He’s the director of a generation; perhaps even one of the greatest in film history. He’s the man behind the shark; the man behind the dinosaur; the man behind the alien. He’s a man of many genres and subgenres. His career is as diverse as it is superb. He is, of course, Steven Spielberg, and to celebrate, THN looks back over the vast and brilliant career of the greatest director of our time…
Sure, this was plagued with problems during production. The shark broke down more often than the Millennium Falcon. But it’s also the forefather of the summer blockbuster (which might mean we have it to thank for TRANSFORMERS, but we’ll try to ignore that), and set a precedent for tentpole pictures.
JAWS, aka The Shark That Wouldn’t Quit, also had the widest distribution release in history, and was the first film to take more than $100 million in the US box office. Developed, three-dimensional characters, a story that hooks you in, and an antagonist that menaces even when it’s not on screen. Yes, JAWS had it all. And it still does. It’s 100% fresh on reviews aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, which pretty much means nobody had a bad word to say about it. And there’s no stronger praise than that.
E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL (1982)
Spielberg’s sci-fi, like JURASSIC PARK, was the highest-grossing film of its time (in fact, it was only bested by Spielberg’s dinosaur romp itself 11 years later). A true classic, there’s nary a filmgoer alive who hasn’t heard of it. The memorable scene of youngster Elliott and E.T. flying to the forest past the moon is now even the logo for Spielberg’s film and television company Amblin Entertainment.
It’s been named the greatest sci-fi of all time, it bested the STAR WARS originals in terms of box office takings and it’s inspired countless others since. Spielberg himself has called it a ‘spiritual parable’. E.T. is quite possibly the most famous and renowned sci-fi of its time, and still has a powerful effect to this day.
INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE (1989)
Granted, everyone knows RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK is the best Indy film – but of the two Spielberg directed, THE LAST CRUSADE comes up trumps (but only just; TEMPLE OF DOOM is almost as good and vastly underrated. As is KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL, though looking at it’s ratings that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good).
This was the one where Han Solo met Bond, with Sean Connery taking the role of Harrison Ford’s mumbling, grumbling father. That pair provide most of the laughter, their onscreen chemistry remarkable – but remember, this is an Indy adventure. It isn’t a comedy – it’s a spectacular action adventure, of the kind that brought audiences back to the cinema after the advent of home video.
Heading back to face off against the Nazis once again, this one was a bit lighter in tone than TEMPLE OF DOOM, after mixed audience reaction to the second instalment of the original trilogy. If STAR WARS put Ford on the map, INDIANA JONES gave him the world. It’s one of the greatest franchises in film history, and rightly deserving of a place on this list.
JURASSIC PARK (1993)
Dinosaurs. Alive and kicking (and biting, fighting, terrorising… generally making a nuisance of themselves). What more do you want? Another classic film franchise much like Indy’s, JURASSIC PARK also spawned a couple of sequels, though again it’s arguable that the original was the best. And this time, it’s our old friend Spielberg directing.
JURASSIC PARK was a milestone for more than one reason – not only was it a landmark in the use of CGI (that indirectly lead to the STAR WARS prequels and Peter Jackson’s THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy), it was also the highest-grossing film of all time, grossing over $900 million worldwide, and was not surpassed for another four years. Almost 20 years later and it still remains the 20th highest grossing film of all time (twenty years since JURASSIC PARK?! Madness!).
It’s easy to see why the film did so well, though. The sheer spectacle of it all, ingrained with a vivid sense of awe and wonder – humans, mingling with DINOSAURS – provided stunning entertainment and brilliant escapism.
And let’s not forget those dinosaurs.
SCHINDLER’S LIST (1993)
SCHINDLER’S LIST won seven Oscars at the 66th Academy Awards. One of those was Best Director. This film came from a man, who, at the time, was best known for his fairy tales and adventure films; a man whose previous work did not suggest anything as serious as the subject matter for this film. Which, of course, was the Holocaust, and one Oskar Schindler.
The film portrays how Mr Schindler saves the lives of more than a thousand Polish-Jewish refugees during the holocaust by employing them in his factories. Its success was near-total; even Stanley Kubrick saw fit to abandon his own Holocaust project in the wake of SCHINDLER’S LIST. Other directors, from Tarantino to Roman Polanski, praised the film left, right and centre. No list of Spielberg’s works would be complete without this film. Its stark realism offered a terrible glimpse inside the lives of those in the concentration camps, and left many shaken.
SAVING PRIVATE RYAN (1998)
Spielberg’s masterpiece, SAVING PRIVATE RYAN is the war film of the 20th century. In this reviewer’s opinion, it is perhaps the greatest of his works; certainly it feels the most accomplished in all areas of production. Its inclusion on various ‘films to see before you die’ lists, including a place on Empire’s 500 Greatest Films of All Time, are testament to that.
Hailed for its impressive realism, its stark determination and three-dimensional depiction of war, SAVING PRIVATE RYAN tells the tale of a band of servicemen landing on Omaha Beach (D-Day), who then attempt to find and rescue the last living brother of four siblings.
This film earned Spielberg an Academy Award for Best Director, and I think that says it all really. A thrilling, exhausting and gritty film that portrays war in a way no other war film has done before.
CATCH ME IF YOU CAN (2002)
Another of Spielberg’s all-star casts here, with Leonardo Di Caprio, Tom Hanks, Christopher Walken and Amy Adams in tow. Originally attached to names such as David Fincher, Gore Verbinski and Lasse Hellström, Spielberg moved from producer to director, dropping out of his own projects BIG FISH and MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA.
This is one of those chase films that, in my mind, always seemed slightly perverse: in essence, you’re rooting for the bad guy; the lawbreaker. Di Caprio’s prettyboy charm gets him just as far with the audience as with the authorities, and in that respect we come to admire what is pretty much the bad guy. Yet still Spielberg celebrates the life of conman Frank Abagnale, turning cop Tom Hanks into the film’s antagonist.
Why, then, have I included CATCH ME IF YOU CAN on this list? Well, because of everything I just said. While it might indeed be slightly perverse, it’s still different, and it’s still pulled off so well that the film grossed over $350 million worldwide. It’s a chase movie as chase movies should be; it’s engaging, exciting and enthralling. And, well, it’s bloody good.
Probably one of Spielberg’s lesser-known hits, MUNICH tells the tale of the Israeli government’s secret retaliation attacks after the massacre of Israeli athletes by a terrorist group. It was nominated for several Academy Awards, including a Best Director tip for Spielberg. Perhaps his most thought-provoking and controversial film, MUNICH also garnered probably the most unfavourable reviews on this list.
That’s not to say it didn’t have its fair share of positive reviews; simply that, for a Spielberg picture, its reaction was surprisingly mixed. Due to its content, dealing with the Israeli/Palestine situation, the film drew much controversial criticism – some said it was naïve; others denounced the film’s historical premise.
Either way, MUNICH as a film is an exceptional directorial effort, warranting its place on this list. No matter the content, Spielberg’s efforts here are just as good as his previous works.
Spielberg’s power to shock and awe with his camera are unequivocal. He is the master of storytelling, and a master of his craft. He pioneers or revolutionises genres, sets precedents for other films and inspires countless more. Long live the bearded one.