Every Steven Spielberg Movie Ranked From Worst To Best
Over the course of 50 years, Steven Spielberg has directed 34 movies — here are all Steven Spielberg movies ranked from worst to best. Steven Spielberg movies have made the director become a cultural icon over the course of his career, with his films inspiring the next generation of filmmakers for decades. Steven Spielberg is one of the few directors who can shift effortlessly between crowd-pleasing blockbusters, and prestigious award-baiting fares. Furthermore, movies directed by Spielberg often manage to combine these two facets of Hollywood filmmaking, which is an even rarer feat. This ability to cater to both critics and general audiences comes down to his natural gifts as a storyteller; Spielberg imbues his movies with heart, which makes many of them enduring classics.
Spielberg has been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director seven times, winning twice. Steven Spielberg movies have amassed an incredible $10.5 billion worldwide, easily making him the highest-grossing director of all time. Seven movies directed by Spielberg have been inducted into the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” Of course, as with any filmmaker, Steven Spielberg isn’t infallible, but even his misfires are not wholly devoid of merit. Here are all 34 Steven Spielberg movies ranked from worst to best.
Released in the same year as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Always can certainly be classed as “lesser Spielberg,” and is one of the most easily forgotten movies directed by Spielberg. It’s the director at his most cloying, a criticism levelled frequently at Spielberg, but never more apt than here. Spielberg and Always lead actor Richard Dreyfuss shared a mutual love for the 1943 war drama A Guy Named Joe, the story of the spirit of a pilot who mentors a friend from beyond the grave, which inspired Always. To its credit, Always has Audrey Hepburn in her final film role and features some impressive aerial stunts. However, it’s a slow movie that dramatically doesn’t offer anything that A Guy Named Joe didn’t do better decades earlier.
33. The Terminal
Next up on the list of Steven Spielberg movies ranked is The Terminal. While the premise of man without a nation stuck inside an airport for years is certainly an interesting hook, The Terminal’s slow pace languishes the concept. It doesn’t help that the movie’s lead Tom Hanks, a reliable and always lovable on-screen presence, is just too starry a choice for such a quiet role. It’s a gentle movie about a precarious time in history (post 9/11) that nobody knew how to deal with, but Spielberg’s ambitious intent doesn’t carry through the aims of The Terminal. Perhaps the most impressive thing about The Terminal is that the titular building was built from scratch inside a hanger when Steven Spielberg couldn’t find an airport that would let him film for the length of time he needed. It’s a pity though that the film itself seems so inconsequential, despite its best intentions.
Despite a cult following, Steven Spielberg doesn’t like Hook, and indeed it’s a movie at war with itself. The pre-Neverland sequences are dramatically confident, with Spielberg reveling in setting up the idea of “what if Peter Pan grew up?” Once Peter Pan lands in Neverland though the tone instantly changes to pantomime, and the film fails to adequately deliver on its earlier promise. While Spielberg’s sequel to the classic story Peter Pan has its nostalgic fans, Hook is not a film that holds up when one removes the rose-tinted glasses of childhood glee.
The 142-minute running time would test the patience of any kid or adult, especially thanks to its unruly pacing and disappointing lack of magic. Still, the practical sets and production design are a visual treat in the current age of digital sets, Dustin Hoffman is having a ball as pirate leader Captain Hook, and John Williams delivers perhaps his most underappreciated score. Despite all this though, Spielberg himself remains one of Hook’s loudest detractors, lamenting the quality of the script and that he didn’t give Robin Williams more freedom in the role.
31. Ready Player One
The faults of Ready Player One lie less with Spielberg himself than the source material, Ernest Cline’s novel of the same name. It’s an overwhelming cavalcade of pop culture references and ’80s kid nostalgia, seemingly designed solely for internet gossip. It’s fun at first, and Spielberg certainly brings the spectacle to the digital world of The Oasis, but it doesn’t take long before Ready Player One’s cameos and Easter eggs aren’t enough. Spielberg tries hard to imbue a sense of danger, but that’s difficult to sustain when the movie feels like watching someone else play a video game. That sense of emotional detachment is Ready Player One’s biggest weakness. Still, Mark Rylance playing a Willie Wonka-style Silicon Valley guru is a welcome addition.
Spielberg is a man of many talents, but screwball comedy is not one of them. Riding high on his back-to-back success with Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Spielberg threw everything he had at 1941, but his hubris got the better of him. 1941 is sporadically funny and features some of the best comedians of the day, including movie stars Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, and Ned Beatty. Spielberg’s set pieces remain impressive to this day, with the dance hall fight being a highlight. However, these virtues are not enough to justify its bloated runtime and scattershot approach, with the film collapsing under the weight of its ideas, most of which fall flat. According to Jack Nicholson, director Stanley Kubrick allegedly told Spielberg that 1941 was “great, but not funny.” That sums it up pretty well.
29. The Lost World: Jurassic Park
The sequel The Lost World: Jurassic Park is a definite step down from its masterful predecessor. The effects are still stunning and the cast is peppered with stand-out talent, but it’s tough to escape the feeling that the entire enterprise is just a retread of the original movie. Even Spielberg himself admitted he became disaffected while making The Lost World because he was so sure the film would be a slam dunk since the first one was.
