Entertainment

Steven Spielberg's 31 Movies, Ranked From Worst to Best

raiders of the lost ark, steven spielberg movies
<em>Raiders of the Lost Ark</em> | Paramount Pictures
<em>Raiders of the Lost Ark</em> | Paramount Pictures

There's never a bad time to be a Steven Spielberg fan. Even on the rare occasion that his movies struggle at the box office, as his last effects-driven family film The BFG did, there's still a sense that he'll bounce back. He always does! Over nearly five decades, the filmmaker has defined American studio filmmaking, while racking up billions of box-office dollars and two Best Director Oscars along the way.

But how do his big-budget crowd-pleasers stack up against his award-winners? Has he lost some of his luster as he's gotten older, or has he aged with grace? Does he still make you want to phone home? To find out, we ranked all of Spielberg's theatrically released feature films (sorry, early Spielberg TV movie Duel and his contribution to the anthology Twilight Zone: The Movie). So, cue up those John Williams strings, grab your inner child, and keep some tissues on standby as we work our way through Spielberg's 30 films. Or as Samuel L. Jackson would say, hold on to your butts.

Harrison Ford Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Paramount Pictures

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

The action-adventure revival rolled into fans' lives like an 8-ton boulder booby trap. There are spurts of Spielberg-patented, high-flying fun -- the opening shootout in Area 51 and a chase across Professor Jones' university campus summon the angular thrills of Raiders of the Lost Ark -- but computer graphics, a sci-fi plot, and Harrison Ford's dwindling stamina ravage Crystal Skull. If you weren't keen on Shia LaBeouf's Mutt Williams when he was standing around with Indy, you certainly weren't going to like him swinging from vines like a greaser Tarzan. We'll treasure Cate Blanchett's flamboyant Irina Spalko and move along. -- Matt Patches

Dustin Hoffman Hook
TriStar Pictures

30. Hook (1991)

Bad millennials have a weakness for Hook: they love Rufio, Dustin Hoffman's titular bad guy, the elaborate sets, the cool costumes, and the scene where David Crosby gets hit in the nuts with a wood plank. Don't trust them. Hook's central conceit -- Peter Pan as overworked yuppie -- would make for a decent sketch, but all the daddy issues, sexual tension with Tinker Bell, and imaginary food fights in Neverland can't save the film's 141-minute running time. It's like watching a video of someone else ride Splash Mountain for hours. Put this movie in the boo box. -- Dan Jackson

1941 John Belushi
Universal Pictures

29. 1941 (1979)

1941 is more fun to think about than to actually watch. Post-Close Encounters Spielberg helming a madcap WWII satire penned by Back to the Future masterminds Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale sounds like a dream pitch -- or at least a bizarre disaster. Sadly, it's neither. In telling the story of mass hysteria in LA after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Spielberg attempts to fuse his love of old studio musicals with the irreverent spirit of early SNL and SCTV -- John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, and John Candy all have roles -- but the jokes crash and burn. Spielberg isn't humorless -- most of the movies on this list have brilliant comic moments -- but at this point in his career, he didn't have the panache to nail such tonally tricky material. -- Dan Jackson

The Terminal Tom Hanks
DreamWorks Pictures

28. The Terminal (2004)

Spielberg sees Tom Hanks as the last vestige of Golden Age Hollywood charm. You can tell from missteps like The Terminal, where the director tucks wacky romantic comedy into geopolitical tragedy. Tom Hanks plays Viktor Navorski, a New York tourist stuck at JFK airport after his (fictional) home country of Krakozhia collapses. Navorski sleeps on gate chairs, bathes in bathrooms, dines on ketchup packets, and befriends airport employees. The escapade is never as whimsical as Spielberg believes it to be, Hanks' Eastern European-out-of-water shtick becoming increasingly grating with every passing takeoff. But my God, the airport set! There's something to treasure in every Spielberg movie. -- Matt Patches

Always Steven Spielberg
Universal Pictures/United Artists

27. Always (1989)

This remake of the 1943 romantic drama A Guy Named Joe is Spielberg at his most sentimental. Not an easy bar to surpass. After his bomber plane explodes mid-operation, the spirit of aerial firefighter Pete (Richard Dreyfuss) returns to our plane of existence, to mentor a young ace who's falling hard for Pete's one true love (Holly Hunter). Always strings together exhilarating forest firefighting, spry comedic work from Dreyfuss and co-star John Goodman, and Audrey Hepburn's final performance as Pete's otherworldly guide, but its gooey center keeps it from coalescing. Hunter's no-bullshit heart redeems every flaw in this movie. -- Matt Patches

