The career of director Steven Spielberg has practically defined modern blockbusters, but he’s also been able to craft more personal films as well. Let’s rank Spielberg’s entire filmography from worst to best in a new photo gallery of his 33 theatrical features (therefore, not including the TV movie “Duel”).
Spielberg’s reputation as a master entertainer came with the release of “Jaws,” his 1975 shark attack thriller. Made when he was just 29 years old, the film set box office records and made the summer safe for blockbusters again. Such following films as “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (1977), “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981), and “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” (1982) cemented Spielberg’s ability to create spectacular amusements that brought audiences to their feet.
He later moved into serious filmmaking with “The Color Purple” (1985), which paved the way for his 1993 Holocaust drama “Schindler’s List” (1993). That film swept the Academy Awards, bringing Spielberg Oscars for Best Director and Best Picture. He added another trophy to his shelf for directing the World War II epic “Saving Private Ryan” (1998).
His remake of “West Side Story” (2021) received rave reviews and won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Ariana DeBose. Additionally, Spielberg competed at the Oscars for directing “Close Encounters,” “Raiders,” “E.T.,” “Munich” (2005), “Lincoln” (2012), and “West Side Store,” while “Jaws,” “Raiders,” “E.T.,” “The Color Purple,” “Private Ryan,” “Munich,” “War Horse” (2011), “Lincoln,” “Bridge of Spies” (2015), “The Post” (2017) and “West Side Story” all contended for Best Picture.
Tour our gallery of Spielberg feature films, and see if your favorite topped the list.
33. THE TERMINAL (2004)
Writers: Sacha Gervasi and Jeff Nathanson, story by Andrew Niccol and Gervasi. Starring Tom Hanks, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Stanley Tucci, Chi McBride, Diego Luna.
While it’s debatable whether or not this is the worst entry in Spielberg’s canon, “The Terminal” is certainly a low point. Tom Hanks reunites with the director to play an immigrant who finds himself stranded at JFK airport when he is denied entry into the United States while at the same time is unable to return to his home country due to a military coup. Despite Alex McDowell‘s impressive production design, the film fails to capture the nimble tone of the classic romantic comedies it hopes to emulate, and comes across as a minor bauble in an otherwise illustrious career.
32. 1941 (1979)
Writers: Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, story by Zemeckis, Gale, and John Milius. Starring Dan Aykroyd, Ned Beatty, John Belushi, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton, Christopher Lee, Tim Matheson, Toshiro Mifune, Warren Oates, Robert Stack, Treat Williams, Nancy Allen.
Following the massive critical and box office success of “Jaws” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” it seemed as though Spielberg could do no wrong. Then came “1941,” a seriously unfunny comedy about panic ensuing in Los Angeles after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The film’s bloated production makes for few genuine laughs despite a talented cast that includes “Saturday Night Live” alums Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi. After going over-budget and over-schedule on three successive films, Spielberg worked hard on his next project to curb any doubt that he could work efficiently: the result was “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
31. HOOK (1991)
Writers: James V. Hart and Malia Scotch Marmo, story by Hart and Nick Castle, based on the books and stage play by J.M. Barrie. Starring Dustin Hoffman, Robin Williams, Julia Roberts, Bob Hoskins, Maggie Smith, Caroline Goodall.
Though it’s achieved a bit of a cult status, “Hook” is a mirthless and dreary exercise in forced fantasy. This “Peter Pan” adaptation finds the adult boy wonder (Robin Williams) returning to Neverland to rescue his children from the claw of Captain Hook (Dustin Hoffman). Foregoing the lush greens and blues for deep reds and browns, the film makes the fantastical world of Neverland look like it’s been through decades of global warming. Desperate to inspire a sense of wonder in the audience, “Hook” instead inspires groans, making for a sad retread of a once magical idea.
30. INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL (2008)
Writer: David Koepp, story by George Lucas and Jeff Nathanson, based on characters created by Lucas and Philip Kaufman. Starring Harrison Ford, Cate Blanchett, Karen Allen, Shia LaBeouf, Ray Winstone, John Hurt, Jim Broadbent.
