Top 15 Steven Spielberg Films Ranked


As a reward for reaching the end of my 500 Days Of Film Challenge, I treated myself and watched all of the films from my favourite director, Steven Spielberg. 


Born in 1946 in Cincinnati, Ohio, Spielberg's first full length feature was 1971's TV movie, Duel. Talk about hitting the ground running.


Spielberg hasn't stopped since. His career is littered with classic movies from Jaws to E.T., from Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan to The BFG.


Having watched his back catalogue, I started to wonder about my top ten favourite Spielberg movies. I wrestled with this list for days and days... until I finally gave in and created a top 15 list!


Top 15 Steven Spielberg Films

15. The Terminal - 2004

After arriving in New York's JFK airport, Viktor Navorski (Tom Hanks) finds himself caught up in a bureaucratic glitch that makes it impossible for him to return to his home country or enter the US. 


Stranded, he is told by airport security official, Frank Dixon (Stanley Tucci), that he must not leave the airport. Navorski takes him at his word - he lives, works and even finds romance (with Catherine Zeta-Jones' air hostess Amelia Warren) all within the confines of an airport lounge. 


Steven Spielberg's The Terminal is loosely based on the story of Merhan Nasseri who lived at Charles DeGaulle Airport from August 1988 to August 2006. Unlike Navorski, however, Nasseri did not find airport life quite so enriching.


I love The Terminal because of the collaboration between Spielberg and Tom Hanks. Hanks is superb in this movie and I always feel better after watching this film.

14. Duel - 1971

Spielberg often takes an ordinary man and places him in an extraordinary situation. Duel is the film where this trend started. Dennis Weaver plays businessman David Mann who, while driving cross-country, finds himself the unwitting target of a driver and his monstrous oil truck.


Spielberg had no interest in television when he first started directing. However, he soon realised the value of TV - particularly as a training ground for cinematic movies. 


After directing a number of television shows (including one for Columbo), he was offered the director's chair for Duel - a TV movie based on a story by writer, Richard Matheson. Spielberg describes this film as "a cat and mouse game of classic suspense".


It was Matheson's idea to keep the oil truck driver hidden (bar a hand or a boot) and this concept appealed to Spielberg. The fear of the unseen was, of course, to play a part in many future Spielberg classics.  

13. Minority Report - 2002

In the year 2054, John Anderton (Tom Cruise) is the head of a police unit specialising in 'pre-crime' - the arrest and conviction of murderers before they commit their crime. He is well respected in his field. However, one day, Anderton finds himself accused of a future murder. 


Minority Report is a tense film with a fascinating concept. Spielberg describes this movie as a "what if" story. What if we had the chance to see the future? And, if we are able to see the future, can we then change it? 


Science-fiction can often feel dated within only a few years. However, the tech on display in Minority Report still feels remarkably fresh in this gripping action movie.

12. The BFG - 2016

What better time for a Spielberg adaptation of The BFG than 100 years after the author, Roald Dahl's, birth?


Casting, of course, was a key component for the success of this film. Spielberg has been vocal about his admiration for BFG actor, Mark Rylance. In a BBC interview, the director called Rylance "one of the greatest actors I have ever experienced in my career".


For his part, Rylance has talked about how much he loved the script for The BFG (written by the late Melissa Mathison, who also wrote the script for E.T.) and that it made him cry.


This is a truly magical, technologically groundbreaking film that captures the wonder (but perhaps not all the darkness) of the classic novel.


Click here to read my full article about The BFG 

11. Lincoln - 2012

Daniel Day-Lewis gives a powerful, Oscar-winning performance in Spielberg's historical drama, Lincoln. However, he turned the director down when he was first offered this role.


Spielberg then had to embark upon a campaign in order to get Day-Lewis to accept. In an interview with Deadline Spielberg explains that he "couldn’t see Lincoln beyond what I knew Daniel would bring to it. Which was going to be an out-of-body experience that would put us in a real-time encounter with the man, his legacy, and that century."


However, the director doesn't view Lincoln as a bio-pic. He sees it as a portrait - an exploration of one point (the passing of the 13th Amendment to abolish slavery) in Lincoln's life. 


Lincoln is a tense and gripping film that features a host of superb performances.

10. Bridge Of Spies - 2016

As soon as Bridge Of Spies begins, you know that you are in safe and masterly hands. This entertaining and compelling film is set during the Cold War and follows American lawyer, James Donovan (Tom Hanks), as he defends captured Soviet spy, Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance).


Remarkably, Spielberg was just 13 years old when he got the idea for making Bridge Of Spies.


In an interview with Screen Daily, he reports that his father, engineer Arnold Spielberg, returned from Soviet Russia (where he had traveled as part of a foreign exchange) and told him about Francis Gary Powers, a US pilot with the CIA who was captured after his U-2 spy plane was shot down over Soviet airspace during a reconnaissance mission.


