All 34 Steven Spielberg Movies Ranked From Worst To Best

17. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

Troubled child Elliot (Henry Thomas) goes on an enlightening journey of warmth and compassion by helping a friendly big-eyed alien escape earth and return to its home world. A cross-generational family film that will appeal to all ages, Spielberg perfectly captures the viewpoint of a child and the anomie of being a youngster unsure of his place in the world – one of vying siblings, preoccupied adults, sunny suburbia and expansive woods – a mise-en-scéne of recognisable proportions that manages to possess a quaint nostalgic backdrop for all viewers of any age.

The young Thomas gives an outstanding heartfelt performance, alongside co-star E.T. itself, brought to life by Carlo Rambaldi’s superb animatronics – a reason why this alien creature does not feel dated in the slightest amongst this charmingly anachronistic 80s film. John Williams is on top from here, delivering a score that captures the merriment and melancholia of being a child, whilst the choreography of the flying bikes is cinematic magic. An enriching film that touches on life’s hard truths but never loses wonderment.


16. A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)

Artificial Intelligence

Bringing Stanley Kubrick’s long mulled-over idea of a science fictive fairy-tale to life, Spielberg delivers a glorious melting-pot of multi-genre entertainment. From the dystopic to the fantastical, the young robotic boy David (Haley Joel Osment) goes on an adventure to become ‘real’ in order to regain his human mother’s love. What follows is a surreal tale brimming with provoking speculative ideas, enlivened by weird and wacky characters, from Jude Law’s Joe, a pepy Gene Kelly-esque robotic gigolo, to a walking talking animatronic teddy bear that further plays with the film’s postmodern preoccupation of the simulacrum and what we deem to be real and fantastical – ideas that are more apposite to our own age as the years go by.

With breath-taking visuals that often dance along the line of the absurd, Spielberg overall delivers a masterful and underrated show of wonderment and whimsy, measured, however, by Kubrick’s shadow and the lingering flare for the bittersweet. Though it may feel like a film of two minds, A.I. remains a sublime work of fantasy filmmaking.


15. Lincoln (2012)


Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) uses all his powers as president of the United States of America to abolish slavery and reunite his country during the civil war in what is a coup de maître of historical storytelling. Day-Lewis gives his third Oscar-winning performance in the title role, and as anyone familiar with his nuanced, captivating skills of transformation will know, this film is worth seeing for his name alone.

Here we have the greatest living director and greatest living actor bringing to life an historical figure we all think we know, yet both manage to avoid the trap of creating a caricature. Instead they strive in finding the humanity and gravitas of an actual person, whilst honouring Lincoln’s great mythic legacy. Day-Lewis’s Abe is cerebrate, sanguine, soft-spoken, understated, stately and always a paragon of wit, tact and, most enchantingly, discourse and decorum – all of which will make you revel at this master orator and premium president in one of the finest historical dramas of our age.


14. Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Catapulting us into the bloodbath of the Normandy Invasion of WW2, Spielberg tells the story of Captain John Miller (Tom Hanks) and his men who go out searching for Private James Ryan (Matt Damon) whose three brothers have already been killed in the war. As one solider so eloquently says, it is the one decent thing they can do in a “god-awful shitty mess.” And what a mess it is: Spielberg’s choice of a claustrophobic hand-held camera during battle scenes immerses the viewer in following the muddy bloody troops as they tumble through rain and debris – it all adds a visceral verisimilitude of perhaps the finest pedigree in any war movie.

Saving Private Ryan takes no prisoners in eventually numbing you through a cascading attrition of shock through a cellular level, remaining a potent memento for the fallen and brave veterans who will never be forgotten, immortalised in this very film.


13. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

Close Encounters of the Third Kind

After close encounters with a UFO, electrical lineman Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) and single mother Julian Guiler (Melinda Dillon) find their ordinary lives upturned, spurring them on a cross-country quest for answers. While its steady pace may aggravate modern sensibilities, and at times the film gets lost in the fog of its own intrigue, Close Encounters remains a powerful meditative cerebral work of cognition, conspiracy and science fictive speculation.

For all its board meetings and white-collared men conversing behind closed doors, this is a visual story at its most potent, capitalised by John William’s uncanny alien theme that helps to evocate the wanderlust inside us all, across earth and beyond the stars. It is this film that Spielberg delivers one of the finest dénouement of his entire filmography, with the story’s almost biblical pilgrimage reaching a summit nothing short of divine.


