The Essential Harrison Ford: 15 Must-See Films

They say that Harrison Ford used to be shy. The man whose smugness made billions, the man who saved America and the galaxy time and time again with sheer moxie and disarming confidence, and supposedly he used to be shy. Until he took an acting class in his senior year in college, that is. Acting! It really can change the world.

Harrison Ford is the quintessential movie star, maybe the greatest in the history of the medium. He’s handsome and intelligent and dashing and he always looks like he can’t believe this crap is really happening to him. Whether he’s squaring off against Nazis and the supernatural, fighting a villainous empire with little teddy bear people, or jumping off a dam because Tommy Lee Jones doesn’t care who killed his wife, he confronts practically every situation with a mixture of steely resolve and sympathetic frustration. Audiences swiftly glommed onto that, this hero who wasn’t so much reluctant as he was annoyed. He became the modern action star for a modern age, and we’re still living in the entertainment environment he terraformed to this day.

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Ford was not an overnight success. He worked his but off in small roles in forgotten flicks like A Time for Killing (1967) and Getting Straight (1970), and small parts on TV series like “Kung Fu” and “Love, American Style.”  He was cast in Francis Ford Coppola’s classic thriller The Conversation (1974), but he’s barely in it. He worked as a carpenter to support himself during these early years. He made a sun deck for actress Sally Kellerman (MASH) and worked as a roadie for The Doors. He only got his big break in George Lucas’s second film American Graffiti because the fledgling director hired him to install some cabinets. (Makes you wonder if George Lucas held onto them.)

But Ford finally achieved breakout stardom in Lucas’s Star Wars, and everything changed. He was the only member of the film’s young cast to become a worldwide box office sensation in films that didn’t have lightsabers in them. He played the iconic action heroes Indiana Jones and Jack Ryan, he starred in one classic thriller after another, and sometimes he was even allowed to do a little “real” acting in films like Peter Weir’s cynical coming of age drama The Mosquito Coast (1986) and Mike Nichols’ saccharine but lovable amnesia tale Regarding Henry (1991). Funny thing about Regarding Henry: it was written by a young screenwriter named J.J. Abrams. Have you ever heard of him? He’ll be pretty important to Ford’s career over 20 years later.

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Although Ford was the biggest movie star in the world throughout the 1980s and most of the 1990s, the turn of the century wasn’t particularly kind to his career. Late attempts to tackle serious dramas like Random Hearts (1999) and Extraordinary Measures (2010) made no impression on audiences, and even his attempts to take the piss out of his dramatic persona fell flat. Have you ever seen Hollywood Homicide? No? Well, don’t start now. And the less said about last year’s idiotic and inert corporate espionage “thriller” Paranoia, the better.

But although his career took a sidestep over the last 15 years, Harrison Ford has never left us. Many of his best films are required viewing for audiences young and old, and keep getting reintroduced to young generations who will continue to revere him. And he’s set to return to some of his most beloved roles in the near future. Ridley Scott has a Blade Runner sequel being written for Ford as we speak, and despite an unfortunate on-set injury, he’s still set to star in Star Wars: Episode VII for that J.J. Abrams guy. What a ritz.

Harrison Ford is one of the greats, but like many of the greats, not all of his films are created equal. His best films aren’t always the best remembered, and his best remembered films aren’t necessarily always his best. So we here at CraveOnline invite you to take a look back at Ford’s long, storied career with our picks for The Essential Harrison Ford: 15 Must-See Films. Only the best performances and only the best movies. Did we leave out any of your favorites? Let us know in the comments.

Slideshow: The Essential Harrison Ford: 15 Must-See Films

William Bibbiani is the editor of CraveOnline’s Film Channel and the host of The B-Movies Podcast and The Blue Movies Podcast. Follow him on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.