19. 'The Color Purple' (1985)
In what many considered to be his first "serious" film, Spielberg took Alice Walker's internalized, almost experimental Pulitzer Prize-winning novel and turned it into a lavish, expansive, emotional epic. As the innocent but relentlessly brutalized Celie, an African woman living in the South, Whoopi Goldberg (in her film acting debut) was a beacon of pathos, while Danny Glover gave her abusive, callous husband Albert remarkable complexity. Does the film go a little too far in rounding out the sharp edges and provocations of the book? Yes, but Spielberg's ability to turn the harsh, sometimes unforgiving tragedies into grand, moving triumphs of the human spirit is remarkable. It was nominated for 11 Oscars, but didn't win any; he'd have to wait almost a decade before one of his films would nab Academy's grand prize.