Total Recall

Total Recall: Best Jerry Bruckheimer Productions

We count down the best-reviewed work of the Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides producer.

by | May 20, 2011 | Comments

Jerry Bruckheimer

We started feeling the summer thaw at theaters a few weeks ago with Fast Five and Thor, but everyone knows blockbuster season hasn’t truly begun until we have our first Jerry Bruckheimer production — and right on cue, here’s Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, in which Johnny Depp once more sets sail for hundreds of millions of dollars in shiny box office doubloons. Nobody produces a hit like Bruckheimer — and although his successes have often come over the disbelieving protests of scornful critics, his filmography also includes plenty of well-reviewed releases. What better time to count down the top 10?


10. The Rock

After they made a mint together with 1995’s Bad Boys, Bruckheimer and Michael Bay got right back to work, teaming up for this $335 million hit about a neurotic scientist (Nicolas Cage) who’s duped by the Pentagon into helping a disgraced MI6 agent (Sean Connery) bust into Alcatraz in order to foil a lunatic Marine (Ed Harris) who’s threatening to fire poison gas rockets into San Francisco. Sound ridiculous? It is — but it flies off the rails with intoxicating panache. “The Rock is the Guy Movie to end all Guy Movies,” applauded Marc Savlov of the Austin Chronicle, calling it “a ridiculously overblown summer testosterone blowout right down to the Wagnerian strains of the soundtrack and its stunningly high body count. It’s also a hell of a lot of fun.”


9. Enemy of the State

Depending on your ideological leanings, Enemy of the State‘s pre-9/11 warnings of an encroaching government surveillance state are either quaint or chillingly prescient — but either way, this techno-thriller, which united Bruckheimer with director Tony Scott for their fifth film, is a solidly built piece of big-budget entertainment. Starring Will Smith as a lawyer targeted by the NSA, Gene Hackman as the retired spook who helps him evade capture, and Jon Voight as the creepy bureaucrat who will stop at nothing to ensure the passage of a key piece of legislation, State blended good old-fashioned man-on-the-run action with state-of-the-art technology, and scared up a healthy $250 million along the way — as well as praise from critics such as Marc Savlov of the Austin Chronicle, who called it “a thriller straight through to its sleek, millennial-fever heart, an onrushing, giddily paranoiac roller-coaster ride with bad brakes, clever dialogue, and a reach that only occasionally exceeds its grasp.”


8. Remember the Titans

The inspiring real-life story of high school football coach Herman Boone, who overcame seemingly impossible odds — and generations of deeply ingrained racial prejudice — to lead a newly integrated team to the 1971 Virginia state championship. Of course, the Hollywood version of Boone’s tale was a little smoother than the real thing, but with Denzel Washington starring and Bruckheimer steering production, Remember the Titans racked up $136 million at the box office, proving yet again that people love a well-crafted inspirational sports drama. “Taken on its own terms, it’s an agreeable entertainment,” wrote Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir, calling it “solidly crafted, wonderfully acted and often genuinely moving.”


7. Black Hawk Down

The Bruckheimer name is most commonly associated with mindless blockbuster action thrillers, but 2001’s Black Hawk Down proves he can deliver a meaningful message while the bullets fly. This adaptation of Mark Bowden’s book about the real-life Battle of Mogadishu, directed with gritty precision by Ridley Scott, used an eclectic ensemble cast (including Ewan McGregor, Josh Hartnett, Tom Sizemore, Orlando Bloom, and Jeremy Piven) to take audiences into the trenches with soldiers fighting to kill or capture a Somali warlord. A $172 million hit, Black Hawk Down also earned the admiration of critics such as Michael Wilmington of the Chicago Tribune, who called it “A first-rate war movie that presents its subject so horrifyingly well that it doesn’t need to probe or preach.”


6. The Ref

It doesn’t have much in the way of action or explosions, and there’s really only one gun to speak of in the whole movie, but what it lacks in ammo-derived fireworks, The Ref makes up with Denis Leary’s sheer full-volume intensity. Starring as an inept, flustered burglar who takes a married couple (Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis) hostage, only to find himself an unwilling participant in their constant bickering, Leary proved he could carry a film after scoring supporting roles in movies like Demolition Man and Judgment Night. At a mere $20 million, it wasn’t one of Bruckheimer and Simpson’s biggest hits, but it eventually became something of a cult hit — and it earned high marks from critics like Chris Hicks of the Deseret News, who noted, “As a starmaking vehicle for Leary, The Ref may do the trick. He’s a prowling, muttering bundle of nervous energy, which is essentially a variation his MTV character. And he’s very funny.”


5. Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl

The world scoffed when word got out that Disney was planning to make a movie inspired by the popular Disneyland ride Pirates of the Caribbean, but then they went and lined up some serious talent, both behind the cameras (producer Bruckheimer, director Gore Verbinski) and in front (Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom, and Keira Knightley). Over $650 million later, no one was laughing anymore — and when the surprisingly positive reviews that greeted Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl were followed by five Academy Award nominations, we knew the studio had a bona fide franchise on its hands. “Swashbuckling adventures are few and far between these days,” observed James Berardinelli of ReelViews, “so it’s a pleasant surprise to see one that is competently made.”


4. Farewell, My Lovely

No, this isn’t a misprint. Hard-boiled detective Philip Marlowe returned to the screen — with added cynicism and extra helpings of grit, grime, and sex — in this 1975 adaptation of the 1940 Raymond Chandler novel, which was Bruckheimer’s first major big-screen production. The film finds Marlowe (played here by Robert Mitchum) embroiled in several intertwining cases, involving everything from a missing moll to a stolen necklace, not to mention an affair with a married seductress (Charlotte Rampling). By the mid- 1970s, Marlowe was a man out of time, but critics appreciated this ever-so-slightly revisionist take on the old gumshoe; as Time Out wrote, “The film’s triumph is Mitchum’s definitive Marlowe, which captures perfectly the character’s down-at-heel integrity and erratic emotional involvement with his cases.”


3. Beverly Hills Cop

The 1980s were very good to Jerry Bruckheimer, and 1984’s Beverly Hills Cop is a prime example: this box office smash, co-produced with Bruckheimer’s partner Don Simpson, was the hugely successful middle act between their 1983 hit Flashdance and 1986’s Top Gun (which, sadly, doesn’t have a high enough Tomatometer to make this list). Functioning as both the coming-out party for Eddie Murphy as a leading man and the prototype for the sort of fast-paced, quip-filled, impeccably soundtracked action thriller that Bruckheimer excels at, Cop earned praise from the likes of UK Critic’s Ian Waldron-Mantgani, who called it “One of the great popular entertainments of our time, a film that still has a place on the top 40 list of American box-office champs, and continues to look slick and full of energy almost twenty years after opening.”


2. Crimson Tide

Between 1983 and 1996, Bruckheimer and his longtime co-producer Don Simpson helped create a slew of massive hits, including Flashdance, Top Gun, and Bad Boys — and although most of their films weren’t exactly critical favorites, there were a few notable exceptions. Most notable: 1995’s Crimson Tide, in which a grizzled submarine captain (Gene Hackman) locks horns with his new lieutenant commander (Denzel Washington) over whether to launch nuclear warheads at a renegade Russian sub. With a pair of superstar leading men and a Tarantino-assisted script bolstering typically stylish work from director Tony Scott, Tide earned over $150 million at the box office — and praise from critics like Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times, who wrote, “If ever a picture crackled, Crimson Tide fits the description.”


1. Thief

Thief is a film full of firsts — Michael Mann’s directorial debut, the film debut for Jim Belushi, Dennis Farina, and others — but at its core, it’s pretty stock stuff: the thieving protagonist (James Caan) is pressured into pulling off one last heist by a shady crime boss (Robert Prosky) who isn’t above a good old-fashioned double-cross. A number of Thief‘s larger plot points will be familiar to anyone who’s seen Mann’s 1995 opus Heat, but this is a film that stands on its own; as Christopher Null wrote for Filmcritic, “Good guys and bad guys have never been harder to peg, which is why Thief is so much fun, filled with nuance and subtlety not often found among caper flicks.”

In case you were wondering, here are Bruckheimer’s top 10 movies according RT users’ scores:

1. Remember the Titans — 91%
2. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl — 86%
3. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest — 86%
4. The Rock — 85%
5. Black Hawk Down — 85%
6. Top Gun — 82%
7. Glory Road — 82%
8. Bad Boys II — 80%
9. Gone in 60 Seconds — 79%
10. Bad Boys — 79%

Take a look through Bruckheimer’s complete filmography, as well as the rest of our Total Recall archives. And don’t forget to check out the reviews for Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.

Finally, here’s a clip of Bruckheimer’s star-studded AFI Celebration:

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