Few filmmakers possess the name recognition to make mainstream moviegoers sit up and take notice whenever they take on a project, but without a doubt, Steven Spielberg is capable of doing just that. Fresh from the Oscar-winning drama Bridge of Spies, the iconic director is returning to genre fare with fantasy release The BFG — based on the Roald Dahl novel — this summer. To mark the occasion, we’re looking back at some of the most significant films of Spielberg’s career to date.
The original summer blockbuster, Jaws has inspired generations of moviegoers to fear the ocean in the decades since it hit theaters. The film melded big-screen popcorn entertainment with artistry so flawlessly that many filmmakers still name it as one of their biggest influences. Moreover, it helped launch Spielberg onto the A-list, setting the stage for countless landmark films to follow and heralding a new age for major studio releases. Let’s just pretend the terrible sequels never happened, shall we?
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
The depressingly bad fourth film aside, Indiana Jones stands as one of the most popular heroes to ever grace the silver screen, and in his debut adventure, the character faces off against Nazis on a quest to locate the biblical Ark of the Covenant. Raiders of the Lost Ark sees Spielberg and George Lucas aiming to recapture the grand-scale adventure that filled the pulp serials they grew up and introduce that light-hearted tone to modern audiences. The move worked gangbusters, becoming one of the most beloved films of all time and cementing Harrison Ford’s status as a cinematic icon in his own right.
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
At face value, Spielberg’s tale of a young boy and an alien lost on a distant planet may be one of the most sentimental films he’s ever made. However, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is much more than that. The sci-fi family adventure — which notably launched the career of a very young Drew Barrymore — has tons of heart, but it also helped establish the very specific tone of Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment, the production house that subsequently released classics like Gremlins, The Goonies, Back to the Future and Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
Jurassic Park (1993)
Last year’s Jurassic World may have resurrected the long-dormant franchise that Spielberg started with this classic tale of science run amok. Still, the original remains the best of the series to date, as it presents its own distinctive take on the classic sci-fi trope of man’s self-destructive ambition. Nearly two decades after inventing the summer blockbuster with Jaws, Spielberg reinvigorated the concept with Jurassic Park, igniting an obsession with dinosaurs that has endured ever since. The director returned for the less satisfying sequel The Lost World: Jurassic Park four years later, his first and (so far) only sequel not featuring Indiana Jones.
Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Although Schindler’s List earned Spielberg his first Best Director Oscar, we’re going with his subsequent World War II drama for this list. The film not only marked the beginning of the director’s long-standing partnership with star Tom Hanks, but its Best Picture loss to Shakespeare in Love is still just as infamous nearly 20 years later. Saving Private Ryan brings a viscerally realistic and deeply moving depiction of war to life, with its opening battle among the most stunning sequences ever put to film.
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