Sharks. Dinosaurs. Aliens. Archaeologists. Jeff Goldblum.
One of cinema’s greatest talents, Steven Spielberg has both made us feel like kids again and terrified us with realism in his films. He helped usher in the summer blockbuster era beginning in the 1970s. He has given us iconic images and characters every decade he’s been making films since. I could spend hours talking about the influence of Spielberg on myself and other movie lovers.
It was a treat going through his entire filmography for this project, filling in the gaps of the pictures I somehow missed over the years and revisiting classics as well. Here is my opinion on how Spielberg’s films stack against each other. This does not include his early TV work or his segment in Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983), but rather just his 34 theatrical feature films.
34. 1941 (1979)
IMDB Plot: Hysterical Californians prepare for a Japanese invasion in the days after Pearl Harbor.
Cast: John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Treat Williams, Ned Beatty
Spielberg’s first big theatrical misstep and still his worst film, “1941” is a manic and broad comedy that takes place in California in the days following the attack on Pearl Harbor. It features a large and promising cast — John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Christopher Lee, John Candy, etc. — but they all feel like they’re playing caricatures in a plot that goes all over the place. There are some cool special effects, including great aerial sequences, and a dance-fight scene that’s fun. But for the most part “1941” is too unfocused and unfunny to leave much of an impression. Grade: C+ (5.5/10)
33. Hook (1991)
IMDB Plot: When Captain Hook kidnaps his children, an adult Peter Pan must return to Neverland and reclaim his youthful spirit in order to challenge his old enemy.
Cast: Robin Williams, Dustin Hoffman, Julia Roberts, Bob Hoskins, Maggie Smith
A rare Spielberg misfire, “Hook” is a bloated “Peter Pan” re-imagining with annoying child actors, syrupy sentiment, and fake-looking sets that make it hard to suspend disbelief. Even Spielberg himself has admitted to not liking the film. The opening set-up of the movie (before Neverland) is intriguing, and Robin Williams remains likable throughout, but running at 142 minutes the film far outstays its welcome. Grade: C+ (5.5/10)
32. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)
IMDB Plot: Famed archaeologist and adventurer Dr. Henry “Indiana” Jones, Jr. is called back into action when he becomes entangled in a Soviet plot to uncover the secret behind mysterious artifacts known as the Crystal Skulls.
Cast: Harrison Ford, Cate Blanchett, Shia LaBeouf, Karen Allen, Ray Winstone, John Hurt
Nuked fridges. CGI gophers. Shia LaBeouf swinging on vines with monkeys. Bland, exposition-heavy dialogue. More of a silly piece of science fiction than a historical adventure. There’s no denying “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” has a lot of issues. However, it also has Harrison Ford and John Hurt in fine form and a few really entertaining set pieces — including the college campus chase and the giant ant attack. It’s certainly the weakest of the “Indiana Jones” films, but I disagree with those who call it the worst Spielberg film. Grade: B- (6.3/10)
31. The Terminal (2004)
IMDB Plot: An eastern immigrant finds himself stranded in JFK airport, and must take up temporary residence there.
Cast: Tom Hanks, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Stanley Tucci, Diego Luna
“The Terminal” is a fluffy bit of entertainment with a likable cast, operating like Frank Capra-lite with its corniness. Spielberg is on cruise control here and Tom Hanks is sweet but ultimately miscast as an Eastern European man. It’s all pleasant and watchable, but there isn’t much weight or believability to the characters or situations. The bouncy “Viktor’s Tale” by John Williams is a wonderful tune though. Grade: B- (6.7/10)
30. War of the Worlds (2005)
IMDB Plot: As Earth is invaded by alien tripod fighting machines, one family fights for survival.
