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Top 10 Steven Spielberg Films

November 23, 2022
Hunter Friesen
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Like The Mad Titan Thanos, Steven Spielberg has seemingly made it his mission to collect the stones of nearly every genre known to cinema. Throughout his nearly fifty-year feature film career, he’s already conquered monster movies (Jaws), science-fiction (E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial), adventure (Indiana Jones), war (Saving Private Ryan), musical (West Side Story), and biopics (Schindler’s List & Lincoln). He’s also been dubbed The King of Entertainment and remains the highest-grossing director of all time with a cumulative global box office gross of $10.62 billion. In honor of the nationwide release of his newest film, The Fabelmans, here’s a look at my ten favorite Spielberg films, all of which hold a special place in my heart and mind.

10. Raiders of the Lost Ark

Honestly, I'm pretty sure this movie was just a series of bets between Spielberg and George Lucas to see if they could film a certain set piece, and I don't think they lost a single one. Taking inspiration from the Saturday morning matinees of his youth, Spielberg captures the youthful spirit of adventure and danger through ingenious practical action sequences that still tower over anything crafted today.

Ranked #2 behind Atticus Finch in the AFI’s list of Top 100 Heroes, Harrison Ford’s Indiana Jones is a modern-day swashbuckling pirate who finds himself in over his head but is just iron-willed enough to live for another adventure.

9. The Fabelmans

The Fabelmans is a collection of Spielberg's greatest hits, all delivered to their greatest effect Just as he’s done with nearly every genre, Spielberg conquers the recent trend of directors making autobiographies and how they fell in love with cinema. There’s laughter, tears, and wonder as Spielberg recounts his early days growing up in Arizona with his artistic mother and scientific father. Newcomer Gabriel LaBelle acts as the Spielberg stand-in, with his great performance likely being the first of many. Full Review

8. West Side Story

Spielberg emerged as the predictable winner of The Great Musical War of 2021. Perfectly melding the work of Bernstein and Sondheim with the newfound talents of DeBose, Faist, and Zegler, the new West Side Story makes the case for why some remakes should be allowed to happen. Because sometimes, they can meet or surpass the original, such as how this one does by bringing classic cinema into the modern world. Full Review

7. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

A sequel ranked over the original? Blasphemy! There is one clear reason why I am ranking The Last Crusade over Raiders of the Lost Ark (and obviously above Temple of Doom): Sean Connery. The addition of the original James Bond provides a nice familial fold against the usual ruggedness of the Indiana Jones character. We only hear the voice of the old man in the film’s magnificent opening sequence, just enough to get us excited for his later introduction.

The film also gets the slight edge because of its ability to scare the hell out of me as a child, with the “He chose…poorly” scene having a rent-free space in my head for eternity.

6. Catch Me If You Can

As the latter in a double-bill with Minority Report in 2002, Spielberg’s caper is an infectiously entertaining time that sneakily lays claim as one of the best Christmas movies. A central theme throughout Spielberg’s filmography is the strained relationship between fathers and sons, and no film has that more in the foreground than Catch Me If You Can. Christopher Walken’s Oscar-nominated performance is one of the finest Spielberg ever directed, with DiCaprio providing the necessary emotional arc of a kid finding his way in the world. It also helps to have a top-notch Tom Hanks, complete with the best knock-knock joke known to man.

5. The Post

Effortlessly entertaining and ever-timely, The Post is another showcase on each level of directing, writing, and acting. At the helm of this self-important tale is Spielberg with his endlessly maneuvering handheld camera. Like his nimble work at the beginning of Saving Private Ryan, Spielberg careens around corners and peers into meetings, placing us as a fly on the wall within The Washington Post. 

It may be the best of the partnership of Spielberg-Hanks-Kaminski-Williams-Kahn. It's perfect as a history lesson and a modern-day allegory, invigorating the message that democracy dies in darkness.

4. Saving Private Ryan

The firm ideals of bravery and good ol' American patriotism are not traditionally found within Saving Private Ryan. Instead, Steven Spielberg, along with screenwriter Robert Rodat, offers something not usually found within a war film: humanity. While still an action film at its heart, the mind of the film is centered on philosophy, as opposed to pure entertainment. The titular mission of extracting Pvt. James Ryan isn't an honorable one. It doesn't take a genius to see the flawed math of risking the lives of eight men to save one. Spielberg and Rodat don't dance around that thought, and also find time to analyze the themes of doing your duty and the futility of war. 

Within the film, there are no individual heroes, only real men fighting to keep themselves alive for just another moment. The opening set piece is one of the greatest ever produced, with chaotic camerawork, editing, and sound design. It's no wonder no film has attempted to portray D-day since, as Spielberg has set the bar at an unassailable height.

3. Schindler's List

Like The Father and Requiem for a Dream, Spielberg’s often regarded magnum opus is a film that will only ever want to watch once. Its morally serious story of the Holocaust is one of the most upsetting cinematic experiences ever created. But it is so incredibly well done and engrossing that it demands to be seen. And with the seemingly recent rapid rise of antisemitism, it now demands to be reseen by all. 

2. Lincoln

Just as Martin Scorsese did with Casino, Lincoln is part biopic, part history lesson on what it takes to pass anything in Congress, especially one of the most important amendments in our nation's history. Screenwriter Tony Kushner pushes past our preconceptions of the nobility that is involved in lawmaking.

DP Janusz Kaminski and Production Designer Rick Carter take that rat's nest saying and apply it to their visual style. Instead of grand marble and strong architecture, the White House and House of Representatives are dingy, dimly lit, and a mute brown swamp full of colorful characters.

At the top of the pedestal is Daniel Day-Lewis's performance. Day-Lewis doesn't play Abraham Lincoln, he is Abraham Lincoln. Even for one of the most recognizable actors in cinema, it's nearly impossible to see Day-Lewis in the role. There isn't a moment that you're not in complete awe of what you're seeing on the screen.

1. Munich

Dare I say that this is Spielberg's best movie? Yes, I shall dare. For 165 minutes, Spielberg has both our hearts and minds engulfed in this story of vengeance. Or is it justice? The thrills come from the multiple assassinations as Spielberg and co. show off their master craftsmanship. 

Even though it's a thriller at its core, Munich carries much more than just bullets and bombs. The script by Kushner and Roth is filled with moral ambiguity and ethical conundrums that can be savored for the entire runtime, and then some.

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