Steven Spielberg, now that’s a name, even if you are not into cinema; you surely know! This is the director whose films have recorded the highest box office in cinema history and is regarded by experts as the most influential and powerful figure in the film industry. You can’t go through a list of the best directors of the new Hollywood era—or any era for that matter— without stumbling across the name of Steven Spielberg!
Steven Spielberg is the man behind many people’s favourite childhood films; his film Jaws made us refrain from swimming for a while. His gifted mind behind the Indiana Jones films made us run around to buy whips & hats to do our adventures—a favourite Halloween costume of many of us till today if we might add!
Throughout his flourishing career, Steven Spielberg managed to reach and control our emotions like no other! He made us yearn for an E.T. of our own after E.T. the Extraterrestrial (1982), he made us weep for Schindler’s List (1993), he made us scared with the Jurassic Park (1993), and who can forget the bedazzlement of his sci-fi films!
When it comes to the story of people like Steven Spielberg, there is so much to learn from, so much to admire, and so much to respect. Next, we look at the highlights of the legendary Steven Spielberg’s life and career.
Who is Steven Spielberg?
With Jewish origins, born in Cincinnati (Ohio) on 18 December 1946, Steven Spielberg spent his early years in New Jersey, then moved with his family to Scottsdale, Arizona.
Destined to become one of the greatest filmmakers of his time, Steven Spielberg remains the only one of the major filmmakers of his generation— starting with George Lucas, a lifelong friend— who does not have university film studies behind him. However, he replaced school with a self-taught practice that began as a young boy when his parents entrusted him with an 8 mm camera to record family outings.
In addition to the outings, young Steven Spielberg got into the habit of making small films in which he already demonstrated his penchant for fancy and his taste for special effects. One of these little films, Escape to Nowhere, won an amateur film competition; another, the sci-fi Firelight, was screened in a theatre.
Following the divorce of his parents, Steven Spielberg moved to Saratoga, California, with his father, unlike his sisters, who remained with their mother in Arizona. The family break-up had a strong influence on Steven Spielberg’s development. The world of dreams and fantasies became his consolation. After finishing high school, he attended the nearby California State University. Even as a student, he did not initially distinguish himself by notable achievements, unlike his internship at Universal Pictures Studio; that’s where he shined! While still an intern, he was given a chance to work on his first short film, Amblin, which was shown in the cinema in 1968 and won an award at the Atlanta Film Festival a year later.
The film helped him get his long-term contract with Universal Studios. The name “Amblin” came into Steven Spielberg’s career years later, again with his first own production company, Amblin Entertainment. The 23-year-old then left university and became the youngest director ever hired by a major Hollywood studio.
Building a Name for Himself!
Steven Spielberg didn’t take long to rise to fame and become one of the most successful filmmakers. He began his Hollywood career with T.V. productions, including the episode “Deadly Separation” from the crime series Columbo with Peter Falk and the T.V. chase thriller Duel. His first feature film Sugarland Express (1974), was praised by critics.
His very next film—the favourite of many—Jaws (1975), the highest-grossing film of all time for a while! The film made Steven Spielberg a star director at only 29 years old. But he was just getting started!
For ten years, one blockbuster followed the next for Steven Spielberg. For example, the science fiction film Close Encounters of the Third Kind or the film series about Indiana Jones, in which he developed the figure of the adventurous archaeologist Indiana “Indy” Jones together with Star Wars creator George Lucas and perfectly cast the title hero with the then Star Wars actor Harrison Ford.
In 1982, Steven Spielberg surpassed his own box-office record with E.T. – The Extraterrestrial. For many years, E.T. remained the highest-grossing film of all time. In addition to the Indiana Jones film series, Steven Spielberg also celebrated great success as a producer in the 1980s with the trilogy Back to the Future.
In 1993, Steven Spielberg followed up his great successes with Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List. It is worth noting that, to date, Steven Spielberg is responsible for all parts of Jurassic Park as director or producer. At the 1993 Venice International Film Festival, he received the ‘Golden Lion’ for Lifetime Achievement.
The following year, he founded DreamWorks SKG, along with Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen (SKG is the acronym of their surnames). Then by the end of the 1990s, came the brilliant anti-war drama Saving Private Ryan.