12. Ready Player One (2018)

James Haliday (Mark Ryalnce) an oddball Willy-Wonker-like creator and impresario of a virtual reality called the Oasis, dies, leaving a posthumous challenge to all Oasis users to find his hidden Easter Egg which will give the finder his fortune and complete control over the VR platform that dominates the dystopic not-too-distant future of 2045. So sets up an epic bamboozling sci-fi adventure for stalwart loner Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) and his motley crew of fellow gamers in what is an exhilarating yet timely romp for our age. From start to finish the film in an intertextual postmodern cameo-packed splurge for all pop culture connoisseurs. It might have been nightmarish had Spielberg not made sure to keep the focus on telling an exciting adventure story, which thankfully he does – to glorious and dazzling effect.

No matter how far our discussed director gets along in his career, Ready Player One once again shows that he still has his finger on the pulse when it comes to exploring the themes and topics that drive and affect our world today: from the rise of gaming that will be no doubt be the dominant entertainment medium in the 21st century, the steady increase of virtual reality platforms, billionaires waging cultural wars through the power of nostalgia, and the struggle between corporate conglomerates with their claimed IPs and audiences who demand something better from their entertainment – Ready Player One has it all in this surreal simulacrum of fun and wonder, bounding along at a break-neck pro-gamer’s pace.


11. Duel (1971)

Duel is Spielberg’s feature-length directorial debut in what is the crème-de-la-crème of TV Movies (though it also happened to score a theatrical release in international territories). It follows a polite skirmish between insipid salesman Dave Mann (Dennis Weaver) and the faceless driver of a “fat-ass” truck, only for that debacle to quickly escalate into a game of cat-and-mouse on the dust-beaten track of the Mojave Desert… In some ways this is the longest car chase ever committed to celluloid, yet this young Mr Spielberg took the simple premise concocted by speculative heavyweight Richard Matheson into a mythic palpitating joyride, from a kinetic direction of camera that captures the macro external scale of our two duelling cars to the micro mental machinations of both men behind the wheels.

Add to that a gorgeous sun-drenched cinematography and a masterful balance of tone, from the hellish horrific truck itself to the comic relief of Mann’s frustration with his unhelpful and ever eccentric bystanders. Duel should transcend its cult status and be high on everyone’s list. It is an exhilarating exploration of fear, paranoia, atavism and automania – a delicious dissection of the 20th century’s psyche. If anything, it showed this Steven Spielberg guy had promise!


10. The Colour Purple (1985)

Whoopi Goldberg in The Color Purple (1985)

Celie (Whoopi Goldberg) must navigate decades of struggle, abuse and heartache in a drama that will certainly make you cry in this searing capitulation of the African-American experience during the early 20th century. It is a drama that is brought to life by its phenomenal ensemble of actors, particularly Goldberg in her breakout role and Oprah Winfrey as Sofia.

The great Quincy Jones delivers a blues-inspired score with an eclectic balance of jazz and string numbers while Spielberg, adapting Alice Walker’s powerful book, proved that he had the aptitude and skill to step outside the shadows of his crowd-pleasing blockbusters, instead creating a piece of art that evocates incredibly weighty themes of self-preservation, sisterhood and the black experience – all with the delicacy and skill of a master storyteller by not daring to shy away from the truth of this story, no matter how painful it may be. On this filmic canvas our director captures the pall of despair and the flashes of hope that make The Colour Purple an essential and extraordinarily moving piece of filmmaking.


9. West Side Story (2021)

Tony (Ansel Elgort) and Maria (Rachel Zegler) are two infatuated teenagers who try to rise above the rivalry of the Jets and the Sharks, two warring gangs in 1957’s New York, in what is a powerful adaption of the classic musical, brought masterfully to life by Steven Spielberg.

Here the director manages to surpass the original outing by combining movie musical magic with tender drama, heart-wrenching tragedy, flashy dance numbers and some of the best toe-tapping tunes in the American songbook. Both Elgort and Zegler are electric to watch, Rita Moreno gives an inspired turn as the kindly Valentina, and all is captured with a balletic direction of camera, sweeping from scene to scene, all the while filling your heart with song before ultimately breaking it in a powerful dénouement.

The overall allusion to Romeo and Juliet is obvious, but Spielberg aptly energises his film with a necessary Shakespearian gravitas, along with a modern sense of realism, a truthful historic mese-en-scène, and the heightened world of the musical to magnificent effect. As the latest entry in this impressive filmography, and for this reviewer the greatest film of 2021, West Side Story is one of the best of the bunch in the director’s career, proving that Spielberg has lost none of his power.


8. The Adventures of Tintin (2011)

The Adventures of Tintin

Great snakes! Plucky reporter Tintin (Jamie Bell) and Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis) embark on a treasure hunt for a sunken ship in what is an artful, awesome adventure film in astounding motion-captured animation that breathes fresh yet faithful life into Belgian cartoonist Hergé’s comic strip characters.

