Top five Guy Ritchie films as 'Operation Fortune' hits cinemas

The British director is back in his element as he reunites with Jason Statham and Hugh Grant for the new spy comedy, but it's not his only standout work

Director Guy Ritchie arrives for the premiere of "Aladdin" at El Capitan theatre in Los Angeles, California, U.S. May 21, 2019. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
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You might say Guy Ritchie is a film director who doesn’t quite get the respect he deserves. His Hollywood movies — the two Sherlock Holmes projects starring Robert Downey Jr as the world-famous sleuth and the live-action Aladdin with Will Smith as the genie — took in more than $2 billion between them.

He’s also frequently refreshed his palate with hugely entertaining romps such as 2019 crime comedy The Gentlemen, where he squeezed a terrific turn out of Hugh Grant as a sleazy private investigator trying to bring down Matthew McConaughey’s cannabis mogul.

Yet in some ways, he’s still arguably best known — in film terms at least — for his landmark debut Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. That 1998 caper changed the British gangster film for ever, inspiring a host of imitators and gathering plenty of admirers, including Brad Pitt, who turned up in Ritchie’s follow-up Snatch. It also launched the career of Jason Statham, who has gone on to become one of Hollywood’s most in-demand action stars in franchises such as The Transporter and Fast & Furious.

Statham has also remained Ritchie’s go-to leading man, appearing in five of his more than 13 movies, including last year's Wrath of Man, a B movie heist tale in which Ritchie goes back to basics to craft a grizzled action yarn.

He is now the lead in Ritchie’s new movie, the spy comedy Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre, playing the highly capable agent Orson Fortune, who recruits a Hollywood star — played by Josh Hartnett — to get to a billionaire arms broker, played by Grant.

The film, which also teams Statham up with Parks and Recreation star Aubrey Plaza and The Princess Bride’s Cary Elwes, was partly shot in Qatar (as well as Turkey and England). Doha’s Museum of Islamic Art can be glimpsed in the trailer, providing a spectacular backdrop to the action.

“We wanted to shoot somewhere we hadn’t shot before,” Ritchie said recently. “I like this part of the world. I’m a big fan of the Middle East. I’d like to make a whole movie here.”

For Ritchie, Operation Fortune continues his reinvention — something he’s been chipping away at for years.

“I like to think I’ve evolved as a filmmaker,” he once said, while promoting his 2008 film RocknRolla, the movie that ultimately sent him on a path to Hollywood.

AMMAN, JORDAN - MAY 13:  Naomi Scott, Mena Massoud, Director Guy Ritchie and Will Smith attend a photocall at the Citadel on May 13, 2019 in Amman, Jordan.  (Photo by Ian Gavan/Getty Images for Disney)

Certainly, he’s a long way past the rough patch in his career when he made 2002’s Swept Away, the remake of Lina Wertmuller’s 1974 romance, which became a tabloid sensation when Ritchie cast his then-wife Madonna. He followed it with Revolver, a horribly pretentious crime tale — and the worst of his Statham collaborations.

And yet since, Ritchie has found his groove, effortlessly switching between studio blockbusters and smaller-scale fare. There has been the occasional flop — his cherished medieval saga King Arthur: Legend of the Sword was a messy take on the myth that, despite taking about $148 million at the box office, was an expensive write-off.

But much like Matthew Vaughn, his one-time producer and the director of the Kingsman series, he’s that rare British filmmaker with commercial sensibilities in his bones.

Here then is our list of Ritchie’s best five movies:

1. 'RocknRolla' (2008)

At a low ebb following the critical maulings handed out to Swept Away and Revolver, Ritchie returned to his roots, teaming up with Hollywood producer Joel Silver to create this exhilarating London crime film. Loaded with quality British actors — Idris Elba, Mark Strong, Gerard Butler, Toby Kebbell and Tom Hardy — this story about a bunch of crooks called The Wild Bunch was pure Ritchie.

“I tried to catch what was happening in England at this time,” he said, referring to characters inspired by musician Pete Doherty and Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich. The result was a heady cocktail of violence, comedy and swearing.

2. 'Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels' (1998)

Ritchie’s debut is still as fresh-out-the-box as it was when it arrived. A comic caper concerning a pair of antique shotguns, featuring a host of London low-lifes, it reimagined the British gangster movie away from classics such as Get Carter and The Long Good Friday. The result was energetic and dynamic, introducing a new generation of actors from Nick Moran to Jason Flemyng and Statham. Ritchie even turned former Wimbledon footballer Vinnie Jones into a bona fide movie star, casting him as hardman Big Chris, who gets the film’s best line: “It’s been emotional.”

3. 'The Gentleman' (2019)

After his $1bn-grossing Aladdin, a film that admittedly didn’t bear much of his signature style, Ritchie ventured back to terrain he’s all too familiar with. It was a first team-up with McConaughey, who played a marijuana kingpin looking to sell his empire. Satirising tabloid culture — something his time with Madonna gave him plenty of experience of — it also paired him up with Grant for the second time, with the Notting Hill star relishing his role. The film also featured Downton Abbeys demure star Michelle Dockery, an absolute hoot as McConaughey’s foul-mouthed spouse.

4. 'The Man From U.N.C.L.E.' (2015)

Easily his best big-budget movie, Ritchie’s reboot of the 1960s show starring Robert Vaughn and David McCallum was executed with real swagger. Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer looked the part as Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin, American and Russian spies respectively, who are forced to come together in what is effectively an origin story for the U.N.C.L.E. espionage agency (run by Grant’s Waverley). The scene where Cavill casually eats his sandwich, listening to Peppino Gagliardi’s Che Vuole Questa Musica Stasera with mayhem all around him, is still one of the finest individual moments in Ritchie’s career.

5. 'Sherlock Holmes' (2009)

Arriving a year before Benedict Cumberbatch took on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective for the BBC show, Ritchie’s lively take on the character arguably reignited public interest in Holmes. Set in an atmospheric Victorian London, Ritchie cast Downey Jr as Baker Street’s finest. Joining him was Jude Law as Watson, and Ritchie turned both into proto-action heroes, with Holmes showing off his considerable martial arts skills. Downey Jr even won a Golden Globe for his performance, a role that along with Iron Man sealed his comeback in Hollywood.

Updated: March 15, 2022, 8:10 AM