Originally published 12/18/2016

What do you do to celebrate the 70th birthday of a director who has, at some point, across generations and decades, inspired every single writer on your staff? When the director in question is almost unquestionably a royal figure in the kingdom of cinema magic, and he happens also to have an even thirty films on his directing filmography, and if you’re as obsessed with needlessly ranking things as we are, you make a list. So, to celebrate the milestone moment in the life of Steven Spielberg, we have ranked the directors films.

30. 1941

Spielberg’s first WWII film is a far cry from his later ones, and it also happens to be his only foray into full-on comedy. Set in California in the days before Pearl Harbor, 1941 seeks examine American panic as the country stands on the edge of war. There’s a good cast at the center of it (Jim Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Treat Williams, Nancy Allen) and Bob Gale, Robert Zemeckis, and John Milius on script and story duties, but the film is unfocused, and as a result, largely unfunny. The film opens with a reference to Jaws, a Japanese submarine rising out of the water instead of a shark, and it seems too early for Spielberg to be referencing his own filmography five films in. The whole film has this referential problem, and 1941 becomes so broad in its comedy and efforts to cater to Spielberg’s vast interests that the film never manages to find the honesty in its comedic portrayal of panic. Still, even though it resides at the bottom of Spielberg’s filmography there are some set-pieces and shots that are reminders that even at his least effective, Spielberg is still one of our best. -Richard Newby

29. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Paramount Pictures

The most recent Indiana Jones movie caught a lot of flack for side-lining Indy, having too much CGI, and engaging in ridiculous things like a man being saved from a nuclear explosion by a fridge. It’s not the best Indiana Jones movie but seeing Ford back on screen with the hat, the whip, and the smirk is hard not to love and the movie has some great sequences like the opening chase through Area 51. Karen Allen also comes back as Marion, Indy’s best co-star, but the character isn’t as spirited as she was in Raiders and a lot of her sidekick role is given to Shia LaBeouf’s annoying addition, Mutt. Overall though, if they wanted to make another Indiana Jones, I’d be there opening night – Sean Fallon.

28. The Lost World: Jurassic Park

Universal Pictures

The director himself has been up front about the sharp decline in quality between Jurassic Park and The Lost World. As he sees it, his over-confidence sunk what could have otherwise been a great sequel. Yet it speaks to the brilliance of his craftsmanship that even one of his lowest ranking movies is still this entertaining. There is enough humour, excitement, and terror for it to be worth watching, even if it often feels like a series of theme park ride set pieces loosely tied together. It’s far too long, and the characters aren’t noteworthy, but there are some iconic scenes that are all-timers – from the raptors in tall grass, to the trailer hanging from the cliff edge, and a T-Rex exploring an American suburban neighbourhood – Jack Godwin

27. The Terminal

DreamWorks Pictures

Spielberg and Hanks third pairing found them telling the semi-comedic story of a man forced to spend nine months in the JFK International Airport after a coup prevents him from returning home and his papers prevent him from entering America. The Terminal is a slight but charming meditation home, and a reminder of Spielberg’s strength in finding humanity, even in the most unexpected of places. Despite Hanks’ questionable accent, and moments that strain believability, Spielberg builds a world inside this airport, a world that feels good and safe when our real world made airports a place of uneasiness and suspicion. The Terminal may be minor within Spielberg’s filmography but there’s such a sweetness to it that it serves an interesting and perhaps necessary palate-cleanser before Spielberg dove into the darker aspects of our post-9/11 world.- Richard Newby

26. The Adventures of Tintin

Paramount Pictures

The prospect of Spielberg, Edgar Wright, and Peter Jackson coming to together to bring the beloved Belgian comic to life seemed like too much goodness to be true. Ultimately, Tintin suffered not from too much, but from not enough. The animation is gorgeous, the voice acting is fantastic, and the chase sequence mid-film is one of the high-points of Spielberg’s career. How many directors make an animated film for the first time and end up with something that can be considered a high-point in a career of high-points? But where Tintin suffers is in the story. There’s simply nothing to emotionally ground us and make us invested in Tintin’s quest. With War Horse being released within months of Tintin, it feels as though those two films divided Spielberg’s emotional heft and his imagination, leaving both films wanting for what the other had.- Richard Newby

