But while his benevolent aliens, neato dinosaurs and one whip-cracking archeologist get much of the love, it’s easy to forget just how deep his filmography really goes. Spielberg, 75, has done it all in his legendary Hollywood career, including winning two Oscars as best director.
His resume includes iconic films like “Jaws,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” best picture winner “Schindler’s List,” the first two “Jurassic Park” films and the Indiana Jones franchise, with Harrison Ford as the globetrotting hero of “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” And Spielberg’s still breaking fresh ground: The legend’s latest outing “The Fablemans” (in theaters now) fictionalizes his own childhood in coming-of-age fashion.
To celebrate the new film – and this year’s 40th anniversary of “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” – we’re celebrating Spielberg’s vast filmography by ranking every one of his feature films:
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The sequel’s simply a poor genetic clone of the first “Jurassic Park.” There’s plenty of giant dinosaurs around, but the dinos and the humans alike are done in by weak characterization, iffy action scenes and a lack of the original’s spirit.
The Shanghai-set “Anything Goes” opening is magnificent. Unfortunately, everything else in this misadventure, from annoying love interests to cloying sidekicks, is a mine cart going off the rails.
Maybe it’s an answer to the more benevolent aliens earlier in his career? Spielberg puts his own spin on the H.G. Wells invasion classic with Tom Cruise along for the ride, with mediocre results.
Shia LaBeouf, aliens and an indestructible fridge aren’t the greatest additions to the Indy franchise, but the franchise return of Karen Allen and debut of Cate Blanchett as an evil Soviet villainess make up for them.
Tom Hanks is by far the best thing in the so-so dramedy about an Eastern European man stuck in New York’s JFK airport thanks to a civil war that makes his passport null and void.
Spielberg plays it a little too safe with the outsized tale of an orphan girl and her very large best friend. However, it’s a perfect intro to his oeuvre for the littlest kids entertained by flatulent corgis and its gibberish-spouting giant.
Stanley Kubrick was originally supposed to direct, which would have yielded a much different movie than Spielberg’s warm tale of a robot kid with the ability to love.
Goldie Hawn shines in one of her first dramatic roles in the story of two criminal parents who kidnap a cop and go to extreme lengths to get their baby boy back.
Spielberg’s films tend to be corny at times and this is the pinnacle of that, a sugary-sweet and well-meaning take on the Peter Pan mythology with Robin Williams as the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up actually grown up.
It goes overboard with the emotionally manipulative romance, but the flick gets points for having Audrey Hepburn in her last film role as an angel. The spirit greets a firefighting pilot who dies and then has to help a fellow flyboy who falls in love with the late dude’s girlfriend.
Maybe not Spielberg’s best “important” film but it’s definitely one that’s effective in conveying the historical significance of Africans taking over a slave ship heading to the USA circa 1839 and the ensuing legal fight.
Before rampaging dinos and hungry sharks, Spielberg’s feature debut (which premiered as a TV movie but also got a theatrical release) offered a truck as its main antagonist. And the road rage is palpable and knuckle-clenching as a traveling salesman tries to avoid getting run off the road and killed by a vengeful big rig driver.
It’s a little odd to see Spielberg directing what’s pretty much an homage to his entire geeky filmography. Still, youthful rebellion in virtual reality looks great and the concept of online escapes resonates in an increasingly intense real world.
A poignant thriller spin is put on one of the sports world’s darkest moments, recounting the Israel government’s secret act of vengeance for the massacre of its athletes at the 1972 Summer Olympics.
The filmmaker goes for all the fuzzy feels on a grand canvas with this World War I tale of a boy and his horse, their parallel stories and their long road to find each other again.
The animated effort with Peter Jackson gives us some serious Indiana Jones vibes with a young French journalist and his loyal canine friend on the hunt for a treasure-filled sunken ship.
There’s a fun and retro vibe to the real-life 1960s cat-and-mouse chase between a teenage con man (Leonardo DiCaprio) and dogged FBI agent (Hanks), made all the more so with a jazzy John Williams score.
Featuring Cruise, the futuristic neo-noir sci-fi – about law enforcement capturing ne’er-do-wells before they do anything illegal – has only grown more engrossing and salient as technology’s taken big leaps around us.
The filmmaker puts you right into the chilly spycraft of the Cold War, though it’s the chemistry between Hanks and Mark Rylance – as an earnest attorney and his Russian secret-agent client – that fuels the drama.
This is the portrait of an icon as a 1960s youngster, with Gabriel LaBelle playing a talented teen who loves making movies but faces troubles at home with his parents (Paul Dano and Michelle Williams) and at school with antisemitic bullies.
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While Spielberg’s purest comedy didn’t get the best reception, the World War II flick is a hilarious, star-studded wonder about panicked and paranoid LA citizens worrying about a Japanese attack after Pearl Harbor.
