Never has it been more difficult to select just six of a director’s films to form the ‘Unmissable Picks’ than it has with Steven Spielberg. Arguably, every film Spielberg has ever helmed is worthy of a place on the list, with notable omissions including The Colour Purple (1985), Catch Me If You Can (2002) and recent Best Picture nominee The Post (2017). For many, the director’s pictures are emblematic of their childhood and even his more mature outings have remained timeless classics that are unparalleled in terms of their technical quality and emotional brilliance. It’s this amalgamation that has made Steven Spielberg one of the very best film-makers not just of his generation, but of all time.
Spielberg was born in 1946, Ohio. At the age of 12, he made his first foray into filmmaking by creating a nine-minute 8mm film called The Last Gunfight that garnered him the photography merit badge as a Boy Scout. As Spielberg recounted many years later, “That was how it all started.” At only 16, he wrote and directed his first full-length independent feature called Firelight, a sci-fi that would later go on to inspire the film Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). After graduating from high school and moving to Los Angeles, Spielberg applied to the University of Southern California’s film school but was rejected because of his unimpressive grades. However, this setback didn’t scupper the budding director’s dreams and he was later offered an unpaid intern job with Universal Studios that would eventually become a seven-year directing contract. Studio producers grew increasingly more impresses with Spielberg’s work and they selected him to direct Jaws (1975), a thriller-horror based on the Peter Benchley novel of the same name.
The production of Jaws faced both literal and metaphorical choppy waters and it has become one of the most infamous of all time; the animatronic shark (named Bruce) was extremely temperamental, they went over budget and over schedule and Spielberg was nearly fired several times. To this day, the director posits that the making of Jaws is on of his most arduous creative endeavours, but the end result transformed him into a star. Fast forward 23 years and, even with an Academy Award for Best Director under his belt, Spielberg came up against another film that he considers to be one of the most challenging of his career – Saving Private Ryan (1998). The story about a group of U.S soldiers sent to bring home a paratrooper has rightfully become a war classic in large part due to is jaw-dropping opening 24 minutes depicting D-Day on Omaha Beach. Tom Hanks, who starred as Captain Miller, recalled to Empire Magazine, “It’s this gestalt wave of horrible, horrible human experience riding over you and by the time its over you have a degree of numbness that is, I think, the point of the movie.” Spielberg won his second Best Director gong for the film and sparked a long-time collaboration between the director and Hanks who would go on to star in Catch Me If You Can (2002), The Terminal (2004), Bridge of Spies (2015) and The Post (2017). Hanks has said, “Steven is just a magnificent collaborator for actors. He does not come on and tell you what to do.” It’s this implicit trust that he places in his actors that help to create some of the most magical movie moments ever captured.
Spielberg’s most recent film to hit theatres is Ready Player One (2018), “This was a film that for me fulfilled all of my fantasies of the places I go in my imagination when I get out of town.” Although Ready Player One sounds like it allowed the director to indulge in his deepest daydreams, it actually joined the likes of Jaws and Saving Private Ryan in terms of the level of difficulty and challenge as Spielberg worries about the audience investing in the characters amongst the extensive CGI, “I didn’t think the movie was going to work at all as a film unless the audience could bond with the avatars emotionally in the same way they bonded with the characters in the real world.” Manifesting emotion has never been an issue for Spielberg in the past and judging by the early reviews of Ready Player One, it should not be one of his continuing concerns.
• Jaws (1975)
• Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
• E.T the Extra Terrestrial (1982)
• Jurassic Park (1993)
• Schindler’s List (1993)
• Saving Private Ryan (1998)
By Evie Brudenall