Okay, your votes are in and counted. Thank you all for participating. I know picking your favorite Steven Spielberg movies is extremely tricky. As is starting the ranking with the films finishing on the fewest votes, for to use the word ‘worst’ would do the filmmaker with the extraordinarily successful career a disservice. We’re going to need a bigger post.
Before we dive into the 5 films that break the top 20, the special mentions, the almost-rans, include somewhat unwelcome, off-the-mark follow-ups like Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008), made two decades after we thought we had said goodbye to Dr. Jones. And then The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997), attempting to revitalize the monster impact of the 1993 blockbuster, but falling a little short.
Famously considered a flop by Spielberg’s standards, 1941 (1979) has the perhaps unfortunate status of sitting chronologically between four of the director’s very best movies. Then there is Always (1989), a saccharine, forgotten romance, but fairly enjoyable all the same. And The Sugarland Express (1974) with the infectious Goldie Hawn, a much better flick than its placing here – I suspect not many of you have even seen this.
Given the low entries recent dips into animation, and a Roald Dahl adaptation, perhaps a couple of Spielberg’s would have benefited from children making up a larger batch of the voters here. The Adventures of Tintin (2011) and last year’s The BFG (2016) still sit proudly in the filmmaker’s arsenal, but with a film like Hook (1991), now over 25 years old, its longevity is something to be desired. Loved by some, disappointing to others. And with War Horse (2011), Spielberg appeared to go for sentiment more than ever before, and for those that are not a fan of that side of his style, this was certainly not for them.
And now, begin the Top 20…
20. The Terminal (2004)
Teaming with Tom Hanks again, Spielberg drifts into the realm of international affairs as Viktor Navorski finds himself stranded in the New York airport – away from his war-torn Eastern European country. Viktor, an endearing character, is on a personal mission, Spielberg leaves the politics of war well alone and focuses on the merits of human behavior, whether deplorable or not.
19. Amistad (1997)
Spielberg delves once again into the kind of subject matter that had tongues wagging with his adaptation of Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. This time, the majority of the action takes place on the slave ship Amistad, but also through an extensive legal battle. Spielberg’s good will eye for political uprising, and the greater good is aplenty here. We are also introduced to the commanding acting talents of Djimon Hounsou.
18. War of the Worlds (2005)
Retelling of a classic, Spielberg brings the terror from who-knows-where to the modern world, giving off a real, respectful post-911 vibe. A busy year for the director, Munich also released, he showed us that his passion and drive for science fiction was anything but rusty. As per usual, the story is really about children and the misplaced affections of their parents.
17. Empire of the Sun (1987)
Childhood continues to be a focus for Spielberg, but with Empire of the Sun, adapted from J. G. Ballard’s semi-autobiographical novel, the child’s journey at the center of the story takes a very bleak turn. Just a boy, Christian Bale’s Jamie is separated from his parents following the Pearl Harbor attack during World War II, before becoming a prisoner. The cinematography by Allen Daviau might be the MVP here.
16. Bridge of Spies (2015)
Bridge of Spies was co-written by the Coen Brothers (of all people) with Matt Charman, but there is little satire here. In fact this is one of Spielberg’s more grounded efforts, an understated film throughout, encapsulated by an Oscar-winning performance by Mark Rylance, playing an Air Force pilot held for negotiations following his spy plane being shot down. The film also marks a moderate return to form for composer Thomas Newman.