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Steven Spielberg’s Movies, Ranked Worst to Best

From ‘Raiders’ to ‘Ready Player One,’ the King of Hollywood’s work from completists-only to modern classics

There’s a reason why Steven Spielberg is still the undisputed King of Hollywood. Over the course of a nearly five-decade-long career, he has perfected and/or inaugurated any number of cinematic movements and innovations. Coming of age as one of the “movie brats” – the generation of filmmakers who transformed American cinema in the Sixties and Seventies – Spielberg also helped kick off Hollywood’s blockbuster culture with Jaws in 1975 (and then sent that culture into overdrive with the one-two punch of Raiders of the Lost Ark and E.T. the Extra Terrestrial in 1981 and 1982).

The success of such movies and their imitators has been identified by many as one of the reasons why American film culture took a nosedive in the 1980s, but his career has always alternated between blockbusters and more serious fare. He has tackled tough subjects – the Holocaust in Schindler’s List, WWII in Saving Private Ryan, terrorism in Munich, the Civil War and slavery in Lincoln – while somehow always managing to make films that also work as popular entertainments along the way. To wit: in just the past four months, Spielberg has released one Best Picture nominee, the historical drama The Post, and is now back in theaters with one of the more complicated and ambitious works of his career, the long-awaited virtual-reality sci-fi adventure Ready Player One.

For all its popularity, his body of work is surprisingly diverse, and one senses from each effort the work of a director always pushing his audience as well as himself. So, we decided to look over his filmography in honor of his latest release. Of course, his films are so successful that the vast majority of the movies on this list – even some near the bottom – are worth recommending. Without further ado, here are all of Steven Spielberg’s films, ranked from “worst” to best.


‘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.

Steven Spielberg

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‘War Horse’ (2011)

Spielberg's take on this WWI tale – first a children's novel by Michael Morpurgo, then a play by Nick Stafford – about a young Devon lad who tracks down his beloved horse in the trenches of France, starts off as a quaint, provincial reverie along the lines of John Ford's How Green Is My Valley. Then it does something fascinating: As the war spreads, it consumes the film's Old World aesthetic and brings it kicking and screaming into the murderous, mechanized modern world. True, some felt War Horse was too old-fashioned — but in fact, it's about the very idea of being old-fashioned.


‘Bridge of Spies’ (2015)

Spielberg leans into the even-handed somberness of this
real-life story about the lawyer (played by America’s Dad, Tom Hanks) who was
tasked by the U.S. government with negotiating the exchange of a Soviet spy (Mark
Rylance) for downed U2 pilot Francis Gary Powers in the early 1960s. The
performances are great – Rylance won a well-deserved Oscar for his surprisingly
melancholy turn – and Spielberg has a surprising amount of fun with the
atmosphere of divided, Cold War-era Berlin. But this film also feels
spiritually refreshing for the director: Even in his more serious work, has
often demonstrated a Manichean streak, one with clearly defined notions of good
and evil. This might be the one Spielberg film where he seems determined to allow every
character their humanity, and to embrace the complexity of the world.

Steven Spielberg

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‘The Adventures of Tintin’ (2011)

Made in collaboration with Peter Jackson, Spielberg's re-imagining of Belgian cartoonist Herge's iconic, cowlicked boy detective is an ideal blend of reality and computer animation: The characters have just enough weight and presence to feel like they've finally come to life, while the colorful style still allows them to retain their distinctive features from the original comic books. And once it gets going, the film – which incorporates narrative elements from a number of Tintin stories – never really stops, with chase scenes piled atop one another. It was admittedly too much for some viewers, but the movie's sheer energy is something to behold.


‘Jurassic Park’ (1993)

It’s safe to say that 1993 was a very good year for Spielberg: Not only did he make one of the most brutal films about the Holocaust to come out of Hollywood (a feat which would win him an Oscar), but also made one of his biggest hits ever by adapting Michael Crichton’s novel about a theme park populated by real dinosaurs. It’s a wild ride, to be sure, but let’s not forget that Spielberg got his start in horror films, and Jurassic Park is a real monster movie — the fact that these predatory beasts run amuck have been rendered with such lifelike special effects only makes them that much more terrifying.

Steven Spielberg

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‘Amistad’ (1997)

Yes, the "Give…us…free!" sequence might be the worst thing Spielberg has ever directed – the kind of syrupy, sentimental indulgence his detractors were always going on about. But the rest of this film, much maligned at the time, is incredibly powerful. Following the real-life legal efforts to free a group of slaves who took over the title ship in 1839, this historical drama is alternately sober-minded and passionate. Because the slaves – led by Djimon Hounsou, giving one of the finest performances in any Spielberg movie – were treated as property under U.S. law at the time, two Abolitionists (Morgan Freeman and Stellan Skarsgard) have to make common cause with an oily real estate lawyer (played by Matthew McConaughey). But the film balances that disturbing insight with a ferocious, traumatic flashback to the "Middle Passage," showing the unthinkable brutality with which these human beings were treated during their journey. In many ways, Amistad is the necessary correlative to Lincoln, which shows how Abraham Lincoln and his allies had to use duplicitous means to achieve justice.