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Harrison Ford: An Icon Turns 80

Harrison Ford

By all accounts, the Chicago born four-time Golden Globe-winner and Cecil B. deMille recipient was never destined for an academic career. He dropped out of Wisconsin’s Rippon College, moved to Los Angeles, tried his hand at acting in a series of TV-projects and worked as a carpenter. While he was putting together a set piece for George Lucas, the then young director hired him for American Graffiti, the first time he got noticed. Since then, his films have grossed more than ten billion worldwide. On the occasion of his 80th birthday, here are ten of his best, most successful and most interesting roles as his career spans everything from drama to action adventure to comedy:



The young actor starred as Bob Falfa, one of a group of teenagers from Modesto in California’s Central Valley, who spend one final night in 1962 partying after their graduation. George Lucas himself was not an established director at that point, only having shorts and one feature to his name. In a way, this film jumpstarted both their careers and led to a lifelong friendship and many collaborations.

Harrison Ford in “American Graffiti” (1973)



Lucas’ and Ford’s paths collided again four years later and without a doubt, this was the film that made Ford, who was cast as Han Solo a star and Lucas a mega director. Neither one of them anticipated the huge success of the film, Ford thinking of it as a silly little movie with funny characters and Lucas wanting nothing more than realizing his dream of making a sci fi film. Star Wars was the first franchise that Ford signed onto without knowing or imagining that it would become one. He made four more. He was paid $10,000 for this first outing. “Never tell me the odds!”, is one legendary quote from the movie that could as well be applied to the future success of the franchise and of Ford personally.

Harrison Ford and Peter Mayhew in “Star Wars” (1977)



“Snakes… Why did it have to be snakes?” The famous quip is from another long-time collaboration began with this mega hit: George Lucas, who conceived the story and became a producer on this film, introduced Ford to his friend Steven Spielberg who hired Ford to play the title role of the archeologist and adventurer who, in 1936 is hired by the US-government to find the Ark of the Covenant to prevent Hitler’s Nazi henchmen to get their hands on its powers. Between the hat and the whip, an icon was born, and Ford would go on to make four more (including the upcoming number 5) in his second franchise. Asked by the HFPA if he was physically up to the task of playing Jones at his age, the actor laughingly replied: “Well, I could kick your ass.”

Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones and the “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981)



He proved his knack for choosing first-class directors again, when he signed on to work with Ridley Scott in what would become another iconic film. Ford plays Deckard, a so-called blade runner tasked to find and kill four replicants who stole a spaceship and return to earth to hunt its creator.

Harrison Ford and Edward James Olmos in “Blade Runner” (1982)



He received his first Golden Globe and only Oscar nomination for the role of John Book, a police detective investigating a murder in the Amish community. A young Amish boy is the sole witness to the crime, and the detective tries to protect him, forcing him into hiding in the town. The film was his first with director Peter Weir, a man Ford came to admire greatly. The film established him as a serious actor, even if he often opted for more bankable roles.

Harrison Ford in “Witness” (1985)



Having gotten a taste for more dramatic roles, Ford signed on to play an inventor called Allie Fox who moves his family into the jungles of Central America to create a utopian world. “Strictly speaking, there’s no such thing as invention, you know. It’s only magnifying what already exists”, he says in one scene. He chose this project to reunite with director, Peter Weir and because of its writer Paul Schrader. It didn’t hurt that his co-stars were Helen Mirren and River Phoenix.

Helen Mirren, Harrison Ford and River Phoenix in “The Mosquito Coast” (1986)



In this delightful and whip smart comedy from the master Mike Nichols, Ford plays Jack Trainer, a Wallstreet guy caught between a new romance with a secretary posing as her boss (Melanie Griffith) and said boss (Sigourney Weaver) with whom he has not ended his relationship yet. Ford is hilarious as the dupe who falls for Griffith’s act, and the morning after scene may be one of the funniest ever filmed: “The earth moved. The angels wept. The Polaroids are… uh, are in my other coat.”

Harrison Ford and Melanie Griffith in “Working Girl” (1988)



This would turn into a third franchise he was part of: Phillip Noyce directed him in the story of now legendary CIA agent Jack Ryan, who after interfering with an IRA assassination, has to fight against renegades who target his family in an act of revenge. Ford followed in the footsteps of Alec Baldwin who had originated the part two years earlier in The Hunt for Red October. Ford would go on to reprise his role in 1994 in Clear and Present Danger before Ben Affleck and Chris Pine took over as Jack Ryan in, respectively 2002 and 2014.

Anne Archer, Harrison Ford and Thora Birch in “Patriot Games” (1992)



Up until this point in his career, the actor mostly played heroes and good guys. In this action adventure by Andrew Davis, the tables were turned: Ford is Dr. Richard Kimble, accused of murdering his wife and being hunted by Tommy Lee Jones who is the US marshal running after him. Of course, Ford is not really a villain, just a man insisting he is falsely accused and looking for the real killer.

Harrison Ford in “The Fugitive” (1993)



“Get off my plane!”, is the often-quoted line when he ejects the villain unceremoniously from the back of the aircraft. It may have taken a while, but Ford finally got to play the President of the United States in this high-voltage action thriller by German director Wolfgang Petersen (Das Boot). When a group of communist terrorists hijack the US-leader’s plane with his entire family on it, President James Marshall gets in on the action to prevent a catastrophe. Glenn Close co-stars as the Vice President, and Gary Oldman plays the baddie.

Harrison Ford in “Air Force One” (1997)