Steven Spielberg will go down as one of the greatest sci-fi directors of all time. But what does a master of sci-fi have to say about the genre? What are his favorites? What are the movies that inspired him to tell stories of dystopian futures, extraterrestrials, and artificial intelligence? Well, here they are.
1. Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005)
In a surprise to absolutely no one, Steven Spielberg really likes A New Hope. Him and Lucas were so similar in their penchant for grand, whimsical stories that it would be practically redundant to mention his appreciation for that movie here. What you may not know is that Spielberg was so moved by this divisive prequel that he unashamedly cried at the end of it, saying it is “the best way you could possibly imagine for George to finish it off.” And his praise, in all honesty, makes sense.
Revenge of the Sith, like Spielberg said, is by far the best of the prequels. The film, and ending in particular, was supposed to be one last look at the Skywalker saga, the final piece of the puzzle that Lucas created the second he said he was going to make prequels to his original trilogy. The last shot is rightly moving and a tribute to the world-consuming IP Lucas created. Spielberg also praised the darkness of the film, another audacious aspect to it that is all too easy to look past 17 years later. There will always be fervent critics of Revenge of the Sith but Spielberg’s love of it is not just sensible but heartwarming as well. This was not just a successful attempt to make a political, multi-faceted space opera blockbuster that is supposed to perfectly match the vision he put out nearly 30 years earlier, but also a friend ending a chapter of his life on the perfect bittersweet note.
2. Alien (1979)
Steven Spielberg’s career is largely defined by his fascination with extraterrestrials and the cosmos. And a less obvious underlying tenet of Spielberg films is his distrust of authority, best encapsulated in 2017’s The Post. There is even an interview where Spielberg talks about the possibility of a U.S. coverup of aliens in the late 1970s, surely a byproduct of post-Watergate suspicions. So, it really is no wonder that Spielberg is a fan of Scott’s Alien.
Alien is a pristine mashup of some of Spielberg’s greatest interests. Scott’s Xenomorph is one of the most well-built up movie monsters, let alone movie aliens to ever exist. It slowly but surely reveals itself over the course of a film that oozes with a dark yet distinct sci-fi atmosphere. And the eventual reveal that the primary mission was to bring this life form back neatly scratches that Spielberg itch of distrusting the greater powers at be every step of the way. Everything down to Scott’s note that actors talk over Ripley brilliantly makes the individual so much smaller, so much less powerful than the whole. And moreover, Alien is a rare blockbuster that feels like a film Spielberg has made, but with a pacing slower but just as rewarding as any sci-fi feature Spielberg has directed.
3. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Surprise, surprise, a famous sci-fi director likes 2001. Spielberg has said 2001 has a “profound effect” on him. He specifically cites the stargate sequence as a memorable scene, made even more memorable by a guy running through the literal screen when the sequence was playing. Spielberg saw the movie multiple times in his youth. And you would hope Spielberg would appreciate such watchability, as his own movies gain so much from their re-watch value.
Spielberg also famously worked with Kubrick to bring A.I. Artificial Intelligence to life. Which is important because in talking with James Cameron, Spielberg discusses how much the film above all else is about HAL. Not only does HAL show the dangerous side of futuristic creations Spielberg would return to, but it also is an embodiment of the fear of taking autonomy out of the hands of the individual and putting it into a higher power. The most profound example has to be that of Minority Report, which takes justice out of the hands of man and puts it into a three essentially lifeless machines meant to predict the future. No matter how you spin it, so much of Kubrick’s most beloved film can be found in the work of Spielberg, and obviously has a ton of merit outside of Spielberg himself favoring the movie.
4. A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Perhaps a less obvious selection among Spielberg’s favorites. Sure, it is science function. But as Spielberg said, he identifies it as the “first punk rock movie ever made.” And that is not quite the type of movie you think of when Spielberg comes to mind. As Spielberg himself says, A Clockwork Orange is horrifying, unkind, and dirty.
For a man who really is a master of the PG-13 rating, it is somewhat difficult to envision him liking something so dangerous for its time. Then again, it is Kubrick we are talking about here. So, at the same time, it does seem reasonable to think Spielberg would have such reverence for the film. And like 2001, A Clockwork Orange is something you cannot easily shake once you get into it. After being amazed by the Stargate sequence in 2001, Spielberg cites the Singin’ in the Rain scene as one of the most horrifying things he had seen in a movie, while still being oddly transfixing. It is not the movie to necessarily watch if you want that Spielberg touch, but it certainly is the movie to view in order to understand Spielberg’s varied taste.
5. THX 1138 (1971)
“Every shot was about craft.” Can any higher compliment be paid to a film? Generally, it is challenging find a Spielberg quote taking a jab at George Lucas. He has such respect for him as director and that quote is possibly the best summation of that. Spielberg has gone on record saying THX 1138 is a merging of the crafts. That every detail from costume design, makeup, hairstyling, every single aspect of filmmaking comes together in Lucas’s dystopian vision.
And unlike A Clockwork Orange, it is easier to see parts of Spielberg in this film. It is no doubt colder than Spielberg’s darkest movies but the energy, the kinetic energy that defines so much of the film is so up Spielberg’s alley. Spielberg is the master of the chase. His first movie was almost all a chase and THX 1138 is likewise a movie where the lone man is always on the run against a force much bigger than he is. And the fact that every single scene is so lovingly packed with detail makes it a film impossible for Spielberg not to love.