Steven Spielberg has another potential blockbuster on his hands with his latest film, Ready Player One. Those who worried that the constant references of Ernest Cline’s novel might overwhelm the movie probably should have trusted Spielberg to find the story. He’s good at this!
The man has made more than 30 films and also played a key role as a producer in so many more (Gremlins, Back to the Future, The Goonies, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Men in Black and Transformers, to name just a very few). Spielberg is a movie-making institution, a true filmmaking brand, and one of the few directors who can draw audiences on his name alone.
Acknowledging that there’s a difference between “best” and “favorite,” we put the pressure on our staff here at The Comeback to make a tough choice. Maybe it says something about each of us as well. And that’s part of the point: There’s more than enough Spielberg for everyone.
What is your favorite Steven Spielberg movie?
Matt Clapp: I’ve sat here for three days debating between a few movies… and still don’t have a clear answer! But I guess I’ll go with Jaws.
Can you believe that movie came out 42 years ago? It still holds up so, so well, and that they were able to make the shark look pretty real — despite being unrealistically massive — is incredible. Imagine how terrifying Jaws was to viewers when it first came out. Movies this terrifying and gruesome weren’t commonplace by 1975.
I’m not making this up: my mom still won’t go more than a foot into the water after seeing Jaws, even though I constantly explain the incredibly tiny odds of being attacked by a shark.
But the main reason I’m going with Jaws is because it had a big impact on my childhood. I became very into sharks and got shark books, toys, etc. I even had the horrible Jaws NES game. I remember going to Universal Studios and thought the Jaws attraction was the coolest damn thing (and I also thought it was real at the time, of course).
And when you factor in that I even own Jaws: The Revenge (of the 2.9 IMDB rating) on DVD, I’m probably forced to go with Jaws here.
Andrew Bucholtz: My favorite Spielberg-directed movie is Raiders of the Lost Ark. It’s not the deepest or most somber thing he’s done, but it’s so well done, and always rewatchable. It’s a very good action movie that excels at what it’s going for.
However, I do like Back to the Future and The Goonies even more, and Spielberg was an executive producer on both. I’ll stick with Raiders for my pick, as it’s easier to quantify Spielberg’s contributions as a director. But it should be noted that much of his remarkable Hollywood legacy has also come from his work as a producer.
Alex Putterman: Obviously, Spielberg has directed some incredible historical dramas, from Schindler’s List to Lincoln. But you know what? Great historical dramas come out all the time. Spielberg’s work on those films is excellent, but it’s certainly not genre-defining.
That’s why I’m going with Raiders of the Lost Ark, which is easily one of the most fun, exciting, watchable adventure movies ever made. It’s consistently funny. It’s genuinely dramatic, even when you know that Indiana Jones won’t get decapitated by a swordsman trapped in the Well of the Souls. And it has some heart.
In the 40 years since Raiders hit theaters, there have been few, if any, successful attempts to replicate its magic. That’s why it’s my favorite.
Jay Rigdon: It’s hard to go wrong here. We can quibble about his ceiling (especially these days), but Spielberg’s floor might be higher than any other director. There’s always going to be a baseline of competence. And the list of classics is long too, and they span multiple genres; I wrote about Jaws as my favorite horror movie last Halloween, for example.
But I think my personal favorite is Jurassic Park. It’s obviously a great movie, containing some of the best special effects ever used (a blend of both traditional effects work and CGI), sitting comfortably in the action/science fiction ballpark that has defined a lot of Spielberg’s most-loved work (Indiana Jones, E.T., Close Encounters, etc.)
But when you’re picking from a list of movies as long as Spielberg’s, there are always going to be some split hairs, and for me the tiebreaker is that I saw Jurassic Park in theaters when I was six, and I loved dinosaurs.
Of course it’s my favorite.
Michael Grant: One of my most enjoyable film-going experiences is Catch Me If You Can. It is rare for a movie to be fun and have meaningful depth. The movie accomplishes both so well that you’re kind of sad when it’s over. You can make an argument that it’s Steven Spielberg’s most complete film.
You take Hollywood heavyweights, Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks, and put them in a delightful cat-and-mouse game based on a true story. Oh, and by the way, you include starlets before they were super-famous, like Amy Adams, Elizabeth Banks and Jennifer Garner. And we still haven’t gotten to the best acting performance: Christopher Walken as a Willie Lowman character. Every scene he’s in is magical.
Catch Me If You Can delves adroitly into people’s perceptions of the truth, how gullible we all are, and how we lie to ourselves. To quote Carl Hanratty (Hanks), “Sometimes, it’s easier living the lie.”
