If one talks about cinema, it is impossible not to mention one of the greatest living filmmakers, Steven Spielberg, who on December 18 marked his 76th birthday. He belongs to that category of filmmakers who have mastered the act of balancing art and commerce by making critically acclaimed, award-winning films while at the same time breaking box office records. Other than James Cameron, there are very few who currently can compete with Spielberg in the mainstream sphere and whose films also tend to reflect the cinematic grammar of the old-school classical Hollywood spectacles. At the same time, his range and versatility are one to watch out for and Spielberg throughout his career has delved into various genres and created many iconic characters and franchises built around them and even now has not lost his touch, continuing to make films that are still of both cinematic and cultural relevance. Here is a list of the top 10 films directed by Steven Spielberg.
10. The Fabelmans (2022)
This is the most recent film directed by Spielberg, released last month, and at the same time can be considered his best film in the last 15 years. This film is very personal, as it plays out as an autobiographical film and focuses primarily through the childhood lens of the director. This film is dealing with his love for the magic of cinema and is brilliantly shot and conceptualized in the traditional style and themes of Spielberg but also has a very innocent child-like quality. Furthermore, the film also consists of out-of-the-box casting choices of various people, like the well-known comedic actor Seth Rogen, along with an interesting cameo by one of the greatest living filmmakers right now, David Lynch.
9. Jurassic Park (1993)
It is mainly here on the list for the sheer audacity of carrying out such an extravagant idea pretty impressively, that too in a time where these recreations of Dinosaurs could not be done with the help of technology as easily as today. “Jurassic Park” (1993) also showcases one of the finest uses of practical effects. Throughout Spielberg’s directorial career, he has focused on very minute details rather than the actual vast ideas, and through these minute details, he builds the sense of a massive scale. The film, other than being of a very spectacular scale, perfectly manages to balance out the awe factor with the fear factor while at the same time possessing a sense of emotional warmth.
8. Catch Me If You Can (2002)
“Catch Me If You Can” (2002) is one of the lighter and most comedic films in the filmography of Steven Spielberg. The director uses an interesting casting choice to full effect and impeccably elucidates the chemistry between Leo and Tom Hanks in this comical cat-and-mouse chase of a film. The aesthetic aspects of the film consist of the major use of the colors blue and yellow, which perfectly help in increasing the emotional quotient by reflecting upon the themes of alienation, acceptability, and warmth. Furthermore, through his control over his craft, Spielberg swiftly switches tones from comic tones to a sense of sadness or melancholy.
7. Duel (1971)
This film was primarily made as a TV movie, but later, with its massive acclaim, the film was extended, and a theatrical cut was also released in various countries. First and foremost, this film is a Mad Max-type road movie filled with thrilling and horrific moments, and at the core of it, the basic premise is very simple: the narrative revolves around a business commuter who is being chased by a psychopathic truck driver. This film showcased the early glimpses of Spielberg as a director who is pretty adept with the handling of his craft, and that too within a very narrow budgetary constraint, while at the same time keeping the film very compact, highly intense and visually interesting throughout the runtime.
6. Munich (2005)
“Munich” (2005) is definitely the most different and unlike any other Steven Spielberg film. Based on the backdrop of Mossad’s counter-terrorism activities followed by the attacks on the Israeli athletes in the 1972 Munich Olympics, the film also managed to voice out its viewpoint in a very hard-hitting manner that also ruffled some feathers. Even though the filmmaker follows major aesthetical decisions that are synonymous with his style of filmmaking, it’s the very raw, gritty, and politically charged voice that makes the major difference. Compared to other films, here the portrayal is very cold-hearted and consists of major spine-chilling and bleak moments.
5. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
First of all, one cannot deny that “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” (1982) has a very eerie resemblance to the shelved script of Indian director Satyajit Ray’s “The Alien”. But leaving all that aside, one cannot deny that this film is one of those landmark films, along with Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (1977), that kind of changes cinema from a mainstream sci-fi genre aspect. Spielberg’s signature touch of conveying emotions is perfectly seen in this film between the characters of the alien E.T. and the 10-year-old Elliot. Other than the humanity the film possesses, it contains grand and epic visuals that are perfectly balanced by very intimate and warm scenes and are a perfect example of what blockbuster filmmaking should look like.
4. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Through “Saving Private Ryan” (1998), Spielberg also manages to showcase his skills in the war genre as he crafts a brilliantly harrowing and anti-war take set in the backdrop of the famous D-day or Normandy landings in the Second World War, where Captain John Miller is given the task of finding Pvt. Ryan. Firstly, one cannot forget the brilliant Omaha Beach Scene at the very beginning of the film, which is definitely among the best and most iconic edited, shot, and directed sequences ever to be filmed in American cinema. In comparison to other mainstream war films, this film perfectly brings out its themes of anti-war and showcases the horrors and bleakness of violence and war that hit on a very emotional level. Spielberg perfectly manages to take the viewers inside the psyches of the characters through various filmmaking techniques, such as contrasting hand-held camera movements with static ones, and therefore makes one perfectly root for and connect with the characters through their journey.
3. Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981)
Steven Spielberg should definitely be credited for giving the world of cinema the iconic archaeologist and adventurer character Indiana Jones through “The Raiders of The Lost Ark” (1981), which marks the beginning of this popular franchise. Furthermore, it is an absolute marvel of a film and also a renowned classic that manages to pass the test of time, being among the most exhilarating action-adventure entertainers of all time. The film perfectly blends both classical styles of filmmaking with a touch of fantasy and wonder and presents a very balanced showcase of action, thrilling set-pieces, humour, and mysticism, at the same time keeping the emotional quotient on a higher note and making the viewers connect with the archaeologist and adventurer Indiana Jones.
2. Jaws (1975)
“Jaws” (1975) can be considered the perfect summer blockbuster along with being among the best in man vs beast films and follows a simple premise where a great white shark is terrorizing a beach community. This film is the perfect playground that, in a very early stage of Spielberg’s career, showcased his tremendous control over the craft while also making mainstream big-screen spectacles. Interestingly, the film is actually pretty low budget, but it brilliantly hides those aspects through other interesting filmmaking methods and yet builds a tense and horrific atmosphere even without actually showing the shark and focusing more on using major point-of-view shots from the beast’s perspective.
1. Schindler’s List (1993)
This film is a masterwork of the director and was interestingly released in the same year as “Jurassic Park” (1993). Therefore, this also showcases the range and diversity Spielberg possesses through his directorial voice. Even though the film was aided with a brilliantly written script by Steven Zaillian, it is the director who creates probably his most personal film with a Midas touch, translated to the screen in one of the best films ever made on the Holocaust and also in the history of Cinema. The filmmaker perfectly captures the tone of the film and its narrative with an interesting choice of mostly black and white visualization, which in itself gives a very drained-out and bleak feel to the film. This bold, visceral, and intense style in which Spielberg depicts the inhumane genocide of the Jews in the Second World War is a masterclass in filmmaking itself.
Throughout his career, even though he did not write a majority of the screenplays and helmed the directorial role, Spielberg has brilliantly toyed with various emotions through his command of the cinematic language and has also been one of the most popular voices among the viewers. Before signing off with this article one cannot miss mentioning the names of some of his frequent and loyal collaborators who have also been a massive backbone to the various films of the director. These include cinematographer Janusz Kamiński, editor Michael Kahn, and the all-time great music composer, John Williams. Furthermore, here are the special mentions that one should watch out for: “Close Encounters of The Third Kind” (1977), “The Color Purple” (1985), “Empire of the Sun” (1987), “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” (1989), “A.I. Artificial Intelligence” (2001), “Minority Report” (2002), and “West Side Story” (2021).