33. “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” (2008)
Earning its rightful place at the bottom of this list is the fourth entry in Spielberg’s “Indiana Jones” franchise. There are so many problems with this movie, from forcing in the Mutt Williams character (Shia LaBeouf) to its wacky ending. A rare misstep from the greatest filmmaker of all time.
Spielberg is an executive producer on director James Mangold’s upcoming sequel that will see the return of the soon-to-be 80-year-old Ford in the titular role. Hopefully, it will be a strong rebound for the ageless franchise from a new director known for strong work in “Logan” and “Ford v. Ferrari.” The fifth “Indiana Jones” installment is set for release in 2023.
32. “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” (1997)
Spielberg rushed to deliver a sequel to his 1993 record-breaking box-office smash “Jurassic Park” based on the book by Michael Crichton. In the process, he failed to produce a worthy successor to the groundbreaking original.
He also created a scene in which a little girl uses gymnastics to fight a dinosaur, which may be the most cringe-worthy thing he’s ever done. In a podcast interview with Alec Baldwin, the movie’s screenwriter David Koepp said the gag was an original idea from Spielberg. According to Koepp, although he feigned “forgetting” to write the scene, Spielberg insisted on making it happen.
31. “1941” (1979)
This slapstick comedy about a panic that ensues in Los Angeles after the attack on Pearl Harbor is one of the biggest flops of Spielberg’s career. After coming off back-to-back colossal hits with “Jaws” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” Spielberg likely felt untouchable, and had arguably earned the right to make whatever film he wanted. Despite an all-star cast including John Belushi at the height of his fame and some truly impressive visual effects sequences (which were nominated for an Academy Award), the movie’s attempts at humor rarely connect, and the result feels like a mess.
It’s clear from a fascinating making-of documentary featuring interviews with Spielberg, composer John Williams, writers Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, and filmmaker John Milius, that the movie came from a place of passion for the style and subject matter despite its inability to click with audiences in its initial run.
30. “The BFG” (2016)
Spielberg’s adaptation of the Roald Dahl children’s classic is magical and imaginative but doesn’t pack that special punch he’s given us with these kinds of movies in the past. However, the movie features a remarkable musical score from longtime collaborator John Williams.
29. “A.I. Artificial Intelligence” (2001)
Stanley Kubrick originally intended to direct this project, but Spielberg took it over after Kubrick died in 1999.
While it possesses many solid attributes, such as another superb John Williams score, the marriage of Spielberg’s sensibilities with those of Kubrick results in an uneven mess that hasn’t really improved with repeat viewings.
However, the film’s opening act containing everything that happens before David ventures out into the world features some very strong work from the cast, Spielberg, Williams, Kaminski, and production designer Rick Carter.
28. “The Adventures of Tintin” (2011)
Spielberg’s only fully-animated feature didn’t connect with American audiences, but it was a big hit overseas, where people are more familiar with the titular comic-strip hero.
The chase sequence involving an elaborate single-take stands out as one of Spielberg’s most ambitious action set pieces. While the movie is a feat of technical artistry and family-friendly storytelling, it doesn’t seem to have left the impact on the cultural zeitgeist that other Spielberg films have. We’ll have to wait and see if that changes in the future.
27. “Ready Player One” (2018)
Spielberg’s 2018 sci-fi adventure based on the novel of the same name is one of his most entertaining movies in over a decade. In many ways, it’s a celebration of the wonderful characters he’s helped bring to the big screen over his career (from the T-Rex in “Jurassic Park” to the DeLorean in “Back to the Future,” a movie he produced).
At its core, it’s a story that he’s told his whole career — someone seeking acceptance.
26. “Hook” (1991)
This movie is much-maligned, even by the most loyal of Spielberg enthusiasts. Though it has wildly impressive production design that brings Neverland to life, the concept of melding the classic Peter Pan story with a middle-aged yuppie going through a midlife crisis doesn’t perfectly mesh. However, the good far outweighs the bad, especially when it comes to Hoffman’s bravura, nearly unrecognizable performance as the titular villain.
25. “Always” (1989)
Often written off as overly sentimental, this remake of the 1943 Spencer Tracy movie “A Guy Named Joe” deserves a lot more credit.
Richard Dreyfuss delivers two exceptional monologues to Holly Hunter’s character (who can’t see or hear him because he’s a ghost) that, in retrospect, should have earned him some Oscar consideration. The schmaltz is strong with this one, but the movie owns it, and fans of Spielberg’s obsession with aviation from movies like “1941,” and “Empire of the Sun” will find this essential.
24. “The Sugarland Express” (1974)
Spielberg’s first theatrical feature is a must-see harbinger of the scope and scale that would define the director’s prolific career. Released a year before “Jaws,” it features some incredible car chases and a strong performance by a young Goldie Hawn.
23. “The Terminal” (2004)
This is one of the most underrated entries of Spielberg’s “late” period. It’s a moving story about a foreigner (played by Tom Hanks) stripped of his basic freedoms in George W. Bush’s post-9/11 America.
22. “The Color Purple” (1985)
A decade after “Jaws” and all the popular blockbusters that followed, Spielberg wanted to make a serious film about the plight of Black people in early 20th century America. Based on the Pulitzer Award-winning novel by Alice Walker, it found success with critics and at the box office, but Spielberg was criticized for helming a movie about the Black experience, and for telling the story through a lens referred to as “over-sentimental.” Nominated for 11 Academy Awards, it didn’t win a single statue.