ready player one
Warner Bros. Pictures

26. Ready Player One (2018)

Like the Ernest Cline novel it's based on, Spielberg's slick Ready Player One places a premium on name-checking and visually referencing pop-culture ephemera (primarily from the 1980s) in service of character development. The logic likely goes that, while many people can tell you that, say, Williams Electronics released both Joust and Robotron: 2084 in the year 1982, only a truly worthy hero can tell you off the top of his head that the latter arcade classic was designed by Eugene Jarvis and Larry DeMar, and that, by the way, Jarvis and DeMar also created two other Williams Electronic gems, Defender and Stargate. The idea, I guess, is that we'll root more for someone if they can turn this trivia sludge into gold in a story set in a dystopian future where literally everything depends on knowing the most obscure and random minutiae from your childhood. But it collectively adds up to being more than just implausible; it's tiring. Spielberg, who himself was a huge fan of arcade video games back in the day (he wrote the forward to Martin Amis' long-out-of-print 1982 book Invasion of the Space Invaders), at least dazzles with special effects and Ben Mendelsohn shines as yet another seething baddie, but, like the book, it's hard to care much who wins the game in the end.

Lost World Julianne Moore
Universal Pictures

25. The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)

There was no outdoing his original dinosaur thriller, so Spielberg pivoted in every way. Jeff Goldblum would take center stage, the T. rex would make it to familiar shores (San Diego), and a one-off would evolve into an "action franchise." If only the action had the amber glow of Spielberg's first dino-filled vistas. While the opening scene, a girl chomped to bits by Compys, is a nasty bit of work, and a stampede sequence is heart-racing from start to finish, The Lost World indulges in all the wrong ways, the type of "why not?" entertainment excuse that got everyone killed in the first movie. -- Matt Patches

Empire of the Sun Christian Bale
Warner Bros.

24. Empire of the Sun (1987)

Famed playwright Tom Stoppard adapted J. G. Ballard's memoir, chronicling his childhood years spent in a Japanese concentration camp, and Spielberg deftly orchestrated the large-scale drama, from upscale British life in Shanghai, to the horrors of invasion, to the mundanity of life inside the camp. A young Christian Bale is a revelation as Jim, who keeps his head above water after soldiers separate him from his parents. The only spark missing is passion -- Empire of the Sun never makes a comment or challenges an idea. It's a movie obsessed with images: coffins floating down river, the flash of the atomic bomb, and the American P-51 Mustang, aka the "Cadillac of the skies!" Thankfully, in Spielberg's hands, the surface-level can still entrance. -- Matt Patches

Amistad Steven Spielberg
DreamWorks Pictures

23. Amistad (1997)

In its haunting Middle Passage sequence, which chronicles the rebellion aboard the slave ship Amistad as it crosses from Cuba to the US, this historical drama achieves a terrifying and visceral quality that might convince you it's a great film. Unfortunately, after that, there's courtroom drama to wade through, complete with lengthy speeches, top hats, and, most offensive of all, horrible Matthew McConaughey sideburns. By shifting the focus away from Djimon Hounsou's scene-stealing mutiny leader, Spielberg undermines the potency and radical power of the story he's telling, turning this tale of survival into a well-intentioned but not especially compelling history lesson. -- Dan Jackson

War Horse Steven Spielberg
Walt Disney Studios

22. War Horse (2011)

It's easy to mock War Horse. The title and the premise -- a brave horse perseveres through WWI to reunite with the teenage boy he loves -- sound like a Spielberg parody cooked up in the '90s by The Ben Stiller Show. But the movie is an elegant, often majestic example of old-fashioned Hollywood hokum done right, especially in its many wordless sequences that examine the horrors of trench warfare through the weary eyes of a horse. Spielberg's reverence for the painter-like imagery of old masters like John Ford has never been more palpable, heartfelt, and intoxicating. It's almost enough to make you forget you're an adult watching a movie called War Horse. -- Dan Jackson

The Adventures of Tintin Steven Spielberg
Paramount Pictures

21. The Adventures of Tintin (2011)

Now, this is peak theme-park Spielberg. Working from a witty script co-written by Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish, Spielberg adapts the elegant, playful imagery of Hergé's beloved Tintin comics into a kinetic, eye-popping animated thrill ride. There's a pirate ship, lost treasure, a fighter plane, and even a cute dog -- and if you don't like any of that, something new will fly into your face a minute later! In 3D! It's Raiders of the Lost Ark for the Angry Birds era. Exhausting, sure, but worth the ride. -- Dan Jackson

The BFG Spielberg
Walt Disney Studios

20. The BFG (2016)

In adapting Roald Dahl's whimsical, limber children's book, Spielberg and screenwriter Melissa Mathison stay faithful to the source material down to the last drop of green fizzy drink. The tale of an orphan kidnapped by a large-eared giant (the skillfully motion-captured Mark Rylance) has a dreamlike quality that allows Spielberg to stage some of his trippiest, borderline psychedelic imagery, along with some really elaborate CGI-assisted fart jokes. Judging from the box office, audiences stayed away from the movie like it's a rotting snozzcumber, but they're missing out on a low-key treat. -- Dan Jackson

The Post
20th Century Fox

19. The Post (2017)

When viewed through the lens of contemporary politics, it's easy to celebrate The Post as an inspiring, nostalgia-soaked newspaper tale for the "Fake News" era. But as a Spielberg movie?  This tick-tock docudrama, which re-teams the director with Hanks while adding a game Meryl Streep to the mix for the first time, isn't exactly front-page material. The story itself is rousing -- The Washington Post's publisher Katharine Graham (Streep) must decide whether to publish revelations from the Pentagon Papers and potentially face the legal wrath of President Richard Nixon -- and the cast is filled with familiar faces like Bob Odenkirk, David Cross, and Carrie Coon playing dedicated journalists fighting for the facts. But given the talent involved, it's hard to shake the sense that the movie is both too slight and too eager to please. Compared to thoughtful, emotionally complex takes on American history like Bridge of Spies or Lincoln, it only spills ink. Never blood. -- Dan Jackson
 

The Sugarland Express Steven Speilberg
Universal Pictures

18. The Sugarland Express (1974)

This Goldie Hawn action comedy is best viewed as a thought experiment: what if Spielberg didn't become Mr. Blockbuster? We never really found out because Jaws capsized Hollywood, turning Spielberg into the wunderkind of a new special effects-driven era. But The Sugarland Express, a plucky counter-culture road movie, finds him working in the character-driven mode of fellow '70s auteurs like Martin Scorsese, Bob Rafelson, Terrence Malick, and Robert Altman. As a debut from a 28-year-old TV director, it's impressive, but watching it today, it's not so good that you find yourself yearning for the road not taken. For some directors, bigger actually is better. -- Dan Jackson

Bridge of Spies Steven Spielberg
DreamWorks Pictures

17. Bridge of Spies (2015)

Anyone who knocks this prisoner-swap story as one of Spielberg's "boring" movies should be ashamed! Ashamed! Balancing the chill of Cold War-era paranoia with the paced warmth of a Frank Capra picture, Bridge of Spies again asks Tom Hanks to throw back to a different kind of leading-man role, where words got you everywhere and patriotism meant sticking up for your fellow American. With little shared screentime, Hanks and Oscar winner Mark Rylance build a relationship that resonates through every turn in this accomplished drama. Just don't expect Spielberg to cater to your attention span. -- Matt Patches

The Color Purple Whoopi Goldberg
Warner Bros.

16. The Color Purple (1985)

For all his technical wizardry, Spielberg has always been a gifted director of actors. In The Color Purple, an often clumsy but spirited adaptation of Alice Walker's Pulitzer-winning novel, he knows when to get out of the way and let Whoopi Goldberg, Danny Glover, Margaret Avery, and, in her first film role, Oprah Winfrey, take control of the frame. Their faces tell the story. While the film's lavish visual approach can threaten to overpower its narrative of abuse, the performances keep the film grounded and allow the movie to endure despite its flaws. -- Dan Jackson

War of the Worlds Steven Spielberg
Paramount Pictures

15. War of the Worlds (2005)

The fears and fallout of 9/11 ooze from the pores of Spielberg's alien-invasion movie. Crane operator Ray (Tom Cruise) is mostly helpless when tripod war machines burst out from the streets; he might be the rare "good dad" in the Spielberg filmography, but all he can do to save his family is hold tight and run. War of the Worlds is a visceral, chrome-filled nightmare, the language of popcorn entertainment weaponized for social commentary. You can tell Spielberg's uncomfortable dealing with the darkness. The anxiety translates to genuine shock after genuine shock. -- Matt Patches

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom Harrison Ford
Paramount Pictures

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

Instead of sequelizing Raiders of the Lost Ark, Spielberg backtracked to 1935 for the second installment of the Indiana Jones franchise and doubled down on the silliness. Indy's adversary, Mola Ram, the high priest of an ancient Hindu cult that loves human sacrifice, opened the door for mysticism and Disneyland ride set-pieces. You can practically hear Spielberg giggling off-screen as he stages musical numbers, feeds chilled monkey brains to future wife Kate Capshaw, and dots each Harrison Ford punch with a Short Round observation. A kid's dream come true. -- Matt Patches

