The Secrets of Harrison Ford’s Most Iconic Movie Roles

in Movies & TV

Dr Richard Kimble Harrison Ford Fugitive

Credit: Warner Bros

If Harrison Ford had only ever played Indiana Jones and Han Solo in his career, he would have been firmly established in the canon of great stars of Hollywood history. But fortunately for all of us, Ford did not rest on his laurels on those characters (and the imaginations of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas) but went on to embody a whole slew of other iconic characters.

These characters see Harrison Ford embodying everything from a futuristic, hard-drinking bounty hunter to a desperate Chicago physician on the run to the President of the United States, and each of them has a story behind the man.

We are going to break down some of Harrison Ford’s iconic roles for their origins, influences, and weird little details and try to get into what makes each of them so unique. Does the man behind so many of our favorite characters deserve any less?

Related: Watch Harrison Ford Roast Conan O’Brien for His ‘Star Wars’ Knowledge

Indiana Jones Is a Combination of James Bond, Scrooge McDuck, and a Dog

Harrison Ford as Indiana jones
Credit: Disney

Arguably, Indiana Jones is Harrison Ford’s greatest and most recognizable role. He has returned as the two-fisted archaeologist more than any other movie role, with Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny making it a cool five times (we’re ruling that his uncredited cameo as Han Solo in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) doesn’t count).

It also seems to be one of Harrison Ford’s own personal favorite roles and one that he takes the most ownership of, along with George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. Part of that is literal, in that, Ford reportedly has partial rights to Indiana Jones, hence his ability to veto anyone else playing the role now that he has retired.

Indiana Jones is rightfully considered one of the great action heroes, combining humor, fighting ability, intellectual ability, and appealing vulnerability in equal measure. It is a bit odd to consider that the character basically originated as a mixture of Ian Fleming’s British secret agent James Bond and Disney’s covetous, greedy Scrooge McDuck.

Related: ‘The Witcher’ Is Just Like ‘James Bond,’ Says Producer

We’ll explain. Sometime in 1977, just after the release of the first Star Wars movie, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas met up in Hawaii, where the Jaws director revealed he was considering directing a James Bond movie. Reportedly, Lucas said that he had something even better: Indiana Jones. However, Lucas has been open many times over the years about how the resourceful, but often physically out-matched 007 was a template for Jones.

Another key influence was Carl Barks’ Scrooge McDuck comic, which transformed the character from a cartoon version of Charles Dickens’ similarly named Yuletide miser into a world-traveling adventurer constantly on a mission to retrieve treasure in remote locations. Steven Spielberg would even go so far as to turn the prologue of Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) into an extended homage to Scrooge McDuck #7. See if you can spot the similarities:

Indiana Jones Scrooge McDuck
Uncle Scrooge #7
Credit: Disney

Also, Indiana Jones was named after George Lucas’ beloved dog Indiana, which would later be referenced in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), much to the delight of Sallah (John Rhys-Davies). Indiana (the dog) would also be the inspiration for Lucas’ Chewbacca, which leads us to…

Han Solo Is George Lucas’ Smooth-Talking Mentor

Harrison Ford as Han Solo shouting Yahoo
Credit: Lucasfilm

Although Han Solo preceded Indiana Jones as a breakout character for Harrison Ford, he reportedly has never cared for the freewheeling Corellian smuggler and pushed for the character to get killed off as early as The Empire Strikes Back (1980), with his imprisonment in freezing carbonite and the introduction of Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) as a potential replacement being a compromise.

Harrison Ford eventually did get his wish for Han Solo to be ruthlessly stabbed to death in The Force Awakens (2015), but not before the Star Wars character became a permanent part of his image as a movie star and cultural icon. However, the original inspiration for Solo was actually someone who himself became a major cinematic icon: director Francis Ford Coppola.

Read: Hollywood A-Lister Claims He Created Han Solo

George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola met during the production of Finian’s Rainbow (1968), a rightfully forgotten musical involving a leprechaun and a racist senator (the 1960s were weird). The two became friends and collaborators, with the older, more experienced Coppola acting as a mentor to Lucas, as well as younger filmmakers like Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese.

Before George Lucas remembered Harrison Ford as a minor actor in his film American Graffiti (1973), the director originally envisioned Han Solo as a green alien with gills, a Jedi (before Lucas had really decided what Star Wars meant), and a swashbuckling space pirate. That last version drifted into resembling Humphrey Bogart before taking on elements of James Dean (in space!), but ultimately, it was Francis Ford Coppola’s older, sardonic wisecracking that became the essential element of Solo as we know and love him.

Well, that, and Harrison Ford, who brought his air of experience, humor, and danger to a character that could otherwise might have been just a generic rogue. That’s what Francis Ford Coppola’s vibe brought to the table.


Dr. Richard Kimble May Have Been Inspired by a Real-Life Murderer

Dr Richard Kimble Harrison Ford Fugitive
Credit: Warner Bros

Harrison Ford had one of the biggest hits of his career with The Fugitive (1993), which co-starred Tommy Lee Jones in an Academy Award-winning role of Deputy U.S. Marshal Sam Gerard, a man who thinks of every “gas station, residence, warehouse, farmhouse, henhouse, outhouse, and doghouse” as the potential hiding place for an escaped convict.

In The Fugitive, Harrison Ford portrays Dr. Richard Kimble, a Chicago vascular surgeon who returns to his home one evening to discover his wife horrifically murdered and briefly fights a one-armed man (Andreas Katsulas) before being arrested, tried, and sentenced to execution. Along the way, he escapes via a thrilling train collision scene and sets out to discover his wife’s true killer, pursued by the implacable Tommy Lee Jones through many of Chicago’s most recognizable landmarks.