21. “War of the Worlds” (2005)
from Spielberg, this time delivered in a much more crowd-pleasing fashion. Our one gripe with this movie is the casting of Tom Cruise as a down-on-his-luck everyman. What if it had been Tom Hanks instead? Regardless, Spielberg succeeds in creating some truly terrifying moments that force the viewer to think, “what would I do in a situation like this, and would I be able to keep my family safe?”
20. “Amistad” (1997)
Despite the talky legal proceedings taking up most of the movie’s final hour, that doesn’t take away from the fact that the slave revolt that opens the movie is one of the most intense and powerful scenes Spielberg has ever created. Although the movie didn’t have the cultural impact of “Schindler’s List,” the power of the movie’s depiction of the brutality of slavery and captivity has not diminished after almost 25 years. The harrowing scene portraying African people being captured by slave traders in their homeland is also one of the most underrated scenes ever filmed.
19. “West Side Story” (2021)
Many (including us) questioned the Beard’s decision to remake such a beloved classic and cinematic icon. However, after experiencing the movie’s epic scope, design, and emotion on the big screen, it’s clear that Spielberg’s heart was in the right place and you can’t begrudge his desire to stage the production using all of the world-class resources that he has at his fingertips. Elaborate dance numbers like “America,” and “Cool” already rank as some of Spielberg’s most inspired set-pieces.
18. “The Post” (2017)
Released at the height of Donald Trump’s scandal-ridden presidency, the timing couldn’t have been better. This dramatic procedural about the Nixon-era Washington Post releasing the Pentagon Papers features top-notch performances by Hanks and Streep, along with a cast of dozens of actors working at the top of their game.
17. “Lincoln” (2012)
Amazingly, Spielberg found a way to make the minutiae of 19th-century backroom political dealings extremely entertaining. It also marks the first time that an actor won an Oscar for a performance in a Spielberg movie. Like “The Post,” this movie features a cavalcade of world-class actors shining in dozens of speaking roles.
Daniel Day-Lewis took home the Academy Award for his performance as Abraham Lincoln. Three years later, Mark Rylance would become the second when he picked up an Oscar for “Bridge of Spies.”
13. “Bridge of Spies” (2015)
This political drama inspired by true events didn’t do very well at the box office, only bringing in around $77 million in the United States. That’s a shame because it shows Spielberg at his very best, in a perhaps once-in-a-lifetime collaboration with the Coen Brothers, who co-wrote the movie’s screenplay.
Mark Rylance deservedly won the best-supporting actor Oscar in this underrated gem that includes a performance by Tom Hanks that should have been more praised.
12. “Duel” (1971)
The movie that started it all. Spielberg made this as a TV movie for ABC. It was distributed theatrically in Europe, and it quickly made a name for Spielberg who, up to that point, had only directed episodic television.
Right out of the gate, Spielberg established himself as a master of action and suspense.
11. “Catch Me If You Can” (2002)
After a string of very serious projects like “Amistad,” “Saving Private Ryan,” “A.I.,” and “Minority Report,” Spielberg finally gave us a fun one.
Teaming Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks in a true-life cat-and-mouse story between a slick forger (DiCaprio) and FBI agent (Hanks) turned out to be perfection. And John Williams, again, tops it with the perfect score.
9. “Empire of the Sun” (1987)
This World War II epic doesn’t get mentioned enough when the great war movies are celebrated, but it should. The scene in which the POW camp is liberated by an American fighter squadron is one of Spielberg’s best sequences.
His action choreography, combined with John Williams’ score and Christian Bale’s frighteningly intense acting, result in a truly transcendent movie moment.
6. “Saving Private Ryan” (1998)
Perhaps “Empire of the Sun” doesn’t get more credit because Spielberg also made this one. Many war movies had been made before it, but this transcended all of them in terms of how it portrayed combat.
The opening scene showing the landing at Omaha Beach remains one of the greatest standalone sequences in movie history. The movie deservedly won multiple Academy Awards including Best Cinematography and Best Director, but inexplicably lost the Best Picture award to “Shakespeare In Love” thanks to the relentlessly savvy campaigning of that film’s producer: Harvey Weinstein.
5. “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (1977)
Now we’re getting to the point where any of the remaining movies could easily fall into the top spot.
After the success of “Jaws” in 1975, Spielberg earned the power to make whatever movie he wanted, and this is what he gave us. With the moving story, dazzling special effects, and awe-inspiring score by John Williams, this is one of the greatest science-fiction movies of all time. Those interested in this movie’s production should seek out co-star Bob Balaban’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind Diary,” which is easy to find on the secondary market. For further reading, check out producer Julia Phillips’ memoir “You’ll Never Eat Lunch In This Town Again,” though her account (which isn’t kind to Spielberg) should be taken with a grain of salt due to her admittedly heavy drug-use.
1. “Schindler’s List” (1993)
To this day, few if any motion pictures have matched the cultural impact and raw emotional power of Spielberg’s 1993 Best Picture winner, which grossed more than $322 million at the worldwide box office. The director’s bold use of black-and-white cinematography was instantly iconic, marking the beginning of his collaboration with cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, who has worked as the director of photography on every Spielberg movie since.
This movie brought a needed level of awareness about the Holocaust to a new generation, preceding the establishment by Spielberg of the USC Shoah Foundation, which preserves audio and visual accounts from the survivors of the Holocaust and other genocides. There had never been a movie like it before, and there hasn’t been since.