The Spielberg Canon: Ranked Best to Worst

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One Month. 30 Days (plus). 32 Movies.

1 Incomparable Filmmaker.

I’ve written about each and every feature film (plus one short) that Steven Spielberg has ever made. And now I rank them.

To the extent that any list like this can have a logic to it, here’s mine. I factor in three criteria, in no particular order:

  • Historical impact, both on the industry (from box office to cinematic influence) and the culture.
  • My opinion of its cinematic merits, regardless of my personal feelings or affections toward it.
  • My personal feelings or affections toward it.

Each choice represents some undefinable combination of those three considerations.

Needless to say, some rankings could’ve gone either way and were tough calls on which choice should top the other. In those instances, I allowed the second factor – cinematic merits alone – to trump the other two. A great example of this is how Numbers 8 and 9 landed.

Looking at where some of these placed, particularly in the lower half, a reader could be left with the impression that I’m ambivalent about more of these films than I actually am. Truth be told, I’d give all of his films from #22 on up either a 3 1/2 or 4 star rating. 23 through 27 are solid 3-star entries, 28 and 29 more mixed, with only the bottom three being unqualified duds (although I’d even say there’s a steep drop off between 30 and 31).

So as you go through this list, that important qualifier should give you a better bearing on how I feel about each of these films, as should the brief responses I add to each. By and large, Steven Spielberg has made good-to-great movies, with a few unqualified masterpieces.

And so, listed in ascending order from Worst to Best – including his latest release The BFG – here is The Spielberg Canon, ranked.

The Films of Steven Spielberg

32. Something Evil (1972) – this early TV movie is something awful.

31. The Terminal (2004) – an avalanche of schmaltz that goes from eye-rolling to insufferable.

30. The Adventures of Tintin (2011) – shockingly dull, would’ve been better as a live action thrill ride.

29. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) – first forty minutes, great. The rest, not so much.

28. 1941 (1979) – fun & very well made, even if unfocused. Better than its reputation.

27. The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997) – a total blast of an old school monster movie.

26. War of the Worlds (2005) – elevates blockbuster thrills with potent 9/11 metaphor.

25. Amblin’ (1968) – the original 26-minute short film that revealed so many possibilities.

24. Empire of the Sun (1987) – gets a bit on-the-nose, but beautifully and poignantly told.

23. Amistad (1997) – the absolute best and worst of Spielberg, the filmmaker at his most bipolar.

22. The BFG (2016) – a big budget bedtime story that time will likely be kind to.

21. The Sugarland Express (1974) – Spielberg’s feature debut, filled with so many Spielbergisms still seen to this day.

20. Duel (1971) – the TV movie that made him the most coveted up-and-coming director of his generation (and got him the Jaws gig).

19. Bridge of Spies (2015) – first rate “minor” Spielberg.

18. Saving Private Ryan (1998) – spotty “major” Spielberg.

17. Catch Me If You Can (2002) – classy, sophisticated moviemaking that’s charismatically frivolous and effectively poignant.

16. Always (1989) – a soul-searching romance in the grand tradition of Old Hollywood, and light years better than any being made by Hollywood today.

15. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) – would’ve made for a perfect end to the saga.

14. Minority Report (2002) – an insanely high degree of difficulty on all fronts, and Spielberg sticks the landing.

13. Hook (1991) – no Spielberg film has aged better.

12. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) – the quintessential popcorn movie.

11. Lincoln (2012) – a towering portrait of a towering President at his most consequential moment.

10. War Horse (2011) – would stand equal to the best of Hollywood’s Golden Age from the late 1930s to the early 1950s.

9. Jurassic Park (1993) – revolutionary in its time (in a number of ways), and endlessly watchable since.

8. The Color Purple (1985) – the most unlikely marriage of source material and filmmaker, yet it flirts with being a masterpiece.

7. Munich (2005) – philosophically, the definitive terrorism film of our time.

6. A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (2001) – it’s the Kubrick that resonates, but Spielberg made it a masterpiece. His most underrated film.

5. Jaws (1975) – the film that changed movies forever. As close to a B.C./A.D. historical marker as you’ll find in film history.

4. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) – never fails to take me through the emotional wringer in the most edifying way.

3. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) – it captures the best of cinema from its entire history, all in 120 minutes. My favorite movie of all time.

2. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) – the movie that moved up the most in my own personal estimation. A profound spiritual journey draped in sci-fi wonder.

1. Schindler’s List (1993) – the best movie Spielberg will ever make, and among the best ever made.


Spielberg_JawsSet

And for a more streamlined glance from Best to Worst:

1. Schindler’s List (1993)

2. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

3. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

4. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

5. Jaws (1975)

6. A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (2001)

7. Munich (2005)

8. The Color Purple (1985)

9. Jurassic Park (1993)

10. War Horse (2011)

11. Lincoln (2012)

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

13. Hook (1991)

14. Minority Report (2002)

15. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

16. Always (1989)

17. Catch Me If You Can (2002)

18. Saving Private Ryan (1998)

19. Bridge of Spies (2015)

20. Duel (1971)

21. The Sugarland Express (1974)

22. The BFG (2016)

23. Amistad (1997)

24. Empire of the Sun (1987)

25. Amblin’ (1968)

26. War of the Worlds (2005)

27. The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)

28. 1941 (1979)

29. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

30. The Adventures of Tintin (2011)

31. The Terminal (2004)

32. Something Evil (1972)

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2 thoughts on “The Spielberg Canon: Ranked Best to Worst

  1. I’ve had such a good time reading these reviews. I’m shocked at some of the rankings – by which I mean I need to go back and rewatch almost all of them (I’ll skip The Terminal).
    Best quote: “Spielberg at his most bipolar.”

    Liked by 1 person

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