ScreenRant recently published Every Steven Spielberg Movie Ranked from Worst to Best and I have thoughts. In some places I definitely agree with their assessment. But in many places I do not. But since lists like this are subjective, that's only natural. If there's one thing I think we can all agree on it's that Spielberg is responsible for some truly great movies. He's got vision that propels stories to movie blockbusters and there's no denying his talent.
If Spielberg had only made the first ten films on my list, he'd be one of my favorite directors of all time. But it's the bottom ten than kinda sink him for me here. It has me wondering if Quentin Tarantino's plan to only direct ten feature films is a good idea. This focuses the director on making ten of the best films they could have possibly made instead of squandering their talents on a scattershot oeuvre that's uneven and mired by mediocre efforts. Heaven only knows how much better some of even Spielberg's best works could have been if he hadn't been distracted with some of these projects.
Food for thought.
My list is ordered "best to worst" instead of "worst to best" because I don't buy into the idea that there's any suspense to be found from saving the best for last. My favorite movies deserve to be first on a list! So here we go...
- Raiders Of The Lost Ark. I disagree with the ranking of much of ScreenRant's list... but have no argument whatsoever that Raiders deserves the top spot. I've seen this movie more times than I can count, and it still delivers each and every time. Sure, much of the credit goes to the inspired casting of Harrison Ford and his sublime performance, but I don't discount Steven Spielberg's contribution in just how brilliant it all turned out. Amazing set-pieces. Thrilling action. Humorous moments which accent but don't overwhelm. And let's not forget plenty of punching Nazis in the face as God intended. Everything good about movie-making can be found right here.
- Jurassic Park. Nothing quite prepared me for the dinosaur effects in this movie when I saw it in the theater very early in its run. So many awe-inspiring scenes handled so wonderfully. I would rather watch this again that revisit any of the sequels that followed. That pretty sums up my feelings on just how good Spielberg can be when he isn't mired in over-sentimentality and unnecessary drama.
- Jaws. This is a brilliant film that transcends the "special effects" possible at the time it was made. Now-a-days it would be remade with a CGI shark that would be over-used, killing the suspense and build-up that made the original such a fantastic popcorn cinema effort. In some ways, Spielberg's direction was all downhill from here, but that's not necessarily a slam on his talents. It's more blind-admiration that somebody managed something this good so early in their career.
- Schindler’s List. A punch in the gut that everybody should see. It paints a picture with such vivid relief that you simply cannot believe the inhumanity of it all... but then look at current events and see how history does indeed repeat itself.
- Minority Report. Sure there were some problems here... and plot holes you could drive a truck through, but I really, really enjoyed this sci-fi thriller. It's a fantastic near-future vision that is executed very well. Absolutely agree that this is one of Spielberg's best efforts and one of his most underrated.
- Saving Private Ryan. Sometimes the horrors of war have to be shown so people understand why it's to be avoided at all costs, and this movie takes an unflinching look at exactly that. The opening invasion scenes are hold-your-breath-edge-of-your-seat brilliant, then get tempered with hope and heart in a way that elevated above your average war flick. Performances were gut-wrenchingly amazing at every turn, and the fact that Spielberg managed to hold it all together is an amazing effort.
- Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade. This movie tried to fix all the things that went so wrong with the previous installment... and succeeded far more than it deserved to. Harrison Ford and Sean Connery were flawless in their roles, and I can't believe this smart, funny, high-action, escapist cinematic delight was allowed to devolve into the utter crap we got in the next movie in the franchise, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
- Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. I know. I know. This is a brilliant movie on every possible level and has performances which deliver in spades... but it's also kind of overwrought where it should be thrilling. There's no denying I love the movie... I've seen it multiple times... it just doesn't impact me like other films on this list do.
- Munich. This was a well-crafted film that held my attention from start to finish... something that Spielberg rarely accomplishes with me. The complex morals at play here add a depth that he doesn't reach too often, and the performance he got out of Eric Bana was sublime. This was a smart, taught film from a director at the top of his game.
- Catch Me If You Can. This is a fun film that didn't have much depth... but boy did it deliver in entertainment. Sure it goes over-the-top at times, but it's fantastically reserved for Spielberg, and the thrill of the chase drives the entire film forward with few stumbling blocks.
- Empire Of The Sun. While it gets so many things right... and it certainly feels ambitious... it also suffers from an uneven flow that disrupts the narrative far more often that it should have. Even so, I really like this film because it does what films are supposed to do... take you to another place. Yes, it's exhausting. Yes, sections of the movie seem to trivialize war. Yes, it's strange in not-so-great ways. But it's also really good movie fare.
- Duel I had no idea that this was a Steven Spielberg film until I saw it on the list! I mean, at some point I must have known... I've seen the movie at least twice... it just never registered to me. This is Spielberg's directorial debut and it's everything you could want. Suspense and thrills on overdrive, it's no wonder this lead to him getting to direct Jaws.
- Bridge Of Spies. Most of my enjoyment of this film can certainly be set on the Coen Brother's script... but there's something to be said for Tom Hanks' brilliant performance and Spielbergs cunning in letting the movie unfold as it needs to. Espionage thrillers are among my most favorite movie genre, and this is a darn good effort amongst a lot of truly great efforts.
- The Color Purple. The best thing I can say about this movie is that it made me want to read the original novel, which turned out to be more enjoyable and far more impactful to me. Even so, the actors were all fantastic. Whoopi Goldberg turned in the performance of a lifetime, and it's unreal that this is her first feature film role.
