley Scott achieved with his films, but what he did have was reliability — his films were solidly-built entertainments with enough flair to keep you watching. He didn’t make the films that make the Best Picture nomination slate; he made the pictures that when you were flipping through the cable channels, you would stop when you saw one on. Seriously, if you can manage to escape watching Crimson Tide for the 15,000th time, you’re a better man than I. He was very good at what he did, and what he did was put butts in seats, pretty much every time out. That’s a talent most directors wish they could have.

If I had to peg a film of his as my favorite, I would nominate two. The first would be the aforementioned Crimson Tide, which I think should probably be taught in film schools as a prime example of the “90s action film” genre. It should be taken apart at the atomic level so budding filmmakers understand why this sort of thing works as well as it does; that is, if the students and professor can stop from getting sucked into just watching it. The second is True Romance, which Scott directed off a script by a then-up-and-coming screenwriter named Quentin Tarantino. Truth to be told, the script is not top-flight Tarantino — the only scripts I would put under it in his canon are Deathproof and the silly squib he added at the end of Four Rooms (and maybe From Dusk Til Dawn, although I question whether that one was ever meant to be “good”) — but it is perfect for Tony Scott: Perfect for his visual and artistic sensibility, perfect for his competencies as a director, perfect for his understanding of cinema. As a result the film is better as art than its script would suggest and than its director would normally achieve. Great art? Go argue about that. Good art? Yes, I think so. 

I am sad there will be no more Tony Scott films. Reliable directors are hard to come by, and ones that produce reliably entertaining films are even harder to find. I hope that despite whatever drove him to jump off a bridge, he has now found some measure of peace. I’ll watch Crimson Tide sometime this week and think well of him.

Update, 12:21pm: ABC News reports a source saying Scott had been diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer.

Update, 8/12: Family says it wasn’t brain cancer.

49 thoughts on “RIP, Tony Scott

  1. Solid entertainment. That’s what I had come to expect from Tony’s films.

    The entertainment world is poorer, today.

    Although the time travel loops probably don’t hold up, I really liked Deja Vu (yet another of his vehicles for Denzel Washington to shine).

  2. I just heard this on NPR, and was shocked. It seems that there have been a lot of celebrity deaths, the past week or so, but perhaps that’s just my perception.

  3. Man, it was weird seeing the news all over the place this morning. He was still relatively young, and I’m sure he had at least another film in him to show Michael Bay how a real action director works. It’s so odd to compare him and his brother’s styles of filmmaking–imagine Tony Scott picking up the reins of the Alien series from Ridley instead of Jim Cameron, David Fincher, or Jean-Pierre Jeunet–but you’re totally on the nose about his films. High art they were not, but he was never aspiring to make high art. He was making entertainment, he knew it, and he was very good at it.

    Please, anyone who’s suffering from depression and suicidal thoughts, look into the various organizations and hotlines for assistance. No matter who you are, there’s people out there who think your life is worth living.

  4. RIP Mr. Scott. My condolences to his family. NUMB3RS was arguably one of my favorite television shows ever. I have the whole series on DVD–might have to do a marathon this weekend or something.

  5. Oh, That is sad news indeed. So sorry to hear about this. I’ve always been a fan of True Romance and Crimson Tide. I know what I’ll be watching when I can. RIP Mr. Scott, you’ll be missed.

  6. Having lived with the black cloud most of my life I know that at times it would be so easy to let it win. For a guy with his talent and success to surrender it must have been terrible. Those were some well made stories and we are poorer for the lose. I hope he has peace now.

  7. It’s sad news. It’s hard to imagine how things could be so bad for someone so good at such a high profile job…but thus is life. From the outside, other peoples problems almost never look as bad as they feel to the person themselves. That said, Mr. Scalzi, you and I will “have words” in future about your denigration of Four Rooms.

  8. @Frankly:
    Success can make the black dog much, much worse. Because it gives you another thing to live up to, another way you can be a disappointment, which is bad when you’re convinced you’re worthless.