Cast: Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning, Tim Robbins, Justin Chatwin
Despite having expert camerawork and sound design, and a few dynamite set pieces, “War of the Worlds” is a pretty routine alien invasion film (but with a post-9/11 look). It lacks any sense of Spielberg’s unique qualities that he brought to his previous alien-based films and perhaps stays too faithful to its source material in some of its clunky visual designs. There are some terrific scenes of suspense sprinkled throughout, but the invasion isn’t too interesting and the weak ending deflates the experience. Grade: B (7/10)
29. Always (1989)
IMDB Plot: The spirit of a recently deceased expert pilot mentors a newer pilot while watching him fall in love with the girlfriend that he left behind.
Cast: Richard Dreyfuss, Holly Hunter, John Goodman, Brad Johnson, Audrey Hepburn
“Always” is a sweet-natured little film and a remake of “A Guy Named Joe” (1943), a film that Spielberg and Richard Dreyfuss love. The film has terrific aerial scenes involving firefighting and features solid work by Holly Hunter and John Goodman. Unfortunately, Spielberg’s sentimental touches are laid on too thick at times, and the rules of the “divine breath” of the afterlife are a muddle. It’s a pleasant yet forgettable effort in the director’s filmography. Grade: B (7/10)
28. The BFG (2016)
IMDB Plot: An orphan little girl befriends a benevolent giant who takes her to Giant Country, where they attempt to stop the man-eating giants that are invading the human world.
Cast: Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Penelope Wilton, Jemaine Clement
Spielberg returned to family films with the sweet and disarming “The BFG,” based on the Roald Dahl novel. Mark Rylance is perfect in the title role and young Ruby Barnhill is impressive as Sophie. The film is wonderfully colorful and features some magnificent motion capture work as well. Despite its ingredients though, it’s often missing the sense of awe and wonder found in the best Spielberg fantasies, making it an enjoyable yet somewhat underwhelming experience. Grade: B (7.2/10)
27. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
IMDB Plot: After arriving in India, Indiana Jones is asked by a desperate village to find a mystical stone. He agrees and stumbles upon a secret cult plotting a terrible plan in the catacombs of an ancient palace.
Cast: Harrison Ford, Kate Capshaw, Jonathan Ke Quan, Amrish Puri
“Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” which plays as a prequel to “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981), contains some spectacular production values; the opening action sequence in Shanghai and the climax on the bridge are especially thrilling. Unfortunately, the mid-section of the film is a gloomy and one-note, and the character of Willie (Kate Capshaw) is grating. Plus the story set-up feels contrived as Indy literally falls from a plane and then just happens upon a mystery in India; not to mention that it contains some cringe-worthy moments that inaccurately portray India’s culture. “Temple of Doom” provides a lot of colorful and fun moments, but Spielberg doesn’t bring quite the same focus to the story or characters this time around as he did with “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Grade: B (7.2/10)
26. The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)
IMDB Plot: A research team is sent to the Jurassic Park Site B island to study the dinosaurs there while another team approaches with another agenda.
Cast: Jeff Goldblum, Julianne Moore, Pete Postlethwaite, Arliss Howard, Vince Vaughn
Is “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” as good as the original? Not even close. But I still think it’s a better film than some people gave it credit for upon its release; it’s easily the best among the “Jurassic Park” sequels too. The effects are still astonishingly good and the action scenes — especially the hanging RV scene — are well executed. Jeff Goldblum taking the lead as Ian Malcolm was an inspired choice, and he’s surrounded by excellent actors in smaller roles (especially Pete Postlethwaite). There are some dumb moments (the gymnastics scene) here and there, but overall “The Lost World” is an exciting sequel. Also, the overhead shot of the raptors in the field is still one of my favorite moments in any Spielberg film. Grade: B+ (7.5/10)
25. War Horse (2011)
IMDB Plot: Young Albert enlists to serve in World War I after his beloved horse is sold to the cavalry. Albert’s hopeful journey takes him out of England and to the front lines as the war rages on.
