Steven Spielberg is quite possibly the most famous director working today, and he has been since about the ‘70s or ‘80s. It’s pretty impressive, and it’s a feat that could only be accomplished by helming movies that are consistently brilliant, consistently groundbreaking, and consistently appealing.
It’s one thing to sell out and give the studios what they want, or focus on intimate projects that you’re personally passionate about, but it’s something else entirely to marry the two and build a career on pleasing studios and audiences on an almost non-stop basis. And therein lies the secret to Spielberg’s success. Here are Steven Spielberg’s 10 Best Movies, According To Rotten Tomatoes.
10 TIE: Bridge of Spies (91%)
Since the Cold War was not so much physically fought as it was a battle of wits, it doesn’t make particularly exciting fodder for war movies. But trust Steven Spielberg to take one story from the conflict and make it a cinematic study of the whole thing.
Mark Rylance is endlessly compelling as the softly spoken Soviet spy at the center of it all, while Tom Hanks plays a complex web of conflicting American values in the role of the spy’s government-appointed lawyer. They want Hanks to do the bare minimum and get him convicted, but he’s determined to give the accused spy a fair trial – and he becomes a pariah for it. It’s a powerful spy thriller with emotional and ethical gravitas.
9 TIE: Jurassic Park (91%)
With the 1993 box office smash Jurassic Park, Steven Spielberg didn’t just bring groundbreaking visual effects to the screen and change the way movies were made forever (although, let’s face it, that would’ve been plenty). He also told a brilliant, engaging, masterfully paced story filled with memorable characters and dialogue that still holds up to this day.
None of the four sequels that have followed Jurassic Park have even held a candle to the original – it struck the perfect balance between dinosaur action, character moments, world-building, and philosophical musings on man playing God that will likely never be topped, despite Universal’s persistent efforts.
8 TIE: Minority Report (91%)
Film adaptations of Philip K. Dick’s stories have led to both instant sci-fi classics, like Blade Runner and Total Recall, and instantly forgettable groaners, like The Adjustment Bureau and Paycheck. Fortunately, Minority Report is an example of the former.
It has both an intriguing premise – a futuristic police department that can predict crimes before they even take place – and a narrative hook to give it some focus: the department predicts that its chief will murder someone he doesn’t know within 36 hours. Tom Cruise is as riveting as ever in the lead role of John Anderton as he goes on the run and tries to figure out exactly why he would murder the mysterious Leo Crow.
7 Saving Private Ryan (93%)
Steven Spielberg’s depiction of the D-Day landings, which makes up the first half-hour or so of his World War II epic Saving Private Ryan, was so historically accurate and so visceral and so expertly crafted that it gave actual veterans who were there PTSD attacks.
Although the idea that U.S. forces would’ve risked the lives of a dozen men to save one is preposterous, the film is a staggering portrait of the Second World War from a ground-level perspective. Spielberg doesn’t blindly depict the Allies as the good guys and the Nazis as the bad guys – he shows both humanity and deplorability from both sides to give a rounded study of the conflict.
6 TIE: Catch Me If You Can (95%)
Spielberg’s biopic of con artist Frank Abagnale, Jr. is easily his funniest movie. After the failure of 1941, the director resolved to never make a comedy again, figuring it wasn’t in his wheelhouse, but this one is hilarious. Leonardo DiCaprio’s irresistible charm in the lead role helps to sell every con and get the audience to go along for the ride with him.
Catch Me If You Can avoids the problem faced by The Wolf of Wall Street in that it doesn’t celebrate the crimes of someone who scammed regular, working-class people out of their money – it celebrates the crimes of someone who scammed banks and airlines out of their money, and did so in masterful ways at that.
5 TIE: Close Encounters of the Third Kind (95%)
Spielberg has said that when he was trying to decide on the right angle for Close Encounters of the Third Kind, he cracked the script wide open when he figured out it should be a movie about a government conspiracy following an alien landing. As a result, he made the perfect science fiction film for the Watergate era.
For the first time ever, Americans were questioning their government, and then Spielberg swooped in with a mysterious movie about the government covering up the appearance of a UFO and trying to silence the guy who witnessed it. Despite this finger-on-the-pulse historical context, Close Encounters is a timeless movie.
4 TIE: Raiders of the Lost Ark (95%)
As the film that introduced audiences to Indiana Jones, Raiders of the Lost Ark is a landmark in the course of film history. It’s also an impeccably crafted film on its own, with an unforgettable musical score by John Williams and a distinctively structured screenplay featuring an unconventional seven acts.
Steven Spielberg and George Lucas set out to bring the thrill of 1930s adventure serials to modern audiences, and it’s fair to say that they succeeded. Three Indy sequels followed, and although they mostly remained true to the character and had plenty of terrific set pieces, none of them topped the breathtaking cinematic achievement of Raiders.
3 Schindler’s List (97%)
Steven Spielberg reportedly got so depressed while he was shooting his Holocaust drama Schindler’s List that he had to watch episodes of Seinfeld to cheer himself up every night. Schindler’s List is ranked by IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes, and pretty much every film critic as one of the greatest films ever made.
The hopefulness of Spielberg’s work can be seen even in his bleak, harrowing portrayal of the Holocaust. It was an atrocity marked by the deaths of millions of people and Spielberg made a movie about the Nazi Party member who used his power and wealth to liberate 1,200 of them – in other words, he made a movie about the human spirit.
2 TIE: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (98%)
Back in 1982, it came as a breath of fresh air when Spielberg made a movie about an alien that wasn’t bent on invading Earth or wiping out mankind. Rather than humans being afraid of E.T., E.T. was afraid of humans. His friends took off at the first sign of hostility from Earth’s inhabitants and left him behind, and he had to befriend a kid with his own flaws to overcome before he could get home.
In fact, the movie came as such a breath of fresh air to audiences that it became the highest grossing movie of all time. It’s a sweet, warm, lovable movie whose title character shares all those qualities.
1 TIE: Jaws (98%)
It’s no surprise that Jaws tops the list. It was Spielberg’s first big movie and remains his defining work. It takes a bold filmmaker – and one with a limited budget and technical problems – to make a movie about a shark where the shark only rears its head for a couple of key moments, but here, it works.
Jaws is a Hitchcockian thriller that toys around with the conventions of cinema to deliver what was effectively the world’s first summer blockbuster. Anchored by the ultimate everyman in the form of small-town cop Martin Brody, Jaws is a timeless classic that will forever be considered one of the greatest films ever made.