Steven Spielberg: 5 Best & 5 Worst

It's not easy ranking the work of one of Hollywood's most iconic and prolific directors, but here are my personal picks for the 5 best and the 5 worst films directed by Steven Spielberg.

The 5 Best

Jaws (1975) It never fails to surprise me when people refer to Jaws disapprovingly as nothing more than a silly shark movie which gave birth to the unintelligent summer blockbuster. While the film€™s mammoth success was definitely instrumental in the rise of event movies €“ from Star Wars to Jurassic Park €“ it€™s also an intelligent and extremely well crafted film which stands alongside any other thriller of the '70s. The simple story about a picturesque beach community terrorized by a huge man-eating shark, managed to not only terrify a whole generation to stay out of the water but stand the test of time in becoming a sheer classic. 36 years later and Jaws has lost none of its power to scare €“ becoming forever etched into public consciousness and playing on a primal fear which we all have when swimming in open-water. Despite having only directed one feature film €“ 1974€™s The Sugarland Express - Spielberg manages to even outdo Hitchcock in terms of sheer suspense and implied terror. Seeing as Spielberg has been responsible for so many classic films, it€™s a testament to the enduring quality of Jaws that it€™s still one of his absolute best. Greatest Moment Of Spielbergian Magic: €œSmile you son of a bitch !€ - Brody takes out the shark with one lucky final shot. Schindler's List (1993) The film which gave Spielberg his well deserved first Oscar is also perhaps his greatest achievement - even if I€™ve got a soft spot for Jaws. A stark and uncompromising Holocaust drama, the film was a deeply personal work for Spielberg, whom had wanted to make the film for years, but was put off by his own feelings that he had not matured enough as a director. After years of the project being passed around to directors like Roman Polanski and Martin Scorsese, Spielberg finally decided he was ready to direct Schindler€™s List in 1993. To many, it carries a reputation of being a difficult film to watch, due to its horrific depictions of genocide and uncompromising views of life within the Nazi concentration camps. Even if it is an upsetting film, it€™s an incredibly important one and Spielberg€™s most accomplished work as a director. Schindler€™s List is also ultimately, an uplifting experience - depicting Oscar Schindler€™s heroic attempts to save hundreds of Jews from execution. Janusz Kaminski€™s stunning black and white cinematography brings a palatable coldness to the snowy camps of Auschwitz and makes the events of the film chillingly evocative of real life photographs and documentary footage. Greatest Moment Of Spielbergian Magic: Spielbergian magic perhaps isn€™t the right term for Schindler€™s List, but the sequence with the girl in the red coat gives us a powerfully haunting symbol of the holocaust. Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981) 1981€™s Raiders Of The Lost Ark introduced the world to iconic archaeologist Indiana Jones, who would lead a series of peerless adventure films (well mostly). Conceived by George Lucas as a throwback to the adventure serials of the 1930€™s - which themselves heavily influenced Star Wars - the project drew the interest of Spielberg as it would allow him to fulfill his desire to direct something in the vein of the Bond films. Indy was far more than a mere Bond clone however. Played brilliantly by Harrison Ford, Indiana Jones was a far more fallible character - often capable of being a hero one minute, but flawed and imperfect the next - especially if there€™s a snake involved. As well as Indy, Raiders Of The Lost Ark is one of Spielberg's best thanks to its pure unadulterated brilliance as an adventure film which delivers on all fronts. Despite being followed by three sequels, Indy's first adventure is still his best - with the explorer pitted against the Nazis in the search for the ancient Ark of the Covenant. So many moments have become iconic images of action cinema, from the opening boulder chase to the gruesome face-melting climax. Greatest Moment Of Spielbergian Magic: The off-parodied boulder dash opening sets the film off to an exciting start which it impressively manages to maintain throughout. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) Spielberg is often criticized for the over sentimentality in his films, which many often argue makes his work too saccharin. Perhaps it€™s fair to say that sometimes it€™s a little too much to take - such as the illogical family reunion ending of War Of The Worlds - but when it€™s done right, as is definitely the case with E.T, Spielberg is the master. Many of Spielberg€™s films deal with themes of childhood and family drama, but E.T is the most successful. The story of a boy who befriends an extraterrestrial and helps him return to his home planet is bittersweet and manages to connect to most of us on an emotional level as well as appealing to a nostalgic sense of childhood adventure. E.T himself was actually kind of creepy to look at as a child (so creepy it allegedly led to M&M refusing to allow their products to appear in the film) but Carlo Rambaldi's animatronic creature is still impressive to watch. It's easy to see why E.T. is Spielberg's personal favourite of his movies, seeing as it perfectly blends together many of the elements that defines his work - from the moving John Williams score to the astonishing set-pieces and intimate family drama. I'll also admit that while there's few films that have the ability to make me weepy, the ending to E.T. gets me every frigging time. Greatest Moment Of Spielbergian Magic: The exhilarating moment Eliot and his friends take to the sky on their bikes, accompanied by John Williams€™ faultless score. Jurassic Park (1993) Jurassic Park was a welcome return to the exciting adventure of Jaws and Raiders Of The Lost Ark, coming at a time in which the director had been experimenting with more serious themes in films like The Colour Purple and Empire Of The Sun. In fact, it was Spielberg€™s most purely enjoyable film in years, as well as an important landmark in special effects. The mix of practical model effects created by Stan Winston and the astonishing CG from ILM also make Jurassic Park visually stunning. It also boasts many of Spielberg's most exciting sequences, such as the terrifying T-Rex encounter or the climatic scene where characters hide in a large kitchen from a pack of raptors. The sense of wonder and pure magic that comes through Spielberg€™s wonderful direction and John Williams€™ majestic score makes Jurassic Park a timeless adventure. Greatest Moment Of Spielbergian Magic: The first encounter with the dinosaurs, where the audience share the same excitement and wonder as the characters on screen. €œYou did it. You crazy son of a bitch you did it.€Honourable Mentions: Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, Saving Private Ryan, Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade, Munich, Minority Report, Catch Me If You Can.