Nearly 20 years before he was Batman, Christian Bale was the posh British lad living in China who becomes separated from his parents and ends up in a World War II Japanese internment camp in the emotional epic.
Daniel Day-Lewis transforms into the 16th president in one of his most memorable roles, and Spielberg crafts an amazing look at the later months of the Civil War that would either make or break the country.
The Pentagon Papers drama is a spiritual prequel of sorts to “All the President’s Men,” a love letter to journalism and the convening of an amazing cast, including Hanks as hard-charging Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee. In a modern landscape where media struggle to survive, Spielberg rallies to celebrate what makes it great.
It takes some major chutzpah to tackle the classic Broadway show onscreen for the first time since the Oscar-winning 1961 adaptation. But leave it to Spielberg to figure out a way to retell the iconic 1957-set love story of Tony (Ansel Elgort) and Maria (Rachel Zegler) in a way that feels fresh and relevant in modern times, craft epic musical numbers that bring new life to Leonard Bernstein’s music and Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics, improve the overall storytelling of this piece of Americana and snag another best picture nomination.
One of the best war movies ever, period. Spielberg’s excellent take on the Invasion of Normandy was groundbreaking in its graphic depictions of the battlefield but especially for its ferocious knockout of an opening. The landing on Omaha Beach shows the carnage and chaos from the perspective of an Army Ranger captain (Hanks), stunned and stumbling in bloody water, and forces an audience to feel unflinching horror.
The seminal movie for ’80s kids captures hearts and jerks tears with the story of a super-cute alien and the youngsters who rally to keep him safe from authorities and take care of him when he’s sick. As key as E.T. is to the whole thing, what’s even more important is his friendship with Elliot (Henry Thomas), an alienated boy desperately needing a connection in the wake of his parents’ divorce. E.T. wants to go home, but Elliott has to rediscover his own, too.
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The more grown-up complement to E.T. put a mysterious and thoughtful spin on first contact with aliens and the idea that we’re all just a small piece of a bigger puzzle. When the visitors come, it’s not spoken language but instead a musical theme that bridges the intergalactic gap between us and them, and Richard Dreyfuss’ blue-collar worker is every dreamer who’s ever looked into the sky and wanted to see the stars. Spielberg’s vision is sentimental yet feels so satisfying.
Dinosaurs were already cool but in the hands of Spielberg, they are a grand spectacle – and a fearsome set of antagonists – in a movie about not messing around with Mother Nature. The filmmaker takes on corporate greed and mankind’s god complex by imagining a theme park full of genetically cloned reptiles from millennia ago, but on a more popcorn-chewing level, Spielberg crafts both a terrifying journey as well as a breathtaking collection of species we can only wish existed.
Exceptional performances (especially Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey) drive this wrenching and intimate story of abused but strong women who find their voices and identity in early 20th-century Georgia. Goldberg’s Celie is the mousy wife of a mean, bullying farmhand (Danny Glover), one of the men she’s been oppressed by and who’ve kept her from family and a real life, until she finally roars in a rousing catharsis that feels hugely meaningful.
It’s rare that a threequel is almost as good as the first, but this two-fisted quest for the Holy Grail doubles as a surprisingly deep narrative about fathers, sons and mortality. All the usual fun Indy stuff is here – Nazis, treasured artifacts – though the bantering chemistry between Ford’s hard-luck hero and Sean Connery as his grumpy dad is off-the-hook spectacular. Bogie and Bacall have nothing on these two.
It takes something really special to affect the American populace so much they rethink their beach trips. With that ominous two-note John Williams theme and an infamous killer shark, the movie spawned the summer blockbuster and wracked many a nerve with its water-bound terror. It also taps into a man-vs.-nature dynamic as a modern-day Moby-Dick with Robert Shaw’s Quint as the obsessed hunter inextricably tied to his great white nemesis.
Spielberg’s black-and-white dramatic masterwork is a beautiful and brutal look at the Holocaust and an unlikely hero that manages to find hope and kindness in the face of pure evil. The character arc of German businessman Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) is astounding, from hiring Jewish workers because they’re cheap to giving away a fortune to save hundreds from certain doom. Through his eyes, we see the hatred, dread and innocence lost of that period in history.
The first Indiana Jones movie – with lots of Nazi-punching and world-shaking religious implications – is the perfect action adventure. In fact, face-meltingly so. It makes smart heroes cool forever after (in everything from “The X-Files” to “Iron Man” to Dan Brown books), offers a love interest who’s just as good in a fight as Indy, is as funny as it is compelling, and – sorry, “Star Wars” – gives us Ford’s signature cinema icon. It’s the kind of movie that reminds us all why we love movies.