While meme-worthy Jeff Goldblum is always watchable, the change in his portrayal of Ian Malcolm from the previous movie is jarring, to say the least. The fourth act climax in San Diego also feels tacked on and doesn’t deliver on its intent to homage King Kong. Moreover, there’s little thematic weight to this film and several main characters, like Vince Vaughn’s Nick Van Owen, simply disappear in the third act. It’s still superior to Jurassic Park’s other sequels, and the darker tone is an interesting change of pace from the original movie. However, it comes at the expense of the awe and wonder that Jurassic Park had in spades.
28. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Spielberg’s attempt to make an Indiana Jones sequel that lived up to its predecessors went wrong with Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Harrison Ford still has that magic touch as Indy, even as an older and crankier version of the daring archaeologist, but the film doesn’t have the same energy as the first three installments. The original movies thrive on their 1930s-style pulp pastiche energy, and that’s sorely lacking with Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. While practical stunts that the series prides itself on are present and correct, they are encumbered and diluted by a glut of unnecessary CGI, hampering the adventure. Indy’s lack of connection to the MacGuffin is also a weakness. It’s not a total disaster, and there are some great moments (like Crystal Skull‘s time travel) that proudly stand up with the original trilogy in terms of sheer thrills. But when those three movies set the bar so high, even a pretty solid movie cannot help but fall seriously short by comparison.
27. War Horse
Translating Michael Morpurgo’s simple children’s book about a family’s horse who is taken to the frontline with British troops during the First World War works so well as a children’s novel and play because it shows the horrors of war through a childlike prism. Translating that into a straight-faced war drama inevitably strips the story of some of its appeal and charm. The horse blends into the background while an array of celebrated character actors pop up for random scenes and trite dialogue. Spielberg’s direction of action though is unparalleled, and War Horse showcases some of the most spectacular, beautiful, and brutal footage he’s ever captured. Composer John Williams is channeling Vaughan Williams with his lavish score, and there is a yesteryear quality to the filmmaking. War Horse is arguably the film in Steven Spielberg’s catalog that feels most like it could have been made in the 1940s — for better or worse.
26. The Sugarland Express
Technically his theatrical directorial debut, The Sugarland Express was a curious place for Spielberg to get his start. The story follows a husband and wife trying to outrun the law so that they can regain control over their son who now lives with foster parents. The rougher edges are to be expected for such an early Spielberg movie, but he still displays a striking command of action scenes, which are on display here with some top-notch car chases. There’s a fascinating nihilistic edge to this story too, with the film considered as something of an anomaly among Spielberg’s other films (as well as Goldie Hawn’s). Spielberg’s typically earnest approach to the material is largely absent here, reflective of the disenchantment inherent in Hollywood movies of the era.
25. The BFG
Spielberg’s The BFG is a sweet albeit slight film, ably led by Mark Rylance’s charming performance as The Big Friendly Giant. Spielberg and his screenwriter, the late Melissa Mathison capture the cheeky sentimentality of Roald Dahl’s work, but some kids may be put off by its more languid pacing. Notwithstanding this, it deserves recognition for giving the world one of the great farting scenes in modern cinema. Despite its charm, The BFG failed at the box office, being one of the few real financial disasters in Spielberg’s canon.
In terms of Spielberg’s more prestigious side, Amistad shows those predilections at their most uninteresting. While Amistad has its moments with a grumpy Anthony Hopkins as John Quincy Adams and Djimon Hounsou delivering a searing portrayal of a slave, Cinque, as a whole, the film feels like a rehash of better movies. It falls foul of the white savior narrative, and its historical inaccuracies can be a put-off to viewers unable to accept the notion of artistic license.
23. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
Much has been written about the glaring issues with the second Indiana Jones movie. Kate Capshaw is given little to do beyond scream and complain, the addition of an adorable kid sidekick continues to be divisive among fans, and the racist depiction of India and the Hindu faith is still a topic of contention for good reason. Given how seemingly effortless Raiders of the Lost Ark was in its weaving of folklore, history, and pulp-style adventure, it cannot help but feel disappointing that Temple of Doom resorts to such racially loaded clichés.
What the movie does have in spades though is a sense of non-stop adventure. It’s a cinematic rollercoaster ride in the best possible way, with some of the most wonderfully ludicrous set pieces in Indiana Jones’ history. The wonderful musical opening number hints at Spielberg’s desire to make a musical, and the film’s horror elements are so shocking that they helped to usher in the age of the PG-13 rating. Still, given how timeless so many of Spielberg’s best movies feel, Temple of Doom’s notably dated nature makes it stand out for all the wrong reasons.
22. The Color Purple
Alice Walker’s beloved novel The Color Purple is a deftly layered exploration of trauma and Black womanhood, so it’s no surprise that Spielberg was deemed something of an ill fit for the big-screen adaptation. This was Spielberg’s first real attempt at a more serious and adult film, and much criticism was leveled at his deviations and dilutions from the source material. However, The Color Purple‘s story succeeds when it gives its excellent cast room to breathe, most notably Whoopi Goldberg, who is so moving and self-assured in the lead role that it’s a shock to discover this was her cinematic debut. The novel manages the swing between agony and ecstasy far more skillfully than the film, and the subtleties of those themes are softened into more traditional melodrama in a way that does no favors to Walker’s work. The Color Purple famously received ten Oscar nominations and won zero awards.