Cast: Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson, Tom Hiddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch
A decidedly old-fashioned, feel-good epic, “War Horse” is one of Spielberg’s least subtle films. Jeremy Irvine’s performance is overdramatic, John Williams’ score swells too much, and some of the dialogue and situations are just plain schmaltzy. But it’s also one of the prettiest Spielberg films to look at, with Janusz Kaminski’s cinematography and the natural golden hour lighting reaching beautiful heights. The WWI scenes are quite intense as well despite the PG-13 rating, and one key scene involving barbed wire is great. Grade: B+ (7.7/10)
24. Duel (1971)
IMDB Plot: A business commuter is pursued and terrorized by the malevolent driver of a massive tractor-trailer.
Cast: Dennis Weaver, Jacqueline Scott, Eddie Firestone
“Duel” was Spielberg’s launching pad to bigger things; it started as a TV movie and then was expanded upon for the silver screen. The plotting and characterizations here are thin — as a salesman (Dennis Weaver) evades a dangerous semi-truck driver on lonely highways — but the staging and cutting of the chase scenes are thrilling. There are moments in here that predict Spielberg’s future genius, though some other moments (like Weaver’s narration) are more silly than tense. “Duel” is a solid genre film and an impressive debut. Grade: B+ (7.7/10)
23. The Sugarland Express (1974)
IMDB Plot: A woman attempts to reunite her family by helping her husband escape prison and together kidnapping their son. But things don’t go as planned when they are forced to take a police hostage on the road.
Cast: Goldie Hawn, William Atherton, Michael Sacks, Ben Johnson
After his slight success with the TV-movie-turned-theatrical-picture “Duel” (1971), Spielberg continued his move to the big screen with “The Sugarland Express.” Based on a crazy true story, the film follows a young couple (Goldie Hawn, William Atherton) as they kidnap a police officer (Michael Sacks) and make their way to get their child back from adoptive parents — with hundreds of cops following them throughout Texas. The film benefits from Hawn’s vibrant performance and Spielberg’s variety of staging methods, but it does feel like “Bonnie and Clyde” (1967)-lite and some of Spielberg’s handling of the satirical touches on America’s obsession with celebrity feels half-cooked. Grade: B+ (8/10)
22. The Adventures of Tintin (2011)
IMDB Plot: Intrepid reporter Tintin and Captain Haddock set off on a treasure hunt for a sunken ship commanded by Haddock’s ancestor.
Cast: Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig, Nick Frost, Simon Pegg
Spielberg’s first jump into animation, “The Adventures of Tintin” is a rollicking film in the “Indiana Jones” mode. The motion capture animation work is incredible and the old-fashioned adventure story (complete with swashbuckling) is perfectly fit for Spielberg’s storytelling methods. Andy Serkis is a highlight as the drunkard Captain Haddock, but it’s also fun to see Daniel Craig as the villain who looks like Spielberg himself. The film does lean on state-the-obvious dialogue in the first half and the second half gets too chaotic at times, but “The Adventures of Tintin” is mostly a terrific animated piece and a curio in Spielberg’s filmography. It would be fun to see him tackle animated features more often. Grade: B+ (8/10)
21. Ready Player One (2018)
IMDB Plot: When the creator of a virtual reality world called the OASIS dies, he releases a video in which he challenges all OASIS users to find his Easter Egg, which will give the finder his fortune.
Cast: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Simon Pegg, Mark Rylance
“Ready Player One” is a true love letter to nerdy pop culture, full of references that make it alternately entertaining and exhausting. It has visual dazzle to spare and moments of magic with staying power — including an homage to “The Shining” (1980) and a wonderful dance scene. Tye Sheridan and Olivia Cooke’s performances are also terrific. Unfortunately, it is hindered by stock villains, occasionally flat dialogue, and a bloated third act. Still, it’s a colorful and engaging film that proves Spielberg is still a visionary even in his older age. Grade: B+ (8/10)
20. The Color Purple (1985)
IMDB Plot: A black Southern woman struggles to find her identity after suffering abuse from her father and others over four decades.
