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Tony Scott and the Decline of Action Movies

In sad news from the west coast, Tony Scott, the film director, appears to have killed himself by jumping off a bridge. Tony and his brother, Ridley, have been two of the last quarter-century's most successful Hollywood filmmakers.

Tributes are pouring in about Scott's character and career, but what strikes me as most interesting about his time in Hollywood is that,  in at least one respect, his career arc mirrored the industry's. It's true that Scott made some bad movies in the 80s and 90s—the awful Kevin Costner vehicle Revenge, and the  obnoxiously misogynist The Last Boy Scout would be the two prime examples—but during this era Scott was still able to make several good mainstream Hollywood action movies. Those of us who watched his biggest smash, Top Gun, more than 1000 times in adolescence should probably not say anything about that movie, but Crimson Tide, Enemy of the State, and Spy Game were all solidly entertaining middlebrow action flicks.

And the last ten years? Scott made Man on Fire, Domino, Deja Vu, The Taking of Pelham 123, and Unstoppable. The last of these, which somehow managed to receive positive reviews, was, I suppose, the only non-abysmal film of the bunch. All of these movies are hyper-stylized, over-directed, atrociously edited, and generally giant messes. There are all sorts of reasons that Hollywood doesn't make good action thrillers anymore, and those reasons may not have much to do with Scott's missteps as a director. (It's not as if he decided to make superhero movies). But it's hard to look at his filmography and not take note of the decline that simultaneously overtook both him and all of Hollywood.