If there’s one thing the fourth installment of the “Indiana Jones” series proves, it’s that sometimes there really can be too much of a good thing. “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” finds the famed archeologist (Harrison Ford) called back into action after he becomes entangled in a Soviet plot to uncover the secret behind some mysterious artifacts. While the action sequences are spectacular as usual, much of the humor that’s peppered throughout the original trilogy is sorely missing. Here’s hoping the planned fifth chapter will do a better job recapturing that old magic.
29. READY PLAYER ONE (2018)
Writers: Zak Penn and Ernest Cline, based on the novel by Cline. Starring Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, T.J. Miller, Lena Waithe, Simon Pegg, Mark Rylance.
“Ready Player One” would seem like a perfect fit for Spielberg, a futuristic nostalgia fest that zips around with the pace of an amusement park ride. Based on Ernest Cline’s bestseller, it imagines a future where most of humanity escapes the wasteland of society through a virtual reality video game called the OASIS, featuring every significant touchstone of recent pop culture (everything, that is, except for Spielberg’s own films). When the creator (Mark Rylance) dies, he challenges the users to find an Easter Egg and unlock his vast fortune. The world of the game is an eye-popping wonder, but the rest of the story, unfortunately, plays like a retread of the director’s best work.
28. ALWAYS (1989)
Writer: Jerry Belson, based on the story “A Guy Named Joe” by Chandler Sprague and David Boehm and the screenplay by Dalton Trumbo and Frederick Hazlitt Brennan. Starring Richard Dreyfuss, Holly Hunter, John Goodman, Audrey Hepburn, Brad Johnson.
Spielberg is said to have watched “A Guy Named Joe,” the 1944 romantic drama about a deceased WWII bomber (Spencer Tracy) forced to become the guardian angel to a younger pilot (Van Johnson) who’s falling in love with his former girlfriend (Irene Dunne), several times as a child. So great was its impact that he decided to remake it with Richard Dreyfuss as a forrest fire fighter, Brad Johnson as a young pilot, and Holly Hunter as his girl. Unfortunately, little of the filmmaker’s passion for the original translates to his reinterpretation. The film is perhaps most notable for being the last screen appearance by the legendary Audrey Hepburn as Dreyfuss’ guardian angel.
27. THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN (2011)
Writers: Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish, based on the comics by Herge. Starring Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig, Nick Frost, Simon Pegg, Toby Jones.
“The Adventures of Tintin” was Spielberg’s first foray into animation, and it’s an impressive visual feast. This adaptation of the classic Herge comic series finds the intrepid reporter Tintin (Jamie Bell) and Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis) setting off on a treasure hunt for a sunken ship commanded by Haddock’s ancestor. Spielberg worked with producer Peter Jackson and his Weta Digital company to use motion capture technology during filming, making “Tintin” a less than ordinary cartoon. Unfortunately, the film failed to make back its substantial budget, delaying plans for a Jackson-helmed sequel.
26. THE BFG (2016)
Writer: Melissa Mathison, based on the book by Roald Dahl. Starring Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Penelope Wilton, Jemaine Clement, Rebecca Hall, Rafe Spall, Bill Hader.
The imaginative world of Roald Dahl would seem ripe material for Spielberg, so it’s surprising that “The BFG” was his first adaptation of the author’s work. The film revolves around an orphan girl (Rudy Barnhill) who befriends a benevolent giant (Mark Rylance), and helps him stop the man-eating leviathans invading the human world. With stunning visual effects and eye-popping production design by Oscar-winners Rick Carter and Robert Stromberg, “The BFG” is a sweet, touching fantasy aimed squarely at family audiences.
25. WAR HORSE (2011)
Writers: Lee Hall and Richard Curtis, based on the novel by Michael Morpurgo and stage play by Nick Stafford. Starring Jeremy Irvine, Peter Mullan, Emily Watson, Niels Arestrup, David Thewlis, Tom Hiddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch.
Spielberg snagged a Best Picture Oscar nomination for his big screen adaptation of the broadway smash hit. “War Horse” centers on Albert (Jeremy Irvine), a young man who enlists in World War I after his beloved horse is sold to the cavalry. His hopeful journey takes him out of England and into the front lines as the war rages on, all in the hopes of being reunited with his faithful equine. Though overly sentimental in parts, the film is nonetheless a charming, old fashioned fable, with colorful, gorgeous cinematography by Janusz Kaminski and a sweeping John Williams score.
24. THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK (1997)
Writer: David Koepp, based on the novel by Michael Crichton. Starring Jeff Goldblum, Julianne Moore, Pete Postlethwaite, Arliss Howard, Richard Attenborough, Vince Vaughn, Vanessa Lee Chester, Peter Stormare, Richard Schiff.
Given the massive success of “Jurassic Park,” a sequel was inevitable, and the best thing we can say about this followup is that it didn’t cause the franchise to go extinct. In “The Lost World,” a research team led by Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) is sent to the island to study the dinosaurs, while another team tries to capture a T-Rex and bring it back to America. Though the film features several exciting set pieces – including a harrowing sequence with an RV being pushed off a cliff – it fails to live up to the wonder of the original. Still, Goldblum is a hoot, and Pete Postlethwaite makes a strong impression as the big-game hunter leading the second team.
23. THE SUGARLAND EXPRESS (1974)
Writers: Hal Barwood and Matthew Robbins, story by Steven Spielberg, Barwood, and Robbins. Starring Goldie Hawn, Ben Johnson, William Atherton, Michael Sacks.
Spielberg made his feature film debut with this ripped-from-the-headlines drama about a woman (Goldie Hawn) who helps her husband (William Atherton) escape from prison so they can kidnap their son, taking a policeman (Michael Sacks) hostage in the process. Critic Pauline Kael praised “The Sugarland Express” as “one of the most phenomenal debuts in the history of cinema,” and it certainly is. Though it may pale in comparison to some of the director’s later efforts, it nonetheless signaled the emergence of a singular talent in American filmmaking, and features one of Hawn’s best performances.
22. WAR OF THE WORLDS (2005)
Writers: Josh Friedman and David Koepp, based on the novel by H.G. Wells. Starring Tom Cruise, Davota Fanning, Miranda Otto, Justin Chatwin, Tim Robbins.
This adaptation of H.G. Wells’ sci-fi classic is a summer blockbuster served up with extra salty popcorn. Tom Cruise stars as a father who must fight to protect his children when Earth is invaded by alien tripod fighting machines. Needless to say, these aren’t the friendly extra-terrestrials of “E.T.” and “Close Encounters.” Spielberg fills the screen with haunting and disturbing images reminiscent of 9/11, making for a truly frightening vision of a world under attack. Despite a soggy third act, the film is a stunning reminder of the director’s singular ability to craft thoughtful and exciting entertainments.
21. AMISTAD (1997)
Writer: David Franzoni. Starring Morgan Freeman, Nigel Hawthorne, Anthony Hopkins, Djimon Hounsou, Matthew McConaughey, David Paymer, Pete Postlethwaite, Stellan Skarsgard, Anna Paquin, Chiwetel Ejiofor.
Spielberg turned his eye towards America’s greatest shame with this historical drama about an uprising aboard the slave ship “La Amistad,” where Mende tribesmen took control of their captor’s ship off the coast of Cuba. After the ship docks in America, the U.S. Supreme Court must decide whether the Mende are slaves or legally free. Anthony Hopkins chews the scenery as former President John Quincy Adams, who speaks eloquently on behalf of the imprisoned Africans, and Djimon Hounsou makes a striking debut as the revolt leader Cinque. While the film too often gets bogged down in legal jargon at the expense of emotional payoff, “Amistad” is still a powerful reminder of how far our country has come, and how far it has to go.
20. INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM (1984)
Writers: Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz, story by George Lucas, based on characters created by Lucas and Philip Kaufman. Starring Harrison Ford, Kate Capshaw, Jonathan Ke Quan, Amrish Puri, Roshan Seth.
It would be hard for any sequel to live up to the thrills and chills of “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” yet “Temple of Doom” tries its best. Harrison Ford again dons the hat and whip of the adventurous archeologist, who finds himself stumbling upon a secret cult with a nefarious plan while searching for a mythical stone in India. Darker in tone than the rest of the “Indiana Jones” series, the film was so violent that it led to the creation of the PG-13 rating. Although Spielberg was ultimately felt the film fell short of its predecessor, he did meet his future wife Kate Capshaw on the set, proving that happy endings can come from the most unlikely of places.
