Steven Spielberg’s big-budget adaptation of Ready Player One hit theaters today, prompting a thoughtful look back at the director’s impressive filmography.
In reviewing Spielberg’s films, what stands out most is his range, as illustrated by the fact that Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List both came out the same year. Those two films couldn’t be more different — one the ultimate blockbuster, the other the ultimate Oscar contender — and yet they were made by the same singular storyteller. Imagine having that kind of talent!
Over the course of Spielberg’s five decades in the business, he has delivered countless classics, and only a handful of misfires. His batting average is off the charts, and we’re pleased to say that Ready Player One, which could’ve gone wrong in so many ways, is a welcome addition to his resume. Check out Drew McWeeny’s review here.
Without further ado, here are the Top 10 Steven Spielberg movies, as voted on by a panel of one — me, aka Facebook.com/Spielberg.
1. JURASSIC PARK – While the Steven Spielberg we all know and love will live on forever thanks to the magic of movies, the real flesh-and-blood Spielberg is going to die someday, hopefully a long, long time from now, and when that inevitably sad day comes, Jurassic Park will be the movie atop his impressive obituary. Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan won him his Oscars, but how do you leave a bigger footprint, literally, than Jurassic Park? If you look at the top three films on this list, only two spawned a franchise, and we all know those Jaws sequels bite. Plus, sharks just don’t have the same mystique as dinosaurs. Call it the upside of extinction. For me, as a ’90s kid, I could accept no substitute in the top slot. Jeff Goldblum just finds a way…
2. E.T. – This film is pure movie magic, and I love how Spielberg has left it alone all these years, resisting any urge to turn this special movie into a family-friendly franchise. I can only imagine what he’s been offered over the years, so thank God that Spielberg has so much money that he lives beyond currency now, in a stratosphere that doesn’t require it. Of course, he has earned every penny, as the child performances he gets here — and in every film, really — are truly priceless. If you haven’t seen this movie yet then “phone home” and ask your parents why they deprived you as a kid.
3. JAWS – One of the all-time great horror movies, and most of it takes place in the middle of the day with the sun shining! You know the stories by now. You’ve heard about how this was a “problem” picture. Well today it’s a stone-cold classic, and one that kickstarted the blockbuster mania that has gripped Hollywood a little tighter decade by decade. Spielberg didn’t even have to show the goods here, because he was extremely clever about suggesting the goods with the aid of music and editing and cinematography. The man was operating on a different level with Jaws, and he was only in his late-20s!
4. SCHINDLER’S LIST – It was a close call for the 4-slot between this and Saving Private Ryan, which is obviously a lot more re-watchable, but there’s no denying the sheer power of this film, or the strength that it took for Spielberg to make it. I have a friend, a fellow Jew, who hasn’t seen this film, and I feel like his membership card should be revoked. This should be required viewing, not just for Jews and other Spielberg fans, but for everybody. That’s right, the entire world. Spielberg’s recreation of the Holocaust is absolutely terrifying and his ability to find the humanity within that living hell is one of his many gifts as a storyteller.
5. SAVING PRIVATE RYAN – This is one of the greatest war movies ever, right up there with Platoon, Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket. It’s a ‘men on a mission’ movie, sure, but the cast is incredible and the opening sequence is simply stunning. This really is Spielberg at the peak of his powers.
6. CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND – Clearly, this is one of the original Big Three along with E.T. and Jaws — an instant classic that will be remembered for generations. It’s great to see Spielberg working with Richard Dreyfus again here, and as with so many Spielberg movies, there are sounds and images in this film that you’ll never forget.
20th Century Fox
7. MINORITY REPORT – Spielberg and Tom Cruise. What more do you want? This film is pretty much everything a blockbuster should be. It gets a little convoluted towards the end, but I can overlook that thanks to all the pulse-pounding set pieces in this movie, which is easily better than War of the Worlds. The look of the film is inventive and exciting, and the premise is simply dynamite. Credit the source material from Philip K. Dick and Spielberg’s keen eye for visuals.
8. MUNICH – Munich is an extremely well-done historical thriller about good ol’ fashioned revenge, and it’s probably the best Spielberg movie of the last 15 years. Eric Bana clearly gives the performance of his career. As with Schindler’s List, you can feel Spielberg digging deep here, like this one means something to him. It’s overlooked in the great Crash–Brokeback Mountain Best Picture debate of 2005.
9. CATCH ME IF YOU CAN – This is just a fun, rollicking good time, with a light and breezy sensibility. It’s the kind of thing that Spielberg does so well, and could frankly do in his sleep by now. Not only does Leonardo DiCaprio rises to the occasion here, but so does Christopher Walken. They both seem energized by working for a master filmmaker, and Tom Hanks is always great in Spielberg’s hands. This movie is just delightful.
10. LINCOLN – This period piece may not be as exciting as Minority Report, but it’s extremely well done for what it is. Could I have gone with Amistad or The Color Purple or The Post (just kidding) here in the “important movie” slot? Sure! But Spielberg does an amazing job of recreating the time period, and the script by Tony Kushner is top-notch. Spielberg also gets an Oscar-winning performance from Daniel Day-Lewis, who really makes all the difference and gives this film a slight edge over its competition for the coveted 10-spot.
Honorable Mention: HOOK – I’m pro-Hook. Yeah, I said it. RU-FI-OOOOOOOO!!!!
Jeff Sneider | Editor in Chief