If you loved movies as a child, then there’s a good chance you owe a debt of gratitude to Steven Spielberg. He’s directed some of the best, most entertaining, and most influential films of all time. Honestly, he has about 10 films you could put as #1 on a list of his best movies, and no one would be mad.
He’s been a producer, writer, and even an actor over the years, but for this list, we’re only looking at the 31 feature-length, theatrically-released films in his filmography. Get ready to be inspired because we’re counting down the best Steven Spielberg films ever made.
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Steven Spielberg Movies List
31. Ready Player One (2018)
During the climax of Ready Player One, the Iron Giant becomes a badass who helps the heroes in their fight against the villains. Now, if you’ve watched The Iron Giant, you know that violence for violence’s sake isn’t really the Iron Giant’s M.O. And that’s kind of the overarching problem with this movie. It’s empty nostalgia designed to make you go, “Hey, I recognize that!” and nothing more. For a director known for creating so many memorable moments, it’s disheartening to see him just recycle what’s been done before.
Steven Spielberg Best Movies
Spielberg resisted the idea of aliens in an Indiana Jones movie for decades. Eventually, he relented, but maybe he should’ve stuck with his guns. The film could’ve been an interesting homage to 1950s B-movies about the Cold War, but instead, we get something that feels so disjointed. It really seems like no one wanted to make this movie, and you can feel that with every nuked fridge.
Steven Spielberg Films
29. The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)
If you’re going to make a sequel to Jurassic Park, it seems like you’d incorporate the lost canister of dinosaur DNA Nedry lost in the first movie. I mean, it’s just kind of there. Instead, the filmmakers opted to create a second dinosaur island and came up with a ham-fisted reason to send the characters there. It lacks the whimsy and magic of the first one and mostly serves as a parable about why big-game hunting is bad.
Steven Spielberg Filmography
28. Always (1989)
While making Jaws, Spielberg and Richard Dreyfuss admitted to both loving the 1943 film A Guy Named Joe. In fact, that movie partially inspired Spielberg to become a filmmaker. And the pair basically got their wish with 1989’s Always. It’s a whimsical film, but Spielberg really piles on the schmaltz. This movie has more sap than a maple tree, and while it might be nice for a certain demographic, there’s a reason why it’s been largely forgotten except for being Audrey Hepburn’s last film role.
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27. The Terminal (2004)
The Terminal is another film where the story’s overly saccharine nature works to its detriment. There’s also just something about seeing Tom Hanks, one of the most recognizable actors in the world, play a foreigner in a fish-out-of-water story. It’s one film that just doesn’t take off.
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26. 1941 (1979)
John Wayne urged Spielberg not to make 1941 because he felt it was “un-American.” In actuality, he should’ve encouraged him not to make it because it wasn’t funny. Humor has a place in many of the top Steven Spielberg movies, but he never really tried to make a flat-out comedy before this one. It just goes to show how hard it is to do comedy right, and unfortunately, Spielberg just doesn’t have the right touch for a zany comedic romp.
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25. War Horse (2011)
Many of Spielberg’s movies center around war. With something like Saving Private Ryan, you see how he’s not afraid to show the horror of warfare and the true cost of battle. But with War Horse, and it’s PG-13 rating, it feels like he’s holding back. He goes for overly sentimental rather than brutal when he needs to, and it results in a fine, but kind of forgettable, war movie that could have been so much more.
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24. The Sugarland Express (1974)
The cops may not be the central characters of The Sugarland Express, but they do get the bulk of the sympathy. The two leads always seem to get a healthy dose of skepticism in their actions even though they’re just trying to get their son back. For its time, it’s not as countercultural as what some of Spielberg’s contemporaries were doing, which is why it’s fallen by the wayside despite this being Spielberg’s feature-length debut.
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23. The Post (2018)
The Post has a timely message about the importance of journalism and why it’s worth investing in sources that report the facts. It’s just a shame the film feels too dry for anyone to become too invested in, and it can be a bit on the nose with its subtext. It’s great seeing Spielberg with something to say, but in the context of his other historical dramas, it just leaves a little something to be desired.
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22. Hook (1991)
Steven Spielberg’s dysfunctional relationship with his father influenced many of his films, including Hook. That inspiration along with a wonderfully imaginative story helped elevate Hook to a favorite among 90s kids. The pacing and story suffer in parts, but Spielberg’s charms help make the film work far better than it has any right to.
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21. The Adventures of Tintin (2011)
Peter Jackson insisted that The Adventures of Tintin just couldn’t work as a live-action film. He had a point, as there are fantastic set pieces and sequences in this film that just wouldn’t have the same charm and whimsy if they were real people and places. It’s a true CGI triumph with the main folly being the characters are too thin to become fully immersed in the world.
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20. The BFG (2016)
The Entire Steven Spielberg Filmography
19. Amistad (1997)
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18. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
Historical Steven Spielberg Films
17. Bridge of Spies (2015)
Bridge of Spies was co-written by the Coen Brothers, and it shows. There are several scenes you’d expect to see in a Coen Bros. joint, but with Spielberg at the helm, there are rays of hope that likely wouldn’t have been present had the brothers had more control. It makes for a fascinating portrayal of Cold War sensibilities, and the themes of doubles throughout the film add extra depth that make it worthy of several rewatches.