Steven Spielberg, After the Turn of the Millennium
As the mastermind behind his film company Dreamworks, Steven Spielberg continued to make hit films in the new millennium.
Highlights in the first decade include the future thriller Minority Report (2002), the based on real events Catch Me If You Can (2002), the migrant comedy Terminal (2004), and the end-time spectacle War of the Worlds (2005). There is also the terror drama Munich (2005) and the fourth part of the Indiana Jones saga Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008).
In the new decade, Steven Spielberg has fascinated cinema audiences with films such as the film biography Lincoln (2012) with Oscar winner Daniel Day-Lewis, the thriller Bridge of Spies (2015), the drama The Post (2017), and the semi-autobiographical drama The Fabelmans (2022).
It is not only as a director and screenwriter (for Poltergeist (1982) and A.I. – Artificial Intelligence (2001), among others) that Steven Spielberg rose to fame and glory. He was also part of many projects as a producer. In addition to his films, his most successful projects include Men in Black 1-3 and the Transformers film series.
Steven Spielberg Methodology
No one makes it as Steven Spielberg did without having a clear, unique style, a methodology with which he can distinguish himself from others like he has been doing successfully for years. For Steven, it has always been about the raw and away from mainstream stories. He always likes to pay tribute to everyday people in different circumstances and how they deal with them.
Throughout his impressive career, Spielberg has always paid special attention to themes like childhood, and loss of innocence, focusing on the ordinary people’s story and how they can turn into heroes despite having limitations. In most of his films, he likes to remind the audience that good will eventually prevail.
When it comes to technicality, Spielberg is known to be a man of storyboards for the visualisation of his films. He also likes extreme low and high camera angles, handheld cameras, and long takes. His detailed camera movements are always on point, and his wide-angle lens adds the perfect depth needed for the scenes.
A Walk Down the Memory Lane
Let’s go through some of the legendary Steven Spielberg’s most memorable movies.
The horror film about the man-eating beast from the ocean became the most successful film of all time and is still considered the first modern blockbuster in film history. Jaws ensured not only empty beaches but also a full box office. The film triggered a veritable shark hysteria, and merchandising articles were sold as successfully as the film.
With Jaws, Steven Spielberg scored his first big hit. Despite the difficulties linked to his inexperience, a malfunctioning mechanical shark, and the climatic difficulties for outdoor filming in the open sea, the film was a box-office hit grossing around 470 million dollars.
The film also won three Oscars and even caused a sort of collective psychosis, so much so that it caused a drop in the number of tourists in seaside resorts! The film was just the right project to show Spielberg’s flair for filmmaking.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
In 1977, Steven Spielberg achieved another booming success with ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’, and in fact, he rewrote the codified rules of the science-fiction genre that always portrayed aliens in the role of monstrous conquerors, as he gave the aliens a much more benevolent, ‘humanising’ vision.
The film follows the story of an everyday guy whose life turns upside down after he meets an alien. Like its precedent, the film was quite a success in the awards shows, scoring many nominations and awards at the Academy Awards, including Spielberg’s first Oscar nomination, for Best Director, the Golden Globes, the British Academy Film Awards, and many others.
Indiana Jones (1981-…)
A few years ahead, Steven Spielberg returned to break records at the box office with the first film of the Indiana Jones series Indiana Jones – Raiders of the Lost Ark. The films came as a result of an idea developed by George Lucas, who moulded the character of the adventurous archaeologist Dr Henry Walton, AKA Indiana Jones.
With Harrison Ford in the leading role and Spielberg as the helmer, the series’ first film came to life in 1981. This was followed in 1983 by Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, in 1988 by Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and finally in 2008 by Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Spielberg worked on the first four films of the series, and like most of his work, the films were huge successes garnering a lot of money at the box office and many awards and nominations, including several for Spielberg himself.
ET The Extraterrestrial (ET) (1982)
It doesn’t take much to realise Steven Spielberg’s love for science-fiction and fantasy, and to be honest; no one does these genres like him! In 1982, Spielberg returned to his idea of cinema as a representation of dreams and fantasy with the modern fairytale of E.T. – The Extraterrestrial (1982).
