Five Essential… Films of Steven Spielberg

Gary Collinson selects his Five Essential Films of Steven Spielberg…

With his twenty-four features amassing a global box office take of around $8.5 billion, two-time Academy Award-winning director Steven Spielberg is one of but a select few who can genuinely lay claim to being the greatest filmmaker of all time. A founding father of the summer blockbuster and equally as comfortable with emotional drama as spectacular effects-driven popcorn movies, Spielberg’s career has returned a host of classics that demonstrate his true mastery of the craft. Narrowing this body of work to a select few is no mean feat, but here we present our Five Essential Films of Steven Spielberg…

ET Steven Spielberg5. E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

Drawing on his own childhood experiences during his parents’ divorce (with E.T. inspired by an imaginary friend) along with elements of the abandoned sci-fi horror Night Skies, Spielberg’s tale of a lonely young boy who befriends an extraterrestrial smashed all box-office records on its release and went on to earn a place in the heart of generations. Nominated for nine Oscars, E.T. was successful in four categories but lost out on the prestigious Best Picture award to Gandhi, with director Richard Attenborough later stating “I was certain that not only would E.T. win, but that it should win.” Thankfully, the Beard laid to rest talk of a sequel a few months back.

Jaws Steven Spielberg4. Jaws (1975)

Spielberg’s adaptation of Peter Benchley’s novel sees police chief Brody (Roy Scheider), marine biologist Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) and obsessed shark hunter Quint (Robert Shaw) out to stop a killer Great White from menacing the local seaside community of Amity Island at the height of tourist season. A critical and commercial sensation, Jaws was the first movie to break the $100m mark in North America and its impact on cinema was monumental; an unprecedented wide release propelled the film to the top of the all-time box office (losing out two years later to Star Wars, before Spielberg regained the crown with E.T.) and ushered in the concept of the summer movie season which has since become a staple of the industry.

Saving Private Ryan poster3. Saving Private Ryan (1998)

In retelling the D-Day invasion of World War II, Saving Private Ryan completely redefined the war genre with the sheer brutality and incomprehensible violence of its battle scenes bringing home the harsh reality of war like never before. While critics can point to its somewhat clichéd characters and routine plot, the film more than makes amends with its raw visual intensity and harrowing imagery: the opening reconstruction of the Omaha beach landings keeps you glued to the screen for its entire 27 minute duration and is unquestionably one of the most powerful sequences in cinema history. Unfathomably overlooked for Best Picture in favour of Shakespeare in Love (although Spielberg did pick up his second Best Director gong), Saving Private Ryan became the standard by which all war movies are now measured.

Schindler's List poster2. Schindler’s List (1993)

After holding on to the rights to Thomas Keneally’s Booker Prize-winning novel Schindler’s Ark for ten years, Spielberg produced a truly timeless classic with the critically acclaimed Holocaust drama Schindler’s List. Through the true story of Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) – a Nazi war profiteer who risked everything to save over a thousand Jews from the concentration camps – the film captures one of mankind’s most horrific chapters and is made all the more distressing through its stark black-and-white imagery and documentary-like feel. An outstanding achievement that marks Spielberg’s maturity as a filmmaker, Schindler’s List received near-universal praise and a well-deserved seven Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director.

Raiders of the Lost Ark poster1. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

A modern interpretation of the adventure serials of the 30s and 40s, Raiders of the Lost Ark sees archaeologist Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) squaring off against the Nazis in a race to find the Ark of the Covenant. Conceived by producer George Lucas in the mid-70s, Spielberg was offered the director’s chair after expressing interest to his close pal in helming a James Bond picture. The resulting collaboration between the two cinematic giants – along with screen legend Ford, hot off his star turn as Han Solo in Star Wars – produced one of the greatest action adventures ever put to film and spawned a lucrative franchise that is rumoured to soon extend to a fifth instalment. Pure entertainment from start to finish, films such as Raiders are the reason cinema exists.

Honourable Mentions…

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
Empire of the Sun (1987)
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
Jurassic Park (1993)
Munich (2005)


Encountering Spielberg: A Steven Spielberg Profile
Movies… For Free! Duel (1971)
Short Film Showcase – Amblin’ (1968)
Steven Spielberg: World War II Revisionist

Agree? Disagree? We’d love to hear your comments on the list…

Gary Collinson

Essentials Archive

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  • Anonymous

    I agree that the harrowing scenes in Saving Private Ryan of the D-Day landings at Omaha Beach were very powerful. Powerful in their own way were the film's opening scenes, which show an elderly man walking to and through the American WWII cemetery in Normandy. As he walks past row after row of headstones, each one above the grave of a fallen soldier, the viewer becomes keenly aware of the

  • Hi, thank you for your comment – I agree it really does put everything into perspective and adds to the impact of what follows.

  • Anonymous

    Ugh…the only good film on that list is Jaws.

  • Anonymous

    Jaws is the worst film on that list.

  • Have to disagree I'm afraid – Jaws is great but there's no way you can say it's the only good film on the list.

  • Anonymous

    I'd add The Empire of the Sun and The Color Purple and Close Encounters of the Third Kind!

  • Anonymous

    Well… Good job! It's always difficult to rank Spielberg's fims. He has like 10 masterpieces. I don't agree with the position of the movies in this list, but they are all undeniably great.

  • Anonymous

    I'd add The Empire of the Sun and The Color Purple and Close Encounters of the Third Kind!