25. Hook


TriStar Pictures

While not at the bottom of our list, Hook is a movie often referenced when someone needs an example of Spielberg’s misfires. I recognise it has problems that have earned it this status, but I have a fondness for it still. Robin Williams is perfect casting as an adult Peter, someone whose own persona mixed the childish with the adult in the first place. The innocence lost in the transition to adulthood is explored, and there’s merit to the idea that Peter ultimately reclaims this innocence by embracing fatherhood. The metaphors at play get a little lost, and Hook doesn’t quite successfully make the point it’s trying to, but there is such a genuine sense of joy to the tale that it never falters for too long – Jack Godwin

24. War Horse

Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Despite coming later in his career, War Horse is one of the director’s most old-fashioned films. It is also one of his most disparate, as it blends its kind-hearted family movie values with the brutality of a war epic. These tonal shifts were an inevitability given the source material’s episodic narrative, and like a series of short films they range from dull to brilliant. In the end the human protagonist becomes an after-thought, which is satisfactory given the actor’s underwhelming performance. While the conflicting tones detract slightly from the film as a complete experience, it gives the director the opportunity to once again prove his uncanny ability to imbue set pieces with unadulterated emotion. Some sequences stand tall among his entire filmography – particularly the gut-wrenching horror amidst the barbed wire of No Man’s Land and Tom Hiddleston’s heartbreaking charge into battle – Jack Godwin

23. Empire of the Sun

Warner Bros.

Spielberg’s adaptation of JG Ballard’s semi-autobiographical novel is not one of his most fondly remembered movies. These days it’s mostly brought up because it features a young Christian Bale in the lead role. This does it a disservice. It is a great coming of age drama that foregoes the high school setting for a Japanese internment camp and the cool teachers for John Malkovich and a young Ben Stiller. Spielberg goes back to the Second World War quite often, each time changing the lens in which he sees it. For Empire we see the war through a child’s eyes where tragedy is constantly twinged with immature confusion and everything, no matter how dangerous, has a hint of adventure – Sean Fallon.

22. Always


Universal Pictures

Spielberg’s remake of the 1943 film, A Guy Named Joe, feels not too dissimilar from his segment of Twilight Zone: The Movie, or some of his work on Amazing Stories in that it manages to merge the supernatural with a genuinely touching examination of life and death. In this tale of a deceased aerial firefighter given the opportunity to train a novice pilot and help his former girlfriend find love, Spielberg is at his most romantic. While some may argue that Always employs a saccharine quality that feels trite, the narrative isn’t compromised from its romanticism, nor do its themes feel naïve. Despite the fantasy element that allows Always to operate, the film is surprisingly unshowy. Of course there are aerial sequences that are unmistakable directorial traits, but for the most part Always is an actor’s film, one that showcases Spielberg’s trust in his leads and supporting cast. Always may fall far from Spielberg’s greatest works, but there’s a confidence and a lack of cynicism to it that is nothing but impressive.- Richard Newby

21. Amistad

DreamWorks Pictures

The spirit of triumph guides Amistad. While there’s pain, and rage, and heartbreak in Amistad, there’s always a sense that we’re being guided by a hand that will deliver us on the steps of justice and the certainty that rightness wins in the end. There’s much to be said about the importance or lack of importance in historical accuracy. Whatever Spielberg gets wrong in the facts about the mutiny of La Amistad and its aftermath, he gets right in his focus on communication and the bridges he builds between people of different circumstances. What’s surprising isn’t the narrative, but the attention the film gives to language and the power of voice. Djimon Hounsou’s performance as Cinque is the embodiment of Spielberg’s capacity to create rich characters that grab us and surprise us, even when the narrative does not. – Richard Newby