“I’ve never had anything to do with espionage, subterfuge or negotiation,” Spielberg explains in the interview. “This is my first negotiation movie because that’s what James Donovan did best. He was a very, very artful negotiator. I’ve never done anything like that before, so I was using muscles I didn’t even know I had.”


Click here for my full review of Bridge Of Spies

9. Catch Me If You Can - 2002

Catch Me If You Can is a fantastic thrill ride of a film, starring Leonardo DiCaprio as legendary fraudster Frank W. Abagnale Jr. Tom Hanks also stars as FBI agent, Carl Hanratty, who is tasked with the job of capturing Abagnale.


Spielberg was inspired to make this movie because he felt that the outrageous scams committed by Frank Abagnale were the most astonishing he had ever seen.


However, the director is no stranger to the odd scam himself.


In an interview with IGN, Spielberg talks about a scam he pulled when he was 15 or 16: "One day I decided to get on the Universal lot. I dressed up in a coat and tie. I actually had taken the tour the day before at Universal, and actually jumped off the tour bus.


"I spent the whole day on the lot... For three months, that whole summer vacation, I came on the lot every single day... Found an abandoned office, and put my name and the number of my office on this directory. Opened up the glass directory and stuck these stick-on letters on the directory. And basically went into business for myself. 


However, Spielberg admits that his scam "never amounted to anything. I learned a lot about editing and dubbing by watching all the professionals do it, but I never got a job out of my imposition." 

8. A.I. - Artificial Intelligence - 2001

Exploring the fine line between robots and humans, AI stars Haley Joel Osmet as David, a young robotic boy who has been programmed to feel human emotions, including love.


He is given to a couple who have had their own son cryogenically frozen until a cure is found for his terminal illness. However, David is viewed as an experiment and his experience of life is often heartbreaking as a result.  


AI is a brilliant and thought-provoking sci-fi movie. It was, of course, due to be directed by Stanley Kubrick. After his death, some Kubrick fans were nervous to see Spielberg take the reigns. 


However, the director was loyal to Kubrick's vision for the story and made a thought-provoking film with great heart.  

7. Saving Private Ryan - 1998

Saving Private Ryan is a stunning, shocking and heartbreaking film - often cited as

one of the most historically accurate depictions of World War 2.


In 1998, legendary film critic, Roger Ebert, interviewed Spielberg about his war movie. Ebert describes the director as "the most successful filmmaker of his generation, and perhaps of any generation. No one has made movies seen by more people, and yet at his best Spielberg is more than just popular; he has the spark of the artist."


On Saving Private Ryan, Ebert explains that the director "takes genre material and rotates it until it reveals its truthful, difficult side. Beneath the action and the wartime dialogue is an unblinking acceptance of the nature of war."


In the interview, Spielberg talks about Saving Private Ryan's famous beach landing scene: "It was a mentally demoralizing experience for us because we shot in continuity, from beginning to end. We were all reliving the story together... it's the accumulation of the sequence on Omaha Beach that's supposed to help the audience understand the physical experience of combat.


"I didn't want to do something I've done with many of my other movies - allowing the audience to be spectators. Here I wanted to bring the audience onto the stage with me and demand them to be participants with those kids who had never seen combat before in real life, and get to the top of Omaha Beach together."

6. Schindler's List - 1993

Winner of seven Oscars including Best Picture and Best Director, Schindler's List is the incredible true story of the enigmatic Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) who saved the lives of more than 1,100 Jews during the Holocaust. 


This is a stunning film - both visually and emotionally. Filming certainly took its toll on Spielberg, who has talked about his relief at having his family with him in Poland for support. 


Schindler's List is an important film and leaves a lasting legacy. After the film was made, Spielberg started the Shoah Foundation to raise awareness about the Holocost through the testimonies of the people that were interviewed as research for his film.


Spielberg's foundation has collated over 52,000 survivor testimonies, transcribed in 65 languages. As a result of this work, the director has called Schindler's List the most important film that he has ever made.    

5. Close Encounters Of The Third Kind - 1977

Cable worker, Roy Neary (a brilliant Richard Drefuss) witnesses, along with several other bystanders, UFOs soaring across the sky. Afterwards, a strange vision of a mountain-like formation starts to haunt and obsess him - much to the dismay of his family.


Meanwhile, international government agents (including the wonderful François Truffaut's Claude Lacombe) are investigating a series of bizarre events across the world. Are these signs of some form of extraterrestrial contact? 


One of the best science fiction movies of all time, Close Encounters feels as fresh now as it did back in 1977.  


Spielberg started working on this film before he made Jaws - influenced by the Watergate scandal and the idea of a potential UFO conspiracy. At the time, he was convinced that the world had been visited. As a result, he didn't see Close Encounters as being science-fiction, but science speculation.


