When someone is asked to name a film director, the first name that comes to their mind is likely to be Steven Spielberg. His movies are what the big screen was made for – spectacle, adventure, iconography, excitement, lovable characters, and everything else that makes people go to the movies.
Spielberg doesn’t have a spotless track record: for every Jaws, there’s a Hook; for every Raiders of the Lost Ark, there’s a Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. But he has brought to life some of the most memorable characters in film history. Here's a run-down of some of them.
10 Captain Haddock (The Adventures of Tintin)
Steven Spielberg didn’t create Captain Haddock – he appeared in Hergé’s classic source material long before Spielberg’s 2011 adaptation The Adventures of Tintin – but the director did effectively bring the character to life on the big screen.
And the efforts of Andy Serkis can’t be discounted, because his expertise in the realm of motion-capture performance meant that he could depict Haddock’s body language and emphatic behavior in such a way that beautifully realized the Tintin comics in animated form. We’re still waiting on that long-gestating sequel. Hopefully, it won’t end up being one of those potential franchises that never took off.
9 Roy Neary (Close Encounters of the Third Kind)
According to Steven Spielberg, Richard Dreyfuss talked him into casting him in the lead role of Roy Neary in Close Encounters of the Third Kind while they were working on Jaws. Dreyfuss wanted that part, and it’s easy to see in his performance that he relished every opportunity presented by that character.
Everyone remembers the mashed potato mountain, but Dreyfuss plays everything about Roy’s psyche perfectly in the movie. The look of awe in his eyes in the movie’s final moments, as the alien ship lands and he realizes he was right all along and we’re not alone, is unforgettable. And then he gets taken up on the ship, providing the movie with a perfect ending.
8 Martin Brody (Jaws)
The intrepid hero at the center of Jaws makes the movie work, simply by being a regular guy. He has a wife and a son and he’s the police chief in a sleepy island town where there’s no crime, who suddenly finds himself going head-to-head with a 25-foot great white shark that likes to eat people.
Roy Scheider brings a relatable quality to the character of Brody that endears us to him. This is on prime display in the U.S.S. Indianapolis scene, in which Hooper and Quint are comparing gruesome wounds and Brody’s embarrassed that he only has a little scar on his torso.
7 Marion Ravenwood (Indiana Jones Franchise)
One of the main criticisms of Steven Spielberg’s films is a lack of strong female roles – or any female roles, sometimes. But Marion Ravenwood from the Indiana Jones franchise is an exception to this. On a few occasions in Raiders of the Lost Ark (we’ll discount Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, for obvious reasons), Marion finds herself in typical damsel-in-distress situations, but she’s always shown to be capable in her own right.
Indy might show up, but Marion can take care of herself. It’s unclear if she’ll return in the upcoming fifth Indiana Jones movie, but it’s a fair assumption, since she married him at the end of the fourth one.
6 Captain Miller (Saving Private Ryan)
Tom Hanks always does a fantastic job of playing the everyman that we can all relate to, but there’s an added poignancy to that quality with his role in Saving Private Ryan. The soldiers drafted to fight in World War II were all young, unprepared, and frightened.
Hanks’ Captain Miller is revealed in one crucial scene to be a teacher back home. He’s just an ordinary guy, like all those soldiers were. From the opening moments, in which we follow Miller through the horrors of the D-Day landings, we’re rooting for him, which makes his death at the end of the mission all the more tragic.
5 Ian Malcolm (Jurassic Park Franchise)
The role that solidified Jeff Goldblum as an icon of the silver screen, Ian Malcolm is the coolest character in the Jurassic Park universe – even factoring in Chris Pratt’s Owen Grady. Malcolm always has the perfect one-liner to punctuate any situation with some humor.
When he saw a lawyer run into a bathroom stall while being pursued by a T. Rex, he simply said, “When you gotta go, you gotta go.” But he’s not a total jerk. He’s shown to be a hero deep down when he uses a flare to distract the T. Rex. This moment was suggested by Goldblum himself, since he was unhappy with the original script, which had him simply running away scared.
4 Oskar Schindler (Schindler's List)
Okay, Oskar Schindler technically isn’t a Spielberg character, he’s a real-life guy. But he’s drawn with such complexity by Spielberg’s film Schindler’s List, and played with such sincerity by Liam Neeson, that he needs to be included on the list anyway.
Schindler isn’t blindly celebrated as a clear-cut hero, the way most biopics treat their subjects. At the end of the movie, he isn’t happy that he saved so many lives – he’s regretful that he wasn’t able to save more.
3 Rudolf Abel (Bridge of Spies)
If there’s one thing that sets Steven Spielberg’s historical movies apart from all the others, it’s that he humanizes both sides of any conflict. Saving Private Ryan, for instance, isn't a one-sided, biased movie. Glorification isn't the object here, and that's important.
The same goes for Bridge of Spies, which brings gravitas to both James Donovan, the lawyer who defended suspected Cold War spy Rudolf Abel, and Abel himself. Mark Rylance was duly awarded an Academy Award for his portrayal of Abel as a guy who just wanted to get home to his wife.
2 E.T. (E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial)
Most movies about aliens have the otherworldly creatures mercilessly killing humans or trying to take over Earth. So, it was a breath of fresh air when Steven Spielberg’s E.T. the Extra Terrestrial came along (so fresh, in fact, that it wasn’t long before it was the highest grossing movie of all time).
The titular alien looks nothing like any alien we’ve ever seen on-screen before, which helped to make him stand out and become instantly iconic. E.T. isn’t bent on world domination or slaughtering the human race – he just wants to get home, and he makes some friends along the way (and discovers how much he loves Reese’s Pieces).
1 Indiana Jones (Indiana Jones Franchise)
Indiana Jones isn’t just the most memorable character in Steven Spielberg’s filmography; he might just be the most memorable character in film history. Identified by the iconography of his bullwhip, fedora, and satchel, Indy is recognizable from his silhouette alone.
Spielberg set out to bring America’s answer to James Bond to the screen, and he succeeded admirably. Harrison Ford has said recently that no-one could play Indiana Jones except for him, and it’s hard to disagree with him. With his charm and wit, he has made that character all that he is – Ford is Indy and Indy is Ford.