The 15 best Steven Spielberg movies of all time, ranked

The 15 best Steven Spielberg movies of all time
Steven Spielberg has been making movies for almost 50 years. Pic credit: @ImageCollect/Globe-Photos

Steven Spielberg is one of Hollywood’s most successful film directors, both commercially and critically.

Many consider Speilberg as the man who created the modern-day summer blockbuster with Jaws, revitalized the sci-fi genre with Close Encounters of the Third Kind and the adventure genre with Raiders of the Lost Ark, and helped usher in the era of CGI with Jurassic Park.

However, Spielberg is much more than that.

Steven Spielberg is also an Oscar contender every time he releases a movie, thanks to critically acclaimed films like Schindler’s List, Lincoln, and The Color Purple.

And this is all from a director who got his start by making a small, intense television movie called Duel.

Here is a look at Steven Spielberg’s 15 best movies of his career.

15. Minority Report

Minority Report
Tom Cruise in Minority Report. Pic credit: Fox

Philip K. Dick wrote some of the most groundbreaking science fiction novels in history. He often approached issues of morality and the use of technology to break those moral codes.

Several of his stories became movies, including one that Spielberg directed — Minority Report.

The film starred Tom Cruise as a police officer in a dystopian future where technology working with a pair of precogs predicted crimes before they happened.

While the police had no problem arresting people before they ever committed a crime, when the machine claimed Cruise’s police officer was going to commit a murder, he went on the run to try to prove that he could stop the crime from happening.

14. Empire of the Sun

Empire of the Sun
Christian Bale in Empire of the Sun. Pic credit: Warner Bros.

Years before he took on the role of Batman in The Dark Knight, a 13-year-old Christian Bale starred in Steven Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun.

Released in 1987, the movie was based on the novel by J.G. Ballard, a semiautobiographical tale of a young boy who went from living as part of a wealthy British family in Shanghai to living as a prisoner of war in a Japanese internment camp in World War II.

The movie, about the loss of innocence, was initially supposed to see David Lean (Lawrence of Arabia) as the director, but Spielberg stepped in when Lean had to leave the project.

13. Ready Player One

Ready Player One
Tye Sheridan in Ready Player One. Pic credit: Warner Bros

In 2018, Steven Spielberg adapted the popular Ernest Cline novel Ready Player One.

The story takes place in a dystopian future where the world keeps itself entertained by spending most of its time inside a virtual reality world, where they can block out the horrors of a country that suffered an economic collapse.

Soon, a contest starts where the person who wins a new game set up in the world of virtual reality wins control of the company that runs everything.

The conflict pits a group of rebels against a ruthless businessman with the resources to send in thousands to find the clues.

12. Catch Me If You Can

Catch Me If You Can
Leonardo DiCaprio in Catch Me If You Can. Pic credit: DreamWorks

One of Steven Spielberg’s most quirky movies hit in 2002 with the period piece, Catch Me if You Can.

This movie is based on the true story of a man named Frank Abagnale, one of the world’s most notorious imposters. He assumed the identity of everyone from pilots to doctors to lawyers to a Prison agent, all between the ages of 15 and 21.

Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Frank, as he took on his life of crime, while Tom Hanks starred as the FBI Agent trying to catch him.

11. Amistad

Djimon Hounsou in Amistad. Pic credit: DreamWorks

After Schindler’s List proved that Steven Spielberg was more than just a popcorn blockbuster movie director, he approached another serious topic in 1997.

Amistad told the true story of the events aboard a slave ship called La Amistad in 1839 when the tribesmen kidnapped for slave labor gained control of the ship.

This led to a substantial legal battle when captured in Washington, a case that went before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1841.

The film received four Oscar nominations, including Best Supporting Actor for Anthony Hopkins.

10. The Color Purple

The Color Purple
Whoopi Goldberg in The Color Purple. Pic credit: Warner Bros

While people consider Schindler’s List as the movie that proved to the world that Steven Spielberg could do drama well, he proved it a decade before with his 1985 film The Color Purple.

The movie is based on one of the seminal novels in African American history by Alice Walker, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1982.

The story is about a young African American girl named Celie raised in the early 20th century who meets two strong female companions and finds her self-worth as a result.

The Color Purple picked up 10 Oscar nominations, including acting nominations for Whoopi Goldberg, Margaret Avery, and Oprah Winfrey.

9. Munich

Eric Roth in Munich. Pic credit: Universal

Released in 2005, Munich is a Steven Spielberg directed the action thriller movie that told the story of the 1972 Summer Olympics.

This isn’t a sport’s movie, though. This is the story of the Munich massacre at the 1972 Summer Olympics and the Israeli government’s secret retaliation against the Palestine Liberation Organization.

