In The Toast series today, we pay homage to the ultimate summer-action adventure hero and Hollywood heartthrob Harrison Ford, who has taken audiences on amazing journeys and led cinema’s biggest blockbusters.
Bust out that gooey sunscreen because no one does the Hollywood summer blockbuster like fan-favorite Harrison Ford. Some stars can’t be hemmed in. They shine a little brighter, take us someplace farther. And they’re best enjoyed with that salty tub of popcorn. Happy birthday to Harrison Ford!
The famously swashbuckling, fedora-wearing archaeologist professor Indiana Jones turns 79 this July 13th, (crack the whip!) and word on the entertainment street is Indy is back for franchise film #5. Yes, a new Indiana Jones installment has commenced filming. Exciting! And the title? Check your news alerts. This imminent action-adventure masterpiece is yet to be named. How mysterious. And fitting. Indiana Jones is all about uncovering ancient, earthly mysteries. Let’s add this untitled flick to the list.
Since its inception with 1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark, the Indiana Jones film franchise has been one of the highest grossing movie franchises of all time. And this says a lot about its lead actor, Harrison Ford, particularly when you factor in Ford’s immensely popular Han Solo role in 1977’s record-breaking summer blockbuster Star Wars. In Star Wars, Harrison Ford really and truly bursts onto the Hollywood movie scene in a brilliant stream of light (intergalactic travel anyone?), and we’ve been hooked ever since.
Harrison Ford is a great actor. And he’s a great Hollywood star. But more than that, he’s a great conductor of summer energy. After all, he single-handedly invented his own “seasonal” movie genre. How many actors can lay claim to that? Ford is the ultimate master of the summer action-adventure, that muscular, sweaty, pulse-pounding category of film that has been a decades-long favorite. Audiences go gaga over it. It’s our catnip. Or, our super-sunny pastime.
The Summer Action-Adventure
But what makes a great summer movie? For many, it’s about escapism. Bring us somewhere we’ve never been, like the inside of a UFO, which is nestled in a pyramid, then buried deep in a Peruvian jungle. Gulp. Hello, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008). We are sufficiently frightened, but in that perfectly magical Hollywood way.
And what about a lavish Indian palace that doubles as a portal to dark magic? How wonderfully chilling. Our hero Indy even gets brainwashed over to the dark side. Blame it on that subterranean flame-pit. But he snaps out of it. Phew! Hello, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984). Let’s thank our lucky stars Indy retrieves that pilfered shivalinga (sacred stone).
Speaking of stars, what about Ford’s mind-bending role in the dystopian sci-fi thriller Blade Runner (1982)? Though also a summer release, Blade Runner didn’t gain much traction at its summer box-office outing. But today? It’s hailed as one of the best sci-fi films ever. It’s an interesting, haunting classic that turns 2019 Los Angeles into a rainy netherworld akin to a rogue star, not planet Earth. Ford sneaks under the radar in this obscure 1982 film, but fast-forward decades later? We’re all back in love with him and his megalithic millennial co-star Ryan Gosling in the film’s sequel Blade Runner 2049 (2017).
How does a Boy Scout from the heartland city of Chicago, Illinois, end up taking his audiences on such wild, exotic adventures? Harrison Ford is a ‘middle of America’ boy, after all. But that’s precisely what endears him to audiences. He’s like a modern-day ‘action hero’ version of James Stewart. Ford gives off an ordinary, everyman, even shy persona both on and off-screen, and there’s something fascinating about putting that ‘ordinary’ man into ‘extra-ordinary’ situations.
The Hollywood Heartthrob
It also doesn’t hurt to be handsome. No wonder Princess Leia (actress Carrie Fisher) in Return of the Jedi (1983) couldn’t wait to kiss frozen Han Solo (Harrison Ford). Hollywood audiences love good looks, and Harrison Ford has been that dashingly handsome superhero that we all adore. And for now, we’ll disregard his murky, dark role as ‘anti-hero’ (aka villain) Dr. Norman Spencer in 2000’s What Lies Beneath. Scary to the bone. Harrison Ford playing evil? He played it well. Shiver. We can leave it there for now.
Whether the undisputed king of the summer action-adventure, or stretching his acting range in horror movies like What Lies Beneath, or rom-com hit Working Girl (1988), Harrison Ford is known for exceeding our expectations as only a glittery Hollywood star can. He’s simply golden. So in honor of his 79th year, let’s break down Ford’s top five films. In no particular order (as beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder), here are the must-sees of our Mr. Ford.
