Rank You For The Movies: Steven Spielberg Movies

Humans have an intrinsic fascination for ranking their favourite things. The sense of order and comprehension it brings to our opinions, and the fun of compiling a list, has resulted in a constant stream of top 10s online. Rank You For The Movies is a new feature (inspired by Empire’s fan-favourite The Ranking) which brings together the views of myself, Ross Miller (@rosstmiller), Madeleine Lloyd-Jones (@madelexne) and Lucy Buglass (@LGTHBlog). We essentially discuss a film-related topic and produce a top 10 list at the end – and you can see our conversation unfolding below. 

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© – USA Today

Cameron: I’m just going to put it out there – Temple of Doom is the best Indiana Jones movie.

Ross: Straight in there with the big guns! I have to stick with Raiders of the Lost Ark myself. They’re all great, though. All three of them.

Cameron: *laughs* Yes, all three of them. I love Raiders so much, Temple of Doom edges it for me though. So completely bonkers, extremely violent considering it’s a PG and legitimately, pretty scary! The bugs, the sacrifices… yikes.

Ross: I do love Temple of Doom, though. As you say, bonkers for what is supposed to be a family friendly adventure flick.

Lucy: I prefer Raiders too!

Cameron: The whole sequence where they eat weird and wonderful things, brains and whatnot, has stuck with me since childhood.

Ross: It’s scarring!

Lucy: It’s intense for a PG, that’s for sure.

Ross: But it’s hard to beat that opening sequence of Raiders for me; the statue, the whip, the boulder. So iconic and still thrilling.

Lucy: Even if you haven’t seen the film, you know that theme. Just so good.

Ross: Let’s jump ahead to more recent Spielberg stuff; I absolutely love Catch Me If You Can.

Cameron: Yes, yes, yes! Catch Me If You Can is genuinely sublime; the star power in that movie is off the chain. DiCaprio, Hanks, Walken; unreal.

Ross: I might actually say that’s it’s my favourite of all his work. Not best, per se, but it’s the one I enjoy most just to throw on and still enjoy the heck out of it compared to something like Saving Private Ryan or Munich which, while great, are pretty harrowing to watch on the regular.

Lucy: Oh man, yes! Perfect combination, Hanks especially can do no wrong in my eyes.

Ross: It’s one of Leo’s best performances; the way he manages to convince you he’s older than he is, right before your eyes, even though you know he’s just a kid is an extraordinary feat.

Cameron: An underrated John Williams theme also, and the quirky animation too. It’s really not a conventional Spielberg movie at all, even in terms of the editing – much more zippy.

Ross: The opening titles are exquisite; Saul Bass eat your heart out.

Cameron: Spielberg is a gold dust merchant. Even his missteps have upsides. 1941 is easily his worst movie but there’s still an element of spectacle.

Ross: What’s another of his films you’re a big fan of?

Cameron: Okay so if we’re still talking modern Spielberg, I unashamedly adore The Terminal.

Ross: I like The Terminal! Gets looked down on but it’s really charming.

Lucy: A.I. Artificial Intelligence is probably my all time favourite, I love it more every time I watch. Best film of 2001 for me, probably.

Ross: A.I. is sublime. And it’s only gotten better with age.

Lucy: Haley Joel Osment is amazing, probably one of my favourite child performances. I’ve always loved the concept of A.I. and robots anyway, so that story really stood out to me. Just feels so well done and genuinely tugs at my heartstrings.

Ross: He’s so good in that role. I love the scene where she “activates” him, the change in his eyes. It’s got that unmistakable Spielberg sentiment that really gets to me; did you know it was originally supposed to be a Kubrick project and, after he died, Spielberg worked from his notes and sketches? Although I imagine Kubrick’s version would be much less sentimental. 

Lucy: That’s one project I’m glad Kubrick didn’t touch!

Cameron: A Spielberg classic that I actually don’t really like: Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I think the craft behind it is staggering, special effects are absolutely unreal especially for the time, and that closing sequence is cinematic magic in a bottle. But everything before it? I find it to be a bit of a slog.

Ross: It definitely does that a slower pace than a lot of his other stuff.

*At this point, Madeleine entered the conversation.*

Madeleine: Hi, sorry I’m here! Close Encounters is stunning. Even though visually it maybe looks outdated, it doesn’t feel outdated? Does that make sense?

Ross: Yeah I get what you mean, Maddy. By the very nature of VFX, there’s always going to be a level of outdatedness.

Cameron: Right Maddy, favourite Indy film; go!

Madeleine: Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

*Tumbleweed…*

Madeleine: I joke! It’s Raiders for me.

Cameron: God dammit, I’m alone in my Temple of Doom.

Ross: What do we feel about his other two early-mid 2000s sci-fi: Minority Report and War of the Worlds?

Cameron: Minority Report is great but nowhere near top 10. War of the Worlds on the other hand is a modern masterpiece; it has set-pieces scarier than most horror movies. The whole post-9/11 angle of it makes the terror so much more effective (until that damn ending).

