Steven Spielberg is perhaps the most prolific director in Hollywood, and is credited for inventing the summer blockbuster with Jaws. His movies have made an indelible impact on many of us, ranging from touching true stories to exciting adventures. Sometimes his work is criticized for sentimentality, or for its mass appeal. But Spielberg is undoubtedly an extraordinary auteur with more classics than you can count on two hands. And in between those hits, you may be surprised at how many pies he dipped his finger in. Even when he doesn’t personally direct a movie, he knows how to pick a good one as a producer. Per IMDb, here are the best of those memorable films, spoilers included.
10 Gremlins - 7.3
This is a Christmas classic that doesn’t feel like one whatsoever. Spielberg is often drawn to stories of wacky adventures in suburbia. Gremlins is an exercise in outrageous excess. The scene about a dead father in a chimney is such a contrast to the silly showdown at the mall. Gizmo actually rides a skateboard. The blend of comedy and horror makes the Christmastime framework a curious decision. But somehow, it works. Gizmo is adorable, the special effects are convincing enough, and the movie leans into its cheesiness. The premise is intriguing and the horror is cartoonish enough to welcome younger audiences. It’s a whimsical, charming story, and there’s no other movie quite like it.
9 Poltergeist (1982) - 7.4
This is a horror movie for the uninitiated. The story definitely leans hard on the fantasy, with visions of killer trees and magical portals rather than genuine frights. However, even though Tobe Hooper directed the movie, Spielberg both produced and co-wrote the screenplay. Consequently, there are so many "Spielbergian" qualities, that many argued he was the actual director. The paranormal phenomenon isn’t treated quite the same way horror purists might prefer, but it still had some pretty memorable moments, and not just the white noise of the TV. The mountain of chairs was pretty startling. Still, dated effects make it somewhat frustrating to revisit. Particularly when ghost stories made even decades before were more terrifying. Poltergeist is one of those movies that’s essential viewing simply because of how iconic it is.
8 Memoirs of a Geisha - 7.4
Only a few years after Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Ziyi Zhang and Michelle Yeoh are reunited in Memoirs of a Geisha. Who could ask for more than that? However, there was some understandable controversy regarding the Chinese casting of characters who are meant to be of Japanese descent. Nonetheless, the story is brilliantly acted. Ken Watanabe turns in a reliable performance, as always. The movie may be a tad melodramatic, but it’s fitting, intentional, and executed well. The production design is very immersive. And to really give it that Spielberg feel, John Williams scored the movie. Aside from being a tidy adaptation of a terrific book, the World War II angle probably attracted Spielberg. He’s always been fascinated with that time period and setting.
7 Back to the Future Part III - 7.4
You should brace yourself for a lot of Robert Zemeckis. He and Spielberg had the biggest success, working together. The Back to the Future trilogy is a classic, and ironically of its time. The first movie alone would have done well to stand on its own. However, two sequels promptly followed, reworking the same formula as the original with varied success. This conclusion feels very fitting and surprisingly makes the most of its setting. “Mad Dog” may be Thomas Wilson’s best performance in the series. The romance between Doc and Clara is sweet and organic. The callbacks are playful and rewarding, and the ending feels very satisfying. The pieces all come together, as Marty’s arc ultimately saves him from the accident in Part II.
6 True Grit (2010) - 7.6
The Coen brothers are known for blending innovation with loving homage. They have a very distinct voice, and famously subvert expectations. It’s usually pretty difficult to predict where on Earth the story is going to end up. But the Coens had just made No Country For Old Men a couple years prior, so it’s curious that they decided to dip back into the Western genre with True Grit. It seems they got the same bug Tarantino did, since the Coens just made another Western last year with The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. Ultimately, this remake of a John Wayne movie has the same faults, starting off with a cheap hanging joke. But aside from the innate problems of the genre, the performances are addictive nonetheless, and the direction is impeccable.
5 Who Framed Roger Rabbit - 7.7
This movie is definitively of the 80s, and also pushed its rating to the brink. For all the cartoons in this story, there’s a lot of noir that isn’t kid-friendly. The effects are absolutely terrific, and it’s very creative with the premise. Movies like Space Jam, Enchanted and Pokémon Detective Pikachu directly owe their success to this one. Bob Hoskins is a perpetually likable character actor, and the voiced performances are equally talented. The comedy is sharp and witty, with charming slapstick and clever self-awareness. The mystery itself is also legitimately enthralling, and the twist ending is nightmare fuel.
4 The Goonies - 7.8
Richard Donner was always a skilled director, with an eye for iconic imagery. But he particularly knows how to shoot action. For example, Donner found great success by bringing Superman to life so effectively. Those disaster scenes and rescues still hold up to this day. And Lethal Weapon speaks for itself, memorable enough to warrant an attempted TV adaptation not long ago. In The Goonies, Donner uses the adventurous tone of Indiana Jones to capture childhood imagination. As a result, The Goonies is often bizarre, wondrous, and charming. There’s no mistaking Spielberg’s involvement in creating the story, in addition to producing. With dated effects and wacky villains, the film is probably fueled more by nostalgia at this point. But it’s still a must-watch, family-friendly classic that really understands the spirit of childhood.
3 Back to the Future Part II - 7.8
This was the first surprising follow-up to Back to the Future. The futuristic year that Marty traveled to has long since passed, and we’re still waiting on our hoverboards. The sequel aimed for more outrageous gags, and the plot feels less sturdy because it visits three different time periods. The silliest of which is the 2015 adventure. Michael J. Fox is a terrific actor, but playing his entire family is largely unsatisfying. It’s simply overmuch. And Elisabeth Shue...tries her best.
Where this movie really shines is in Biff’s alternate future. The premise of Biff’s mishandling with time travel is definitely fascinating. The comedy, adventure, and science-fiction are all effective enough to make this a worthy follow-up to a definitively superior original.
2 Letters from Iwo Jima - 7.9
There’s no denying Spielberg’s consistent interest in World War II. This penultimate selection was Clint Eastwood’s directorial follow-up to Flags of our Fathers, released just a year prior. The sequel is widely considered to be superior, taking the point of view of Japanese soldiers in World War II. It’s a more intimate, structured approach this time around. The preceding film was arguably pretty messy. To be fair, it was always a very ambitious endeavor to take on. But essentially, Letters From Iwo Jima is the war epic that Eastwood probably meant to make the first time. Thematically, it’s much clearer and richer, and offers a more unique backdrop.
1 Back to the Future - 8.5
There isn’t much left to be said about this classic, which has earned all the praise it's received. On IMDb, it’s in the top fifty movies of all time. It’s pretty much a perfect film, distinctly of its time. Those clothes—that music! But it remains timeless, because the whole movie goes out of its way to distinguish the 80s from the 50s. Structurally robust, this movie has incredible performances all around, keeping all the characters likable. The protagonist is relatable, with easily sympathetic and simple goals. Everyone has dealt with a bully, worried about their personal talents, and wanted more for their future. The story is endlessly creative, daring, and cares more about fun than verisimilitude. Exchanging realism for satisfying adventure is preferable any day, as long as the latter is well made. And it’s most assuredly some of the best you’ll ever find.