19. THE COLOR PURPLE (1985)
Writer: Menno Meyjes, based on the novel by Alice Walker. Starring Danny Glover, Whoopi Goldberg, Margaret Avery, Oprah Winfrey, Adolph Caesar.
Spielberg took his first step towards serious filmmaking with this adaptation of Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. Whoopi Goldberg made her acting debut as Celie, an African American woman struggling against racism and misogyny in the rural South during the first 40 year of the 20th century. Though criticized for painting Walker’s tough material with a glossy, saccharin brush (not to mention seriously neutering a love scene between Goldberg and Margaret Avery), the film is nonetheless a moving portrait of the perseverance of the human spirit. Spielberg won his first DGA prize for his work, but was famously snubbed at the Oscars, where “The Color Purple” tied “The Turning Point” (1977) for the most Academy Awards losses with 11.
18. BRIDGE OF SPIES (2015)
Writers: Matt Charman, Joel Coen and Ethan Coen. Starring Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Amy Ryan, Alan Alda, Jesse Plemons.
With “Bridge of Spies,” Spielberg once again turns his eye towards America’s checkered history. The Cold War drama tell the true story of James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks), an American lawyer recruited to defend a Soviet spy (Mark Rylance) in court, then help negotiate an exchange of the spy with a captured U.S. pilot. Like many of the director’s best efforts, “Bridge of Spies” is about an ordinary man rising to the occasion when he is caught up in something bigger than himself. Rylance snagged a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his subtle, nuanced performance, while the film became Spielberg’s tenth to receive a Best Picture nomination.
17. EMPIRE OF THE SUN (1987)
Writer: Tom Stoppard, based on the novel by J.G. Ballard. Starring Christian Bale, John Malkovich, Miranda Richardson, Nigel Havers, Joe Pantoliano, Leslie Phillips.
Spielberg followed up “The Color Purple” with his second step towards mature filmmaking by dipping his toes into World War II, a period he’s returned to time and again. Based on the book by J.G. Ballard, “Empire of the Sun” follows a young English boy (Christian Bale) as he struggles to survive under the Japanese occupation after he’s separated from his family. Spielberg shows the war through the eyes of his young protagonist, making for a drama both intimate and epic in scope. Ultimately, “Empire of the Sun” is one of the director’s strongest efforts revolving around one of his favorite subjects: heroism in the face of adversity.
16. CATCH ME IF YOU CAN (2002)
Writer: Jeff Nathanson, based on the book by Frank Abagnale Jr. and Stan Redding. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Christopher Walken, Martin Sheen, Amy Adams, James Brolin.
2002 was a banner year for Spielberg. In addition to directing the dystopian sci-fi thriller “Minority Report,” he also managed to crank out this jazzy biographical drama about Frank Abagnale Jr. (Leonardo DiCaprio), a young con man who manages to steal millions by posing as a pilot, a doctor, and a legal prosecutor. Tom Hanks costars as the dedicated FBI agent who doggedly pursues him. At its heart, “Catch Me If You Can” is another Spielberg story of distant patriarchs, with Christopher Walken in an Oscar-nominated role as Abagnale’s disgraced father, who loses his wife and wealth after committing tax evasion. That intimate, personal detail elevates the film from being simply a breezy, capricious effort from the director.
15. MINORITY REPORT (2002)
Writers: Scott Frank and Jon Cohen, based on the short story by Philip K. Dick. Starring Tom Cruise, Max von Sydow, Samantha Morton, Colin Farrell, Lois Smith, Peter Stormare, Jessica Harper, Tim Blake Nelson.
Who would’ve thought that the man behind “E.T.” could conceive of such a dark sci-fi fantasy? Working from Philip K. Dick’s short story, the film revolves around a police unit that specializes in arresting murderers before they can commit their crimes through the use of Precogs, mutated humans who can see into the future. An officer (Tom Cruise) suddenly accused of a homicide must enlist a Precog (Samantha Morton) who sometimes has a different vision from her fellow fortune tellers in order to clear his name. The film raises many troubling questions about a not-to-distant future while offering up some of Spielberg’s most exciting action set pieces, making for a thought-provoking, pulse-pounding entertainment.
