All anyone in movieland wants to talk about this week is Tony Scott. Today at MUBI, Ignatiy Vishnevetsky has a superb piece on what made him a great filmmaker and a great artist; yesterday in The New York Times, Manohla Dargis offered her appraisal of "a director who excelled at excess;" Monday's highlight was Glenn Kenny's fine piece at Some Came Running. And those are just three articles out of literally dozens. Scott was widely dismissed in his lifetime as a technician or a hack, but you'd never know it from the staggering number of appreciations in the wake of his suicide. Not everyone was a Tony Scott fan, but almost everyone, it seems, had a favorite Tony Scott movie. Or two. Or six.
That thought inspired me to conduct an impromptu Twitter poll this afternoon, in which I asked my followers a simple question: "What's your favorite Tony Scott film?" In less than an hour, I got over 150 responses. Here were the results:
"True Romance" – 28.8%
"Crimson Tide" – 12.5%
"The Last Boy Scout" – 11.3%
"Man on Fire" – 9.4%
"Deja Vu" – 7.5%
Can't Pick Just One – 7.5%
"Enemy of the State" – 5%
"The Hunger" – 4.4%
"Spy Game" – 3.8%
"Top Gun" – 3.8%
"Unstoppable" – 3.8%
"Domino" – 1.3%
"The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3" – 1.3%
"Revenge" – .7%
For point of reference, here, via Box Office Mojo, are Scott's most popular movies in terms of inflation-adjusted domestic box office performance (the unadjusted numbers are different, but the top five is exactly the same):
1) "Top Gun" – $382.1 million
2) "Beverly Hills Cop II" – $315.2 million
3) "Enemy of the State" – $188.2 million
4) "Crimson Tide" – $168.5 million
5) "Days of Thunder" – $156.7 million
Obviously, my poll is about as scientifically sound as a Todd Akin stump speech; the sample size is tiny, and heavily weighted with cinephiles and critics. Still, it's interesting to compare Scott's financial and creative successes. His biggest hit, "Top Gun," received just a handful more votes than his biggest flop, "Domino." And two of Scott's most widely seen movies — "Beverly Hills Cop II" and "Days of Thunder" — went totally unmentioned in the poll (so did "The Fan," to the surprise of absolutely no one). The three top vote-getters — "True Romance," "Crimson Tide," and "The Last Boy Scout" –were all made successively (though not necessarily in that order) between 1991 and 1995, suggesting those years represent Scott's creative peak, or that my followers, who mostly grew up in the 1990s, are deeply nostalgic people. Or maybe it's both.
The landslide winner of my Tony Scott poll was "True Romance," which, adjusted for inflation, is the third lowest grossing picture of Scott's career. That, at the very least, is an incontrovertible takeaway. Short-term popularity is not the same thing as long-term immortality.