Geoffrey Macnab: The critics carped but audiences loved Scott's action-packed movies

Even his detractors agree he was very slick. His technical mastery was never in doubt

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Audiences liked him. Check Tony Scott's box-office results and you'll discover that the average, inflation-adjusted worldwide gross for one of his movies was $116m or £74m (source: Box Office Mojo.) That's a huge number, given that his films were aimed firmly at adults, were often very violent indeed and some were flops. Critics were less convinced of his merits than spectators. Whereas his older brother Ridley has managed to elicit positive reviews from blockbuster movies, Tony was given a far rougher ride.

"Soft and aimless," complained The New York Times about his 1990 thriller Revenge. "Borderline incomprehensible," LA Times critic Kenneth Turan groused about Domino, his 2005 biopic of female bounty hunter Domino Harvey. Many of his other features were similarly dismissed. It was his misfortune (at least as far as his critical reputation was concerned) to be so closely associated with producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer and the world of macho, high-concept, big-budget blockbusters of the late 1980s. These were films whose ideas could be boiled down to a line or two. Scott's Top Gun (1986) was, for example, "rock'*'roll kids in jet planes". Scott was never likely to win any Oscars for Beverly Hills Cop II (1987) either. Simpson and Bruckheimer had such domineering personalities that they tended to overshadow the directors they worked with.

In the classic Hollywood studio era, there were many directors dismissed as journeymen while they were active but rediscovered by critics in later years: filmmakers such as Allan Dwan, Jacques Tourneur and Andre De Toth. Perhaps Scott's reputation will now undergo similar revision. Even his detractors acknowledged that he was very slick. His technical mastery wasn't in doubt. Those hundreds of commercials he had made after leaving the Royal College Of Art had honed his talents.

Tony Scott was also far more versatile that his image as a director of lurid action movies suggests. His debut feature The Hunger (1983), famous for the lesbian scene between Susan Sarandon and Catherine Deneuve, was an experimental and perverse horror film, seemingly as influenced by post punk and New Romantic pop culture as by the Hollywood action tradition. He may have been born in North Shields but late in his career, especially in his recent films with Denzel Washington such as The Taking Of Pelham 123 (2009) and Unstoppable (2010), he has excelled at portraying blue-collar American life. Enemy Of The State (1998) wasn't just a thriller but was one of the earliest films to flag up the surveillance society. True Romance (1993), scripted by Quentin Tarantino, was a road movie and a love story as well as a crime thriller. Scott brought out the irony and self-reflexive humour in Tarantino's words.

On one level, action movies are the purest form of cinema. Scott certainly directed the scenes of runaway trains and races against the clock in Unstoppable and Pelham 123 with a child-like relish. These cannot have been easy films to make but he orchestrated the action scenes with consummate fluency.

Scott also kept strong ties with the UK film industry as a director, producer and part of the consortium that bought a controlling stake in Shepperton Studios. "He was a significant part of Shepperton," Ivan Dunleavy, its chief executive said today.

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