20. A.I. Artificial Intelligence

A.I. Artificial Intelligence

DreamWorks Pictures

While Spielberg is probably the most well-known film director, and the one most associated with mainstream Hollywood cinema, films like A.I. do not fit that mould. When I was young, I was confused and frightened by the bizarre imagery and terrifying world depicted. As an adult, it comes across as a powerful and intelligent science fiction weighed down by exposition. Therein lies the problem – A.I. is torn between artistic ambiguity and a complicated story that needs to be spelt out for general audiences. It’s too big to be subtle, and too thoughtful to be the family romp many expect from Spielberg. The last twenty minutes or so are brilliant in concept, and a clear indicator why this was a passion project for Stanley Kubrick before his death. The knowledge that this was meant to be a Kubrick film makes me wish for that reality, but as a substitute there are plenty of reasons Spielberg was the right man for the job. It’s a mournful blend of “Fact and Fairytale” that fits thematically with his other work, though with a sense of loss and an overwhelming sense of futility – Jack Godwin

19. The Color Purple

Warner Bros. Pictures

The Color Purple is Spielberg’s first foray into the grand prestige drama that would largely define the later part of his career. Tonally, the film is a bit rough around the edges, but so few films have explored the issues faced by early 20th century black women like The Color Purple, and done it with such scope and scale. This is Spielberg’s sprawling southern epic, meant to be somewhat evocative of the films of classic Hollywood, while giving a space, both narratively, and performance-wise, for people who were always background figures in those films. This film marks an important step in Spielberg’s career as he sought to find unlikely heroes within the sweeping story of humanity. – Richard Newby

18. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

Paramount Pictures

One of Spielberg’s darker movies, the violent, almost cruel tone of Temple of Doom was apparently influenced by issues in Lucas’ and Spielberg’s home life. This would go some way towards explaining the movie’s two speeds: Abject horror and bordering on annoying goofiness. Alas, a lot of the time the peanut butter and chocolate don’t mix, which is why this movie is lower on the table than it’s prequel and one of its sequels. It does have some fantastically iconic sequences though like the gross out dinner party, the mine cart race, and, my favourite, the rope bridge finale. It’s not the best Indy movie but even a not great Indy movie is still going to have awesome and enjoyable things to make you want to sit and watch it all over again – Sean Fallon.

17. The BFG


Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Steven Spielberg’s latest film recaptures the magic of childhood. It’s silly, and sometimes sad, and full of wonder, managing to be both a fantastic adaptation of Roald Dahl’s book, while also fitting seamlessly within Spielberg’s canon. Mark Rylance’s BFG has wonderful chemistry with Ruby Barnhill’s Sophie, creating a memorable friendship. Like screenwriter Melissa Mathison’s previous collaboration with Spielberg, E.T., The B.F.G.’s story of friendship hinges on feelings of loneliness, an emotion that too few children’s films tackle. While the later half of film may get a bit juvenile with its fart jokes, comedic threats, and never-ending stream of made up words, there’s a maturity at the center of the film. This is best exemplified by the catching dreams sequence, which alone stands as one of Spielberg’s most cleverly shot scenes. While The BFG is a turn from Spielberg’s more recent work, it’s a refreshing step half-step back in the fantastical that made many of us fall in love with the director in the first place. – Richard Newby

16. Bridge of Spies

Bridge of Spies

Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Spielberg’s team-up with the Coen Brothers feels less like the serious thriller it was marketed as, and more like the semi-comedic drama that both directors have made their mark on. While it may not have been the masterpiece so many of us expected, it wholly succeeds in its aim to find the extraordinary in the ordinary man, and the ordinary in the extraordinary man. Both Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance tackle their characters with a consideration that lends itself to a grounded morality within the film’s murky Cold War themes. Bridge of Spies may not be a risky film, but it feels classy and steeped in traditional filmmaking techniques. Plus, if Spielberg’s collaboration with Hanks is any indication, his one with Rylance is proving to be just as successful. – Richard Newby