14. MUNICH (2005)
Writers: Tony Kushner and Eric Roth, based on the book by George Jonas. Starring Eric Bana, Daniel Craig, Ciaran Hinds, Mathieu Kassovitz, Geoffrey Rush, Mathieu Amalric.
Few expected Spielberg – the most prominent and successful Jewish director in history – to place himself squarely in the center of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Fewer still expected him to deliver a drama that looked at the issue so evenhandedly, finding little victory in decades of terrorism and refutation. Based on the true story of the events following Black September, “Munich” revolves around five men who are dispatched to eliminate the ones responsible for the murders of that fateful day. Filled with taut suspense and gritty naturalism, the film is ultimately a thoughtful meditation on the human cost of war. The film received five Academy Award nominations – including Best Picture and Best Director – yet lost both prizes to “Crash” and “Brokeback Mountain” (Ang Lee) respectively.
13. INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE (1989)
Writers: Jeffrey Boam, story by George Lucas and Menno Meyjes, based on characters created by Lucas and Philip Kaufman. Starring: Harrison Ford, Sean Connery, Denholm Elliott, Alison Doody, John Rhys-Davies, Julian Glover, River Phoenix.
How many third films in a series can hold a candle to the original? One that comes awfully close is “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” which finds the adventurous archeologist (Harrison Ford) joining forces with his estranged father (Sean Connery) to stop the Nazis from getting their hands on the Holy Grail. Packed with wall-to-wall action and a great deal of comedy, “Last Crusade” also contains a very personal father-son storyline that’s near and dear to the director’s heart. It’s also notable for River Phoenix’s appearance as a young Indy in the opening prologue.
12. A.I.: ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE (2001)
Writers: Steven Spielberg, screen story by Ian Watson, based on the short story by Brian Aldriss. Starring Haley Joel Osment, Frances O’Connor, Sam Robards, Jake Thomas, Jude Law, William Hurt, Ken Leung.
One of the director’s most divisive titles, “A.I.: Artificial Intelligence” is a visually stunning sci-fi curiosity that has grown in stature since its release. Haley Joel Osment stars as David, a highly advanced robotic boy sent to a grieving couple (Frances O’Connor and Sam Robards) as a replacement for their sick son. When their real child returns, the couple abandons David in the woods, prompting him to search for the Blue Fairy so that he can be turned into a real boy and return home. Spielberg took over the film following the death of his friend and mentor Stanley Kubrick, both doing service to the legendary filmmaker’s chilly vision while infusing it with his own heartfelt optimism.
11. THE POST (2017)
Writers: Liz Hannah and Josh Singer. Starring Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Sarah Paulson, Bob Odenkirk, Tracy Letts, Bradley Whitford, Bruce Greenwood, Matthew Rhys, Alison Brie, Carrie Coon, Jesse Plemons, David Cross, Michael Stuhlbarg, Zach Woods.
Spielberg prepped, shot, and edited “The Post” in record time (a mere nine months) to make an urgent statement against the Donald Trump administration. Liz Hannah and Josh Singer’s screenplay recounts the true life struggle between “Washington Post” publisher Kay Graham (Meryl Streep) and editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) to publish the controversial Pentagon Papers despite threats of retaliation from the Nixon White House. “The Post” feels relevant in many ways, not just as a rally cry for the power of the press at a time when they’re once again under attack, but also as a declaration of female empowerment (Graham was the first female newspaper publish in American history). It’s also a rousing and entertaining look at the high-stakes world of journalism. The film brought Streep a Best Actress Oscar nomination (her 21st career bid at the Academy) and became Spielberg’s eleventh Best Picture nominee.
