As a child, Cecil B. DeMille's production of The Greatest Show on Earth was the first movie Steven Spielberg ever saw, marking the beginning of his love affair with the world of film. Spielberg began making home movies at an early age, and, at 14, he won an award for a 40-minute war movie he called Escape to Nowhere. Spielberg attended Long Beach University, but dropped out to pursue his dream of a career in film. Television assignments followed, but it wasn't until 1971 with his direction of a Richard Matheson television adaptation called Duel that Spielberg's burgeoning reputation as a superb filmmaker was cemented.
In this article you will learn about several classic blockbusters directed by Spielberg, most of which you're likely to have in your own collection of favorites.
Sugarland Express (1974)
Sugarland Express marked the big-screen directorial debut of Steven Spielberg. Starring Goldie Hawn, Ben Johnson, and William Atherton, this movie, based on a true story, revolves around a young woman who helps her husband escape from prison so they can kidnap their child who's been placed in foster care. Along the way, they take a policeman hostage, and the movie becomes a madcap escape caper. The film grossed more than $12 million and won Best Screenplay at the Cannes Film Festival. Incidentally, Sugarland Express was the first movie to feature a 360-degree pan with dialogue from within a car by utilizing a tracking shot from the front seat to the back.
Based on the Peter Benchley novel, this horror film was released just in time for beach season. The villain was a carnivorous and very homicidal great white shark that attacked people in a quiet coastal town. But the film, which Spielberg calls the most difficult he's made, often played on the power of suggestion, proving that what the mind conjures in the imagination can sometimes be more powerful than an actual image. Jaws made the most of that, earning more than $260 million in the United States and setting a record at the time for box office gross. The film also won Oscars for editing, sound, and original score.
Steven Spielberg was only just cutting his teeth on Jaws. Keep reading to find out other classic hits Spielberg had waiting up his sleeve.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
This unique UFO story tells the tale of an electrician (Richard Dreyfuss) who is drawn to an isolated area in the wilderness where an alien spaceship has landed. It is not a terror-filled tale of alien conflict or hostility, and therein lies its remarkable difference from other films of this ilk. Instead, it is a compelling story of contact and communication, foreshadowing the power of E.T. a few years later. The special effects were dazzling, and the movie gleaned many Oscar nods, including a win for Best Cinematography.
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Steven Spielberg struck pure gold in 1981 with the release of this movie, which was written by George Lucas and Philip Kaufman. Set in the 1930s, the film stars Harrison Ford as archaeologist and adventurer Indiana Jones and follows his breathtaking journey in search of the Ark of the Covenant, which is said to hold the Ten Commandments. He must find it before the Nazis do, because, according to the story, Hitler has plans to use the Ark as a weapon. The film received glowing reviews and grossed more than $242 million.
E.T. (The Extra Terrestrial) (1982)
If Steven Spielberg struck gold with Raiders of the Lost Ark, he struck platinum with E.T. A classic film that appeals to all age groups, the story centers around a cute but very odd alien who gets marooned on Earth. He chances upon a boy named Elliot (Henry Thomas), and the two form a powerful bond. The film captivates and enthralls with its message of friendship, love, and generosity. E.T. was critically acclaimed and became one of the biggest money-makers in box office history, grossing more than $435 million in the United States alone, followed by a marketing frenzy that ensued from the sale of E.T. memorabilia.
The Color Purple (1985)
Based on Alice Walker's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, this 1985 production chronicles the life of a young African-American woman named Celie (Whoopi Goldberg), who lives in the South at the turn of the 20th century. She is a poor mother of two with an abusive husband (Danny Glover) whom she fears so greatly that she calls him "Mister." Often criticized as being compelling but
too careful and slick, The Color Purple still grossed more than $98 million at the box office and was nominated for 11 Oscars, although it did not win any.
Steven Spielberg's knack for magical whimsy and lively special effects -- as well as a growing interest in more sober topics -- continues on the next page.
This adaptation of J. M. Barrie's classic story is a film of élan and rambunctious spirit, but it is also a bit messy and undisciplined. According to the story line, an adult Peter Pan(Robin Williams) must regain his youthful spirit and confront his old enemy Captain Hook (Dustin Hoffman), who has kidnapped Peter's children. Julia Roberts as Tinkerbell accompanies Peter on his return to Neverland and helps him become "Peter Pan" again. Although Steven Spielberg himself admitted that he was disappointed with the final version of the movie, it still grossed more than $119 million and garnered five Oscar nominations.
