J.J. Abrams' sci-fi tale “Super 8” is being released today and it has not been downplayed whatsoever that it is a film heavily influenced by the early films of director Steven Spielberg (who co-produced). So here we have what I’m calling Steven Spielberg’s Super Eight aka my eight favorite movies directed by Spielberg.
America meet the Summer Blockbuster, Summer Blockbuster meet America. Back in 1975 people were scared to go to the beach, into their pools and take baths because of a gigantic piece of metal and rubber in the shape of a Great White Shark. Jaws is a fun movie with thrills, scares and laughs. It offers up plenty of great characters and some wonderful tension between them, most notably Brody the scared-of-the-water Chief of Police and Quint the will-say-or-do-anything seafaring shark hunter. Oh and that stupid Mayor Vaughn who refuses to the close the beaches even though there’s a huge shark in the water eating people. Classic score (dun dun, dun dun), classic lines (“You’re gonna need a bigger boat”), classic scares (Ben Gardner’s head). What’s not to love? Summer hasn’t been the same since.
E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (1982)
America fell in love with another blob of rubber this time in the form of a cute alien left behind in the forest by his outer space clan. He meets a young boy named Elliott and the two form an instant bond. Like literally. ET (short for extra-terrestrial) drinks some beer and Elliott gets drunk. This is a movie you liked as a child but only really understand and actually grow to love as an adult. Nothing more can be said about this wonderful American film which is a classic kids rule/adults drool cinematic adventure.
Jurassic Park (1993)
Definitely the “Jaws” of the 1990s this had the little ones, including me, hiding their faces in their hands every single time a scary dinosaur popped out onscreen. And this time not only were the creatures made of rubber and metal, but they were also computer generated. The interaction between these CGI animals and the human actors is pretty darn flawless. We get typical Steven Spielberg awes and wonders which quickly turn to some pretty nifty scares. Anyone who said they didn’t almost piss their pants when that raptor jumped out from behind Laura Dern is a liar.
Minority Report (2002)
Definitely Steven Spielberg’s modern day masterpiece. This is such an enjoyable adventure and a solidly told crime thriller. Spielberg’s Kubrickian influences can be felt here, but he really makes it his own – without any of that pesky saccharine Spielberg sweetness to mess anything up (for the most part). Set in the future, Tom Cruise stars as a police officer who relies on a technology where murders are foreseen (by three gifted people known as precognatives) and are stopped before they happen. But things go sour when he himself is targeted as a murderer (for supposedly killing a man he’s never even heard of) and must run from his fellow “Precrime” colleagues. So many great themes about determinism and free-will are wrapped up in an exciting science fiction setting and a deliciously gritty washed out look that is as thought provoking as it is entertaining.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
The most entertaining Indiana Jones films works for many reasons. This is a solid action movie that doesn’t stop once it gets going. There’s barely time to take a breath. And Indiana Jones is accompanied by two of the most loved and hated sidekicks in action adventure history: Short Round and Willie Scott. Willie’s lines are hilarious ("A boat?... we're not sinking, we're crashing!")and even though she spends most of the time screaming, I’m pretty sure I would be too if I was introduced to eyeball soup or forced to watch a guy get his heart ripped out. I definitely give her props for sticking her hand in that bug infested hole. This is one fun movie. Let’s thank George Lucas for making this the darkest and most disturbing Indiana Jones adventure. Hello, PG-13 rating!
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
There is so much awe and wonderment in Close Encounters of the Third Kind that there wasn’t enough room and Spielberg had to make E.T. five years later to catch the leftovers. This alien invasion flick is headlined by probably Richard Dreyfuss’ best performance as a dad who becomes obsessed when he has a close encounter with another life form. It would seem cool if your dad woke you up in the middle of the night as a kid and forced you to go UFO watching but this family couldn’t really care less. In fact, his kids don’t even want to go see Pinocchio because it’s only rated G. This was one of Spielberg’s more personal films which was influenced not only by an experience watching a meteor shower with his father but by the divorce of his parents (which would be even further explored in E.T.). The sound design here is great, crank this one up on Blu-ray if you have the right system.
War of the Worlds (2005)
Speaking of aliens and great surround sound. Spielberg would complete his alien trilogy (starting with Close Encounters then ET) with this scarily good thriller about aliens… but this time they aren’t friendly. More like Jaws and Jurrasic Park than his other alien flicks, this film presents the darker side of Spielberg that could have only come out of having made movies like Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan. It’s about an alien invasion but told through the point of view of a father (Tom Cruise again) and his estranged children. Believe it or not, War of the Worlds is somewhat of a 9/11 allegory about foreign attackers on American soil. Of course that doesn’t mean the movie isn’t wildly entertaining and thrilling – and it features top notch special effects and glorious sound design. Of course you'll have to get by that almost too sweet and happy ending which sort of sucks away all of the terror you had previously been gripped by for the past two hours. The only minor quibble in an outstandingly fun movie.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
The second best Indiana Jones adventure is definitely the most Spielbergian. Since Steven has some daddy issues, why not make this one about a father and son? Sean Connery is perfectly cast as Henry Jones, Indy’s father who tags along in this adventure about the search for the Holy Grail. And what a search it is! The movie takes place in locations all over Europe and features the scariest man-to-skeleton transformation scene I’ve seen. This would be the last time that Spielberg would use Nazis as the goofy villains because four years later he would make the Holocaust movie to end all Holocaust movies.