Steven Spielberg, a certain Drew Barrymore’s godfather, has still amazed and inspired us, and his peers, with the kind of prolific, excellent range of cinema that we’ve come so far to acknowledge in this very countdown ranking his movies. And we still have the best five to go. So without further ado…
5. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Oh look, its Steven Spielberg again giving us a big screen spectacle to which we have not experienced before. No actual monsters here, or spaceships, but horrors of the second world war amplified by an incredible team of sound designers and invasive cinematography, not to mention the directorial wizard simulating the graphic brutality men faced in battle. And that doesn’t even touch the surface of the impact that unforgettable opening sequence had. The film’s immense stature is guaranteed in that first twenty minutes, drifting off to focus on a story of a rather reluctant mission, before leading us to a ferocious finale where even more hell breaks loose.
4. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
The ultimate action-adventure motion picture. Thrilling, exhilarating, tense, deftly funny, heroic, spiritual, bursting with energy. Spielberg’s first foray into the Indiana Jones franchise is by far the greatest. Raised the bar for such genres previously, and inspired the future of such movies in the process – and probably is still the go-to movie of its kind. Harrison Ford excelled in early eighties across all fronts, but will always be tagged with the cool, determined, rough around the edges, and certainly not perfect, hero. Spielberg still finds the triggers to haphazard romance, the strength of alliance, and of course the quest for humanity. A pretty decent action set-piece director too.
3. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
What more can be said about that neck-extending alien that wanted to phone home? A magical, impenetrable tale of friendship, and the unlikeliest one. One of the very first films I saw as a child on the big screen, this is a movie that captures your heart no matter your age (I had the toys, the bedding, the books). What I can say about E.T. though is that, as a kid, no other films tapped into, not only your own childhood, but that true sense of emotion. A depth of love and sadness immerses you as a child, and stays with you as you grow, regardless of how much you understand your own feelings. Another box office champ for Spielberg, and likely many people’s number one film, not just of Spielberg’s, but of all time.
2. Schindler’s List (1993)
Did you know that Robin Williams was something of a morale booster / relief giver for the cast and crew of Schindler’s List? Steven Spielberg would call him up and he voice of the Genie would create grins amidst the grim. And when composer John Williams saw the film he was so taken aback by the movie, he actually was reluctant to do it, imploring Spielberg to find someone better. “But they’re all dead!” the director replied. One hell of a journey the filmmakers, then, and Spielberg gave his all to allow us to follow. A harrowing, brilliant motion picture, the director, even after twenty years on the right side of the business had still somehow grown up a little bit more. And finally, finally got his hands on that little golden guy.
1. Jaws (1975)
I would love to go back and be in the cinema as that universal loga whirls, and the sounds of an East Coast region, and that John Williams score zig zags in. Like nothing you have heard before. Dun-dun. Dun-dun. Truth is, I was not even born in 1975. I couldn’t be part of that cinematic experience for the very first time. To be stunned when in that dawn setting, that time when it is neither light nor dark, and that girl is yanked, then violently jolted left and right. A truly frightening site.
Jaws was a gruelling shoot, a touch production all around. But you’d never know the cast and crew wanted to be shown the way home, they were tired and wanted to go to bed. Adapted from Peter Benchley’s book from 1971, the short, snappy title attracted Spielberg, reminding him of his recent TV film Duel. He already had an eye for the movie in his head, and not just that, but how he could manipulate his audience. And my God did he do that.
In that forever famous scene where Brody is at the boat’s edge, and the shark pops out of the water. And then that cut to Brody springing into the frame (a technique first used by Spielberg in The Sugaland Express when Goldie Hawn is struck). Gonna need a bigger boat. You bet. And the director knew by having Brody swear just before, saying shit, would make the audience laugh, before arcing the their reaction into a scream as soon as the shark appears. Genius.