Arguably the most important figure in cinema of all time, surely of the later half of the 20th Century, Steven Spielberg has directed and produced some of the most successful movies of all time. The maestro of countless million childhoods, Spielberg’s output in undeniable with several films being inescapable parts of pop culture and of our lives. Love him or hate him, he is a storyteller and visionary of the highest order. Having said all that, when I was checking the list of films he has directed though, i was surprised though that I was actually struggling to find 10 films that i truly loved. I have enjoyed everything he has directed, but quite a few of his films have been good, just not the sort of thing I would tend to include on a top ten list. There are a lot of films that others may rightly include but as my lists tend towards personal taste rather than cultural impact or even how good a film actually is, this list may not be to everyone’s tastes.
Based on the Richard Matheson tale, this debut effort from Spielberg packs in a lot of taut action and early flair. Frequently voted as the best TV movie ever made, it is a simple tale of man versus the unknown, a chase film and road movie in one, and a story that shares many similarities with his later work. It’s proof of Spielberg’s ability to create timeless pieces of entertainment as the film still retains a power to shock and thrill today.
9. The Terminal
I’ll probably get some flack for this because it’s schmaltzy Spielberg at its most saccharine. But it works because we’re in the hands of a master and because Tom Hanks is always watchable when playing an offbeat character. You balk in the opening scenes and question why an American actor of his stature was used, but by the end it doesn’t matter as you’re won over by the charm of the performance and story. I skipped seeing this one until recently (last year I think) because it sounded like drivel. I think it’s a simple, heartwarming family film that won’t change anyone’s life but is a nice change of pace for what we have come to expect from the director.
Spielberg’s premier family favourite is one that I hope to re-appreciate as my children get older. I haven’t seen it in many years and if I was to watch it now maybe If wouldn’t feel the same youthful delight as when I was a kid. But I know that my children, like many others when they first see Eliot and his family and his friend, will be enchanted and me along with them.
7. Schindler’s List
A grueling watch which lacks most of the sugar-coating you come to expect from Spielberg, not surprising given the subject matter. Although it is ultimately a story of hope, the film is drenched in the shadow of the Holocaust as we watch hundreds and thousands of innocents march to their deaths under the tyrannical gaze of Ralph Fiennes. Liam Neeson as Schindler is the man trying to make a difference, but we get superb support from Embeth Davidtz, Ben Kingsley and others. A timeless film of great importance it is one that should shake even the most apathetic into action.
Unquestionably one of the greatest cartoons of all time, Spielberg’s touch is all over it. Meta before it was a thing, throwing a hell of a lot of adult humour in, references to past and current stars, movies, politicians, and more, with a massive cast of characters it’s the sketch show to end them all. Endlessly quotable, always hilarious, and with a range and scope unseen in kids cartoons before or since, and of course featuring a superb cast of writers, animators, and voice talent the show flies along at a breakneck speed, never apologizes, and it’s clear that everyone involved must have been having the time of their lives.
5. Saving Private Ryan
A more action packed, yet introspective partner to Schindler’s List, this takes the simple story of a group of soldiers undertaking a single basic mission as a template to discuss the War at length, humanity, senseless violence, futility, honour, duty, and the value of a life. It’s the stellar cast and gripping set pieces which set this apart as one of the great war movies, with the harrowing landing scenes at the start, the light discussions between the men as they march from disaster to disaster, and the sudden intrusion of violence and brutality, and unfairness which ensure that the film will haunt you. The film not only forces you to question the purpose of war and how you would react under certain circumstances, but whether it is possible to move on as a survivor, as a species. The question remains unanswered.
4. Raiders Of The Lost Ark
Maybe the best example of Spielberg’s ability to entertain, thrill, scare, to make you laugh all while telling a coherent engaging story with wonderful characters. If that wasn’t enough we get iconic scene after iconic scene, memorable one-liners, and those tiny Spielberg moments that few other directors would ever imagine. Add Harrison Ford, add Karen Allen, add a host of the most vile cartoon villains ever and you have yourself one of the best movies of the 80s.
3. Temple Of Doom
And yet I prefer Temple Of Doom. Obviously it isn’t the best of the series, but it’s the one I saw most growing up and the one I get most enjoyment from. I’d class most of the iconic scenes from this one as just as immense as those from Raiders – the minecart ride, the heart-ripping scene, the rope-bridge battle, and dinner scene – all have varying levels of obscenity, scares, laughs, and excitement and the cast hams it up to eleven. But where’s Dan Akroyd?
The one which nailed Spielberg to the map, becoming the biggest grossing film of all time and effectively creating the notion of a summer blockbuster. Once again it’s that mixture of an extremely talented cast giving their best performances to honour a simple story, all while Spielberg pokes and prods the audience for reactions and tries things no other director would dare. The fact that even today the film works when the effects are so bad is a testament to everyone involved, and to the director for holding it together.
1. Jurassic Park
If the likes of Hook and Empire Of The Sun showed that the director was possibly past crafting another mega hit, this one brought him roaring back into the limelight as a director. Coming hot on the heels of T2 as a special effects extravaganza the film succeeds on all fronts – the effects are still superior to many we see today, the story is again simple, yet based on a wonderful concept, the performances are each wonderful, those iconic moments are so iconic that I don’t need to mention them, Williams provides another epic score, and perhaps most important is the sense of awe and childlike wonder which was, and still is evoked. It’s this combination that each of the sequels have failed to re-ignite and while they are each watchable and exciting in their own right, they don’t come close to matching the joy this one gives.
Have I missed any of your favourite Spielberg films? There are plenty that I have not covered so let us know in the comments what you think his best work is!