Cast: Whoopi Goldberg, Danny Glover, Oprah Winfrey, Margaret Avery
Spielberg stepped away from his comfort zone and into “serious filmmaking” territory in adapting Alice Walker’s novel “The Color Purple.” The result is a sprawling film. The first half is often wildly uneven as it shifts between thematic elements of abuse, rape, etc. and more sentimental and slapstick-based moments. Spielberg finds his footing with the more dramatic second half though, and Whoopi Goldberg anchors it all with her star-making performance as Celie. The beautiful cinematography by Allen Daviau is a major plus as well. “The Color Purple” isn’t a home run, but many scenes hold up well and the film was important in announcing Spielberg was ready to take more risks in the dramatic territory. Grade: A- (8.3/10)
19. Amistad (1997)
IMDB Plot: In 1839, the revolt of Mende captives aboard a Spanish owned ship causes a major controversy in the United States when the ship is captured off the coast of Long Island. The courts must decide whether the Mende are slaves or legally free.
Cast: Djimon Hounsou, Matthew McConaughey, Anthony Hopkins, Morgan Freeman, Pete Postlethwaite
“Amistad” is a great story given an almost-great treatment by Spielberg. Anthony Hopkins’ subtle performance and Djimon Hounsou’s powerful one are the highlights of the film, along with some very intense moments showing the horrors of slave trading. The film has a few annoying historical inaccuracies, and it tries too hard to connect the story to the “impending Civil War” despite it taking place way before that. Morgan Freeman’s role also feels severely underwritten. Despite such flaws, “Amistad” has a number of gripping scenes, including a masterful one involving Hopkins’ character giving a speech. Grade: A- (8.3/10)
18. A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
IMDB Plot: A highly advanced robotic boy longs to become “real” so that he can regain the love of his human mother.
Cast: Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law, Frances O’Conner, William Hurt
Mesmerizing masterpiece? Mishandled muddle? A bit of both? “A.I. Artificial Intelligence” is one of the most curious and debated films in Spielberg’s filmography. Its moods and styles often shift unevenly, but it is also rich in ideas, has marvelous visual effects, and features an exceptional performance by Haley Joel Osment. Stanley Kubrick developed the film and then handed it to Spielberg before he died, yet the fingerprints of both filmmakers are felt on the project. This makes it both fascinating and frustrating as an end result, though I think its ambitious efforts outweigh its faults. Grade: A- (8.5/10)
17. The Post (2017)
IMDB Plot: A cover-up that spanned four U.S. Presidents pushed the country’s first female newspaper publisher and a hard-driving editor to join an unprecedented battle between the press and the government.
Cast: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Sarah Paulson, Bob Odenkirk, Tracy Letts
“The Post” is a timely press-versus-the-government thriller, and it draws comparisons to — and makes a good companion piece to — “All the President’s Men” (1976). You know you have a master at the helm when he manages to make people typing and looking through documents more nail-biting than some climactic action scenes done by other filmmakers. The acting is obviously going to be solid if you cast Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep in the leads, but it’s actually Bob Odenkirk who perhaps shines the most. The film gets bonus points — and laughs — for the cutaways to an angry Nixon. Grade: A- (8.8/10)
16. Minority Report (2002)
IMDB Plot: In a future where a special police unit is able to arrest murderers before they commit their crimes, an officer from that unit is himself accused of a future murder.
Cast: Tom Cruise, Colin Farrell, Samantha Morton, Max von Sydow, Neal McDonough
The first two-thirds of “Minority Report” are so suspenseful and masterfully handled that it’s a disappointment that the film lands into predictable territory in the last third. Still, the plot — based on a Phillip K. Dick short story — is full of riveting moments of intelligent sci-fi and breathless action. Better yet, the CGI effects blend seamlessly with the excellent set design and desaturated colors — and always aid the storytelling. Tom Cruise gives one of his most intense performances, and Spielberg presents a colder approach here than he usually does with sci-fi. Grade: A- (8.8/10)
15. West Side Story (2021)
IMDB Plot: An adaptation of the 1957 musical, West Side Story explores forbidden love and the rivalry between the Jets and the Sharks, two teenage street gangs of different ethnic backgrounds.