The film was one of Spielberg’s lowest-grossing movies ever at the time, but it was still a critical success, picking up five Oscar nominations, including Best Director and Best Picture.

Eric Bana and Daniel Craig are the headlining stars.

8. Lincoln

Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln. Pic credit: Fox

In 2012, Steven Spielberg went back into history as he told the story of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln.

The movie was based on the 2005 biography, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. The timeline here is the final four months of Lincoln’s life.

The film tracks the work to abolish slavery with the Thirteenth Amendment in the U.S. Constitution.

The cast was spectacular, with multi-time Oscar winner Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln leading the way.

The film picked up 12 Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay.

7. Jaws

Roy Scheider in Jaws. Pic credit: Universal

The movie that many people point to when discussing the genesis of the summer blockbuster hit in 1975 with Steven Spielberg’s Jaws.

This was a scary movie that made people all over the world scared to go into the water, and reportedly led to a decline in revenue for beach towns in the summer.

Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) is the police chief of a resort town who sets out to catch and kill a man-eating shark that has arrived, while the town’s mayor wants the beaches to remain open despite the danger.

Other big stars in the movie include Richard Dreyfuss as a marine biologist, Robert Shaw as a professional shark hunter, and a giant animatronic shark named Bruce.

6. Jurassic Park

Jurassic Park
Sam Neil in Jurassic Park. Pic credit: Universal

In 1993, Steven Spielberg changed cinema once again. Much like he helped popularize the summer blockbuster with Jaws, Spielberg helped popularize the CGI film with Jurassic Park.

While there was work with CGI before, it wasn’t until Jurassic Park that the technology was at the level to create something like realistic dinosaurs inside a computer rather than with practical effects.

Based on the book by Michael Crichton, the movie focuses on a company that used dinosaur DNA to create cloned dinosaurs, with the plans to develop an amusement park with them as the main feature.

Nothing should go wrong with that idea.

5. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

ET the Extra-Terrestrial
ET the Extra-Terrestrial. Pic credit: Universal

Most alien movies before 1982 were about alien invasions and threats to the Earth. That changed with Steven Spielberg’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.

The movie had alien botanists arrive on Earth, looking for plant specimens to bring back to their planet. However, government agencies showed up and scared them off.

The aliens left one of their own behind.

Nicknamed E.T., this alien befriended a young child, who protected him from the government forces, while the alien tried to contact his alien race to return to save him.

4. Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Steven Spielberg’s sci-fi epic Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Pic credit: Columbia

Five years before directing E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Steven Spielberg’s first science fiction movie was Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

The two movies shared the same theme, with peaceful aliens arriving on Earth only to find resistance from humans who fear the unknown.

This time around, the movie was very cerebral as it focused on a group of humans who shared a vision of a hill where the aliens would return.

The aliens were the MacGuffin in the movie. The real story was the dissatisfaction of Richard Dreyfuss’s Roy Neary and Steven Spielberg’s decision to breakdown absentee fathers in his films.

3. Saving Private Ryan

Saving Private Ryan
Tom Hanks in Saving Private Ryan. Pic credit: DreamWorks

In 1998, Steven Spielberg directed one of the best war movies of all-time.

Saving Private Ryan focused on a military unit sent in to save Private Ryan, the only surviving son of a family who lost three of their other kids in the war.

The cast is top-of-the-line, with Tom Hanks in the lead role, Matt Damon as Private Ryan, and everyone from Vin Diesel and Adam Goldberg to Paul Giamatti and Edward Burns in the film.

The film picked up 11 Oscar nominations, winning Steven Spielberg the award for Best Director. The opening scene of the storming of Normandy Beach was one of the best war scenes ever created, a single-shot scene that never flinched from the violence and destruction of war.

2. Raiders of the Lost Ark

Raiders of the Lost Ark
Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Pic credit: Paramount

Steven Spielberg has always loved the adventure movies of the past and created his own in 1981.

What resulted was what remains one of the best action-adventure movies of all-time with Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Indiana Jones ended up as Spielberg’s greatest franchise, followed by Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

The movie stars Harrison Ford as a professor and archeologist named Indiana Jones, who sets out to find the Ark of the Covenant before Hitler’s Nazi troops can find it and use it to conquer the world.

1. Schindler’s List

Schindler's List
Stephen King’s masterpiece, Schindler’s List. Pic credit: Universal

In 1993, the same year that Steven Spielberg changed how CGI was used in movies with Jurassic Park, he also directed a very different film that ended up as his masterpiece.

Schindler’s List was a black and white historical movie about Oskar Schindler, the real-life hero who saved over a thousand Jews during World War II by hiding them in his factory and smuggling them out of the country.

The movie picked up 12 Oscar nominations and won seven of them. It picked up Spielberg the Best Director Oscar, while also winning Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Original Score.

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