Sean Keeley: Favorite Spielberg movie, to me, means which movie is the most rewatchable, not necessarily the best movie. While he’s made some amazing and important films, such as Lincoln, Amistad, and Schindler’s List, I don’t think I’m going to spend a lazy Sunday watching those movies over and over.
I think when it comes down to rewatchability, it’s hard not to focus in on the Indiana Jones series. These love letters to the swashbuckling cinema of old Hollywood became a genre unto themselves. Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of the most fun movie thrill rides you’ll ever see and it cemented Harrison Ford’s place as a leading man. Temple of Doom is fascinating in its darkness, so unlike any other Steven Spielberg movie of this era.
But if I’m going to pick one movie to say is my favorite and most rewatchable, it must be Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. A large part of that probably has to do with the fact that it came out when I was 11 and it was a Saturday and Sunday morning mainstay on HBO, TBS, and other TV stations growing up.
To me, Spielberg perfected the Indiana Jones formula here, revisiting and revising what worked in Raiders so well. A secret treasure, Nazis, and plenty of great fights and chases. He also ups the ante by throwing ornery Sean Connery into the mix. It was also the perfect swan song for the character (if only they’d decided to keep it that way).
Ian Casselberry: It doesn’t quite feel right not picking what’s considered a “classic” Spielberg film. But even trying to narrow it down like that is subjective and still gives you so many movies to choose from. (Also, a confession: I’ve never seen Schindler’s List.)
But the Spielberg film I think about and reference all the time — maybe more than any other movie by any other filmmaker — is Minority Report. It definitely has some Spielberg touches, like a virtual loss of innocence (on at least two counts) for Tom Cruise’s John Anderton.
The two-shot of Cruise and Samantha Morton is so arresting that it almost stops the film. The revulsion of a blind Anderton eating a moldy sandwich and drinking spoiled milk is viscerally revolting. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that one of Cruise’s best performances came from working with Spielberg, either.
Yet where I think the movie truly shines is its vision of the near-future and the role technology plays in it. Did you think of Minority Report when you first saw the iPhone? What about the intrusion of relentless advertising that people encounter? Tech companies are still trying to invent the newspaper sheet that Cameron Crowe is reading on the subway. (Maybe LG is there with its folding TV screen.) Advertisers, internet entrepreneurs and law enforcement are trying to predict our behavior.
I just wish we were closer to the automated cars and jet-packs we see.
David Rogers: This is a tough one. Spielberg thrives in so many different categories when it comes to making movies, but my favorite talent he routinely pulls off is his worldbuilding. Jurassic Park feels like it could be a real park. E.T. feels like it could happen in any suburb. Saving Private Ryan may have succeeded in making things a bit too realistic for those who actually faced such horrors.
With all of that in mind, I’m going to take a controversial stance and say that Hook sticks out to me as one of my favorite Spielberg films.
Choosing one favorite Spielberg film is impossible, and I’m sure my fellow writers will pick the usual candidates. Meanwhile, Hook often goes underappreciated. It’s a fun twist on an iconic story and features some of the best worldbuilding of any Spielberg film. The sets were so big and detailed that they were almost too large to film.
Hook has a loaded cast (even more so when you add in the cameos), it’s visually beautiful and it’s just plain… fun.
What ’90s kid didn’t want to hang out with Rufio and the Lost Boys? Who didn’t want to take part in one of those imaginative, colorful feasts before a crazy food fight? Or take down a bunch of pirates? Bangarang!
Ben Koo: I have yet to see The Post or Ready Player One and while many options stand out, I’m going with Catch Me If You Can.
When I define favorite when it comes to movies, a large part of that is rewatchability and that’s where Catch Me If You Can stands out. There are so many memorable scenes in classics like Jaws, Indiana Jones, and Jurassic Park, but all too often, they’re driven by action which resonates more in our memories and hence loses some value because over time, we’re overly familiar with those movies. Catch Me If You Can doesn’t ebb and flow depending on action, but is a witty and clever cat-and-mouse game between two flawed individuals who, despite their opposition, get us to root for them both.
Some of the more prestige films probably pop a bit more in terms of style (Schindler’s List, Lincoln, and Saving Private Ryan), but Catch Me If You Can is extremely well done from a dialogue, soundtrack, acting, cinematography, and editing standpoint. The plot is breezy and mischievous and never falls into any lulls. You can watch any 20-minute stretch of the film and be content with that portion, which I don’t think is possible in many other Spielberg’s films.
I know it’s not Spielberg’s best film, but it’s my favorite and probably is one of the films I watch the most while I’m working because it’s just enjoyable to watch at any point and in any mood.
[Thanks to Liam McGuire for the featured image]