orn December 18, 1946, Steven Spielberg's rise from nobody to international blockbuster guru, or "How the Shark Didn't Work and I Made Billions," is one of great success stories of our time. Easily the most successful and influential filmmaker working today, Spielberg isn't just a director, he's a household name; a man who has transcended his films and reached an almost God-like status; a man whose films have inspired countless numbers from all walks of life across multiple generations.

It all started in 1975 with a little movie about a big shark called "Jaws," a film that rocketed Spielberg to fame. Sure, he made some films before this. There was "The Sugarland Express" with Goldie Hawn, which announced Spielberg as a capable director. And don't forget the oft talked about but rarely seen "Duel," a thriller about a psycho truck driver stalking an innocent commuter that many still consider to be the best made-for-television movie of all time. It was "Jaws," however, that solidified Spielberg as not only a capable filmmaker, but more importantly in terms of Hollywood, a box office commodity. People flocked in droves to get the shit scared out of themselves by a gigantic killer shark and the film went on to be one of the highest grossing movies of all time (it was the highest at the time). Spielberg could have easily shied away into obscurity or slipped into some kind of self-important hackdom, but the bastard went on to break his own box office records with the classics "Close Encounters of the Third Kind", "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial." 

Since then, Spielberg has gone on to mature as a filmmaker and thus has taken on more serious subject matter. This includes everything from slavery ("Amistad", "The Color Purple"), the holocaust ("Schindler's List"), World War II ("Empire of the Sun", "Saving Private Ryan"), to terrorism ("Munich"). Throughout, however, Spielberg has wisely stuck to his roots, making such crowd pleasers as "Jurassic Park," "Catch Me If You Can", "Minority Report" and "War of the Worlds." And if he wasn't directing he was producing other blockbusters like "Poltergeist," "The Goonies," "Arachnophobia" and "Back to the Future," to name just a few.

The road hasn't always been smooth for Spielberg, though. The man is human (we're pretty sure) and has thus had his share of flops. He tried to do comedy in the film "1941," starring a pre-Blues Brothers Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi. People didn't get it. In 1991 he directed "Hook," starring Robin Williams as a grown-up Peter Pan – a movie that screams of an apparent mid-life crisis on Spielberg's part. And who could forget the wrist-slitting love story "Always," with Richard Dreyfuss playing a ghost who witnesses his love being replaced by a much more alive man. But even these "failures" weren't universally hated. They had their audience, it just wasn't the one Spileberg had established for himself at that point in his career. And what's the point of making films if you aren't ready or willing to take risks every now and then?

What follows is a list of what we feel are Spielberg's five most accomplished films to date (no small task), and because no one is perfect (not even Spielberg), some of his missteps.

The Best of the Best

"Schindler's List"

Schindler's ListIn 1991 Steven Spielberg had made the worst movie of his career with the Peter Pan story "Hook." It was as if his mind was on more important matters. Of course in hindsight it's hardly a stretch to make that assumption when just two years later the director gave us his magnum opus with the crushingly heartfelt Holocaust story "Schindler's List," a film that many consider to be one of the best movies ever made about this dark hour in world history. The real strength of the film is the emotion it is able to invoke. At the end Spielberg shows us what one imperfect man with a conscience was able to accomplish—actual Schindler survivors and descendents placing rocks on the man's grave. There are no words but it speaks volumes.

"Raiders of the Lost Ark"

Before the god-awful "Tomb Raider" and "Mummy" films, there was "Raiders of the Lost Ark," a film that still stands as one of the best action/adventure films ever made. Created by the dream team of Steven Spielberg (director) and George Lucas (producer), "Raiders" is the litmus test against which all other films of this genre must be compared; and with the possible exception of the recent "Pirates of the Caribbean" films, nothing has even come close. It's a perfect blend of action, romance, comedy, and even science fiction. A lot is owed to the great script by Lawrence Kasdan, who incidentally also had a hand in writing the screenplay for "The Empire Strikes Back." He, along with Lucas and Spielberg, created a timeless character and put him in a timeless film; a film that continues to engage viewers to this day.


JawsDepending on whom you talk to, Spielberg's "Jaws" either saved the movies or destroyed them. Well, we say the more movies with New Englanders being eaten by a monstrous great white shark, the better. This action/thriller based on Peter Benchley's novel tells the simple story of giant shark terrorizing the sleepy New England resort town of Amity, and the three men charged with hunting it down and killing it. Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss play the trio with zeal and fill the movie with thrills and hilarity. According to Spielberg himself, the mechanical shark used in many of the scenes (named Bruce, after Spielberg's lawyer) didn't work properly and the director was forced to shoot less of it and in more creative ways. It may have been a gift from above as one of the reasons the movie is so effective is what we don't see lurking under the water. You will think twice about that midnight skinny dip after seeing this one.

