When you think of movie directors, you think of Steven Spielberg – and for good reason. The man is behind some of the most iconic films to grace the silver screen and has revolutionized every genre from horror to science fiction. And now, if the words of critics are believed, the director has hit gold with his West Side Story adaptation.
Now, with public screenings of his musical film only days away from opening, Spielberg returns to the spotlight. And it seems a time as good as any in which to recount the famed filmmaker’s greatest hits. Please go easy on me – the guy has made a lot of good movies and choosing the best is no simple task. But with that covered, let’s go through the top 10 Steven Spielberg movies…
10) War of the Worlds (2005)
Tom Cruise rejoins Spielberg three years after their previous project, Minority Report. Cruise admittedly isn’t completely convincing as an everyman father in this movie, but Spielberg’s experience in the genre helping bring the classic story to the 21st century helps you overlook this somewhat.
While it doesn’t employ the suspense and subtlety of Close Encounters, the movie does a good job of integrating human drama with science fiction. It has plenty of great action, but props must go to screenwriter David Koep for having bacteria become the aliens’ Achilles heel as opposed to humans. I know many may not agree with having this film in a top 10 Steven Spielberg movies list, but it has many qualities that make it a hit.
9) War Horse (2011)
Shot in Devon, England, War Horse is an underrated Spielbergian masterpiece of huge emotional proportions. For starters, the film already wins this writer’s bias by its location (I was born and raised in the same English county this movie is shot). More importantly, Spielberg expertly crafts the atmosphere of the WWI era, which is seldom explored in Hollywood films. But the atmosphere only exists to house the beautiful relationship between man and horse. Spielberg claims he was moved to tears after seeing the stage version in London. Working alongside Bridget Jones and Love Actually screenwriter Richard Curtis, Spielberg in turn moves us to tears through his beautifully human adaptation.
8) Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
This fun-filled love letter to 1940’s adventure serials was actually an idea George Lucas came up with while writing the script for the first Star Wars movie. While slogging through the script of his sci-fi epic, Lucas concocted a dashing archaeology professor and treasure hunter, Indiana Smith. Shortly after Star Wars took off, Lucas asked Spielberg to direct the project and he enthusiastically agreed.
Of course, when Raiders eventually surfaced in 1981, Indiana Smith was now Indiana Jones. And, like Star Wars, Lucas had another hit IP on his hands, thanks to the directing prowess of his buddy, Spielberg. With Harrison Ford thriving in the role of the charismatic, charming, and witty adventurer, Raiders redefined the action blockbuster. While not exactly a brain-tickler, Raiders is a slick, rhythmic rollercoaster ride that shows there’s plenty of room for movies that allow you to turn your brain off.
7) Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Saving Private Ryan was released the same year as Terrance Malick’s The Thin Red Line. Now, while both movies have their merits, it’s evident SPR is the superior movie. Armed with strong performances from Tom Hanks and Matt Damon, the film has plenty of emotion to spare. However, big kudos must go to its excellent battle sequences. Spielberg creatively makes the camera follow the soldiers around the battlefield, making you feel as though you’re there with them. In the opening D-Day sequence, a musical score is omitted in favor of the sounds of machine-gun bullets and explosions. Your eyes will never leave the screen and that’s why the film is one of the best war movies ever.
6) Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
Years before Spielberg brought lovable E.T to our screens, the film genius gave us Close Encounters. Of course, the film’s subject matter is the only comparable element. Much unlike E.T’s family-friendly shenanigans, this 1977 thriller follows a paranoid conspiracist as he investigates the American government and its knowledge of UFOs.
Spielberg brings back Richard Dreyfuss to lead the film as Roy Neary, successfully oozing the character’s paranoid, obsessive nature. Much like Jaws, Spielberg relies on subtle storytelling methods to portray his creatures. For most of the film, the only sign we see of them is glowing lights in the sky. It’s not until the film’s climax that we finally see the aliens in their physical form. And boy, what a sight it is.
5) Jurassic Park (1993)
Jurassic Park is the first and best film in a franchise that continues even to this day. Based on the eponymous novel written by Michael Crichton, this science-fiction thriller is a historic work in terms of CGI. The special effects artists were able to create realistic-looking dinosaurs and changed movie VFX forever. However, Spielberg isn’t merely content to rest on his CGI laurels. The movie packs the best human cast in the franchise, with Alan Grant, Ellie Satler, and Ian Malcolm proving to be likable characters. Spielberg’s trained ability to evoke suspension also shines, using the VFX wizardry wisely rather than constantly. There aren’t many CGI monster movies that can rival Jurassic Park.
4) Schindler’s List (1993)
You’d be hard-pressed to find a Spielberg movie more heart-wrenching and thought-provoking than Schindler’s List. It tells the true story of Oskar Schindler, an influential German industrialist who saved the lives of 1,200 jews by employing them in his polish ammunition and enamelware factories. In a move uncommon in the early ’90s, Spielberg shoots most of the film in black-and-white to represent the colorless nature of the Holocaust, proving an effective method of amplifying its horror.
Featuring a top lead performance by Liam Neeson, Schindler’s List is a powerful and poignant look at the holocaust and the empathetic saviour who saved innocent lives. It’s a powerfully emotive feature that will have you bawling by the end before leaving you in deep contemplation. It’s a mistake not to include this in a top 10 list of Steven Spielberg movies and that’s why it’s here.
3) E.T: Extra Terrestrial (1982)
E.T. is an iconic film for several reasons. Firstly, just look at E.T‘s design, his painstakingly-executed animatronics and Patricia Wilson’s (uncredited) voice. Secondly, it’s a sincere story about a young boy and his friendship with the best friend he never had. It’s got heart, which makes its science-fiction concept easier to swallow for general audiences.
But big props must go to Henry Thomas’s performance as Elliot, which is as profound and brilliant as the titular alien himself. Thomas hits all the emotional right notes and effortlessly makes us empathize with his character’s bond with E.T. John Williams’ score is the icing on the cake, the final touches on the movie’s magic spell.
2) Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
Look, I know many would argue Raiders of the Lost Ark is better. But there’s plenty of reasons why Last Crusade is better. It took everything good about Raiders, learned the lessons taught by Temple of Doom, and resulted in a tightly-plotted action-adventure with a better script and cast.
Firstly, the chemistry of Harrison Ford and Sean Connery is perfect as father and son. The action setpieces top Raiders, from motorcycle chases with Nazis to taking on tanks in the desert. And, quite frankly, the opening sequence featuring River Phoenix as a young Indie is the best opener in the franchise.
1) Jaws (1975)
Jaws’s influence on the horror genre can’t be understated. Spielberg’s tense classic revolutionized horror by showcasing how less is more. Instead of showing the shark, Spielberg has us see through the eyes of the monster via a POV shot. This lends an air of ominous mystery to the beast as it travels dramatically closer to its victim.
However, Spielberg’s use of the camera isn’t alone in producing the suspense. These sequences are perfectly married with John William’s iconic, tense score, which ramps up faster as the shark gets closer to his target. These men manage to turn a natural creature into a supernatural threat. And when you add the tightly-written script and compelling human performances of Richard Dreyfuss and Roy Scheider, you have a classic on your hands.
But that’s just our opinion. What is in your Top 10 Steven Spielberg movies? Are you hyped for West Side Story?