The 5 Worst

The Terminal (2004) Even Spielberg€™s weakest films aren€™t exactly bad - you won€˜t see any of them making the lists of worst movies of all time - but simply suffer in comparison to his greatest achievements. No other film sums this up quite as well as The Terminal, an instantly forgettable and lightweight romantic comedy with Tom Hanks as stranded Russian immigrant Viktor Navorski. I€™ve seen it twice and I only distinctively remember two things; Tom Hanks€™ bad Russian accent and the product placement - specifically Burger King. Also, despite being a silly little comedy, the film features a gigantic lavish set, which is a completely functional airport terminal which was constructed in a huge empty hangar. It€™s an impressive achievement sure, but there€™s something depressing about such a grand multi-million dollar recreation for such a inconsequential and forgettable film. The aforementioned product placement (The fake terminal is full of real fast food outlets and shops) simply adds to the disappointment. Worst Moment Of Spielbergian Schmaltz: Viktor spends ages collecting quarters from discarded trolleys to buy himself a juicy Burger King Whopper. Only slightly queasier than the romantic plot-line between Viktor and Catherine Zeta Jones€™s flight attendant. Hook (1991) Hook has become something of a childhood classic for many who grew up in the €™90s and were introduced to the film at a young age. While it was lambasted at the time by critics, through VHS it became something of a family favourite. I€™ve tried my best, but I can never quite manage to enjoy Hook. In many ways it always felt like the one film which was truly guilty of the many criticisms often thrown at Spielberg€™s work. The mere idea of making a sequel to the classic Peter Pan story by having Robin Williams starring as an adult Peter - now a successful lawyer with a family of his own - is deeply flawed to begin with. Still, it could have been far far worse, having apparently at one point been set to become a musical starring Michael Jackson. The film also became something of an ordeal to produce, going well over budget and suffering from strenuous production issues - most notably rumored difficulties between Julia Roberts and Spielberg. Spielberg has even expressed his own disappointment with the film, stating that €œ"For some reason this movie was such a dinosaur coming out of the gate. It dragged me along behind it...Every day I came on the set I thought, 'Is this flying out of control?'" Worst Moment Of Spielbergian Schmaltz: The misguided group of lost boys, who outdo a surprisingly restrained Robin Williams for loud and brash annoyance. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull (2008) I wish I could convey my own excitement as it was finally announced that Indy IV was actually happening. As a kid, Indiana Jones was my favourite series of adventure films, not Star Wars - meaning that for me, Crystal Skull was my equivalent of The Phantom Menace, I was that excited. Let€™s just say my feelings on seeing the film were mixed, and while I didn€™t hate it outright, it€™s certainly one of Spielberg€™s weakest films and the worst of the series by a mile. The problems with Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull are so bountiful its hard to know where to start, but many of mine are inherently down to David Koepp€™s deeply flawed and clumsy script - itself the mishmash of years of rewrites and rejected drafts. Crystal Skull is just about worth watching for the moments in which it successfully evokes the spirit of