"Close Encounters of the Third Kind"

Close Encounters of the Third KindSpielberg's follow-up to "Jaws" was the 1979 sci-fi classic "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," which still stands as one of the better sci-fi movies ever made. Richard Dreyfuss plays a man inexplicably drawn to the Wyoming desert after a series of UFO sightings. What this movie has, that many of the genre don't, is heart. Dreyfuss is great as usual and co-star Melinda Dillon, playing a mother whose son is abducted by the aliens, is wonderful. But what really makes the story work is not knowing whether the aliens have hostile intentions. All is revealed in a stupendous conclusion that will be permanently etched in your memory with groundbreaking special effects that still look better than some of the CGI used today.

"The Color Purple"

Based on Alice Walker's Pulitzer Prize winning novel, this 1985 drama is one of Spielberg's best. This sweeping epic spans 30 years in the life of a black woman named Celie, beginning with her as a 14-year-old impregnated by her father. The movie is a vivid depiction of the unimaginable hardships and cruelty endured by black women in the rural South at the beginning of the 20th century. "The Color Purple" features some classic performances. Whoopie Goldberg plays Celie with earnestness and tenderness. Danny Glover plays her bastard of a husband with chilling grace, and Oprah Winfrey (yes that Oprah) is fantastic as the hard-as-nails Sophia. For all the tragedy, however, by the end of this crier you'll be sobbing tears of joy.

The Worst


HookIs that Tootsie playing Captain Hook? You better believe it. Apparently not having done enough work in drag, Dustin Hoffman signed on to play the hooked pirate in this complete bastardization of J.M. Barrie's classic story "Peter Pan." This movie wasn't just a box office failure, however, it was atrocious filmmaking in nearly every respect. The basic premise is that Hook kidnaps the Neverland children and a grown-up Peter, played by Robin Williams (at the peak of his drug addiction), must return to capture them. It's hard to believe Spielberg directed a movie with such a horrible script, let alone one with so many bad performances. Julia Roberts as Tinkerbell? The horror. This bloated $80 million movie (a lot even by today's standards) shuns the basic charm and plot points of the source material, and probably only resulted in fueling Michael Jackson's pedophilia to dangerous new levels.


1941You have to admit, the premise sounds like a great idea. Days after Pearl Harbor, hysterical Los Angelinos fear they are next for attack and take measures to protect themselves from a Japanese submarine they are convinced is going to attack Hollywood. That's GOLD, I tell ya. As Borat would say, "Ehh…not so much." You see, Spielberg isn't funny. Sure, many of his movies have humor thanks to ingenious actors like Richard Dreyfuss or Harrison Ford, but the man himself doesn't really know comedy. I mean, the guy literally had two of the funniest comedians working at the time in Belushi and Aykroyd, and still managed to not make people laugh. That's difficult to do. Part of the problem is that Spielberg couldn't decide what he wanted this movie to be. It was equal parts slapstick comedy, love story, and war movie. Very few directors could pull that combination off successfully, and in the end, war just isn't funny.

What Were You Thinking?

"The Terminal"

The TerminalIf there's anything Spielberg does worse than comedy, it's romantic comedy. Ugh. This sappy drivel, loosely based on the true story of an immigrant (Tom Hanks) stranded in JFK airport and being forced to live there after his country has a coup, is nauseating. Hanks' performance (played with an inconsistent accent throughout) is relegated to every Eastern European stereotype you can think of. The dumpy Hanks' co-romantic lead is the gorgeous Catherine Zeta-Jones as a flight attendant and, surprise, the two have zero chemistry together. If that isn't bad enough, Spielberg has an additional romantic subplot involving airport employees that is somehow even more unbelievable and stomach turning. Although crafted with the eye of a seasoned director, "The Terminal" was ill-fitting of Spielberg's talents.

Memorable Quotes

Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Scientist: "Einstein was right!"
Team Leader: "Einstein was probably one of them!" 


"You're gonna need a bigger boat."

The Color Purple

"I loves Harpo, God knows I do. But I'll kill him dead 'fo I let him beat me."

Raiders of the Lost Ark

Indiana Jones: "Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes?"
Sallah: "Asps... very dangerous. You go first."

Schindler's List

"Stern, if this factory ever produces a shell that can actually be fired, I'll be very unhappy."

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Henry Jones: Junior.
Indiana Jones: I like Indiana
Henry Jones: We named the dog Indiana.
Marcus Brody: Can we go home now, please?
Sallah: The dog? You are named after the dog?
Indiana Jones: I've got a lot of fond memories of that dog.

Jurassic Park

Ian Malcolm: God creates dinosaurs. God destroys dinosaurs. God creates man. Man destroys God. Man creates dinosaurs...
Ellie Sattler: Dinosaurs eat man. Woman inherits the earth.

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