Jurassic Park (1993)
Written by Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park -- the book and subsequent movie -- generated so much interest in dinosaurs that the study of paleontology increased dramatically and has been at an all-time high ever since. The setting is a remote island where a wealthy businessman has secretly created a theme park featuring live dinosaurs cloned from prehistoric DNA found encased in amber. As preposterous as this may sound, it works, and there is genuine suspense, especially when the prehistoric creatures break free. The special effects are dazzling and eye-popping, earning the film three Oscars -- Best Effects (Sound Effects), Best Effects (Visual), and Best Sound. Jurassic Park held the box office record gross of $357,067,947 before it was beaten by Titanic in 1997.
Schindler's List (1993)
This masterpiece, based on the true horrors of the Holocaust, is quite possibly Steven Spielberg's finest achievement. The plot concerns a greedy Czech-born businessman, Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson), who is determined to make his fortune in Nazi Germany by exploiting cheap Jewish labor. Despite his fervent affiliation with the Third Reich, Schindler turns his factory into a refuge for Jews -- working in a factory guaranteed longer life to those slated for extermination in the barbaric concentration camps. Although Schindler ended up penniless, he single-handedly saved about 1,100 Jews from certain death. Schindler's List won seven Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director, and the film grossed more than $321 million worldwide.
This film relates the true story of mutiny aboard the slave ship Amistad, which was destined for America in 1839. The slaves revolted, murdered the crew, and remained adrift for weeks. After discovery by some American marine officers, the slaves were tried for murder. A few noble people stood to defend them -- no matter what the cost -- to end the dehumanizing institution of slavery in the New World. Those few are the strength of Amistad, which means "friendship" in Spanish. Starring Morgan Freeman, Anthony Hopkins, Nigel Hawthorne, and newcomer Djimon Hounsou, Amistad was nominated for four Academy Awards and grossed more than $44 million.
Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Based on a true story, this war drama centers around a group of U.S. soldiers trying to rescue paratrooper Ryan, a comrade who is stationed behind enemy lines during World War II. Steven Spielberg's camera is graphic and wild, deliberately evoking the reality of war. The opening scene is mayhem and chaos mingled with blood, vomit, and tears. In one memorable moment a soldier has his arm blown off, then he bends over and picks it up as if it were a fallen handkerchief. Starring Tom Hanks and Matt Damon, the film grossed more than $481 million worldwide, raking in $30 million in its opening weekend. Saving Private Ryan also took home five Oscars, including Best Director and Best Cinematography.
Catch Me If You Can (2002)
Based on a true story, this movie stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Frank Abagnale, Jr., a con artist who, in the 1960s, passed more than $2.5 million in fake checks in 26 countries and also posed as a pilot, pediatrician, and attorney, all by age 21. Tom Hanks plays FBI agent Carl Hanratty, who pursued Abagnale for years. The film earned two Oscar nods and grossed more than $164 million at the box office. Incidentally, Abagnale is now a multimillionaire who advises businesses on fraud detection and prevention
War of the Worlds (2005)
Based on the original story by H. G. Wells, War of the Worlds depicts the frenzy that ensues when aliens invade Earth. The 2005 production is a remake of the 1953 sci-fi thriller of the same name. Two members of the original cast, Gene Barry and Ann Robinson, have cameos in this new production, which also stars Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning, and Tim Robbins. Although not well received by critics, the film was nominated for three Academy Awards and grossed more than $591 million worldwide.
Nominated for five Oscars, including Best Picture, this film, based on a book by George Jonas, is one of courage and conscience. It relates the true story of 11 Israeli athletes who were murdered during the 1972 Olympics by the Palestinian terrorist group Black September, and the retaliation that followed. One of the actors, Guri Weinberg, plays his own father, Moshe Weinberg, who was one of the athletes killed in the massacre. Munich grossed more than $47 million in the United States and $127 million worldwide.
Helen Davies, Marjorie Dorfman, Mary Fons, Deborah Hawkins, Martin Hintz, Linnea Lundgren, David Priess, Julia Clark Robinson, Paul Seaburn, Heidi Stevens, and Steve Theunissen