Related: Disney’s New Indiana Jones Show Has Nothing To Do With Harrison Ford

The Fugitive is an adaptation of the popular 1960s television series of the same name (which was also an inspiration for David Lynch’s Twin Peaks), which has been often claimed to have been inspired by the case of Sam Sheppard, an Ohio neurosurgeon whose wife was discovered brutally beaten to death and who was eventually convicted of her murder, then retried and found innocent. Notably, he claimed to have chased a “bushy-haired man” from the scene, similar to the idea of the one-armed man.

Sam Sheppard’s original trial swept the United States in 1954, with the idea of a respected man of medicine murdering his wife gripping imaginations and producing salacious headlines and what the Supreme Court later called a “carnival atmosphere.”

Decades later and after a second trial that found him not guilty, opinions are still sharply debated on whether Sam Sheppard actually committed the crime or not. While the creators of the original The Fugitive series denied that the series was explicitly based on Sheppard, it has become part of pop culture that Harrison Ford’s Dr. Richard Kimble was playing a character inspired by real life.

No One Can Agree About Rick Deckard

Blade Runner Rick Deckard Harrison Ford
Credit: Warner Bros

Not content to be an integral part of the science fiction canon with just Star Wars, Harrison Ford then starred in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982). He portrayed Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter in a far-off future of 2019, where Los Angeles is underpopulated, constantly raining, and dominated by the huge pyramid residence of Eldon Tyrell (Joe Turkel), the brilliant inventor of “replicants,” bio-designed humanoids used for dangerous slave labor off-planet.

Blade Runner was adapted from Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968), which involved the same basic scenario, but with more mysterious virtual reality religions, animal death, and radiation wars (again, the 1960s were weird).

In the book, the central character is still a bounty hunter (not called a Blade Runner, which Ridley Scott simply thought sounded cool), but is very different: for one, he’s married, devoutly religious, and owns the titular electric sheep.

Related: Harrison Ford Won’t Miss ‘Indiana Jones,’ “It Doesn’t Matter”

However, the fascinating thing about Harrison Ford as Rick Deckard, a role that he reprised for Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 (2017), is not the differences from the novel, but how differently everyone involved sees that character. For years, fans have debated the ambiguous ending of the film and whether it meant that Deckard was a human or a replicant and what the difference really was.

Harrison Ford says Deckard is a human. Ridley Scott says replicant. Philip K. Dick said human. Syd Mead (one of the primary conceptual architects of the film) says replicants. Scott sometimes says Ford now says human. Denis Villeneuve isn’t sure.

For an iconic Harrison Ford character, it really seems even the people who created it just can’t agree.

Harrison Ford as Jack Ryan Took Some Dirty Deals

Harrison Ford Jack Ryan Patriot Games
Credit: Paramount Pictures

With the exception of James Bond, there may be no action movie character who has been played by as many people in as many different ways as Jack Ryan, the Marine turned CPA turned stockbroker turned history professor turned CIA consultant turned President of the United States. With a resume like that, it’s no wonder why it’s difficult to have a definitive depiction of the character.

Harrison Ford has played Jack Ryan in Patriot Games (1992) and Clear and Present Danger (1994), exactly one more movie than anybody else has. Prior to Ford, the role was played by Alec Baldwin in The Hunt for Red October (1990).

Then, Harrison Ford was followed by Ben Affleck in The Sum of All Fears (2002) and Chris Pine in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2004). Currently, John Krasinski stars as the character in the Amazon Prime Video series Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan (not to be confused with anyone else’s Jack Ryan).

To sum all that up, every viable star in Hollywood seems to get a shot at playing Jack Ryan, but it turns out, getting Harrison Ford in the role took some still-mysterious backroom deals. According to Alec Baldwin, he was up for reprising the role in Patriot Games but was squeezed out by contractual double deals. According to director John McTiernan, Baldwin was maneuvered out of Jack Ryan in favor of his first pick Ford in part to settle some debt Paramount Pictures owed the actor.

In the end, the exact means by which Harrison Ford replaced Alec Baldwin in one of the major action franchises of the 1990s is still lost in the shadows, which feels appropriate for Jack Ryan.

A Huge Movie Star Demanded Harrison Ford Play U.S. President James Marshall

U.S. President James Marshall Air Force One
Credit: Sony Pictures

As one-off films go, Air Force One (1997) made a pretty good impact on pop culture, with Harrison Ford’s role as U.S. President James Marshall standing up there with some of the actor’s best. The earthy honesty and integrity we have come to expect from Ford did a lot to sell the idea of him as president, and his ability to throw a punch as any number of characters made us believe that a sitting chief executive could beat up a crew of vicious Kazakhstani terrorists.

However, the role was originally supposed to go to a different, very popular actor of the 1990s: Kevin Costner. The Field of Dreams (1989) actor was set to star in the film but had to bow out due to scheduling issues, most likely the extended shoots for his upcoming mega-flop The Postman (1997). Unlike whatever mess occurred with Alec Baldwin, however, Costner was bizarrely insistent on Harrison Ford taking the role.

Related: Harrison Ford Talks Red Hulk in Interview

Harrison Ford told the Los Angeles Times that “This was a script that Kevin Costner originally had and he gave it to me. Kevin knew this was a big commercial movie and his schedule didn’t allow him to do it. And he told [the producers] he would let it go only if I could do it. Now Kevin and I are not intimates. I’ve met him on a number of occasions and I like him very much. And I like him a lot more now because he really threw a winner my way.”

Who knows what was going on in Kevin Costner’s head? Not even Harrison Ford knows for sure.

Are these Harrison Ford’s most iconic roles? Crack your whip in the comments down below and let us know!

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