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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.

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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.

Steven Spielberg

Universal Pictures/Everett, Universal/Getty, Paramount/Everett

18

‘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.

17

‘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.