    I hope he found the end he wanted, sometimes ending it is the last decision you’re free to make.

    Sucks, though.

  9. Agreed: Tony Scott made some rock solid action films. He will be missed.

    As you’re watching Crimson Tide, be sure to pay attention to the soft-spoken and bespectacled weapons officer with the southern drawl. Damn if he doesn’t show up in the weirdest places. (that’s not a spoiler, BTW)

  10. While Crimson Tide, Top Gun, Days of Thunder and others are widely talked about in Tony Scott’s canon, one of my personal favorite was Man on Fire. He made that at a time when movies were scared to be experimental and raw. Everything was so overproduced and he brought in a fresh crispness that I was completely enthralled by. Plus, Denzel was as mean as I had ever seen him in that flick. One of the best in my opinion and I will be watching in his honor very soon.

  11. The second is True Romance, which Scott directed off a script by a then-up-and-coming screenwriter named Quentin Tarantino.

    …who also, by the way, worked on the script for Crimson Tide. There are bits in that – obsessive arguments about Lippizaner horses and the Moebius Silver Surfer – that are pure Tarantino.

  12. I have learned from bitter experience not to beat myself up for failing to properly diagnose and help friends who committed suicide, such as (to pick one from SF) Tom Disch, with whom I was blogging in his final week, and not understanding how his poems about death were final cries for help… his having gone into such detail in professional works throughout the years.. Removing the stigma for psychiatric treatment might help.

  13. Guys, until we know anything more, any speculation about Scott’s possible depression is just that: speculation. Let’s try to keep the thread focused on his work and life.

  14. I think it’s time to re-watch Spy Game.

    @ Genufett

    Please, anyone who’s suffering from depression and suicidal thoughts, look into the various organizations and hotlines for assistance. No matter who you are, there’s people out there who think your life is worth living.

    My first thought was, there but for family go I. When I was in my direst hour of need, the one thing that kept me holding on was knowing what it would do to my family if I didn’t.

    RIP Mr. Scott, and my condolences to his family. A lot of talent between two brothers. The human conversation is an emptier corridor this morning.

    @ Jennifer Davis Ewing

    NUMB3RS was arguably one of my favorite television shows ever. I have the whole series on DVD–might have to do a marathon this weekend or something.

    Huh, me too, and I hardly ever buy DVDs.

    @ Luke

    While Crimson Tide, Top Gun, Days of Thunder and others are widely talked about in Tony Scott’s canon, one of my personal favorite was Man on Fire.

    That was the last film I saw in a theater before I moved away from my hometown, DC for the last time. It got harsh reviews, but I thought it was excellent.

  15. Sorry, John. I cross-posted with you.
    It’s just hard to see someone fall in a place you’ve stood. But I honor his choice and hope he found whatever peace he sought. I’ll send a prayer to the universe for him in case anyone is listening.

  16. I’ve only felt the need to buy myself 2 movie DVDs in my life. One of them is True Romance. The other is The Way of the Gun if you care.

  17. High Art leaves the audience whispering “Oh, I understand.”
    Goethe’s three questions:
    What was done? Thrill-filled, entertaining, entangling storytelling.
    How well was it done? Superbly.
    Was it worth doing? Tony Scott’s productions left the audience shouting “YES, YES, AGAIN!”.
    RIP. My sympathy to his family, friends, and fans. He will be missed in our home, too.

  18. I, like Luke, really loved Man on Fire. And Crimson Tide was another one of those movies that I couldn’t escape if I was channel surfing, you’re right on the money there, John. I will watch his films and work on tv ( I, too, own all the dvds of Numbers) and remember what a talented filmmaker he was. I’m very sorry for his family and friends.

  19. I doubt we will ever know how his family and close friends really feel. Their loss is much greater than ours. But this is a loss to so many who appreciated his work. I could not count the number of times that I said to myself “the Scott brothers are GENIUSES’ after an episode of NUMB3RS.