15. Sugarland Express

Universal Pictures

Of all Spielberg’s films, Sugarland Express feels the most rooted in the New Hollywood movement in its ground-level examination of rural Texas codes of conduct, and insistence that we look upon our criminal leads as sympathetic heroes (something he later followed up on in Catch Me If You Can). This story of a young couple trying to outrun the law to regain custody of their baby is Spielberg’s smallest scale story, yet a story made to feel grand through the eyes of the central characters. The sweet, youthful naivety of Lou Jean and Clovis as they outrun the cops is punctuated by a lingering sadness that leads to a resolution that avoids the clean sense of finality and closure and Spielberg excels at. The film also marks Spielberg’s first collaboration with maestro John Williams, who composes a score wildly different from the work that followed, but no less essential to creating an emotional tether between the film and the audience. Sugarland Express is an increasingly relevant portrait of poverty and lawfulness in America, one that would make quite the pairing with 2016’s Hell of High Water.– Richard Newby

14. War of the Worlds


I think War of the Worlds is often unfairly placed among the many disposable remakes of the 21st century, when it’s actually a fascinating modern interpretation of the 1898 novel. It is a disaster film, but one that focuses on the transition from a catastrophic event to a post-event paranoia and weary nihilism. The movie gives its characters the space to struggle with the fact that it may all be over, and discover what they are capable of in times of crisis. It is also undoubtedly a film about 9/11 and its aftermath. Ray (Tom Cruise) comes home from the first attack covered in grey ash, much in the same way countless shell-shocked New Yorkers did. It plays on the chaos and confusion, and the resultant fear that anything can go wrong at any time, and that America is not as secure as we once thought it was –  Jack Godwin

13. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Paramount Pictures

Whenever a third film is released in a popular movie franchise, there is inevitably a discussion of what threequel nailed it and what fell flat. The Last Crusade is unfairly left out of that conversation a lot of the time. Maybe it’s because the Indiana Jones movies mostly feature self-contained stories, or that the preceding film was a prequel. Either way, this third film comes in to bring the story to a close (for a while), while exploring a part of Indy’s life we hadn’t previously seen. Sean Connery is hilarious as Henry Jones Sr, and their rocky road to embracing one another as father and son delivers on the exciting action we have come to expect from this series. What is impressive is that it manages to juggle the comedic and the serious throughout, and concludes in a way that stays true to the character and the series’ messages about power and mortality.

12. Minority Report

20th Century Fox

Minority Report is a masterclass in subtle sci-fi. It is filled with effects, new technologies, and futuristic concepts but it never lets the background detail become the story. Spielberg uses that background for colour around a chase movie about a wrongfully accused man on the run. Instantly iconic for the opening scenes in which Tom Cruise manipulates that cool floating computer screen, throwing images around to the strains of Schubert’s 8th Symphony, Minority Report inspired the look and tone of a plethora of sci-fi noir movies that followed it like Looper and Inception. Spielberg keeps things fun and interesting throughout with a fantastic cast featuring Cruise, Colin Farrell, Max von Sydow, Samantha Morton, and Peter Stromare, while long-time collaborator Janusz Kaminski shoots with a washed out colour palette which makes the whole thing like at any second it might just go black and white and fully noir – Sean Fallon.

11. Lincoln


Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Abraham Lincoln is a difficult man to bring to the big screen. His power as a historic figure is undeniable, and so it always seemed like it would be impossible to successfully bring him to life. The simple solution was to pair a great director with a great method actor; Daniel Day-Lewis. Together they manage to give him a physical presence, humanising the epic by approaching him as someone who was torn between his personal life and his symbolic meaning. When we think of revolutionary people, we usually attribute confidence, righteous anger, and an obstinate dedication to their beliefs. What Lincoln shows us is that politics is about making sacrifices to win in the long run, and that compromise is often necessary for progress. As a politician, Lincoln had to restrain the more liberal abolitionists (Tommy Lee Jones giving one of his best performances in years), making the careful moves to make equality a possibility. While one of the most straight-forward and low-key of his films, Lincoln still manages to make a story you know feel important once again – Jack Godwin

