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Harrison Ford: the films that made him one of Hollywood’s most iconic actors

Ford has built a brilliant filmography that goes beyond ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Indiana Jones’, starring in some of the most important films in recent movie history

Alonso Martínez
Harrison Ford
Harrison Ford in Cannes (France) on may 19th 2023.SEBASTIEN NOGIER (EFE)

Harrison Ford, renowned for his iconic roles in some of the most beloved films in cinematic history, has made an indelible mark on the world of entertainment. From his early days as an aspiring actor to his meteoric rise to stardom, Ford’s journey is filled with intriguing anecdotes and unexpected twists. These are some of the most notable films that shaped Ford’s career, showcasing his versatility and the memorable characters he brought to life.

American Graffiti (1973), dir. George Lucas

When George Lucas was working on his second film, “American Graffiti,” Harrison Ford was concentrating on a carpentry career. The young actor agreed to participate on the condition that he would not have to cut his hair. He played the arrogant underground driver Bob Falfa, who had a flattop in the script. Ford wore a Stetson to cover his hair.

Production encountered several problems, including an out-of-control Harrison Ford who then spent nights drinking. He was involved in a fight and was kicked out of his hotel after trying to climb its street sign.

The film, which has been described as a study of the cruising and early rock ‘n’ roll cultures during the early ‘60s, was an unexpected hit, becoming one of the most profitable films ever. It’s a testament to Lucas’ talent and vision before Star Wars.

Star Wars (1977), dir. George Lucas

George Lucas was looking for “new faces” when casting Star Wars, and he rejected casting Ford for the role. Instead, he asked the actor to assist in the auditions by reading lines with the other actors and explaining the context behind the scenes they were reading.

After considering Kurt Russell, Sylvester Stallone, Christopher Walken, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, James Caan, Chevy Chase, among others, Lucas was eventually won over by Ford’s portrayal of the character, which is now iconic.

Harrison reprised his role in the sequels. Although he suggested to Lucas that the character had to be killed in Return of the Jedi, the director refused. More than 20 years later, the actor returned to play the character in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), dir. Steven Spielberg

Steven Spielberg and George Lucas’ ambitious collaboration needed a leading man to play the heroic, globe-trotting archaeologist Indiana Jones. While Spielberg was interested in casting Ford from the beginning, Lucas was not, having already worked with him in his previous films. After Tom Selleck was unable to accept the role, Lucas agreed to casting Ford.

Raiders of the Lost Ark, under Spielberg’s direction, was considered an instant classic since its release. Indiana Jones became an iconic character in the vein of Superman or James Bond. The actor reprised his role throughout the rest of the decade in the prequel Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and the sequel Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Decades later, he played the character again in two more sequels.

Blade Runner (1982), dir. Ridley Scott

Harrison Ford wasn’t the first choice to play Deckard, the “blade runner” in charge of eliminating rogue human clones in a dystopian future. Screenwriter Hampton Fancher envisioned actor Robert Mitchum as the character and wrote the dialogue with him in mind. Director Ridley Scott spent months discussing the role with Dustin Hoffman, who departed over differences in vision.

Although Ford has said that he had a difficult time with the production, the film became a cult classic and spawned a sequel decades later with Ford reprising his role. Regarding that film, he said, “I thought it was fucking awesome.”

The Fugitive (1993), dir. Andrew Davis

Based on the 1960s television series of the same name, The Fugitive is one of Ford’s most critically acclaimed films. The plot centers on Dr. Richard Kimble, a surgeon who is being framed for the murder of his wife and sentenced to death. After a bus crash, he escapes from custody and sets out to find the real killer.

Ford wasn’t the first choice to play Kimble. Kevin Costner, Alec Baldwin, Michael Douglas and others auditioned for the part. Ford pursued the role due to his liking for characters who aren’t like him. He was interested in playing a character with facial hair, but the studio refused, and he had to play him with his usual look.

The film is one of the few action movies to have been nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Tommy Lee Jones, who shared the screen with Ford, won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

Witness (1985), dir. Peter Weir

Harrison Ford became known as an actor ideally suited to action and adventure films. However, films like Witness allowed him to explore his potential as a dramatic actor. He later recalled that working with director Peter Weir on this film and The Mosquito Coast were two of the best experiences in his career.

The film follows Ford as a police detective protecting an Amish woman and her young son, who becomes a target after witnessing a murder in a train station. The film was a sleeper hit and earned eight Academy Awards nominations, including Best Picture and Best Actor for Ford.

Presumed Innocent (1997), dir. Alan J. Pakula

Kevin Costner was the first choice to star in this 1990 legal drama based on the novel of the same name; however, he declined the offer. Director Alan J. Pakula offered the role to Harrison Ford. Scott Turow, the writer of the novel, wasn’t convinced but relented after seeing a few of his films.

The film follows a prosecutor who is charged with the murder of his colleague and mistress.

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