Harrison Ford needs no introduction. But here’s one anyway.
One of the most popular actors in the world, the bulk of Ford’s most famous work was made in the 1980s. That’s especially true of his sci-fi and fantasy work.
It’s not just Ford who’s known around the world, though. His characters are more famous than he is. And Ford spent most of the 80s churning out hit after hit as the most famous men he’s ever played.
Not many people can boast of having portrayed not just one, but two of the most iconic characters ever brought to the big screen.
Just how much did Harrison Ford change the face of sci-fi and fantasy? Let’s take his genre work one by one in order of release.
Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
By the start of the 1980s, Star Wars was already a bona fide hit. Then, in 1980, it became a hit franchise. Harrison Ford, of course, played smuggler-turned-hero Han Solo.
There’s no doubt Star Wars thrust Ford into the public consciousness. There’s no doubt that Star Wars took space fantasy to a whole new level of popularity.
But would Ford’s portrayal of Han alone have made him such a megastar?
After all, his Star Wars co-stars didn’t have nearly the career trajectories that Ford did.
It seems it was more a matter of everything converging at just the right time, when Ford’s leading-man charisma (and Tom Selleck’s Magnum PI schedule) scored Ford a role that may be even more beloved than Han.
What qualifies it as sci-fi/fantasy? Space. Droids. Aliens. Ret-conned incest. The works.
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Just a year after The Empire Strikes Back proved the staying power of Star Wars as a franchise, Harrison Ford hit theaters in a solo vehicle that rocketed him straight into the celebrity stratosphere.
Raking in over $200 million in the U.S. alone (over $350 million worldwide), Raiders of the Lost Ark nearly doubled the box office of the next highest-grossing film of 1981, and cemented Indiana Jones as a staple of popular culture.
But, make no mistake, Indy belongs to the underdogs. He’s an archeologist superhero. A one-man band of both brains and brawn.
Could anyone else have stepped into his orthopedic boots the way Ford did? Good thing Tom Selleck was busy, eh?
What qualifies it as sci-fi/fantasy? A mythical, unproven relic. Ghostly miasma. Comically melty faces.
Blade Runner (1982)
Overshadowed by the huge successes of both Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark, Blade Runner is arguably Harrison Ford’s most important contribution to science fiction in particular.
Though it failed to turn a profit during its initial box office run, the film found its audience in subsequent decades and is now considered one of the greatest sci-fi movies ever made.
A genre-blending, high-octane romp through futuristic Los Angeles, Blade Runner imagined a world in which sentient robots looked and acted like humans. Only with greater abilities and zero empathy.
It’s a theme that has been revisited in sci-fi, with tweaks and additions, hundreds of times since.
Blade Runner didn’t invent it, but it did put the concept front and center. In a stylized way that took years for audiences to fully appreciate.
What qualifies it as sci-fi/fantasy? Human-like robots. Next-level AI. Just general coolness.
Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (1983)
When things are working, make it a trilogy. That’s a thing, isn’t it? Or maybe Star Wars creator George Lucas is secretly obsessed with the number three like me.
Not trying to start a thing. Just putting it out there. Lucas does play a lot in threes. And it makes some sense. The three-act story structure is tried and true.
Anyway, in 1983, Harrison Ford was Han Solo again.
What qualifies it as sci-fi/fantasy? There were still droids, still aliens, and still star wars.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
Because one hit franchise in a decade simply wasn’t satisfying enough, George Lucas and Harrison Ford decided to use the buddy system through the 80s to go bounding into untouchable fame together.
It was another turn as Indiana Jones. It was another artifact and another exotic location.
But Temple of Doom gets props for upping the fantasy gross-out factor with some heart-ripping, instant-healing, but still surviving to scream to one’s death ridiculousness.
What qualifies it as sci-fi/fantasy? Heart-free survival. Insta-healing. Potion use.
The Mosquito Coast (1986)
Though they certainly dominated his decade, Harrison Ford didn’t spend an entire ten years just going back and forth between Han Solo and Indiana Jones. In the five-year hiatus between the last two Indiana Jones films (of the 80s), he starred in four other movies, some better received than others.
This one, like Blade Runner, was poorly-met by both audiences and critics of the time, but has gotten some love in the time since.
Maybe because the debate between science and religion has taken on more serious ramifications in the past thirty years. Maybe because the Doomsday Clock is ticking forward once again toward the threat of nuclear war, which gives The Mosquito Coast a frightening air of reality.
In the movie, Harrison Ford plays an inventor in search of utopia. But, in his efforts to create it, he forces his family into their own dystopia of sorts.
What qualifies it as sci-fi/fantasy? Utopia. Dystopia. Cornucopia.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
Providing a life lesson in “stick with what made you rich and famous,” Harrison Ford returned to his role as Indiana Jones to close out the decade.
Mythical artifact? Check.
Exotic location? Check.
Love interest? Check.
Wait. What’s this? Sean Connery as Indy’s dad? Excellent.
What qualifies it as sci-fi/fantasy? The usual. Plus, a 700-year-old knight.
And that, in a nutshell, is how Harrison Ford became a geek icon.