When trying to get his film made, many people questioned the movie's title. What is a close encounter of the third kind? Spielberg explained that a close encounter of the first kind is a UFO sighting, a close encounter of the second kind is the discovery of physical evidence. A close encounter of the third kind, the most interesting kind of all, is contact.


Close Encounters is well known for its iconic music - involving five notes in particular.


Spielberg  thought that a combination of mathematics and music was the most likely form of communication between alien and human. Legendary composer, John Williams, then set to work to find the perfect arrangement of five notes.


Director and composer worked through around 100 five-note combinations - ultimately choosing the one that we are so familiar with today.  


Spielberg wasn't happy with the final cut of Close Encounters - he felt pressured into releasing the film before it was ready. As a result, a few years later, he remade the film. We now have three versions of Close Encounters with the addition of the brilliant director's cut.  

4. E.T. The Extraterrestrial - 1982

Inspired by his parent's divorce and the imaginary friends of his childhood, the concept of E.T. came into focus while Spielberg was making Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. What if one of those aliens stayed behind as an ambassador? 


As a result of this timing, Spielberg offered his movie idea to Columbia Studios (where he had made Close Encounters). However, the director was turned down (the studio didn't like his idea) and Columbia's loss became Universal's gain.


Then, while working with Harrison Ford on Raiders Of The Lost Ark, Spielberg asked Ford's wife, the late Melissa Mathison, if she would write the script for E.T. She also turned him down - until Ford persuaded her otherwise.


I have mixed feelings about E.T. I absolutely adore this film - it feels like a part of my childhood. However, I also hate the way it turns me into a complete emotional wreck. I blame John Williams... 

3. Jurassic Park - 1993

Steven Spielberg, a huge fan of visual effects creator Ray Harryhausen, had long wanted to make a dinosaur movie. However, he couldn't work out a realistic and plausible way to bring dinosaurs back onto the big screen.


The answer came via Michael Crichton's bestselling book - showing Spielberg, via credible science, a way to make dinosaurs allowable in a modern film. The rest, as they say, is history.  


Jurassic Park stunned audiences with its groundbreaking combination of live action and digital effects.


This film is a much beloved classic and I am so looking forward to seeing it on the big screen again, accompanied by a live orchestra, at London's Albert Hall in November. 

2. Raiders Of The Lost Ark - 1981

Raiders Of The Lost Ark is a wonderful movie - action packed, full of brilliant stunts, ever quotable lines (it's not the years honey, it's the mileage), classic music and truly iconic scenes. It still amazes me just how many wonderful cinematic moments take place within this one film.


Spielberg had always wanted to make a Saturday matinee movie - a cliff hanger film much like those he had watched in his youth. He was, therefore, delighted to bring George Lucas' story to life with Harrison Ford in the lead.


The stars certainly aligned for this film - it is a timeless classic. 

1. Jaws - 1975

"You yell barracuda and everybody says, huh, what? You yell shark and you've got a panic on your hands." - Mayor Larry Vaughn. 


Not only is Jaws my favourite Steven Spielberg movie, it is my favourite movie - of all time.


I love the horror and the suspense. For me this is a perfect movie. Perfect director, perfect cast, perfect script, perfect score. Most of all, I love the interaction between Brody (Roy Scheider), Hooper (Richard Drefuss) and Quint (Robert Shaw). This human story is the heart of Jaws. 


Based on the novel by Peter Benchley, making Jaws proved to be a real nightmare. Spielberg, only 26 years old at the time, had to contend with the sea-sickness of his cast and crew, high winds and a mechanical shark called Bruce (after Spielberg's lawyer) who just wouldn't play ball.


That last headache was the making of Jaws, of course. The fact that we don't actually see much of the shark makes this movie all the more effective - what you can't see is always far more frightening.


Meanwhile, John Williams worked his magic once again by coming up with a couple of superb, iconic notes. Indeed, Spielberg has said that, without Williams' score, his film would only have been half as successful.


Jaws is an incredible film from a truly incredible director - what better way to end my 500 Days Of Film Challenge.

What Is Your Favourite Steven Spielberg Film?

Having now watched all of Steven Spielberg's movies, I am struck by the director's 

remarkable career. He is responsible for so many timeless, important and iconic films. 


Excitingly, the future also looks bright - there are many more Spielberg movies in the pipeline. For example, next year sees the release of The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara starring Oscar Issac and Ready Player One is due in 2018.  Meanwhile, Spielberg is set to reunite with Indiana Jones for the fifth time in 2019.


I can't wait.


What do you think of this list? Do you agree or would you have different movies in a different order? (I did struggle... The Sugarland Express almost made the list and I have a soft spot for Always.) 


Whatever you think, let me know. You can leave me a comment in the box below!


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Jane Douglas-Jones
Jane Douglas-Jones



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