  20. We actually did study Crimson Tide in a film class I took at UCLA. Solid film. So sad. May he rest in peace.

  21. I’ll bet I’ve seen more of his oevre than I think I have, but I definitely adored Unstoppable. The world is a poorer place for his loss.

  22. Am I the only one bothered by the fact that the only choice he had to end his life and avoid months of prolonged suffering was to jump off a bridge? I still cannot fathom why we do not let people end their own lives with dignity and spare the family such a horrid outcome.

  23. Having read the update, it now makes perfect sense to me why he did it. I wouldn’t have chosen a bridge, but his reasoning makes sense to me. I couldn’t put my family through watching me suffer with a terminal illness. I’ve been through it too many times now. RIP indeed, and may his family find some peace with his decision. I’ll be rewatching “Crimson Tide” soon in his honor. Love that movie.

  24. Since the most awesome author of this blog has an equally awesome book out called “Redshirts”, I would like to, in his blog mentioning “RIP”, to note the passing of the hero of the battle of System L-374, Commodore Matt Decker, otherwise known as William Windom. As a Trekkie, I love him most in that role, where we get a flash of a confident, competent starship commander who is then goes from a shellshocked battle veteran to a mentaly unbalanced officer bent on vengence, and finally a hero who gave his life. However, William Windom was more that just one of my favorite Trek guest stars. he was a “that guy” before we recognized the greatness of “those guys” (I’m talking about you, Stephen Tobolowsky). It warms my heart to see that lots of folks feel like me and are filling the internet with Twilight Zone, Murder She Wrote, and other memories. We’ll miss you, Mr. Scott, but we’ll miss you, Mr, Windom, also.

  25. He was also an Executive Producer on two shows I always watched on TV: NUMB3RS and “The Good Wife.” My Advanced Probability professor, Dr. Gary Lorden, was the lead Math Advisor on NUMB3RS. Both shows were well acted, visually sophisticated, and dealt with deep and subtle subjects. Hence his impact was far beyond The Big Screen.

  26. Hi John,
    First deepest condolences to Scott’s family. I stand with John in wishing Tony Scott peace.

    I also have a question however, as somebody who has sometimes enjoyed T. Scott’s work, particularly True Romance, but over all find that I get board quickly with the other movies I have seen that he worked on. This is certainly in part because I personally don’t enjoy much of D. Washington’s body of work either. (I find his acting to be too melodramatic) but without a doubt both he and Scott are/were successful and solid folks in the entertainment industry deserving of respect.

    The question-
    John, do you find yourself as a successful, capable, and active author being more or less idealistic about other entertainment work? Meaning how has your standing in your field changed the way you see others work in the same or similar fields? For example, you mention that T. Scott’s work doesn’t make the “Best Picutre” lists and is good without a doubt but debatable as great, so does the reality of your successful career temper how you see the work of people like T. Scott? If the question is too big feel free to parse it down as you see fit.

    I am curious as too your thoughts because as I have progressed in my professional academic career I have become more appreciative of the narrow, simple, “good” solid works in my field as opposed to being over awed by the “great” works. Just wanted to know the thoughts of somebody who I admire and whom I find to consistently operate on a writing level magnitudes above my own.

  27. I read the updated news story just before coming here, and I’m sorry this happened. My husband & I were also fans of NUMB3RS. We recently finished watching the complete run on Netflix, and wished it had been continued for another season.

  28. I am grateful to live in Oregon (with it’s death with dignity law), where jumping off a bridge is not the only option Mr. Scott would have had. My deepest condolances to the Scott family. and I loved the movie ‘Unstoppable’. I’ll definitely have to check out some of this other works.

  29. John: Off-topic post. I just emailed you URLs to what seem to be pirated versions of your books online. I thought you would want to know about them.

  30. I can’t speak for Mr.Scalzi, but have a reaction to: “do you find yourself as a successful, capable, and active author being more or less idealistic about other entertainment work?”

    When I read something that I don’t like, I ask myself: “Am I making the same mistake?”

