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Top 10 Best Steven Spielberg Movies

by Eric Melin on November 27, 2012

in Top 10s

steven-spielbergSteven Spielberg is currently tearing up the box office and receiving justifiable critical acclaim for his latest historical drama Lincoln. Spielberg is one of the world’s most famous filmmakers, and he’s often derided and celebrated at the same time for his sentimentality. It can be argued that his most mainstream work represents either his best or worst tendencies, but going back through Spielberg films from the 1970s on, I found that two of Spielberg’s best pictures were the ones that were ignored or misunderstood by mainstream audiences. The rest were pretty much hits, although not all are as adored as some that didn’t make my list. (The thoroughly mediocre Jurassic Park and Saving Private Ryan leap to mind.)

Anyway, enjoy my list of the Top 10 Best Steven Spielberg Movies. First, some runners up: Empire of the Sun (1987), Catch Me If You Can (2002)

10. War of the Worlds (2005)

Say what you want about the ending of this sci-fi/horror remake starring Tom Cruise, but the opening thunderstorm/alien invasion (shot with a you-are-there immediacy) is absolutely terrifying, and the scene with the train on fire? Whoa.

9. E.T. the Extra Terrestrial (1982)

There’s something that Steven Spielberg inherently understands about a child’s imagination, and the way he frames this story from the POV of Elliott (Henry Thomas) is brilliant.

8. Lincoln (2012)

Spielberg’s second collaboration with playwright Tony Kushner and his first with Daniel Day-Lewis resulted in a fascinating film that brought the U.S. political process to life like few others have.

7. Minority Report (2002)

Loosely adapting Philip K. Dick, Spielberg created a dynamic, believable (and maybe prescient) future world, along with some classic heart-stopping sequences (the spider-spies, the jetpack action scene) in his first Tom Cruise starrer.

6. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

For bringing the cheesy serial adventures of the 30s to the big screen with quasi-conspiracy-historical fantasy, romance, and a winking sense of humor, Spielberg’s first Indiana Jones movie makes the list. It doesn’t add up to much, but its pure fun, and the best in the series by far.

5. Schindler’s List (1993)

This harrowing drama won Spielberg Best Picture and Best Director in 1994 and showed him turning over a new leaf in storytelling. He hadn’t jettisoned his sentimental side at all, but it was balanced with a powerful portrait of pure banal evil.

4. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

This movie still inspires more straight-up wonder than almost anything I’ve ever seen. It’s part obsession, part idealism, and all imagination as Spielberg pulls the flipside what-if to War of the Worlds and portrays alien contact without all the mass murder.

3. A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)

Here’s where we get to the misunderstood part. Stanley Kubrick handed this creepy/tragic story about a robot boy to Spielberg in 1995, and by the time he finished it in 2001 with newly minted child superstar Haley Joel Osment, people were expecting something sunnier. Instead, they got a twisted psychological mindfuck with an ending that’s way more depressing than they were willing to admit.

2. Munich (2005)

Spielberg ‘s first outing with Tony Kushner (and his most underrated movie ever) portrays Eric Bana and a conscience-stricken team of Israeli assassins as they violently avenge the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre, challenging the viewer to weigh the human consequences of an escalating terrorist war. This one will unfortunately remain timely for a long, long time.

1. Jaws (1975)

Why is Jaws number-one? Put simply, it has few peers in its genre. Sure, it single-handedly invented the summer blockbuster for better or worse, but it also holds up 100 percent as a prime example of less-is-more terror and contains images and sounds that have endured. Watch it again and I dare you not to be entertained supremely.

Eric is the Editor-in-Chief of Scene-Stealers.com and writes for The Pitch. He’s former President of the KCFCC, and drummer for The Dead Girls, Ultimate Fakebook, and Truck Stop Love . He is also Air Guitar World Champion Mean Melin. Eric goes to 11. Follow him at:

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Eric Melin November 27, 2012 at 9:27 am

The first comment I got on Twitter about this list was someone disappointed I wrote of Jurassic Park so easily, so here’s a bit about that movie to clarify. I think it was a big, obvious breakthrough in VFX, but not much else. Spielberg has tons of better, more passionately-directed mainstream hits.


2 Nik November 27, 2012 at 9:52 am

Is it sad that I feel relieved that my adoration of Lincoln was not unfounded? At least in your opinion? It has driven me to reread “Team of Rivals”.