The story of the little alien abandoned on earth by his spaceship, alone and lost, moved audiences all over the world and broke every box-office record in cinema history. It stayed this way for eleven years before Spielberg broke his own record AGAIN!
Spielberg told the story by seeing it from the children’s innocent and open-to-wonder perspective while incorporating autobiographical elements such as the sense of abandonment and the escape from reality through fantasy. The film earned the director his third Oscar nomination among a long list of nominations and awards. To this date, the film is also celebrated as one of the all-time best films.
The Colour Purple (1985)
What makes Spielberg one of the greatest filmmakers is his amazing talent that spans all cinema genres. In 1985, Spielberg challenged himself for the first time with a “committed” film, namely The Colour Purple, a story based on a novel by Alice Walzer about an African American woman saved from her husband’s mistreatment thanks to a friend.
This was Spielberg’s first venture away from the summer box-office smash-hits, something that he had become quite famous for at that time. Spielberg’s eighth film featured an entirely African American cast, including the rising star at the time, Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey, among others.
Like most of his films, the film was nominated for eleven Oscars, but the Best Director award wasn’t one of them. Nevertheless, the film earned Spielberg his first Directors Guild of America Award. Interestingly, this was a first for a director to win the Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures without even getting a nomination for the Best Director award at the Oscars.
Jurassic Park (1993)
Jurassic Park is the film that set off the dinosaur “cult”! The film is an adaptation with a profusion of special effects of Michael Crichton’s novel about the catastrophic dinosaurs’ ruinous return to life. At the time, the film was hailed as the king of the science-fiction genre setting a new historical box-office record, beating E.T. itself! Steven Spielberg’s film stayed at the top of the top-grossing films for five years to only be surpassed by James Cameron’s Titanic.
The adventure spectacle Jurassic Park awakened in all the audiences the desire to encounter the giants from the old times. The film was revolutionary with CGI (computer-generated imagery), which was new at the time; also, the dinosaurs on the screen were life-sized animatronics. The film left everyone in awe of what they saw.
The critics loved it, the audiences adored it, and the nominations and awards kept coming! The film has three Oscars to its credits, among 20 other awards. Jurassic Park is regarded as one of the most thrilling films in American cinema, and it is mentioned in the book 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.
Schindler’s List (1993)
The year 1993 was a happy year for Steven Spielberg. As while he was supervising the post-production processes of Jurassic Park, he was already working on his next gem, AKA Schindler’s List.
With the historical drama Schindler’s List, Spielberg smoothly succeeded in recounting the tragedy of the holocaust through the human and moral itinerary of an entrepreneur registered with the Nazi party, who finds himself rescuing thousands of Jews, at first almost by chance, then with ever-increasing awareness and dedication.
While Steven Spielberg managed to be a recurrent name in the nominations list of the Oscars, it was this film that delivered him his first Oscar for Best Director! The film also won the Academy Awards for Best Picture in the same year.
Spielberg is particularly attached to this work, being himself of Jewish origin. The movie is filmed in black and white but has hints of colour only at certain moments considered important by the director — for example, the little girl’s red coat in the Krakow ghetto or the candlelight during prayer.
Although the film made about made $320 million at the box office, Spielberg refused to take any of it. In fact, the story goes that he even called it “bloody money”, and he donated his share of the money to Jewish organisations and Holocaust education.
The masterpiece, with seven Oscars, was showered with acclaim from critics and audiences. The film also caught the attention of many world leaders; some even got together with Spielberg.
Saving Private Ryan (1998)
In 1998 it was the turn of Saving Private Ryan, which proved to be another milestone in Steven Spielberg’s career. The anti-war film about D-Day in World War II was nominated for eleven Oscars and won five of the coveted golds, including Spielberg’s second Oscar for Best Director.
The film marked the beginning of his successful collaboration with Tom Hanks, which will turn into one of the most productive collaborations in Hollywood.
These were only a very few of the gems the great Steven Spielberg worked on. As a pillar of the new Hollywood era, Steven Spielberg has shaped the history of cinema! His immense talent, ideas, and brilliant mind are second to none! With so many successful films in his repertoire, he truly earned his title as the pioneer of the modern blockbuster who exceptionally keeps on bedazzling with what he has in store next.