Cast: Rachel Zegler, Ansel Elgort, Ariana DeBose, Mike Faist, David Alvarez
It took a long time to happen, but Spielberg finally made a musical when he adapted “West Side Story.” While Ansel Elgort is a weak link in the cast as Tony and the Tony-Maria romance from the play is still underdeveloped, Spielberg’s adaptation is as good as, if not better than, the 1961 film by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins. The supporting players really shine throughout, with Mike Faist especially impressive as Riff. Janusz Kaminski’s vibrant cinematography perfectly matches the wonder and energy Spielberg cooks up with the cast. The “America” and “Gee, Officer Krupke” numbers are especially great in this version. Grade: A (9/10)
14. Bridge of Spies (2015)
IMDB Plot: During the Cold War, an American lawyer is recruited to defend an arrested Soviet spy in court, and then help the CIA facilitate an exchange of the spy for the Soviet captured American U2 spy plane pilot, Francis Gary Powers.
Cast: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Alan Alda, Austin Stowell, Jesse Plemons
“Bridge of Spies” is a low-key Cold War drama with emphasis on lengthy, well-written dialogue over action — though there is one intense plane crash scene. That’s perfectly fine with me since the actors delivering the dialogue include Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance (who won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his work in this) in top form. The period details are perfect but never in your face, and Spielberg and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski also make great use of blue color palettes and snowy environments here. It also has a unique feel music-wise, with Thomas Newman providing the score instead of John Williams for once. Grade: A (9/10)
13. Catch Me If You Can (2002)
IMDB Plot: The story of Frank Abagnale Jr., before his 19th birthday, successfully forged millions of dollars’ worth of checks while posing as a Pan Am pilot, a doctor, and legal prosecutor as a seasoned and dedicated FBI agent pursues him.
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Christopher Walken, Amy Adams, Martin Sheen
A Spielberg film that’s breezy, suave, and even sexy? Damn straight. “Catch Me if You Can” is a playful biographical crime pic with Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks at their most charming. The film’s story isn’t as big or important as some of Spielberg’s other historical undertakings, but the story is so fun and expertly told that it doesn’t matter. The snappy dialogue, jazzy John Williams score, and brisk pacing help keep it as exciting as Spielberg’s action films. The secret weapons: Christopher Walken and a young Amy Adams adding in scenes of tenderness as Abagnale’s dad and his girlfriend Brenda, respectively. Grade: A (9/10)
12. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
IMDB Plot: When Dr. Henry Jones, Sr. suddenly goes missing while pursuing the Holy Grail, eminent archaeologist Dr. Henry “Indiana” Jones, Jr. must follow in his father’s footsteps to stop the Nazis from getting their hands on the Holy Grail first.
Cast: Harrison Ford, Sean Connery, Alison Doody, River Phoenix
After the somewhat disappointing “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” (1984), Spielberg and company returned to fine form with the character in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” The film is packed with fun set pieces, gives more backstory to Indy, and adds Sean Connery to the mix. “The Last Crusade” is one of Spielberg’s most exciting and re-watchable works. Grade: A (9.2/10)
11. Empire of the Sun (1987)
IMDB Plot: A young English boy struggles to survive under Japanese occupation during World War II.
Cast: Christian Bale, John Malkovich, Miranda Richardson, Joe Pantoliano, Nigel Havers
A bit overlooked upon release, “Empire of the Sun” has started to gain more recognition over the years as more people discover it. And with good reason. It’s a stunningly photographed film detailing the loss of a spoiled boy’s innocence during wartime. Through the boy’s eyes, we see both the horrors and romanticism (the beautiful airplanes against sunsets) of war. Young Christian Bale is incredible, and John Williams’ choir-based tracks are haunting. The film is epic in a David Lean fashion, which isn’t too surprising given that Lean originally intended to direct the project. The third act does get a bit weird and tedious, but “Empire of the Sun” is still an amazing film that just gets better with repeat viewings. Grade: A (9.2/10)
10. Lincoln (2012)
IMDB Plot: As the War continues to rage, America’s president struggles with continuing carnage on the battlefield as he fights with many inside his own cabinet on the decision to emancipate the slaves.
Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn, Tommy Lee Jones, James Spader, Joseph Gordon-Levitt
“Lincoln” is perhaps the biggest “actors’ showcase” in Spielberg’s filmography. Daniel Day-Lewis is perfect in the title role (and won a Best Actor Oscar for this), and he’s surrounded by a who’s who of great supporting actors — including James Spader, John Hawkes, Tim Blake Nelson, and Jared Harris, just to name a handful. The dialogue is terrific and surprisingly witty in spots, delivered expertly by all involved. Spielberg’s approach to the historical material is focused and less sentimental than in his usual touch. Only the last ten minutes or so feel out of place, as there is an obvious moment before then where the film should have ended. Grade: A (9.2/10)
9. Munich (2005)
IMDB Plot: Based on the true story of the Black September aftermath, about the five men chosen to eliminate the ones responsible for that fateful day.
Cast: Eric Bana, Daniel Craig, Ciarán Hinds, Geoffrey Rush
“Munich” is one of the darkest and iciest films in Spielberg’s filmography. Its cloak-and-dagger plotting is tense, and the production design and camerawork (with artful zooms and pans) make it feel like a thriller made in the 70s. Spielberg reaches Hitchcock levels of suspense with the assassination scenes, especially with one involving a phone and a girl and another involving a bed and a lamp. He also expertly shows how such situations can make strong men question their morals and sanity. For those who want a top-notch historical film by Spielberg without his usual sentimental touches, I point to “Munich.” Grade: A (9.2/10)
8. The Fabelmans (2022)
IMDB Plot: Growing up in post-World War II era Arizona, young Sammy Fabelman aspires to become a filmmaker as he reaches adolescence, but soon discovers a shattering family secret and explores how the power of films can help him see the truth.
Cast: Gabriel LaBelle, Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, Seth Rogen, Judd Hirsch
“The Fabelmans” is a beautiful and moving semi-autobiography of Spielberg’s early life before he became a big director. The film details how Steven stand-in Sammy (an excellent Gabriel LaBelle) is affected by his hunger to create films, his parents’ heated relationship, and anti-Semitism from bullies at school. While Sammy’s sisters barely get any development, many of the other supporting characters shine and are played by ace cast members. “The Fabelmans” is often a warm and funny coming-of-age story, but it also isn’t afraid of showing the struggles of teenage years either. Grade: A (9.5/10)
7. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
IMDB Plot: After an accidental encounter with otherworldly vessels, an ordinary man follows a series of psychic clues to the first scheduled meeting between representatives of Earth and visitors from the cosmos.
Cast: Richard Dreyfuss, FrançoisTruffaut, Teri Garr, Melinda Dillon
“Close Encounters of the Third Kind” is a science fiction film full of awe and wonder. Richard Dreyfuss turns in one of his best performances, and Spielberg uses colorful lighting and music in certain ways that truly enhance the storytelling. Instead of showing the aliens a bunch, Spielberg instead intelligently focuses on the different emotional reactions humans take in the situation. The film is a tad slow in its mid-section, but the whole is a visual feast with a beating heart at its center. Grade: A (9.5/10)
6. Jurassic Park (1993)
IMDB Plot: During a preview tour, a theme park suffers a major power breakdown that allows its cloned dinosaur exhibits to run amok.
Cast: Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough, Bob Peck, Samuel L. Jackson
As a child of the 90s, “Jurassic Park” was practically part of my DNA as a kid. And the film still leaves me in awe as an adult today. The effects of the dinosaurs are absolutely incredible and still look better than many of the special effects used today. Spielberg created an endlessly entertaining theme park ride of a movie with “Jurassic Park,” which also contains one of John Williams’ most memorable scores and a perfect supporting character in Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum). “Hold on to your butts.” Grade: A+ (10/10)
5. E.T. the Extra Terrestrial (1982)
IMDB Plot: A troubled child summons the courage to help a friendly alien escape Earth and return to his homeworld.
