Steven Spielberg's Ten Best-Directed Films

We take a look at Spielberg's best critical and commercial successes.

by | May 16, 2008 | Comments

Steven Spielberg is a living legend, and here’s why: The man gave birth to the modern blockbuster (with his seminal Jaws), co-founded two studios (DreamWorks SKG and Amblin Entertainment), earned Oscar-nominations twelve times, and gave the world E.T. It’s no wonder he was Dawson Leery’s favorite director of all time.

With a nod to his impressive producing efforts in film (like The Goonies, Back to the Future, Flags of Our Fathers, Transformers, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?) and television (Tiny Toons Adventures, seaQuest DSV, Band of Brothers), we take a look at the ten best-reviewed films directed by Steven Spielberg, arguably the most influential filmmaker alive today.

Read on for our Tomatometer countdown of Steven Spielberg’s ten best-reviewed films of all time (outside the Indiana Jones series). Check in with our Indiana Jonesin’ series for retrospectives on Harrison Ford and George Lucas.




more info…
10. The Color Purple

Tomatometer: 84%

In 1985, after striking earlier success with thrillers (Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom) and family-oriented adventures (Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial), Spielberg made his first foray into the field of drama. The result — an adaptation of Alice Walker’s novel about poor African-American women in the South — garnered eleven Academy Award nominations, including nods for lead Whoopi Goldberg, first-time actress Oprah Winfrey, and Margaret Avery. Notoriously, however, the pic came away with no wins; snubbed, perhaps, along with its not-nominated director?

Video




more info…
9. Jurassic Park
Tomatometer: 86%

Spielberg’s trademark sense of wonder came thrillingly to life in the box office blockbuster Jurassic Park. He called the best in the business to work on the project: writer Michael Crichton to adapt his own novel, John Williams to provide a signature sweeping score, and Phil Tippett and Stan Winston to create some of the most memorable visuals of modern cinema. Jurassic Park became the highest-grossing film of its time, earning more than $914 million worldwide and spawning two sequels. More importantly, it taught us that playing God can be dangerous — because Velociraptors can open doors.

Video




more info…
8. The Sugarland Express
Tomatometer: 92%

Spielberg’s first theatrically released feature rode the popular genre of on-the-lam pics of the 1970s, but it bears the marks of his later cinematic signatures just the same. Cleverly-plotted visuals and a particularly humanizing turn by Goldie Hawn help distance this “based on a true story” crime drama from less successful road flicks. The film, in which a young couple holds a cop hostage while leading a low-speed caravan of police cars to retrieve their child (the titular “Sugarland Express”), was also scored by future Spielberg collaborator John Williams.

Video


more info…
7. Minority Report
Tomatometer: 92%

In the year 2054, there is no crime. That’s because Spielberg and star/co-producer Tom Cruise made it so by adapting Philip K. Dick’s story of the same name. Minority Report meshed science fiction and moral philosophizing with incredibly satisfying action, set in a gorgeously blue and black-tinged future. You know what else the future holds? Flying cops! Rocketeer, eat your heart out.

Video




more info…
6. Saving Private Ryan
Tomatometer: 94%

After mining the historic perils of the Holocaust in Schindler’s List and the slave trade in Amistad, Spielberg continued his dramatic streak by making one of the best modern war movies of all time: Saving Private Ryan. Again putting ordinary people in extraordinary situations, Spielberg’s action-packed WWII drama recounts the terror of war in harrowing detail; his famous opening sequence depicting the D-Day landings at Normandy is one of the most iconic war scenes ever filmed. Eleven Oscar nods went to the film (including a win by Spielberg for Best Director) and it garnered critical acclaim for its cast (Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, Vin Diesel, Giovanni Ribisi, Adam Goldberg, Barry Pepper, Edward Burns, Tom Sizemore, and Jeremy Davies).

Video *contains graphic images




more info…

5. Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Tomatometer: 95%

You know the melody. The sequence of five tones scientists use to communicate with a massive alien mother ship in Close Encounters of the Third Kind is, like the movie itself, a cultural event in itself; once you’ve seen what’s perhaps the most wondrous film of Spielberg’s career, you can’t forget it. Written and directed by Spielberg, Close Encounters not only celebrated a universally human curiosity for the unknown, it also showed aliens — with admittedly primitive special effects — as benign beings. Though his buddy George Lucas may have overshadowed him that year with his own space-related saga, Star Wars, Close Encounters laid the groundwork for Spielberg’s subsequent return to sci-fi, one which would eventually surpass the box office success of Luke Skywalker and friends: E.T.

Video




more info…
4. Schindler’s List

Tomatometer: 96%

After offering the tale of Holocaust anti-hero Oskar Schindler to Sidney Pollack and Martin Scorsese, Spielberg decided to direct himself, inspired by his own Jewish heritage. (Somehow, he made his dino-blockbuster Jurassic Park in the same year.) He filmed contrary to his signature styles, favoring on-the-fly set-ups for meticulously composed shots, with mostly black-and-white photography by Janusz Kaminski; what Spielberg didn’t want was a Hollywood film. What he delivered is one of the most moving and heartbreaking works of his generation. Schindler’s List won numerous awards (including Oscars, BAFTA, and Golden Globes wins) and grossed $321 million; Spielberg donated all of his profits to charity.

Video


more info…

3. Catch Me If You Can
Tomatometer: 96%

Spielberg lightened things up a bit in 2002 with the real-life story of Frank Abagnale (Leonardo di Caprio), a career con-man who’d posed as a pilot, a doctor and a lawyer, and stolen millions in forged checks — all before graduating high school. With the pic, Spielberg notched another crowd-pleasing critical and commercial success, and helped nab Oscar nominations for composer John Williams and supporting actor Christopher Walken.

Video




more info…
2. E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial

Tomatometer: 98%

The film that defines movie magic flew into theaters on Spielberg’s handlebars, awakening the child inside every movie lover. With a young boy named Elliott who discovers an orphaned alien in his backyard as its protagonist, E.T. was shot fittingly from a kid’s point of view. The resulting identification among younger audiences, as well as adults young at heart, helped make E.T. a box office giant. A 20th Anniversary Edition, released in 2002, featured altered special effects, including the replacement of federal agents’ guns with walkie talkies — but alas, no inclusion of Harrison Ford’s brief appearance as a school principal. E.T. himself — lover of Reese’s Pieces, phoner of home — remains one of the most beloved movie characters in history.

Video




more info…

1. Jaws

Tomatometer: 100%

How huge a movie event was Jaws? Well, consider the fact that the idea of a “blockbuster” didn’t exist until Spielberg’s landmark shark attack thriller opened in 1975. The brilliant decision to turn Jaws into the first effective wide release in Hollywood history opened the financial floodgates, making it the first film to break $100 million. (“We’re gonna need a bigger boat – for all this money!”) John William’s suspenseful score, highlighted by that infamous “duh-duh…duh-duh” cue, would earn him another Oscar. The award-winning creature feature, adapted from Peter Benchley’s novel, marked Spielberg’s entry into film history — an auspicious beginning for the incredible career to come.

Video