Madeleine: I haven’t actually seen Minority Report! It’s like the one film I’ve missed. I think I agree there about War of the Worlds.

Cameron: And like March of the Penguins, any film which Morgan Freeman narrates is automatically fantastic.

Madeleine: Morgan Freeman could narrate the terms and conditions of something and I’d be in heaven.

Ross: I’m the opposite, Cameron! I like but don’t love War of the Worlds. With the exception of the first attack scene and the basement bit with the roaming spy alien. Whereas Minority Report I adore.

Cameron: But it has so much Tom Cruise running! Isn’t that why we all go to the cinema?

Ross: No, we go to the cinema for a tasty debrief, obviously.

Cameron: Ross.

Madeleine: Fun fact: Ben Stiller based his Night at the Museum run on Tom Cruise.

Ross: I am a big Philip K. Dick fan anyway and I really thought Spielberg nailed the concept. I love time travel stories, too, and the way it plays around with that idea of the morality of “is someone guilty if they technically haven’t committed the crime yet?”.

Cameron: It’s interesting cause they basically use the same idea in Captain America: The Winter Soldier but tailor it Hydra.

Lucy: I haven’t seen Minority Report either… I am terrible.

Ross: We won’t say anymore, don’t wanna spoil it for you two.

Cameron: Right, E.T. – what’s the craic?

Ross: Just will say that I think it’s one of his most visually stunning films.

Lucy: I adore E.T. so much!

Madeleine: On the first week of secondary school they made us watch E.T. in English – I think to get rid of our attitudes when we all knew we’d seen each other cry?

Ross: But, but, but. It wouldn’t crack my top 10 of his if I’m being honest. It’s heartwarming and fun but has a big dollop of nostalgia covering it, I just think he’s made more interesting films on a number of levels.

Cameron: I listen to the E.T. score literally every day while walking my dog and let’s just say, I have some pretty emotional walks.

Ross: Do we think the film has maybe the most iconic shot in cinema history, with the bike and the moon?

Lucy: Yes definitely Ross!

Cameron: Guys… what about Jurassic Park?

Madeleine: Yes! Dinosaur time!

Cameron: Not in my top 3… it’s close, I won’t lie.

Madeleine: I don’t get you Cameron.

Lucy: I mean, there are so many Spielbergs to choose from so I’ll let you off.

Ross: I still remember when I first saw that moment when we first see those dinos. There was absolutely nothing in the world like it. It’s like Spielberg created a feeling that didn’t exist before in that moment.

Madeleine: Spielberg is pretty excellent at adapting books I recently read Jurassic Park and it was so good. Spielberg translated it perfectly to the screen. I’ve just started reading Ready Player One too.

Cameron: Oh… the book of Ready Player One is so much better. I liked the movie, but the book is so in-depth and as a result, more engaging than the who’s who of the movie.

Madeleine: I think the thing with Spielberg is that he created so many totally new things on the big screen that now we’ve seen it, and in that sense maybe he’s lost that awe-inspiring-ness with more recent films?

Ross: I think the closest he’s gotten recently was with RPO and The Shining sequence. Pure brilliance.

Cameron: Was anyone big on The Post? I remember seeing it being showered with praise and being completely dumbfounded – like it’s good, but “one of the best films of all time”? Not a chance.

Lucy: Nah not really, it was fine but didn’t blow me away.

Cameron: There’s three biggies we haven’t really talked about. First up: Schindler’s List.

Ross: It is a truly magnificent piece of filmmaking. Wonderfully staged, gorgeously cinematography and music and exquisitely acted.

Madeleine: Magnificent is really the word for it. Magnificent if harrowing.

Ross: The moment that really gets to me, conveying the absolute inhuman, callous cruelty is Ralph Fiennes’ character getting up from bed, going out on the balcony and just casually snipers that poor woman before stretching and going back into his room.

Cameron: It hit me really hard, the level of respect but purity in showcasing the horrors of the holocaust while still managing to retain a sense of triumph is a testament to Spielberg’s storytelling talents.

Madeleine: It walks the line of truthfulness and respect so well.

Lucy: I think I’ve only watched it once, because it disturbed me so much. Not easy at all.

Cameron: Swiftly on… Jaws.

Madeleine: Genius.

Cameron: Suspense has a sound, and it goes “duh rum”.

Ross: I mean, how many films can you say scared an entire generation from going into water?

Madeleine: And generations to come – I remember the first summer after seeing it I could see a suspicious shaped rock in the water and refused to go in. I was scared out of the water after watching that. Like, I was scared Jaws was going to get me in my bed.

Cameron: It’s hard to say any film is perfect, but it’s pretty damn close. It’s the OG summer blockbuster.

Lucy: Jaws is genuine horror, like, that suspense is magnificent. Still scares me now.

Cameron: I suppose, there’s only one we still need to speak about… just a little film called Saving Private Ryan.