the series - such as the whip cracking warehouse opening or the university motorcycle chase - but it€™s still a huge disappointment that will continue to provoke debate in years to come. Worst Moment Of Spielbergian Schmaltz: It€™s not the Fridge (I€™m with Spielberg on this, it€™s kind of funny) or the inclusion of aliens (it€˜s a series full of the supernatural) but rather the awful script and the overuse of messy CGI. Why bother nostalgically having the old-fashioned Paramount logo at the start if we€™re going to fade into an animated prairie dog that looks like something from Alvin and The Chipmunks ? Worst of all though is the hideous monkey swinging moment, which kicks off the awful third act of the film. Always (1989) Always is Spielberg€™s forgotten film. I€™m serious, if you ask most people if they€™ve seen Always or even if they€™ve heard of it, chances are they€™ll stare back with a blank expression. Released in 1989 in the disappointing period for Spielberg - having followed Empire Of The Sun and preceeded Hook - Always is a lightweight romantic comedy which failed to ignite the box-office or leave much of an impression on the few who saw it. Starring Richard Dreyfuss, Holly Hunter and John Goodman, Always is the story of a fire fighting pilot who is killed in action and returns as a ghost, to watch over the life of his love Dorinda. It€™s not awful by any means, but like The Terminal it€™s forgettable and guilty of over sentimentality. A remake of 1943 melodrama €œA Guy Named Joe€ Always is something of a vanity project for Spielberg, with the original being one of the films which inspired him to become a director. Worst Moment Of Spielbergian Schmaltz: The overwrought and sappy ending which concludes a film full of overly sappy moments. Jurassic Park: The Lost World (1997) You have to hand it to Spielberg for trying something different with The Lost World, crafting a sequel which is darker and more mean spirited than the adventurous original. Sadly the film never quite manages to reach a similar level of wonder or sense of adventure due to cardboard characters, a dull storyline and illogical plot turns. It€™s fun seeing a T-Rex stampede around San Diego, but as Spielberg has admitted himself on the recent Blu-ray, it€™s at odds with the film that comes before it. There€™s some fun to be had in Jeff Goldblum€™s return as Dr.Malcolm (€œOooh ahhh, that€™s how it all starts, but then there€™s running, and screaming€) and as always Spielberg€™s action set-pieces, like the thrilling moment that a trailer is left hanging over a cliff top with its occupants still inside. The Lost World is a passable adventure movie (and beats the pants off Jurassic Park III), but as a sequel to Jurassic Park it's distinctly lacking in the same feeling of wonder which made the original so good. Worst Moment Of Spielbergian Schmaltz: Ian Malcolm€™s precocious daughter Kelly takes on a group of Raptors with a lame gymnastics routine.Dishonorable Mentions: 1941, War of the Worlds, A.I, Twilight Zone: The Movie (Kick The Can) __________ What are your own picks for the best and worst of Steven Spielberg's films ? More 5 Best & 5 Worst ListsJohn Carpenter
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Cult horror enthusiast and obsessive videogame fanatic. Stephen considers Jaws to be the single greatest film of all-time and is still pining over the demise of Sega's Dreamcast. As well regularly writing articles for WhatCulture, Stephen also contributes reviews and features to Ginx TV.

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