Cast: Henry Thomas, Drew Barrymore, Dee Wallace, Peter Coyote, Robert MacNaughtoun
A warm, beautiful classic, Spielberg’s “E.T.” was the highest grossing film of the 1980s. And it’s easy to see why families flocked to it. The film captures childhood in a sweet but honest way like few other films have. The cast is wonderful (including an adorable Drew Barrymore), Spielberg’s direction is meticulous, and John Williams’ score makes the images soar. And who could ever forget the amazing title character or his relationship with Elliott (Henry Thomas)? Grade: A+ (10/10)
4. Jaws (1975)
IMDB Plot: A local sheriff, a marine biologist and an old seafarer team up to hunt down a great white shark wrecking havoc in a beach resort.
Cast: Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Shaw, Lorraine Gary
The film that created the template for summer blockbusters and launched Spielberg to the A-list director’s seat, “Jaws” is a thrilling natural horror film that still excites after multiple viewings. The main trio of actors — Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, and Robert Shaw — are outstanding and their characters are memorable, and John Williams’ score is iconic. Spielberg makes “Jaws” fun with his presentation of the action, but what makes it a classic is how he handles the development of the story and characters. Only quibble: Quint (played by Shaw) makes a couple of very dumb, out-of-character decisions near the end. Otherwise, this is perfect entertainment. Grade: A+ (10/10)
3. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
IMDB Plot: Archaeologist and adventurer Indiana Jones is hired by the U.S. government to find the Ark of the Covenant before the Nazis.
Cast: Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Paul Freeman, Ronald Lacey, John Rhys-Davies
The film that introduced the world to one of cinema’s most recognizable characters, Indiana Jones, “Raiders of the Lost Ark” is a rousing action-adventure film for the ages. Spielberg and team give us an exciting story backed by nail-biting action scenes from beginning to end, and Harrison Ford couldn’t be more perfect as Jones. A few of the special effects are dated and Marion (Karen Allen) becomes a damsel in distress a couple too many times, but the film has lost none of its charm. Grade: A+ (10/10)
2. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
IMDB Plot: Following the Normandy Landings, a group of U.S. soldiers go behind enemy lines to retrieve a paratrooper whose brothers have been killed in action.
Cast: Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, Tom Sizemore, Edward Burns, Barry Pepper, Jeremy Davies
Still the ultimate vision of war as hell on earth, “Saving Private Ryan” changed the cinematic landscape in how action directors approach scenes today. The opening D-Day scene is a punch to the gut, and what follows is a magnificent story of bravery and brotherhood. All of it shifts between terrifying, emotional, and breathtaking, with sprinkled moments of quiet reflection that stick just as well as the epic battle scenes. Spielberg has staged impressive action scenes in a number of his films, but none of them compare to the ones here. Grade: A+ (10/10)
1. Schindler’s List (1993)
IMDB Plot: In German-occupied Poland during World War II, Oskar Schindler gradually becomes concerned for his Jewish workforce after witnessing their persecution by the Nazi Germans.
Cast: Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Kingsley, Embeth Davidtz, Caroline Goodall
Spielberg’s greatest contribution to cinema, “Schindler’s List” is among the finest American films ever made. Its account of the Holocaust alternates between sad, terrifying, and even beautiful moments, with the production design and stark black and white photography giving it a docudrama feel throughout. The cast is also perfect, with Ralph Fiennes especially unforgettable as the terrifying Amon Goeth. Few films carry the weight that “Schindler’s List” does. It is Spielberg’s magnum opus. Grade: A+ (10/10)
I tend to bristle sometimes, when I see Spielberg rankings, but I enjoyed this list, even if I’d move a few things around.