    When I read something that I do like, I ask myself: “How, exactly, did the fiction author, teleplay author, screenwriter, game-designer, or poet achieve that effect?”

    This doesn’t make me disdain bad writing, or appreciate good writing more. It does add a reverse-engineering analytical process, which I cannot fully set aside when reading the works of others.

    And, compared to Mr. Scalzi, I am only successful in the quantity and variety of my writings which get published, not in the major-market clout, major award-receiving, advance- and royalty-earnings. Nor do any successful authors whom I know begrudge the success of others. Literature is, to put it mildly, NOT a zero sum game.

  31. That is rather well said Jonathan Vos. Thanks for the comment. I wasn’t trying imply that it was a zero sum game, but I like the way you put it. I also should have been more concise in my question.

    Also sorry if I seemed to define success in a way that lent itself to a definition limited to monetary gain as the primary measure. My mistake.

  32. I’ll third Man on Fire. Indeed, I’d go so far as to say it’s the Punisher movie yet made.

  33. I’m more of a Ridley fanatic, but I’ve enjoyed a lot of Tony Scott’s films over the years. I agree with Crimson Tide being a standout, and completes what I like to loosely call the “submarine trilogy” (Das Boot, The Hunt for Red October, Crimson Tide). Top Gun was a favorite growing up, because well, fighter jets man. Cool. Oh, and that trick with the pen that Iceman (Val Kilmer) did during the mission briefing was something that I practiced in grade school when bored during class. True Romance was another standout Tony Scott film.

    The Last Boy Scout is a great action flick too. I recently caught Die Hard With A Vengeance on cable the other day, and noticed how much of it in some ways feels like it was stealing elements from The Last Boy Scout. Both of those are action films I like a lot. I can’t forget Beverly Hills Cop II either. I loved that one just as much as the original. They just don’t make action comedies like BHC I and II anymore.

    I think my favorite of Tony Scott’s is The Hunger. That film just oozes an amazingly dense dark atmosphere and treated the concept of a vampire as the parasitic monster that they really would be if they actually existed. Also, Bowie as a vampire was a lot of fun to see. Great casting and detail and just impressive atmospherics. The recent vampire classic Let The Right One In possibly owes a bit to The Hunger. Watch The Hunger and Let The Right One In, back to back, and you’ll see the two best vampire films IMO.

  34. We are watching a friend deal with brain cancer, and it is a very tough thing. But it’s not as final or as swift a sentence as it appeared at first. While acknowledging their right to choose their own path, I’d urge anyone effected, not to give up too soon.

  35. @justme @sistercoyote Ditto. If you haven’t seen them, check out the articles in the LA Times by Steve Lopez over the last year or so about this subject, written while he was dealing with his father’s terminal decline. (And RIP Tony Scott, I agree with everything good everyone’s said about “Crimson Tide” especially)

  36. You may want to update your update — ABC has pulled the article you link to, and the link now redirects to an article that has a named source stating that Scott’s family was not aware of any cancer, inoperable or not.

  37. I saw Crimson Tide at the drive-in with my family when I was 14 years old. On the drive home I had my first ever bona fide movie argument with my father. I suggested that the naval board of inquiry should have raked Gene Hackman’s character over the coals. He thought that Washington was an upstart who put ego before the good of his shipmates. Before Crimson Tide, I never thought of movies as things that could inspire debate and discussion. I’ll always remember Tony Scott for that.

  38. “Crimson Tide” was a surpirse treat when I say it back in the 90s. A lot better than I thought it would be.

  39. A big loss. Anyone who hasn’t seen ‘Unstoppable’, which co-starred Chris Pine, should do so asap. Scott got excellent performances out of Pine and Washington in an edge-of-your-seat movie.

  40. Sad.

    Also, sad that it took nearly 40 comments before anyone named The Last Boyscout. I’ll pull that one ahead of True Romance and maybe even Tide. Scott’s kinectic direction combined with Shane Black’s script makes TLB one of the most underrated movies of the 90’s…

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