The Dream Works: Our Top 5 Steven Spielberg Films

He started out making movies with his friends on his father’s super-8 camera when he was just a young kid from Ohio, and he would go on to make some of the greatest Hollywood films ever created. Steven Spielberg is arguably one of the most important filmmakers ever and his long and illustriuos career is packed with classics that have had an impact on all of our lives, in one way or another. As one of the pioneers of the New Hollywood movement that rose to prominence in the 1970’s, Spielberg is also credited with “inventing the blockbuster movie”. His ambitious and creative talents have enabled him to produce some of the most successful and prominent films of the last five decades and you would have to go a long way to find someone who hasn’t seen at least one of his movies.

Now approaching his 74th birthday and with over 50 credits as a director, Spielberg has understandably begun to slow his output down in recent years. He does however continue to release a wide variety of headlining work that all bear a quality that comes with the Spielberg name. A divisive filmmaker that some people have criticised for being too idealistic, his long list of achievements are rarely equalled and leave most modern directors standing in the dust. So, without further a do, here is our Top 5 Steven Spielberg Films in chronological order….

1. Duel (1971)

Spielberg’s feature debut Duel has a simple narrative which sees an average guy mercilessly hounded out on the open road by a relentless and mysterious truck. We never really see the truck driver, which only adds to the enigma as Dennis Weaver is pushed to the brink of insanity in this cult classic road movie. Catagorised as an action thriller, there is a sense of menace and an unsettling edge to this film, which uses the fear of the unknown as its greatest weapon. Fantastically shot with excellent pacing, this early effort solidified the young director as an up and coming talent at the dawn of the 70’s and remains very watchable and engrossing all these years later.

Spielberg poses for a picture next to a commemorative sign for his first feature film Duel.

Originally made for television, Duel was later given a theatrical release for which several new scenes were shot and added in. The model of truck was specifically chosen for its unique features such as a split windshield and round headlights, which Spielberg felt had face-like features and would give the mechanical beast more of an alarming personality. A brilliant example of building tension, this film reveals a plethora of calling cards that Spielberg would later put to even better use four years later in Jaws.

2. Jaws (1975)

There are similarities between Duel and 1975’s Jaws in that the main antoganist is a huge behemoth that cannot be reasoned with, is relentless in its pursuit and can only be defeated by being completely destroyed. Often singled out as the first ever summer blockbuster movie, Jaws undoubtedly stopped a whole generation of movie-goers from ever wanting to swim in the open sea again. The story sees the small beachside community of Amity Island preyed upon by a giant great white shark. After several people go missing, the town’s authorities hire a shark hunter to track down the beast and bring an end to the violent feeding frenzy. Starring Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss, Jaws is amongst the most well-known films ever produced.

Spielberg inspects the shark’s dental hygiene on the set of Jaws.

The shoot was plagued with bad luck and technical difficulties which made Spielberg question whether he would ever be able to make a film again. The production went over the shooting schedule and over budget and many of the studio heads wanted Spielberg replaced, thinking him responsible for the lack of progress and various on set problems that occured. Fortunately, Spielberg managed to finish the shoot and it went on to become the biggest grossing film of all time after it’s release, solidifying Spielberg’s reputation as the hottest ticket around and enabling him to go on to make some of the greatest films ever committed to celluloid. The score is also as iconic as any of the film’s imagery thanks to the artistic bond between Spielberg and composer John Williams.

3. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Intitally conceived by Spielberg’s close friend George Lucas as an answer to James Bond, the Indiana Jones franchise started out with Raiders of the Lost Ark. This homage to the early serials of the 1930’s placed Harrison Ford in the lead role as a Professor of Archeology who also moonlights as a treasure hunter. When government officials pay him a visit and hire him to track down the Ark of the Covenant before it falls into the wrong hands, Jones embarks on the adventure of a lifetime in the hope of securing the artifact before the evil nazis get their hands on it and abuse its mysterious powers.

Karen Allen and Spielberg share a laugh on the set of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

With some of the most memorable sction set-pieces ever dreamed up, Raiders is a perfectly paced film that increases the peril and suspense with each meticulously well-written chapter. The ensemble cast bring just the right amount of verisimilitude to sell this larger-than-life tale, with notable turns from Karen Allen as Indy’s partner and love-interest as well as Ronald Lacy as the deliciously evil Gestapo agent Toht (German for death!). Shot on location in North Africa and in Elstree Studios in London, this action adventure film is one of the finest examples in the genre and once again, contains a rousing and iconic score by John Williams.

4. The Color Purple (1985)

Based on the novel of the same name by author Alice Walker, The Color Purple marks Spielberg’s first venture into historical drama and one that showcased his abilities as a serious filmmaker. This heart-rending story follows a young black woman called Celie who lives a hard life in which she is abused and maniuplualted firstly by her father and later by her husband. Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey both shine in a stellar cast that help to create a completely magical and unforgettable film that is very near perfect.

Steven Spielberg and Whoopi Goldberg during the filming of The Colour Purple.

With Spielberg attached to the project, there was a greater potential to reach a much wider audience with this powerful film. It did really well at the box office considering the hard-hitting content, taking over $140 million world wide. Quincy Jones was asked to perform all the musical duties on this particular film, marking the first time Spielberg did not collaborate with John Williams. Doubtless this was the correct choice as Jones does an exquisite job in mirroring this uniquely African-American story. There are tears, laughter and plenty of tense drama in this often over-looked chapter in Spielberg’s back catalogue.

5. Schindler’s List (1993)

The story of business man and Nazi party member Oskar Schindler is now well known. Based on the book Schindler’s Ark by Thomas Kenealley, 1993’s Schindler’s List is a second world war drama that chronicles the experiences of Schindler and his Jewish factory workers during the dark years of Hitler’s fascist regime. Initially interested in making a huge profit from slave labour, Schindler eventually has a change of heart and spends his amassed fortune in order to save the lives of over 1000 of his workers. Beautifully shot in black and white, this is a film about hope and empathy in the very darkest of times. With excellent performances from Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley and Ralph Fiennes, Schindler’s List is one of the most important films ever produced.

Steven Spielberg with the cast on the set of Schindler's List (1993)
Spielberg takes a break with Ralph Fiennes and the cast of Schindler’s List.

Despite wide criticism from various quarters, the film was otherwise incredibly well received. It picked up seven Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director for Spielberg and Best Music for John Williams. Widely held up as one of the best films ever made, this brave production illustrates the very worst and the very best of humanity within its three and a quarter hour run time. A project that was very close to Spielberg’s heart, Schindler’s List will always remain the crowning jewell in this particular filmmakers canon.

There we have it, Our Top 5 Steven Spielberg films!

Think we’ve missed any out or not included your favourite Steven Spielberg movie? Then let us know in the comments below.

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Greg Fisher
Greg is a digital content creator, photographer, filmmaker and writer. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram @theflyingartist