A.I. Artificial Intelligence Steven Spielberg
DreamWorks Pictures

13. A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)

Two filmmakers cannot seem more diametrically opposed than Steven Spielberg and Stanley Kubrick: one is warm and sentimental; the other is cold and clinical. Yet, perhaps because of those differences, this sci-fi fable about an android (a chilling Haley Joel Osment) on a Pinocchio-like quest for humanity, developed by Kubrick for years before his death, is a haunting and fascinating work of cinematic alchemy. It's a Spielberg adventure with moments of Kubrickian horror, and a Kubrickian art film with Spielbergian heart. Gold star for this robot boy. -- Dan Jackson

Munich Steven Spielberg
Universal Pictures

12. Munich (2005)

Modern blockbusters are filled with tough-guy musings about the moral weight of vengeance -- just watch any random 10 minutes from a Zack Snyder film -- but they rarely grapple with the outcome of violence in a self-reflective, genuine way. Munich, the story of a secret team of Israeli assassins led by Eric Bana, is a different type of thriller. With the help of a complex, profound script by Tony Kushner and Eric Roth, Spielberg delivers the white-knuckle tension of a spy film without letting his characters off the ethical hook. Instead of rah-rah patriotism, you get a queasy ethical conundrum awash in ambiguity, history drawn with the bloody tip of a knife. -- Dan Jackson

Saving Private Ryan Tom Hanks Steven Spielberg
DreamWorks Pictures

11. Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Spielberg's World War II movie solidified itself as an American classic 15 minutes into its runtime, after a grave, pungent staging of the invasion of Normandy Beach. The rest of the film lives up to the sequence, with Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, and an unimaginable list of big-name actors playing out a universal band of brothers. When a life is worth saving, backstory matters, and Spielberg's direction does as much to enrich the lives of his men as it does to enact the terrors of war. A triumph that would be a full-blown masterpiece if it weren't for those weepy bookends with older Private Ryan. -- Matt Patches

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade Steven Spielberg
Paramount Pictures

10. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

"We named the dog Indiana." With those five words, Sean Connery, playing the role of Professor Henry Jones, Sr., manages to both humanize and de-mythologize one of American culture's most endearing pulp heroes. It turns out Indiana Jones got his name from a dog and has a cranky dad. Did we really need all this information? Probably not. But Last Crusade is an eternally rewatchable sequel with more than enough exciting set pieces, one-liners, and caustic Grail Knights to justify watching Spielberg and Harrison Ford's fedora-wearing hero work through their daddy issues on screen. Plus, it gave us "No ticket," a great non-sequitur and an all-time top-10 action-movie zinger. -- Dan Jackson

Minority Report Tom Cruise Steven Spielberg
20th Century Fox

9. Minority Report (2002)

On the surface, Minority Report is yet another sci-fi film from a master of the genre, but look closer and you'll find something else: a canny neo-noir about a detective on the run. This mind-bending whodunit finds the famous director and the even-more-famous star bringing out the best in each other -- Cruise underplays Spielberg's sentimental impulses, and Spielberg turns Cruise into a crew cut-rocking blunt object -- and nearly every other element, from the costumes to the effects to the music, is perfectly executed. Well, except for the mawkish last few minutes, which force this movie into the "great movie, bad ending" category, a specialty of late-period Spielberg. -- Dan Jackson

Schindler's List Steven Spielberg
Universal Pictures

8. Schindler's List (1993)

For years, the word on Spielberg was that he couldn't handle "adult" material. With Schindler's List, released the same year as the crowd-pleasing Jurassic Park, he silenced many of his critics, stunned audiences, and won countless awards for delving deep into the horrors of the Holocaust. Viewed within the context of his career, it's certainly a turning point, but the film itself is hardly a reinvention or rejection of the sensibilities that made him a household name. Instead, Spielberg used the tools he'd honed over the years -- a Hitchcockian feel for tension, a keen understanding of actors, and an eye for bold images -- to tell the story of Oskar Schindler, an opportunist-turned-hero. The movie works so well because it's still a "Spielberg" film -- not in spite of that fact. -- Dan Jackson

Lincoln Daniel Day-Lewis Steven Spielberg
DreamWorks Pictures

7. Lincoln (2012)

Without the nostalgic glow, Spielberg's rowdy, rousing act of political theater stands out as a treasure waiting to be appreciated. Daniel Day-Lewis won an Oscar for portraying our thunderous 16th president, who pulled every string necessary to end the Civil War and abolish slavery in one fell swoop. Spielberg finds comedy and tragedy in the saga, which resonates with a particularly damning pitch in our current stagnant moment. With gorgeous period accoutrements and the sharpest casting of the decade, Lincoln captures the past, speaks to the present, and hopefully inspires the future. -- Matt Patches

