I have been an avid movie watcher all of my life. I still remember the first movie I saw in a theater – a reissue of John Sturges’ 1963 World War II POW action-adventure film The Great Escape – back in 1969. And over the past 52 years I have been exposed to some of the greatest filmmakers of all time, including Michael Curtiz, William Wyler, John Huston John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock, Sergio Leone, Stanley Kubrick. Richard Attenborough. Robert Mulligan, Brian De Palma, Martin Scorsese. Norman Jewison, Wolfgang Peterson, George Lucas, and Francis Ford Coppola.
If you were to look at my collection of Blu-rays and DVDs, you’ll probably notice that one director’s filmography towers over the rest based on the number of movies or TV miniseries (38) that he has either directed or executive produced. His name: Steven Allan Spielberg.
Per his biographical entry in Wikipedia, Spielberg “is an American film director, producer, and screenwriter. He began his career in the New Hollywood era, and is one of the most commercially successful directors in history. Spielberg is the recipient of various accolades, including two Academy Awards for Best Director, a Kennedy Center honor, and a Cecil B. DeMille Award.”
The first Steven Spielberg film I watched was Jaws, which I saw sometime in the late 1970s at a neighbor’s house when videocassette recorders (VCRs) were still expensive and relatively rare. Needless to say, I was impressed, but it would not be till Raiders of the Lost Ark premiered 40 years ago that I saw a movie directed by Spielberg in a theater.
After that first exposure to the adventures of Indiana Jones, I was definitely a devotee of Steven Spielberg’s movies. Part of the appeal is that he has an uncanny way of tapping into the American zeitgeist and making films that are not only technically well-made but also evoke feelings of awe, sentimentality, and, at least in his more serious pictures, a clear understanding of the weight of history on our present reality.
Like most artists. Spielberg draws upon his life’s experiences and incorporates them into his movies, which are often set in suburban, middle class America. In E.T.: The Extraterrestrial (1982), Spielberg’s memories about his parents’ divorce influenced his screen story about a nine-year-old boy and his two siblings as they cope with their parents’ recent divorce.
And in various films and miniseries set in the 1930s and ‘40s, including the first three Indiana Jones movies, Empire of the Sun, Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, and two HBO miniseries he co-produced with Tom Hanks (Band of Brothers and The Pacific), Spielberg reveals the admiration and gratitude he feels toward World War II vets. His father Arnold was a radio operator/gunner in B-25 bombers in the China-Burma-India (CBI) theater during the war, and young Steven was entranced by the stories his dad told him as a boy. Combined with the war movies – many of them which starred John Wayne – that Baby Boomers saw on TV regularly, Arnold Spielberg’s tales of his war experiences in the Army Air Force created what Spielberg has referred to in interviews as “an obsession with World War II.”
Including his theatrical debut with The Sugarland Express in 1974 and his upcoming remake of West Side Story, Spielberg has directed 32 feature films, covering almost every major Hollywood genre except a traditional Western. He has also produced or executive produced a plethora of films directed by a wide array of filmmakers, including Robert Zemeckis, Barry Levinson, Richard Benjamin, Joe Dante, James Mangold, Michael Apted, Gary David Goldberg, Matthew Robbins, and Akira Kurosawa.
To keep this Top 10 list manageable, I will only list feature films directed by Spielberg for theatrical release. (Sorry, Duel!) And since I’m burning daylight here, I’ll just get on to the list before I end up writing a research paper about my favorite filmmaker!
(Oh, and yes. These are ranked in order of preference!)
- Raiders of the Lost Ark
- Saving Private Ryan
- Close Encounters of the Third Kind
- Schindler’s List
- E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial
- The Post
- Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
- Jurassic Park
- Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom