10 Essential Steven Spielberg films

Jamie Flook 7 February 2022

Arguably one of Hollywood's greatest living directors, we pay tribute to his enduring legacy and revisit ten of his best films

It is now 50 years since Steven Spielberg released his first feature film Duel, and his new film West Side Story has recently hit the big screen.

The great man has worked on nearly 200 movies in various capacities. From his 35 feature films as a director, here are ten Spielberg works that you really should see.

Jaws, 1975

The classic summer blockbuster in which a man-eating shark attacks a beach resort and frightens the living daylights out of the locals.

Based on a novel by Peter Benchley, the story sees the local chief of police (Roy Scheider) teaming up with a marine biologist (Richard Dreyfuss) and an actual shark hunter (Robert Shaw) to hunt down the protagonist.

Shaw’s epic performance and John Williams’s scary theme tune lend Jaws a real edge. It also has contemporary relevance as the town’s mayor keeps telling people that the beach is safe despite the evidence.

Schindler’s List, 1993

The ultimate real-life redemption story in which Nazi Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) realises the error of his ways and decides to do everything possible to help Jewish victims of the Holocaust in their hour of need.

Arguably a candidate for the title of “greatest film of all-time”, it contains a deeper message about the value of human life weighted against profiteering.

Catch Me If You Can, 2002

Leonardo DiCaprio plays former confidence trickster Frank Abagnale Jr who is said to have impersonated lawyers, pilots, doctors and the like to live a jet set lifestyle while teetering on the brink of being exposed by an FBI agent played by Tom Hanks.

It’s an exciting thrill ride to the outer reaches of human daring and youthful bravado. Tom and Jerry meets real life.

Jurassic Park, 1993

The summer of 1993 saw the world go dinosaur-crazy as Jurassic Park became what was then the highest-grossing film of all-time.

Based on the gripping novel by Spielberg’s close friend Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park tells the story of what happens when businessman John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) decides to employ a team of scientists to genetically engineer dinosaurs for his theme park.

A whole generation of paleontologists began studying dinosaurs because of Jurassic Park.

Saving Private Ryan 1998

When a mother loses three of her four sons during the Second World War, US Army captain John H Miller (Tom Hanks) is tasked with leading a unit of soldiers to find her fourth son Private James Ryan (Matt Damon) with the objective of returning him safely to allied hands.

Against the brutal backdrop of the Normandy landings, Spielberg masterfully combines Hollywood sentimentality with the harsh reality of war. Not many could pull it off but Spielberg does.  

ET The Extra-Terrestrial, 1982

Proof if any was needed that aliens might actually be nice. A loveable alien is stranded on planet Earth and is befriended by a boy named Elliott (Henry Thomas) who takes on the responsibility of helping ET to find a way to return back home.

Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade, 1989

The third film in the series sees heroic archaeologist Dr. Jones (Harrison Ford) joined by his father and fellow academic Henry Jones Sr (Sean Connery) to set out on a quest to find the Holy Grail. Jones was the brainchild of George Lucas and getting Spielberg on board to direct the series was a master-stroke.

It’s the ultimate popcorn movie and the perfect tonic to the stressful times in which we live.

Hold on to your hats, a fifth Indy film is due for release next year!

Duel, 1971

This is an often-overlooked gem in which a salesman (Dennis Weaver) crosses paths with a mysterious truck driver in the Mojave Desert of California.

The unseen driver seems hell bent on terrorising the salesman in what might be the best road movie there is.

The BFG, 2016

Roald Dahl and Spielberg are a recipe for magic. The BFG (Mark Rylance) is a friendly giant befriended by an orphan named Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) and together they march on Giant Country to stop bigger meaner giants from kidnapping the children of Britain.

This is a beautiful tale of friendship that is fun and colourful.

War Horse, 2011

A thoughtful screenplay written by Richard Curtis and Lee Hall (adapted from the book by author Michael Morpurgo) gave Spielberg great material for War Horse.

It tells the story of a horse named Joey who is bought by the British Army and serves all over Europe during the First World War. Animals are heroic at the best of times but as War Horse shows, they can also be relied upon during the worst of times.

Featured image credit: Wikimedia Commons

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