Ross: It doesn’t get much better than that opening sequence.

Cameron: Tied with Inglorious Basterds for the best opening sequence of all time.

Madeleine: It is pretty fucking spectacular.

Ross: It’s about as close as most of us will get to actually being in warfare.

Cameron: Similarly to Schindler’s List, the way Spielberg (really gruesomely) captures the horror of Omaha Beach walks a very fine line between visceral, necessary gore and gratuitousness. But it’s spot on, not a single shot out of place. Arms, legs, intestines all over the place. War is hell after all.

Madeleine: The scene in Hacksaw Ridge where they first go over the top really reminded me of that.

Ross: You really feel like you’re one of those soldiers. He makes the brilliant decision of not showing you the German soldiers, just shots of the gun turrets firing down indiscriminately on the US soldiers.

Cameron: Shall we vote?

10. War of the Worlds

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© – Paramount Pictures

Cameron: A criminally underrated entry in the director’s filmography, War of the Worlds not only packs a terrifying, exhilarating punch, but it has some of the very best scenes of Tom Cruise running. The klaxon of those tripods thrums like a death sentence.

9. Close Encounters of the Third Kind

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© – Columbia Pictures

Madeleine: This film should not have worked – it’s years ahead of successful alien films and the effects that came with them, but it does work. The focus on the humans’ fixation on it is enough to tie you to the basic practical, albeit effective effects – and that MUSIC.

8. A.I. Artificial Intelligence

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© – DreamWorks Pictures

Lucy: I’ve always regarded A.I. Artificial Intelligence as my favourite Spielberg film (so far anyway!). Haley Joel Osment is fantastic in the lead role, embodying the frustrations of A.I. trying to comprehend human emotions. It tackles some serious issues and asks big moral questions about how we should use modern technology. Although the effects look pretty dated today, it’s a great piece of escapism that I can revisit again and again.

7. Schindler’s List

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© – Universal Pictures

Ross: It’s the film that made the industry take Spielberg the populist Hollywood director seriously as he took on a subject close to his heart and Jewish heritage. The result was something truly harrowing and disturbing, epic yet intimate, deeply respectful yet forthright as it depicted the atrocities of the Holocaust. Something about the starkly beautiful black and white cinematography both sends us back in time and makes the horrors of the time and place feel all the more real; it makes you feel like you’ve seen the face of evil. Never an easy watch, of course, but a vital and unforgettably powerful one.

6. Raiders of the Lost Ark

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© – Paramount Pictures

Lucy: Who could forget the classic Raiders of the Lost Ark, and our first look at Indiana Jones? Arguably Harrison Ford’s finest performance, it’s got everything you need in a family action film. Not to mention, there’s the iconic boulder scene that has been parodied many times, yet somehow never gets old. Highly recommended!

5. E.T. the Extra Terrestrial 

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© – Universal Pictures

Madeleine: This is a film that appeals to everyone: all ages, backgrounds and generations. It’s simultaneously nostalgic yet timeless, from the opening forest scene to that simple “ouch” at the end which is almost guaranteed to destroy you. It has destroyed me many times.

4. Catch Me If You Can

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© – DreamWorks Pictures

Ross: In my eyes this is Spielberg’s most breezily enjoyable film. The caper takes us on a whirlwind journey through the life of real life con man Frank William Abagnale Jr., punching above his weight and beyond his years. Telling the “true story of a real fake” going back and forth in timelines, Spielberg manages a perfectly tightrope tonal walk between the light-hearted fun and genuine pathos, with a terrific central performance by Leonardo DiCaprio who manages transformations to convince even us as the audience that he is who he claims to be.

3. Saving Private Ryan

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© – Paramount Pictures

Cameron: As the bullets torpedo the water, dust the sand and rupture god-knows how many organs, Spielberg places you in the unescapable hell of warfare in the opening minutes. When you finally let your senses recalibrate, there’s a brilliant masterpiece to enjoy.

2. Jurassic Park

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© – Universal Pictures

Madeleine: Watching this film today is still just as effective as watching it in it’s 1993 release. The special effects are brilliant, and the use of practical models is still (I think) second to none. It’s just iconic performances, scenes and music. With DINOSAURS.

1. Jaws

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© – Universal Pictures

Ross: Scaring an entire generation (or two!) from wanting to even go near the water, everything about this film earns its lofty status; the famous two-note driven score by John Williams, the well-drawn characters, the performances by Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw and the overall sense of fear and tension born out of the happy accident approach of not showing us the shark for most of the movie. An iconic classic for all those reasons and many more that, for our money, sits it atop the Spielberg tree.

Keep your eyes peeled for the next Rank You For The Movies!

Author: Cameron Frew

Freelance film writer. Words on Flickering Myth, Bloody Disgusting, Movie Corner UK and Jumpcut Online. My five favourite films are: 1. The Goonies 2. Forrest Gump 3. The Shawshank Redemption 4. Warrior 5. Whiplash

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