Catch Me If You Can Steven Spielberg
DreamWorks Pictures

6. Catch Me If You Can (2002)

Spielberg film performances rarely earn the praise they deserve, as the majesty of the package overshadows its parts. Not only does the director keep the true story of con artist Frank Abagnale light on its toes with retro-cool style (amplified by John Williams' catchy score), Catch Me If You Can boasts Leonardo DiCaprio's best work ever. We see him slip into the role of doctor, lawyer, and pilot, then slip back again to his norm -- tortured and infantile. Catch Me If You Can is Spielberg as the actor's director, and he moves in complete unison with his strapping lead. -- Matt Patches

Jurassic Park Steven Spielberg
Universal Pictures

5. Jurassic Park (1993)

The movie you've watched 1,000 times on TNT holds up. The way Jurassic Park pushes in from the grandiose to the personal arcs -- Dr. Grant's relationship hang-ups, the two kids' coming-of-age stories, John Hammond's dream blowing up in his face -- is a science on par with genetic resurrection. Spielberg maintains Michael Crichton's knack for navigating the heady in wholly digestible ways while making good on his ensemble's gasps -- the brachiosaurus. By the time Jurassic Park becomes a Jaws successor, where velociraptors fighting a T. rex doesn't feel like excessive payoff, it's already melted us away with awe. Everything you could possibly want out of a modern blockbuster. -- Matt Patches

Jaws Steven Spielberg
Universal Pictures

4. Jaws  (1975)

"Da-dum… da-dum… da-dum da-dum da-dum!" You know the music. You know the "bigger boat" line. Maybe you even remember that dolly zoom shot of Roy Scheider sitting on the beach with his family when the screams of terror ring out and everyone runs like hell. But no matter how much pop culture chomps on the remains of this classic, there's no stripping this understated, fundamentally humanist monster picture of its primal power. Even in the age of Sharknado and The Shallows, Jaws is still scary, funny, and essential viewing. These are waters you'll want to get back into. -- Dan Jackson

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial Steven Spielberg
Universal Pictures

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

People like to talk about "wonder" when they talk about Spielberg. But in his best films, like E.T., that sense of wonder is always rooted in the drab confines of reality. This story of a boy and his alien friend lets Spielberg explore all of his pet themes at once -- the void left by absent fathers, the mundane horror of suburbia, the need to accept outsiders -- but the movie endures because the details surrounding the iconic moonlit bike ride are so specific: the Coors E.T. drinks, the Speak & Spell he uses, and the Reese's Pieces he loves. Like modern life, the world of E.T. is one defined by brands, consumer goods, and the need to escape. If only we all had another planet to phone home to. -- Dan Jackson

Raiders of the Lost Ark Steven Spielberg
Paramount Pictures

2. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

With a bullwhip, a leather jacket, and an "only Harrison Ford can pull this off" fedora, Spielberg invented the modern Hollywood action film by doing what he does best: looking backwards. As obsessed as his movie-brat pal and collaborator George Lucas with the action movie serials of their youth, the director mined James Bond, Humphrey Bogart, Westerns, and his hatred of Nazis to create an adventure classic. To watch Raiders of the Lost Ark now is to marvel at the ingenuity of specific sequences (the boulder! the truck scene! the face-melting!) and simply groove to the self-deprecating comic tone (snakes! Karen Allen! that swordsman Indy shoots!). The past has never felt so alive. -- Dan Jackson

Close Encounters of the Third Kind Steven Spielberg
Columbia Pictures

1. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

This balletic sci-fi epic is one of two movies Steven Spielberg wrote for himself (the other being A.I., which he took over from Stanley Kubrick -- half counts). And you can tell; his personal obsessions pile up in Close Encounters, which follows scientists preparing for first contact, a mother searching for her abducted son, and a man (Richard Dreyfuss) who sacrifices his family for a taste of the unknown world. The special effects are lush and the drama is heartbreaking, a movie grand enough to wrestle with life's eternal questions. Spielberg preys on our curiosity, mysteries big (30-year-old planes appearing in the desert!) and small (mashed potato mountain!) drawing us in like mini Devil's Peaks. A confluence of music, picture, and performance, Close Encounters is the kind of movie that fans a fire of the imagination -- this isn't the limit of what movies can do, it's the beginning. -- Matt Patches

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