10. THE FABELMANS (2022)
Writers: Steven Spielberg and Tony Kushner. Starring: Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, Judd Hirsch, Gabriel LaBelle, Jeannie Berlin, David Lynch, Seth Rogen, Julia Butters
This won’t be Steven Spielberg’s final movie – he said as much after “The Fabelmans” made its debut at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival – but it’s hard to imagine a better summation of his lifetime of work than this family drama. Based on his own life, “The Fabelmans” tells the story of Sammy Fabelman (newcomer Gabriel LaBelle), who finds his calling behind a camera while growing up as his family comes apart. As Sammy’s parents – the intellectual and precise Burt and the artistic and mercurial Mitzi – Paul Dano and Michelle Williams turn in surprising and emotional performances, two of the best of their respective careers. But Spielberg also leaves room for veterans like Judd Hirsch and David Lynch to steal the movie in one-scene appearances. “The Fabelmans” is about how Spielberg became Spielberg, but also about how a filmmaker can manipulate images and movement to tell a story. It’s a statement film that will be remembered long after Spielberg finally steps away from his acclaimed, Oscar-winning career.
9. WEST SIDE STORY (2021)
Spielberg has dreamt for decades about remaking “West Side Story” and the result is worth the wait. With a script from frequent collaborator Tony Kushner, Spielberg reconsiders and recontextualizes numerous elements from the 1961 Best Picture winner and stages the legendary numbers with an effortlessness that belies the fact that “West Side Story” is the director’s first musical.
8. LINCOLN (2012)
Writer: Tony Kushner, based on the book by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Hal Holbrook, James Spader, David Strathairn.
One constant theme throughout Spielberg’s work has been an examination of America’s history, warts and all. In “Lincoln,” he looks at our country’s orginal offense of slavery, and the President (Daniel Day-Lewis) who sought to end it through passage of the 13th Amendment. The film is an epic rich in period detail and filled with great performances, from Tommy Lee Jones as persnickety congressman Thaddeus Stevens; to Sally Field as fragile First Lady Mary Todd; to Day-Lewis as Honest Abe himself. “Lincoln” brought Day-Lewis his third Best Actor trophy, making it the first Spielberg film to win an Oscar for acting. Spielberg himself contended for his seventh career nomination as Best Director, losing to Ang Lee for “Life of Pi.”
7. JURASSIC PARK (1993)
Writers: Michael Crichton and David Koepp, based on the novel by Crichton. Starring Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough, Bob Peck, Martin Ferrero, BD Wong, Joseph Mazzello, Ariana Richards, Samuel L. Jackson, Wayne Knight.
It would be easy to dismiss “Jurassic Park” as merely another enjoyable amusement park ride from the master of entertainment. Yet that would do a disservice to the amount of craft and skill with which Spielberg mounts this production. This adaptation of Michael Crichton novel revolves around a billionaire (Richard Attenborough) who owns an island where dinosaurs once again roam the Earth, and the peril that greats a group of visitors during a preview weekend. The stunning, Oscar-winning visual effects became the gold standard for films of its ilk, ushering in the era of computer generated creations. Spielberg, in fact, was supervising those VFX shots while in Poland shooting “Schindler’s List,” which was released the same year.
6. CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KING (1977)
Writer: Steven Spielberg. Starring Richard Dreyfuss, Francois Truffaut, Teri Garr, Melinda Dillon, Bob Balaban.
Spielberg followed up the massive success of “Jaws” with his first foray into science fiction, creating one of his most personal titles in the process (it’s also one of his few credited screenplays). “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” centers on an ordinary man (Richard Dreyfuss) who becomes obsessed with flying saucers after he sees one on a deserted road, leading to a journey towards mankind’s first scheduled meeting with extra-terrestrials. Nominated for eight Oscars (yet conspicuously absent from the 1977 Best Picture lineup), the film is a more cerebral, nuanced genre exercise than the action-packed “Star Wars,” released that same year. “Close Encounters” brought Spielberg his first Oscar nomination for Best Director, which he lost to Woody Allen for “Annie Hall.”
5. SAVING PRIVATE RYAN (1998)
Writer: Robert Rodat. Starring Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, Tom Sizemore, Edward Burns, Barry Pepper, Adam Goldberg, Vin Diesel, Giovanni Ribisi, Jeremy Davies, Ted Danson, Paul Giamatti, Dennis Farina, Bryan Cranston.