- Always. This film was dead-last in ScreenRant's list. They called it "cloying" and a "slog" which I find surprising. To me, it's exactly the opposite of that... a charming movie which takes its time to delivery a beautiful message about life. Audrey Hepburn was her brilliant self, and her final role in Always was a treat to behold.
- The Terminal. Second-to-last on ScreenRant's list, I couldn't disagree more that this movie "languishes" and that Tom Hanks is "too starry" for the role. It's actually a sweet story with great characters that doesn't go "full-on-Spielberg" and have over-the-top emoting with annoying kids injected for no reason.
- The Post. This was a good film that strives to show the merits of journalism in a time of "fake news," but it didn't necessarily translate into a good story. Ultimately I enjoyed the film very much, but it falls flat too often and takes way too long to truly get moving. For what it was about, I was expecting a more exciting film than what ended up on screen.
- E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. For whatever reason, I do not care for this movie at all. Yeah, yeah, it's an iconic film... but it suffers from cloying drama that is so blatantly manipulative as to be criminal. The best thing I can say about it is that I didn't hate the kids, as they were only mildly annoying instead of hugely annoying like what you usually get in movies like this. The John Williams score was also next-level amazing. What I did hate was the stupid 2002 revision that served no good purpose. Turning guns into walkie-talkies? Seriously?
- Lincoln. Eh. I mean, it was a good film with stunning visuals and an epic performance by Daniel Day-Lewis... and it was complex in a good way... but it still fell a little flat for me. The camera choices were distracting. The god-like take on Lincoln was trying. And the attempt at turning history into myth was amateurish. I just don't have the same reverence for Lincoln that so many people seem to.
- Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom. There's moments in this infamous sequel which make you wonder what could have happened if only somebody with actual storytelling ability were to take a run at the script. Instead you've got Kate Capshaw being made to say stupid things and screaming a lot... an annoying kid injected for no good reason who is responsible for such brilliant lines as "No time for love, Doctor Jones!"... and a borderline-racist and highly ignorant look at other cultures. Ouch. Even so, I think this movie gets a bit of a bad rap because, at its core, it's got Harrison Ford turning in a really good performance of Indiana Jones that you really can't fault.
- Amistad. While I appreciate Spielberg's effort to not gloss over slavery as a vehicle for some kind of idiotic white savior character, I still think that this movie didn't really do the real-life story much justice. It was just so... dull. A slog of a courtroom drama interrupted with moments of brilliance that are quickly buried. Even so, I'd recommend seeing it for the opening scenes alone... and a truly great performance by Djimon Hounsou.
- War Of The Worlds. While there were some really great moments here and the Spielbergian tension was among his best efforts, things just kinda fell apart in the third act. I 100% agree with ScreenRant that Spielberg having Tom Cruise's son end up alive didn't make sense and was a huge misstep that undercuts the narrative. I had exceedingly high expectations for this movie, but ultimately felt it would have ended up a better film if somebody else was at the helm.
- The Adventures Of Tintin. This is a really good story that somehow fell apart in the animation for me. It's uncanny valley times one hundred, and I was pulled out of the film more times than I can count because the character design was just so inexplicably horrific. If only this were traditionally-animated... or made live-action... or something to keep the viewer from having to look at these freaky-ass characters for the entire runtime, it would have been a far better movie.
- Sugarland Express. I was very late to this movie (seeing it in 2010, maybe?) and that's the problem. Despite some good performances and nice style choices, the movie just felt oddly displaced to me. Not necessarily dated, but not anchored enough in its time to feel real. Still... not a bad film by any means, and really good for a directorial debute.
- The BFG. The source material seemed like it was a good fit for a movie... but it didn't quite work out, despite a lot of effort put into the CGI animation to stay faithful to Roald Dahl's story. It just seems so pedestrian given the amazing visuals, and that's a real problem. It's just a slow, forgettable effort that I'll never watch again.
- A.I.: Artificial Intelligence. This was a wholly depressing story that had an inexplicably stupid ending-on-top-of-an-ending that sunk any emotional weight that had been building for the entire movie. Painfully manipulative at every turn, this is Spielberg at his worst. Stanley Kubrick's idea should have died with him, because I find it impossible to believe that this is what he would have given us.
- War Horse. I never saw the stage play or read the book... both of which I'm told are fantastic... but this was just plain bad from start to finish. I felt terrible for the poor horse, not because of the character in the story, but for being forced to appear in this movie to begin with. Spielberg's biggest fault is that he's so absurdly and obviously manipulative, but this a manipulative fiasco that takes it to an entirely new level.
- The Lost World: Jurassic Park. 100% agree with ScreenRant's assessment that this is just a retread of the original movie with better effects but worse story. I remember walking out of the theater wishing I could have those two hours back.
- 1941. A painfully unfunny "comedy" that squandered the talents of everybody involved.
- Hook. Total disaster of a movie which was poorly conceived and felt forced every step of the way. Heaven only knows what other movie we might have gotten from Robin Williams if he had taken a pass on this dud.
- Ready Player One. While I liked the book okay despite a lame plot and even more lame ending, the translation to screen was awful. Visuals were awful. Performances were awful. World-building was awful. Pile that one all the faults the novel had and you end up with a mess that's so unwatchable that I ended up fast-forwarding through many, many parts of it.
- Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Absolutely shitty fourth installment of one of the best characters in cinematic history. Doesn't help that I fucking detest Shia LaBeouf's "Mutt" character so badly that this alone destroyed any chance of this film having any redeeming qualities... Harrison Ford, Cate Blanchett, and Karen Allen aside. Nuking the fridge... fucking ALIENS... dumbass Mutt Williams... it all adds up to one of the worst movies I've ever seen.
See you in the movies, cinema fan.