10. Saving Private Ryan

DreamWorks Pictures

I think for a lot of people Saving Private Ryan was the first time they saw war as something that lacked in derring-do and adventure. There are obviously a ton of war films that aim to de-glamourise war but Ryan is a Spielberg movie and for a lot of people Spielberg is captain fun times, the guy who made Jaws, Raiders, Jurassic Park, and Hook. Friends of mine, the ones for whom Schindler’s List was too much of a downer for them to want to watch, Saving Private Ryan was a great big kick up the arse in terms of how real war is depicted in it. In fact, the entire movie doesn’t really operate on movie rules. Sympathetic characters are killed left and right, the bad guys get a lot of wins, and the level of violence is sometimes unwatchable, especially a certain scene involving a knife which, while I have seen this movie ten or more times, I have only seen that scene once. The opening sequence of the D-Day landings is without par in terms of a carefully orchestrated piece of cinematic chaos that is also clearly focused on a handful of characters and never becomes more overwhelming than intended. Spielberg has gone back to the Second World War well quite a few times in his career, and each time he finds something new and something brilliant to show us – Sean Fallon.

9. Munich

Universal Pictures

Munich is a wilfully complicated film. The Israel-Palestine conflict is one that can spark debates in any group across the world, and Spielberg chooses to present both sides without backing either of them. The only clear stance he does take is against any nation or group that perpetuate violence in order to supress it. Eric Bana’s Israeli spy begins his mission to assassinate 11 Palestinians allegedly involved in the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre as a firm believer in his country. Yet as he infiltrates various groups, and has to make sacrifice his own humanity to back his beliefs, his moral certainty becomes increasingly less so. This leads to incredible scenes of tension and drama, interspersed with intricate conversations about the cycle of violence, the cost of revenge, and the importance of home and nationhood. Each act is given reason, and every opinion is humanised and criticised. As viewers we are made complicit with the actions that are all too often labelled as either terrorism or justified self-defence. With Munich, Spielberg refuses to give us the comfort of that black and white world, and instead forgoes the optimism we associate with his films for the grey moral conundrum humankind creates for itself – Jack Godwin.

8. Catch Me If You Can

DreamWorks Pictures

Catch Me If You Can is not the best Spielberg film, but it is the one that I want to watch the most often. It is the most entertaining and funny of all his films, without having to sacrifice any of the smart filmmaking we find in his better works. It feels repetitive to say when talking about his films, but this has everything you need from a movie experience. It has one of John Williams’ best modern scores, it has two Hollywood stars at the top of their game, an impressive supporting cast, tense scenes, a sharp witty script, and an emotional core that keeps everything grounded. There are strong performances all around – particularly from Christopher Walken and Amy Adams. The former gives us one of the most melancholic roles of his career, while Adams once again shows that she is capable of capturing a wide range of personality types with a character that is adorable and sympathetic to an absurd degree. Leonardo DiCaprio is at his best when his performance, however dark, is laced with immaturity. It’s what makes his unhinged performance in The Wolf of Wall Street so good, while here he focuses not on the juvenile selfish side of the inner child, but the vulnerability. Frank Jr. flits between different surrogate fathers and families, with the abandonment he feels at his mother’s departure keeps him running – because why stop if you’ve got no one to settle down with? – Jack Godwin