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16. The Color Purple (1985)
Steven Spielberg Top Movies Ever
15. Munich (2005)
Steven Spielberg films aren’t exactly known for their ambiguity. In many instances, he lets you know one way or the other how to feel about a subject. The fact that Munich ends ambiguously, letting you set in the mess it’s created, makes it all the more powerful. The central question is, “How do we address terrorism?” making it one of the most relevant thrillers in a post-9/11 age.
The Best Steven Spielberg Movies List
14. A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
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13. War of the Worlds (2005)
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12. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
For Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Spielberg reused many shots he took for his short film Firelight. When looking at his filmography, it’s easy to see a fascination with extraterrestrials and what human contact would mean. It’s clear Spielberg wants to believe something greater than ourselves is out there.
Sequels on the Steven Spielberg Movies List
11. Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade (1989)
After the mixed response to Temple of Doom, Spielberg decided to go back to the basics with The Last Crusade. The result is a much more enjoyable film with fantastic chemistry between Harrison Ford and Sean Connery. It’s a good old-fashioned adventure film and the kind of movie you want to see more of out of this series.
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10. Empire of the Sun (1987)
The divorce of Steven Spielberg’s parents influenced the concept of the loss of childhood innocence in Empire of the Sun. It goes to show how events in your life can influence art that’s radically different from what you went through. The final product is a movie that works as a reverse Peter Pan tale. It’s about a boy who had to grow up too fast, and even though there’s a happy ending, there’s not much to get joy out of once the credits roll.
Analyzing the Steven Spielberg Filmography
9. Minority Report (2002)
Spielberg consulted with futurists to determine what a realistic America would look like in 2054. You can already start to see many of the things predicted in the film, like targeted ads, start to appear in real life. But all that is window dressing for a fantastic sci-fi noir that has a compelling narrative and lofty themes. It’s just a shame the ending is a bit of a letdown considering everything that precedes it.
Examining Steven Spielberg Best Movies
8. Lincoln (2012)
It would be easy to make Abraham Lincoln look like a saint. But Spielbeg manages to capture the nuances of Lincoln’s character by focusing on a singular event in his presidency. With a commanding performance from Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln transcends other historical dramas by giving audiences everything they want out of this honest portrayal.
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7. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
There’s a piece of film theory that states there’s no such thing as an anti-war film because the medium of filmmaking inherently makes war look cool. Well, if there ever was a movie that made war look like the horrifying spectacle it is, it’s Saving Private Ryan. Spielberg doesn’t pull any punches, and the Omaha Beach sequence is one of the most devastating things put to film. It’s a heart wrenching film and the ultimate WWII movie.
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6. Catch Me If You Can (2002)
Catch Me If You Can is a masterclass on character. Throughout the film, through the various cons, Spielberg never loses sight of Frank Abagnale’s motivation: to make his father proud. His decisions are all grounded in this, and it makes for one of the most emotional, and most fun, films of Spielberg’s filmography.
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5. Schindler’s List (1993)
Spielberg decided it was time to make Schindler’s List when he saw Holocaust denier growing more popular within the mainstream media. He was naturally hesitant to take on the material, but as the film speaks for itself, no one else could have expertly blended the horrors of the Holocaust with Spielberg’s trademark tender humanism. To date, it’s his most mature film and showed critics and audiences alike he could do more than blockbusters.
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4. Jaws (1975)
As far as I’m concerned, Steven Spielberg has made four perfect movies, so let’s start with the one that started it all: Jaws. When making Jaws, they began production without a finished script, a full cast, and even a shark. Any aspiring filmmakers have plenty of stories about running into issues during production, but Spielberg turned lemons into lemonade and invented the modern blockbuster. Jaws remains an outstanding technical achievement to this day for what it managed to accomplish.
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3. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
To help keep costs down, Raiders of the Lost Ark was Spielberg’s most storyboarded film. They kept the production schedule tight and lean by focusing on miniature models, puppets, and advanced camera techniques. The result is one of the most entertaining and thrilling films ever made, harkening back to old serials while creating something entirely new.
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2. E.T. the Extra Terrestrial (1982)
Spielberg planned an E.T. sequel called Night Skies, which would feature evil aliens terrorizing a family. Let’s all be glad he didn’t go down that route or else it might’ve tarnished the reputation of one of the best sci-fi films ever made. It’s a timeless tale of friendship and a movie no one can truly hate.
The Best Steven Spielberg Movie
1. Jurassic Park (1993)
Cards on the table: Jurassic Park is my favorite movie of all time, and I genuinely believe it’s the best film ever created. From the visual effects complementing the animatronics to the performances to the themes on human ego to the sheer horror of the dinosaurs themselves, the movie does everything to perfection. It’s the most masterful work of art in film history, and I love this film so very, very much.
Steven Spielberg Filmmaking Style
Want more insight into how Steven Spielberg has crafted one masterpiece after the next? Check out our blog diving into his unique and effective filmmaking style, including how he sets up scenes and keeps the momentum going from one moment to the next.