One of the most incomparable badasses of American cinema, Harrison Ford, turns 75 today. Like a fine whiskey, Ford has only gotten better with age, bringing new levels of charm and swagger to roles despite his three quarters of a century of life. Would that we could all be so awesome!
To celebrate the life and career of one of the most quintessential modern American actors, we take a look back at five of his best and most memorable roles. From pop culture mainstays to poignant performances, Ford’s is a career that as varied as it is brilliant. Happy birthday, Mr. Ford. May we continue to receive your blessings for many years to come.
With an impressive career in both film and television already behind him, Ford cemented himself in the annals of pop culture history by bringing to life this lovable rogue in 1977. For many, the character of Han Solo was what secured their love for the Star Wars saga, bringing a sense of relatability to a galaxy far, far away. Throughout the first three movies, he brought an inimitable swagger and cool to the role of Han Solo (one which Alden Ehrenreich will have a hard time matching in the upcoming Han Solo film) that defined both the actor and the films. His cocksure stride and snarky half-grin are indispensable parts of the original trilogy, and were a welcome return to The Force Awakens. Sadly, Han’s death means we won’t be seeing more from Ford in Star Wars (although there’s still a chance for a cameo appearance in a flashback) but what we already have is more than enough to last a lifetime.
Most actors are lucky to have one pop culture icon on their resumes, but lightning struck twice for Ford and George Lucas with Indiana Jones. The swashbuckling archaeologist who never met a snake he didn’t hate has lived in minds of cinephiles for almost four decades, with four movies to revisit and one more supposedly in the works. Professor Henry “Indiana” Jones Jr. was everything we wished we always could be—dashing, daring, intelligent, bold—but Ford also brought a kind of vulnerability to the role that made Indiana all the more relatable. Indiana Jones had a code, a sense of right and wrong that was untouchable and untarnished. It wasn’t that Jones was fearless, it was that he did it anyway despite his fears. Ford infused Indiana with life, making him one of the most popular movie characters of all time.
While never reaching the pop cultural heights of Indiana Jones or Han Solo, there’s a good argument to be made that Rick Deckard, the titular blade runner from Ridley Scott’s hit 1982 adaptation of a Philip K. Dick story, deserves to be held in the same esteem as Ford’s other most memorable characters. Through Ford’s performance, viewers are brought into a dark and sprawling vision of the future (which we’re only two years away from now) where cyborgs roam the streets indistinguishable from their human counterparts. Ford’s nuanced performance allowed audiences an easy into the world of the story, which explored complex themes of what it means to be human. Hopefully, the 35 years that followed won’t have lessened the impact of Deckard’s cyber-noir cool when Ford steps back into the role in Blade Runner 2049 later this year.
No one—not Alec Baldwin, Ben Affleck, or Chris Pine—has brought the same level of intensity to the role of Jack Ryan that Ford brought to Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger. Tom Clancy’s CIA analyst isn’t exactly a complex character beneath his cool veneer—James Bond he’s not—but Ford dug deep and proved that a lowly analyst could be an unrelenting badass if the situation was called for. Whether battling against the Irish Republican Army or thrust into a political power struggle between his U.S. government and Colombian drug cartels, Ford’s Jack Ryan was an equal mix of cool and strong that solidified the actor as the thinking man’s action hero. As an analyst, he wasn’t afraid to use his brains—this, in an era where the biggest man was the one with the biggest gun—but neither was he afraid to throw a punch when the situation arose. John Krasinski (The Office) certainly has some big shoes to fill when Amazon premieres their take on the character, Jack Ryan, later this year.
Dr. Richard Kimble
Back before every third movie released was a remake, a reboot, a reimagining, or a rewhatever, remakes were often interesting ways to bring classic stories to new audiences. Updating the classic 60s TV series might have seemed a bit unnecessary at the time, but Ford brought the perfect amount of pathos and relatability to the character of Dr. Kimble, who wrongly accused of murdering his wife before escaping custody to find the real killer. His performance earned him a Golden Globe nomination and easily became his best cinematic performance of all time. His Dr. Kimble was obsessive, intelligent, vulnerable, and relatable, giving audiences—both new and old—a brilliant interpretation of a classic American character, and arguably surpassing even the original.