7. Schindler’s List

Universal Pictures

Schindler’s List was Spielberg’s first Oscar win for best director. It was hugely deserved. List is a masterpiece pure and simple. It is confronting and unflinching but you find yourself unable to stop watching, as if turning away is doing a disservice to the people whose suffering you are watching unfold. It is a testament to Spielberg’s immense skill that the movie never feels exploitative. You are watching unspeakable evil occur for, essentially, your entertainment but at no point does it feel snuff film-y or like cruelty porn. It is also pretty relentless. Once the bad things start to happen they do not stop until the end. There are almost constant scenes of murder, torture, indignity, and horror, and Spielberg only gives you a reprieve occasionally and then it is to spend time watching Schindler interact with evil shits like Ralph Fiennes’ Amon Goeth, one of history/cinema’s greatest villains. The sense of realism is enhanced by the fact that the movie is nearly half filmed with handheld cameras to give it a documentary feel that sometimes makes what we’re watching seem like historical footage, a feeling that is heightened by the movie is shot in starkly beautiful black and white (save for a tragic red jacket). As said at the top, List is a masterpiece and essential watching for times when we forget what evil people do to those they don’t like and those that don’t look the same as them, worship their Gods, or cannot defend themselves – Sean Fallon.

6. Jurassic Park

Universal Pictures

Spielberg invented the summer movie with Jaws. After Jaws there was always a big summer movie event that brought in a shit ton of viewers and dollars. And then in 1993 Spielberg went and did it all over again with Jurassic Park. So many movies on this list can be called perfect and Jurassic Park is one of them. I recently had the good fortune of seeing this movie on the big screen again during its re-release and 3D conversion. I saw it in Istanbul where all movies feature an interval at their halfway point. My wife, who had never seen Jurassic Park before, joined me. The interval fell at the exact moment the automated tour Jeeps slow to a halt at the T-Rex paddock as the power goes out in the park. We got snacks and my wife said, ‘It’s good but nothing’s really happened.’ I assured her not to worry and that when the film started up again that everything would happen. And it did. The movie is an intricate puzzle that gives you all the exposition and character shading you need for the first half and then the roller coaster goes over the hill and the screaming starts, all the way to the end. It’s also a technical astonishment, has incredible music, and is Jeff Goldblum’s finest work – Sean Fallon.

5. Duel

Duel, Spielberg’s 1971 TV movie, shows that the great man was poised for greatness straight away. Using the bare minimal of tools, a stretch of road, a car, a driver, a truck, Spielberg crafts a tightly plotted horror movie (from a script by horror master Richard Matheson) that keeps your heart in your throat as you hope and pray that the tension will break and it never does. I’m a big fan of small, claustrophobic horror, movies like Misery, Don’t Breathe, or It Follows. Duel is a tiny movie, a movie where there is only one named character and we stick with him for the entire thing, getting into his head, our enjoyment reliant upon his survival. It is deceptively simple. A man driving home cuts off a truck driver who chases him down for revenge. It is urban legend scary and Spielberg takes this simple concept and runs with it, never showing the truck driver’s face, never revealing his motives. He is simply the shark or the T-Rex of Spielberg’s other movies, hunting his prey. Any moment and idea Spielberg can use to scare us he does and to masterful effect. It is a testament to this movie’s quality and longevity that it sits so high on this list and I hope people read this and go out and watch it right now – Sean Fallon.

4. Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Columbia Pictures

There’s one criticism I have of Close Encounters of the Third Kind – it’s a bit too long. I point that small flaw out first because it’s the only problem I have with the entire thing. Start to finish, this is quintessential Spielberg, and may be the purest distillation of his vision. The special effects are now dated, but with age they have gained a different, strange beauty. As the space ships cast shadows and fly above highways, they are shot with patience and curiosity; you can feel the director’s amazement at his own creations. This wonder is at the centre of the movie, and the search for physical contact with the alien life forms actually pays off, with a lengthy sequence that gives us the spectacle we wanted. Spielberg knows that we go to the cinema to be transported to different worlds, to experience something outside of ourselves. Similarly, his protagonist Roy (Richard Dreyfuss) is in search of that connection. Both he and the narrative are driven entirely by emotion and human intuition. His visions of Devil’s Tower don’t just bring him to the first contact with extra-terrestrials, but gives him a shared emotional experience with other humans. This struggle to make meaningful connections amidst the chaos of modern life is perfectly encapsulated in the evacuation, where Roy and Jillian fight against the evacuating masses to find one another. In the overwhelming chaos of people running from what they don’t understand, two people are uncontrollably drawn to embrace and face the unknown together – Jack Godwin.