Very much the spiritual successor of the Indiana Jones films, Spielberg brings his years of practice in the adventure genre to full effect, unleashing all in one picture: galore in slapstick, witticisms (thank you screenwriters Edgar Wright and Steven Moffatt) adventure and escapism – it all rip-roars along in hearty swashbuckling style. Bell and Serkis are thrilling to watch, as is the whole film from start to finish, with a spectacular one-shot in particular trailing a crazy car chase through a bustling Arabian bazaar that is a testament to why this was a golden choice to opt for motion-capture animation rather than obvious live-action. Spielberg’s decision allows all of Hergé’s comic-strip absurdity to be realised in jaw-dropping detail.

It is a film fun for all the family and those of all ages. You have Tintin’s decentness, Haddock’s hilarity, and the scene-stealing dog, Snowy. Cinema doesn’t get much more delightful than this. But Blue Barnacles – please roll on Peter Jackson’s long-awaited sequel, as this is a franchise ripe for more adventures.


7. Catch Me if you Can (2002)

Catch Me If You Can (2002)

Doctor. Lawyer. Pilot. These are only a few of the professions young Frank Abangnale (Leonardo DiCaprio) professes to in his runaway bid to con millions of dollars through his masterful art of deception. From its swanky intriguing opening titles to its jazzy easy-listening score by the great John Williams, this film is Spielberg’s sensational ode to a Hitchcock thriller, mixed with the director’s thematic trademarks of broken homes and innate redemptive goodness.

From start to finish we are propelled into a tightly spun cat-and mouse game between DiCaprio and Tom Hanks’s straight-faced Carl Hanratty of the FBI, a worthy foil to DiCaprio who is marvellous as the conman you cannot help but love, delivering an appealing and polite performance that slickly entrances you on a wild and windswept ride.


6. Schindler’s List (1993)


Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) German industrialist and member of the Nazi party, tries to save his Jewish employees after witnessing the atrocities in Poland. Spielberg’s best picture winner is a rightfully harrowing watch, exhaustive in its unflinching look at humanity’s darkest chapter, exemplified through its stark monochromatic visuals. Within minutes one feels transported into a living breathing history, painstakingly and personally captured with frequent handheld camera shots that follow the claustrophobic nature of prison camp life. Yet the rare select use of colour, from a girl’s red coat to the burning of a candle flame, highlight Spielberg’s thematic penchant for hope, even in the darkest and dire of stories. None more so is exemplified in Neeson’s Schindler who must face Ralph Fiennes’s terrifyingly evil Nazi comrade Amon Goeth.

Both exhibit the choices human beings make, the attitudes they adopt, and the beauty and ugliness of the human individual. Though acute in its historical accuracy, its pitiless 3-hour run time makes it a leaden watch. Yet as its informative Brechtian subtitles remind the audience, this is a story based on true events. It is not a film you will want to re-watch but is one that everyone should watch. So divergent from the rest of his oeuvre, yet arguably his most potent and important film, this was a worthy choice for Spielberg to finally be awarded Best Director at the Academy. This is a film you will certainly always remember, and that is a great achievement, though I’m not sure I would ever want to watch it again.


5. Jurassic Park (1993)

Jurassic Park

Pragmatic palaeontologist Alan Grant (Sam Neill) paleobotanist Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) and eccentric mathematician Ian Malcom (Jeff Goldblum) are tasked with touring a near-complete theme park that has revived dinosaurs, only for disaster to naturally arise. Adapting Michael Crichton’s 1990 novel, Spielberg brought to life a blockbuster that would define a generation through the glorious comingling of Oscar-winning revolutionary visual photo-realistic effects, heralded by ILM’s Dennis Muren, with the tangible presence of Stan Winston’s animatronics that still hold up today. It’s a survival film that spirals into a monster mash, enchantingly immersive with the right amount of graphic violence and scares, while Spielberg still manages to find a family friendly appel that would be the winning formula in the first (and best) of a long-running franchise.

From John Williams’s magisterial score to Richard Attenborough’s infectious enthusiasm as park owner Hammond, one will get lost in this modern classic not only for its spectacular special effects and lovable characters, but more importantly for being a superb 2-hours of speculative storytelling, with Spielberg unabashed in exploring debates imbued with dramatic tension regarding the ethics of eugenics and gene-splicing such through the idea of reviving dinosaurs – one that was perfect for the big screen. It has heart as well as bite, which is why it makes it into the top 5.


4. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)

The bridge from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

Our rough-and-tumble archaeologist Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) returns for another adventure, this time tracking down an ancient stone that has been stolen by an evil priest (Amrish Puri). Whilst not as economically brilliant as its original, Temple of Doom remains a superb and unfairly slandered addition to the Indiana Jones serials: from gangsters in 1935’s Shanghai to deranged cultists beneath a Mayapore palace, the film is a rip-roaring ride made all the more fun by Indy’s sidekicks, from the affable 11-year-old cab driver Short Round (Ke Huy Quan) to the unsung Kate Capshaw’s hilarious Willie Scott. Rebuking the tired tough-woman trope, Spielberg opts for a refreshing fish-out-of-water dancer who brings a welcome amount of comedy and camp that makes this caper all the more enjoyable. The opening number of her singing and dancing to Anything Goes may be the most sensational of any film on this whole list – Capshaw is indeed by far this reviewer’s favourite Indy girl, if there even is such a thing.

The film’s other strength is its gore and violence – hearts pulled out of chests kind that was infamous for helping to introduce the PG-13 rating due to general public outcry. For me, Temple of Doom is the end of Spielberg’s first golden age – not that he ever lost his bite and panache for violence – but this is the last time it’s ever as serrated.


3. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

The almighty quest for the holy grail is a gripping race against evil and one of the finest and funniest entries in the Indiana Jones chronicles. Whilst it occasionally re-treads old and gloried ground from Raiders, Last Crusade adds more than it remixes, not least for fleshing out our favourite archaeologist: from its opening flashback to a heady boys-own adventure with a winning River Phoenix as a young Henry Jones Jr. to Ford’s Dr Jones’s of our current thirties escapade, this time embroiled with his bumbling donnish father Henry Jones Sr. (Sean Connery) who hilariously butts heads (figuratively and literally) with his son. To have our hero’s father mixed up on an adventure is a bizarre yet inspired choice, with both action stars wonderfully riffing off one another in a rare showcase of their comedic talents.

As James Bond was Indiana Jones’s spiritual father, it feels right that the 007 actor plays a diegetic equivalent, scolding his spiritual successor. Add to that the Nazis and their fearsome fräulein Elsa (Alison Doody) the return of the whimsically charming Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliott) and a boatload of booby-traps and you have a pulpy mythic mesmeric adventure film wrapped within the personal pursuit of a father and son forging a longed-for friendship.


2. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Raiders of the Lost Ark

From the creators of Jaws (Spielberg) and Star Wars (George Lucas), Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) cinema’s ultimate hero, makes his first appearance in what is the gold-standard of action-adventure films, with our fedora-wearing whip-cracking archaeologist out on the hunt to obtain the Ark of the Covenant before Adolf Hitler and his occult-obsessed Nazis can claim its awesome powers. As its poster suggested, it truly is the “ultimate adventure” film, a globe-trotting tour de force, brimming with all the pulp, thrills and romance of the early 20th century adventure serials that inspired its creators.

It is a prime example of filmmaking being a collaborative medium, and in this case it acquires the greatest artists in their field – from Lucas’s flare for storytelling and adventure, Ford’s charismatic heroism, John Williams’s rousing fanfare, and of course Spielberg’s masterful immersive direction, imbuing the viewer’s mind with iconographic imagery and bolder-rumbling sequences that ring strong today. It’s not the years, honey, it’s the millage. And boy does this Indy film have it spades.


1. Jaws (1975)

The Indianapolis - Jaws (1975)

The original modern blockbuster delivered a high concept, galvanising box office grosses, and a timeless cinematic experience that has rippled throughout the decades. Police chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) oceanographer Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) and local fisherman Quint (Robert Shaw) team up to hunt a man-eating great white shark that is terrorizing beach town Amity Island. Its universal premise about facing fear and man’s stance within the sublime world he finds himself in is artfully brought to life by a director who deserves that touted appellation of being a ‘visionary’.

From the milieu of a New England Town, to our contrasting yet complimenting shark-hunting triumvirate, the marriage in Spielberg’s magnum opus between the sensational and the suburban – the verisimilitude of this fictional world – is unmatched. It’s an artful balance of tone, too, from horror, adventure and satire. “Bruce” the animatronic shark is legendary. But the greatest special effect in this film is Robert Shaw’s monologue recounting the shark-infested disaster surrounding the Indianapolis. No fancy flashbacks. Just stellar recollection from this crusty old fisherman that transports the viewer to a different place and time entirely. Superb.

In some ways Jaws is a modern reimagining of Moby Dick – and just as that example was a masterpiece in the entertainment medium that dominated the 19th century, so Jaws is within the 20th century’s medium of film. Man’s stance against the elements is one of the oldest stories ever told, and it’s still the best. It seems wrong to say that a film is perfect, but this is pretty damn near.