3 Kyle Rohde November 27, 2012 at 11:13 am

I would probably have Lincoln higher on this list, personally, but can’t argue that hard. I did like that Spielberg didn’t even have his name shown in the opening credits. I could be wrong, but I don’t think it was even shown until the closing credits.


4 Eric Melin November 27, 2012 at 1:54 pm

Yeah, it’s tough to place something in a list like this so soon after its release. Putting it above E.T was made easier by the fact that I saw E.T. again fairly recently.


5 Reed November 27, 2012 at 11:47 am

Well done, Eric. I’m still not with ya on A.I., but I’d still probably have it around 9th or so.


6 Eric Melin November 27, 2012 at 1:56 pm

Thanks! Man, that movie just keeps getting better and better. Now if we could only digitally remove Robin Williams’ voice from it like Spielberg got rid of the guns in E.T.


7 Derek 8-Track December 1, 2012 at 7:12 pm

Robin’s voice doesn’t bother me. Chris Rock’s voice is the one i want removed.


8 Eric Melin December 2, 2012 at 12:07 pm

Good point. Yeah, it’s pretty over the top, but I always chalked that up to being a comment on the kind of robot he was in the first place. I could be accused of looking for an excuse and over-intellectualizing it, though–ha!


9 t.b. english November 27, 2012 at 2:27 pm

Great list, Eric. It’s hard to rank Spielberg movies. I usually love them in phases. Nice that you gave War of the Worlds some pub. always thought that was a little underrated. Same with A.I.


10 Eric Melin November 28, 2012 at 8:34 pm

I think Spielberg’s 2000-era sci-fi stuff was really great and that the craft that went into them is pretty extraordinary. A.I. especially just continues to blow me away.


11 Greg November 27, 2012 at 4:04 pm

I’m having a pretty hard time with Raiders of the Lost Ark clear down at number 6, but it could be the nostalgia talking. Haven’t seen it in years, but it’s Top 3 in my memory! I guess I should finally see War of the Worlds too.


12 Eric Melin November 28, 2012 at 8:32 pm

I saw it recently and its a very efficient, fun movie. I just don’t have the passion for it that I do for the ones above it.


13 Scotty Hunt December 1, 2012 at 7:30 am

Hey Eric –
I was wondering if you saw (recently) the unaltered E.T. or the revisited E.T. with the gun removal, crumby exposition, added CGI version etc.
I like the list because I love Spielberg. He should get to direct one of the new Star wars films yes? It only seems right.
Thanks so much for your insight.



14 Eric Melin December 1, 2012 at 12:50 pm

No I still haven’t seen the altered one. Last time I saw it was in the theater at a revival house! Spielberg doing Star Wars seems natural, but EVERYTHING about those movies being any good will depend on the script…


15 Scotty Hunt December 5, 2012 at 5:59 pm

Looks like they have good writers lined up… Even the legendary Lawrence Kasdan is supposedly coming back into the fold for Star Wars.
Thanks for the reply Eric.


16 Ryan Davis December 2, 2012 at 8:25 pm

Great list Eric! I love that you included War of the Worlds, to this day the noise of the ships scares the crap out of Angela. While I would have removed A.I. for Jurassic Park, you’ve made me realize that I need to revisit David’s world and hope for a better outcome.

While I love JP with all my fiber, I can admit it’s not Steven’s best, and it was obvious that he was distracted by the creation Schindler’s List during post production.


17 Eric Melin December 3, 2012 at 2:15 pm

Thanks, man! Give AI a try and let me know what you think!


18 Lex Fran December 11, 2012 at 7:13 pm

Great list. It’s so refreshing to see a ranking of Spielberg where the top 3 are not just Raiders, Jaws and E.T. Great omission of Jurassic Park too, entertaining for sure but not much else. Agree with A.I., it is one of my favorites too, what an underrated masterpiece! and Lincoln made a huge impact on me so I’m glad to see it in your top 10 already. Spielberg is a truly great filmmaker and it sometimes makes me sad to see how his early films, fun as they are, overshadow his more mature masterpieces.


19 Eric Melin December 11, 2012 at 11:53 pm

Thanks, Lex! I think A.I. will grow in stature–it’s really underrated but many are coming around on it.


20 Lex Fran December 12, 2012 at 10:48 pm

That’s true, it needs time, like Citizen Kane and Space Odyssey did I suppose. If you’re ever up for it I’d be interested to see how you’d rank the rest of Spielberg or another director perhaps. Good stuff Eric!


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