3. E.T. The Extraterrestrial

Universal Pictures

E.T. is the gold standard when it comes to kid hides a supernatural creature and, through a series of wild and wacky events, comes of age movies. 2016’s Stranger Things series owes an awful lot to E.T. and knows it as the movie is referenced, subverted, and homaged throughout. Stranger Things’ success shows how E.T. still holds a place in all of our hearts. I was born two years after E.T. came out so by the time I was old enough to be watching movies it would be shown on British TV at Christmas and I would watch it and laugh at the drunk alien, boo at the baddie government guys, and cry my eyes out at the end. Chances are if I watched it tomorrow I’d do exactly the same. Spielberg is often dismissed as being sappy and saccharine and he is, but it’s fine. The world is a cynical, terrible place, and sometimes you just want a film maker who is going to show us something fun and sad and that will tug on our heartstrings with wild abandon. Spielberg is as successful as he is because he makes the movies people want but, more importantly, he makes the movies he wants and in his own way. He is a master and they can anoint as many new directors as they want as the new Spielberg, but the man is irreplaceable. Happy birthday Steve! – Sean Fallon.

2. Raiders of the Lost Ark

Paramount Pictures

How do you choose your favorite moment from Raiders of the Lost Ark? From Indy vs the swordsman, the pit of snakes, the chase sequence, or the face-melting climax, it’s nearly impossible to pick just one scene from Raiders. It’s that very reason why it has been positioned as a favorite for so many generations. While we can’t choose a favorite, we can tell you the most important. The opening scene of Raiders has been replicated, imitated, and parodied, and yet none have come close to capturing the sheer thrill of Indy outrunning that boulder, only to escape and face even more danger, danger that leaves our hero outnumbered and ultimately unsuccessful. While so many action franchises are built on characters successfully escaping danger and walking away with the coveted object, through this opening scene Spielberg creates a through line of tension and a sense that, hey, maybe he won’t get out of this one. The film immediately positions Indy as someone on the outs, someone vulnerable during a time where so many of our heroes were anything but. Not only that, but Spielberg, Lucas, and Ford craft a hero with fear, a fear that comes across as genuine and works as a further step to humanize a traditionally inhuman pulp hero type. The greatness of Raiders exists in all the things we’ve talked about so many times before, the set pieces, the score, the production design, the man behind the camera, but Indiana Jones has had a lasting appeal as Spielberg’s greatest character because Raiders is a film that never loses track of the human beings at the center, who they are, and what they want. All the excitement that follows is a result of being tethered to that central idea.-Richard Newby

1. Jaws

Universal Pictures

The film that started our grand Hollywood tradition of blockbuster, the film that made sure we’d never feel safe in the water again, and the film that made Steven Spielberg a household name and an event- level filmmaker–Jaws. With a production story just as interesting as the film itself, Jaws changed the landscape of cinema, offering masterclass direction and performances within the confines of a B-movie plot. Jaws not only changed the profit model for studios but also the way ideas were handled. No longer did genre films have to exist as lesser examples of filmmaking within the eyes of critics and audiences. Jaws proved that with the right collection of talent, and a little bit of luck, these films could rise to the level of our Hollywood classics. Beyond its battle of man versus nature, Jaws is a film about trying to provide and cling to safety in an unsafe world, a theme that would follow Spielberg through the rest of his career, regardless of genre. It’s a story of a father attempting to provide a safe world for his son, an academic seeking to define his masculinity, and an old hunter coming to terms with the inevitability of death. The horror of the shark is achieved through Spielberg’s camera tricks but also from the possibility of these characters failing in their roles of father, man, and soldier. It’s the people that make Jaws. The shark is simply the instrument through which we come to understand them and their place in the world.  An unforgettable score, punctuating moments of unforgettable horror unleashed on unforgettable characters, Jaws isn’t simply a movie, but an experience filled with humor, horror, and heart. This is everything we love about Steven Spielberg. This is everything we love about the movies. -Richard Newby

Featured Image: Universal Pictures