To say that Spielberg created the definitive WWII movie with “Saving Private Ryan” would be understating the film’s tremendous impact. Shot with gritty, handheld realism by Janusz Kaminski (who won his second Academy Award for the film), “Private Ryan” inspired the look of practically every war movie that has come since. It’s opening sequence alone – a 40 minute recreation of the Normandy Landings – set the bar for capturing the horrors of combat. What follows is an emotionally riveting story about a platoon sent behind enemy lines to retrieve a paratrooper (Matt Damon) whose brothers have all been killed in battle. Spielberg won his second Oscar for Directing the film, yet lost Best Picture to “Shakespeare in Love” in a famous upset.
4. RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981)
Writers: Lawrence Kasdan, story by George Lucas, Philip Kaufman. Starring Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Paul Freeman, Ronald Lacey, John Rhys-Davies, Denholm Elliott, Alfred Molina.
After the failure of “1941” (1979), Spielberg had a lot to prove. Working on a tight budget and sticking to a strict schedule, the director delivered one of his most spectacular entertainments ever. Harrison Ford stars as Indiana Jones, an adventurous archeologist hired by the U.S. government to find the Ark of the Covenant. Packed to the brim with exciting set pieces – including the famous opening sequence where Jones is chased by a giant boulder – “Raiders” is a loving homage to the serials that inspired Spielberg and producer George Lucas. The film was a sensation, spawning three sequels and winning four Oscars (Best Production Design, Best Film Editing, Best Sound, and Best Visual Effects, plus an honorary award for sound editing). Spielberg was once again nominated for directing, yet was beat by Warren Beatty for the epic “Reds.”
3. JAWS (1975)
Writers: Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb, based on the novel by Benchley. Starring Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton, Gottlieb.
At the tender age of 29, Spielberg became king of the box office with this adventure yarn about a killer great white shark terrorizing a New England beach town. Three men – the local sheriff (Roy Scheider), a marine biologist (Richard Dreyfuss), and a rough-and-tumble fisherman (Robert Shaw) – set sail to kill the beast in an epic battle to rival “Moby Dick.” The film features several hair-raising sequences, from the opening death of a young girl to the shark’s final feast on Shaw. “Jaws” lit the world on fire, becoming the first film to gross over $100 million in domestic ticket sales, leading to three inferior sequels. It won three Oscars and competed for Best Picture, yet Spielberg was famously snubbed for Best Director. The day of the nominations, in fact, the filmmaker invited a camera crew to film his reaction, which was surprising to say the least.
2. E.T.: THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL (1982)
Writer: Melissa Mathison. Starring Dee Wallace, Henry Thomas, Peter Coyote, Robert MacNaughton, Drew Barrymore.
Spielberg sent the box office into the stratosphere with this sci-fi hit about a young boy named Elliott (Henry Thomas) who befriends an alien stranded on Earth. Never before or since has the director captured the magic of childhood with quite the same wonder and authenticity. In that weird, wrinkled little alien, Spielberg found a surrogate for all outcast children, and created a touching parable about the power of friendship. Such was its impact that the sale of Reese’s Pieces – the candy that Elliott uses to lure E.T. into his room – shot through the roof. The film won four Oscars, yet lost Best Picture and Best Director to Richard Attenborough’s “Gandhi.” There were no hard feelings though: Attenborough later played Dr. John Hammond in Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park” series.
1. SCHINDLER’S LIST (1993)
Writer: Steven Zaillian, based on the book by Thomas Kenneally. Starring Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Kingsley, Embeth Davidtz.
When Spielberg finally got around to filming “Schindler’s List” in 1993, it was after a decade of hesitation. The result was well worth the wait. This adaptation of Thomas Kenneally’s book tells the true story of Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson), a German businessman who saved the lives of thousands of Jews during the Holocaust by employing them in his factories. Shot with documentary realism in stark black-and-white (this was the first collaboration between the director and longtime cinematographer Janusz Kaminski), the film is a harrowing portrait of good in the face of unspeakable evil. “Schindler’s List” cleaned up come Oscar time, winning seven awards including the long awaited Best Picture and Best Director prizes for the filmmaker. That same year he helmed “Jurassic Park,” which took home three awards of its own, making the 1993 Academy Awards the year of Spielberg.