Harrison Ford’s Essential Films
The Star Wars franchise (1977-2019)
Sarcastic space smuggler? Check. Reluctant inter-planetary chauffeur? Check. Love interest for the divine Princess Leia? A big red-hearted check. Harrison Ford’s Han Solo is iconic. He’s a true space cowboy who, despite his initial wryness, turns out to be a decent guy. Despite being bequeathed with famously simple dialogue, Harrison Ford still brings a welcome layer of complexity to his recurring role, which spans multiple films. And who isn’t amazed by the Star Wars franchise’s intricate plot lines, mind-blowing special effects, and stellar cast? It’s a director George Lucas masterpiece.
The Indiana Jones franchise (1981-2008)
Enter legendary ‘new generation’ director Steven Spielberg, who brings Harrison Ford his most legendary character. Archaeologist professor Indiana Jones travels around the world saving ancient artifacts from evil doers, returning treasured artifacts to their rightful owners, and solving some of Earth’s most ancient existential questions. Slick, jam-packed, epic, these films have that old comic book ‘superhero’ vibe that works so well for Ford. They’re summer action-adventures at their A-list best. Pick your favorite. There are four (soon to be five!) awesome films.
The Fugitive (1993)
Cue the 1990s portion of Harrison Ford’s career. Coming down off those over-the-top, wild, adventurous roles in Star Wars and Indiana Jones, Ford shows us how captivating he can be in modern, realistic flicks like The Fugitive and Patriot Games (1992) and Clear and Present Danger ( 1994). In The Fugitive, poor, innocent Dr. Kimble (Harrison Ford) must outrun U.S. Marshal Sam Gerard who believes that Dr. Kimble has killed his wife (Mrs. Kimble). Riveting, thrilling, and painstakingly relentless, this ‘chase’ film won huge box-office acclaim and garnered many awards. It leaves us exhausted and gasping for air. Breathe!
American Graffiti (1973)
Who doesn’t want to see a young Harrison Ford (31 years old) in his breakout film? Sure, we have to share him with other actors in this huge ensemble cast of the new Hollywood elite, but it’s worth it. Bonus, Ford’s character isn’t the ‘good guy’ he’d later become known for in his movies. His young, rambunctious ‘night cruiser’ character of Bob Falfa is slimy. How wonderful to see Ford tackling this role with such seemingly gleeful conviction. It’s youth gone wild in this funny coming-of-age flick. And Harrison Ford doesn’t disappoint.
The movie that earned Harrison Ford his one Oscar nomination, it’s unique, mesmerizing. Harrison Ford falling in love with an Amish woman in the cornfields of Pennsylvania? Original romantic premise aside, it’s a crime movie that keeps us guessing. Director Peter Weir, of later Dead Poets Society (1989) and The Truman Show (1998) fame, directs Ford in, arguably, his most thoughtful, hypnotizing performance. There’s a welcome softness to Ford in both his love affair with this Amish woman, and the protection of her son. We can’t keep our eyes off of Ford, and not for any Star Wars or Indiana Jones reasons.
Harrison Ford’s Legacy
Where would Hollywood summer movies be these last fifty years without the awesome Harrison Ford? We’d, undoubtedly, be craving adventure. And knowing the Hollywood legend, that Ford was once a carpenter before an actor, we can’t help but wonder where Ford would be without Hollywood, too. Maybe building amazing, environmentally-friendly houses? Off-screen, he’s a big environmental activist, targeting projects in Yosemite National Park in California and the Amazon RainForest in Brazil. Or maybe Ford would be a commercial pilot, flying us over to France? He’s an avid aviator off-screen, too.
Whichever the case, destiny fell in favor of the movies, and that bright, 1000-watt spotlight. And we in the audience are grateful. Harrison Ford has lit up the screen year after year, taking us on amazing earthly and outer-galaxy journeys. The fun of it! So wherever he is this July 13th, 2021, birthday, may Harrison Ford know just how much we appreciate the ride. Fedora hats off to the one and only Harrison Ford.
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I was once an exec for The Economist magazine. Nowadays, I'm a published poet, travel writer, and "vintage" pop culture blogger from the New York City area. I love movies, and especially those dusty old classics. I "heart" the rich history of film.