21. The Adventures of Tintin
Steven Spielberg’s long-time friend and colleague Robert Zemeckis pioneered motion-capture movies with the likes of Beowulf and The Polar Express, with mixed results at best. While Spielberg also fell for the motion capture’s allure, he avoided the pitfalls of Zemeckis’ efforts by committing to the simple cartoonish aesthetic of the original comics. Made in collaboration with Peter Jackson, Tintin just never stops. It’s thrill after thrill with some chase scenes that truly boggle the imagination, all piled on top of one another. For some viewers, this approach may prove too tiresome, but in many ways, The Adventures of Tintin has the same flavor and fun as Spielberg’s Indiana Jones films.
20. The Fabelmans
One of the most personal movies directed by Spielberg, The Fabelmans can be seen somewhat as a biopic for the director, considering a decent amount of it is based on his childhood. The project was initially conceived back in 1999, however, Spielberg was concerned it would hurt his parents, and put the movie on the back burner. While not at the top of the list for Spielberg movies ranked, The Fabelmans holds its own as an enchanting coming-of-age tale. Spielberg perfectly captures the wonder and awe of movies through his protagonist Sammy (Gabriel LaBelle, American Gigolo), who is utterly fascinated by them. While it doesn’t have the same magic as say, E.T. or The Goonies, Spielberg still takes viewers on an incredible journey with an emotional core that won’t soon be forgotten.
19. The Post
Spielberg’s The Post is a crisp drama about the Washington Post’s efforts to publish the Pentagon Papers in the face of potential censorship and outright war with Richard Nixon’s White House. Spielberg’s direction captures the immediacy of the behind-the-scenes newsroom action as they weigh out the pros and cons of making what would become a historic decision. While the script is often on-the-nose at times, the theme of the importance of journalism in the age of fake news is just as important (if not more so) today than it was in the ’70s. Spielberg decided to direct it as soon as he finished reading the first draft of the screenplay, feeling such an important story couldn’t wait.
18. A.I. Artificial Intelligence
For some people, A.I. Artificial Intelligence is just too saccharine, a failed attempt to reimagine Pinocchio with a futuristic slant. One wonders if those critics would have been kinder had the movie been made by Stanley Kubrick as was originally intended. However, while Spielberg is frequently accused of sentimentalizing hard-core material, the sentimentality in A.I., especially in the final act, was exactly what Kubrick wanted. Spielberg simply brought it faithfully to the screen. In addition to this, it was Spielberg who added the darker elements of the story such as the Flesh Fair. While the mixture of two very different creative voices in Steven Spielberg and Stanley Kubrick never quite gels, as a pure experiment of two auteurs trying to find their common ground. A.I. is an ambitious feat worthy of a second look.
17. War of the Worlds
Steven Spielberg takes H.G. Wells’s sci-fi classic War of the Worlds and reimagines it as a post-9/11 tale of human paranoia and nihilism in the face of unknown outsider threats. For a film that was sold as yet another Spielberg summer blockbuster, with Tom Cruise in the lead, War of the Worlds is relentlessly bleak. It’s a daring approach, to depict humanity as selfish cowards and borderline animals in the face of danger and one that pays off. It’s unfortunate that Spielberg doesn’t fully commit to the more negative tones at the end by giving in to his trademark sentimentality in the closing moments. Notwithstanding this, War of the Worlds puts audiences on the ground, following a single family in their attempt to survive, which is a nice change of pace from war rooms and military scenes that normally accompany alien invasion movies.
Released in 2005, the same year as War of the Worlds, Spielberg once again proved his range with the sharply made and deeply difficult historical drama Munich. Based on the true story of the Israeli secret agents who retaliated against the Palestine Liberation Organization after the Munich massacre at the 1972 Summer Olympics, this is a film loaded with guilt and a strain of futility that feels so decidedly un-Spielberg. There’s a true terror to this tale and a welcome bleakness to its depiction of revenge as a false method for achieving closure. Munich includes some of the tensest scenes Steven Spielberg has ever filmed, with the hotel room bomb sequence almost unbearable in its tension. What causes Munich to stumble is its lack of clarity over the socio-political realities of the central conflict and a readiness to let screenplay proselytizing do all the hard work.
15. Empire of the Sun
The adaptation of J.G. Ballad’s semi-autobiographical novel Empire of the Sun was initially meant to be directed by David Lean before Spielberg came on board. Spielberg was drawn to the material due to his fascination with World War II, and the aircraft of that era (his father was a radio operator on B-25 Mitchell bombers). Unfortunately upon release, it was considered something of a minor effort from the director. However, since then, Empire of the Sun‘s reputation has only grown and justifiably so. Featuring a young Christian Bale in the lead role, Empire of the Sun is Spielberg’s most profound work on the loss of innocence, showing the atrocities of war as witnessed through the whimsical gaze of a child.