Born in Lincoln, Nebraska, Scott fled to Canada in 1969 as a draft dodger. He settled in Calgary, and began writing film reviews for the Calgary Albertan a few years later. He won a National Newspaper Award in 1975, and moved to Toronto when he was hired by The Globe and Mail in 1977.
With the Globe and Mail, Scott became Canada's most influential film critic, and is still widely remembered as one of the best and most influential film critics in the history of Canadian journalism.
A collection of his reviews, Great Scott! The Best of Jay Scott's Movie Reviews, was published posthumously in 1994. Proceeds from the book sales were donated to the Canadian Foundation for AIDS Research.