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Ranked: Steven Spielberg Films from Worst to Best
We reassess the entire filmography of Hollywood's flagship director.
by Andrew Osborne
Spielberg. Love him or hate him, you've got to respect his skill. But really, why would you hate him? Sure, he's made some goopy clunkers. And, yes, he and his BFF George Lucas have come to personify the blockbuster era that crushed the Golden Age of auteur-driven '70s cinema. But the sixty-five-year-old boy wonder is also responsible for some of the most undeniable classics and indelible images in the history of filmmaking — and so, with both Tintin and War Horse just out, it seems like the perfect time for America's de facto director-in-chief to get Ranked.
27. Hook (1991)
All of Spielberg's worst traits were on full display in this critically-reviled tale of a grown-up Peter Pan (Robin Williams, of course) learning to reconnect with his inner child — which, in the film's lazy, shallow assessment, means acting like a hyperactive brat and bloviating about "happy thoughts." Maudlin, soulless, and cynical, Hook somehow even managed to make Julia Roberts in a Tinkerbell costume look dumpy.
26. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)
Of all Spielberg's cinematic crimes, his single worst infraction may be forcing Shia LaBeouf down the world's collective throat in the first place, then rubbing salt in the wound by anointing him as the heir apparent to the Indiana Jones legacy. Not that it matters, since this shark-and ridiculous-CGI-monkey-jumping sequel squandered the last remaining goodwill many of us had for the franchise. The only thing keeping this turkey from the very bottom spot on the list is the welcome return of Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood. It's just too bad the film itself wasn't worth coming back for.
25. A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
In terms of style and sensibility, Spielberg and Stanley Kubrick are such polar opposites that, in retrospect, it's hardly surprising this amalgam wound up as more of an interesting misfire than a cohesive vision. True, there are powerful moments, like Haley Joel Osment's lonely robot child trapped beneath the waves praying eternally for something he can never have. It's a haunting evocation of what it means to be human — until Spielberg tacks on a forced, convoluted "happy" ending where (spoiler alert!) the robot finally becomes a "real boy" and gets his mommy all to himself.
24. 1941 (1979)
Given the melodrama and quasi-mystical pretensions running through most of his work, Spielberg's oeuvre isn't generally a laugh riot — and this chaotic mess of a would-be comedy doesn't do much to challenge that. John Williams' score is pretty great and there's a decent dancehall brawl, but otherwise, 1941 is just a whole lot of characters running around and shouting.
23. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
A colossal disappointment — after the smart thrills of Raiders of the Lost Ark, the sequel ditched badass Marion Ravenwood for dippy Willie Scott (future Mrs. Spielberg, Kate Capshaw) and an annoying pint-sized wisecrack machine named Short Round. Even worse, after a lively opening sequence, the tone downshifts from the fun of the original to grim scenes of child slavery and heart-ripping human sacrifice. This prompted the creation of the PG-13 rating, which is pretty much the only thing worth remembering about Temple of Doom.
22. Always (1989)
Relatively understated by Spielbergian standards (i.e., just a few ghosts, forest fires, and aerial heroics), this tearjerker supernatural romance is okay, if you like that kind of thing. If you're unable to resist the raw sex appeal and dreamy good looks of late '80s Richard Dreyfuss, Always might be right up your alley.
21. The Terminal (2004)
Fittingly enough for a film inspired by the true life tale of a man trapped in an airline terminal, this claustrophobic dramedy works best as an in-flight movie. Pleasantly diverting, with a feel-good message about the American melting pot and a cutesy performance by Tom Hanks as an accented traveler from the fictional land of Krakozhia, the whole thing feels more like a Garry or Penny Marshall retread than a Spielberg original.