Steven Spielberg Movies Ranked and Where to Stream Them

There have been a number of notable films this year from directors like Jason ReitmanTerry Gilliam, and Paul Thomas Anderson, but Steven Spielberg is a league above all others, creating award-winning and inspiring films for over fifty years.

Steven Spielberg Movies Ranked and Where to Stream Them

West Side Story

There's no bigger, popular, or more famous director alive than Steven Spielberg. For nearly 50 years, he has remained a universally-known name that virtually everyone—regardless of age—has heard of, known for his groundbreaking films that have shattered box office records and won numerous awards and acclaim from critics and fans across the globe.

From his debut with 1971’s made-for-TV movie Duel onward, Spielberg has managed to become one of the foremost directors not only of the modern era, but in cinematic history as a whole. Across several decades, he’s managed to keep himself relevant by constantly reinventing himself, tackling various genres, styles, and tones—ranging from the “lighter,” somewhat more comedic films of the ‘70s and ‘80s, to the more sobering dramas of his later career.

With Spielberg’s next movie, the long-awaited remake of West Side Story, we decided to look over Spielberg’s lengthy career, highlighting some of the director’s best and most enjoyable work throughout his extensive filmography.

Image Credit: 20th Century Studios. 

1. Jaws

Jaws

After a noteworthy start with his TV movie Duel and his equally successful film debut, The Sugarland Express, Spielberg's second film incidentally became one of the most groundbreaking hits in cinematic history.

Loosely adapted from the best-selling Peter Benchley novel of the same name, Jaws follows an idyllic New England island community town terrorized by a massive great white shark preying on beachgoers. When the shark claims more and more victims and shows no signs of leaving, the town's sheriff (Roy Scheider), an expert marine biologist (Richard Dreyfus) and a grizzled fisherman (Robert Shaw) set out to hunt it down.

One of the most iconic movies ever made—complete with an equally famous score from John Williams, who would become one of Spielberg's most frequent collaborators—Jaws is a pretty much flawless movie. It has unbelievably taught suspense (heightened all the more by Williams' nerve-wracking soundtrack and infamous theme song) and a surprising amount of lightheartedness, emotion, and comedy.

It was this balance between all those different emotions that set Spielberg apart as a director able to blend several different narrative tones without missing a beat, able to go from edge-of-your-seat thrills in one moment to heartwarming tenderness in the next.

Following an extremely tumultuous shooting schedule (namely due to weather and the animatronic shark being notoriously unreliable when it came to shooting), Jaws debuted to overwhelming critical and financial success, shattering everyone's expectations and creating the prototype for what would become the summer blockbuster movie.

Though only his second movie, the film propelled Spielberg into becoming a household name, garnering three Oscars (Best Film Editing, Best Original Dramatic Score, and Best Sound) and earning universal praise around the globe, including the Master of Suspense himself, Alfred Hitchcock.

Today, it continues to remain not only as one of Spielberg’s best films, but also one of the greatest movies of all time.

Not currently streaming, but available to rent online

Image Credit: Universal Pictures. 

2. Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Hot off the success of Jaws—one of the most commercially and critically successful movies of all time—wasn't going to be easy, and would prove to be a unique challenge for the young Spielberg. Turning down the chance to direct a Jaws sequel (thank God), the director then worked on developing a story focused on UFOs—Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Average electrical lineman Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) has an uneventful, boring life in rural Indiana with his family. All that changes, however, when Roy has an unexpected encounter with a massive UFO. Over time, Roy begins to grow obsessed with finding the UFO, joining others who have shared similar encounters with the extraterrestrial visitors, and encountering a team of researchers trying to get into contact with the UFOs' mysterious pilots.

Like Jaws before it, Close Encounters was one of those movies that perfectly demonstrated Spielberg's skills as a director, weaving in elements of suspense, comedy, wonder, and mystery at some of the unexplained phenomenons of the universe (whether it's an almost paranormal killer shark, the Ark of the Covenant, or a flying saucer).

Spielberg may not provide any sufficient answers to any of the questions he raises in his movies (thankfully, he never even tries), but he still manages to emphasize through the incredulousness of his characters that sometimes mankind should accept the unknown rather than try to solve it, study it, control it, or battle it. (A central theme that would carry over into Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T., and Jurassic Park.)

One of the most influential films in Spielberg's career (leading to the contemporary sci-fi craze of the 1980s'), it would achieve high critical acclaim and serve as another huge box office success for Spielberg.

It would also earn several prestigious award nominations, including the Academy Award for Best Director, Best Original Score, and Best Supporting Actress (it would win for Best Cinematography and Best Sound Effects Editing).

Streaming on Prime Video and Hulu (premium subscription required for both)

Image Credit: Columbia Pictures. 

3. Raiders of the Lost Ark

Raiders of the Lost Ark1

 

The idea of a collaboration between Spielberg and George Lucas—two of the most brilliant minds of 1970s' film—was almost too much to handle. Each of them flying on career highs, any creative venture that came from the friends' partnership was bound to be something special, and when audiences saw the end result in Raiders of the Lost Ark, it was indeed unlike anything else they'd seen before.

The first movie in the Indiana Jones series, the titular hero (Harrison Ford) is a globe-trotting, adventurer/expert archeologist known for going to dangerous lengths to secure some of the world's most mythical, ancient relics in the world of the 1930s'.

When the US government asks him to find the Biblical Ark of the Covenant, Jones races against the Nazi military (who are attempting to find the Ark and make their army invincible) to locate the Ark, taking him on an epic quest from Nepal to Cairo, reconnecting with an old flame (Karen Allen) along the way.

The initial entry in the Indiana Jones franchise—and to this day arguably the best—Raiders of the Lost Ark harkened back to the B-adventure films of Spielberg and Lucas's youth, significantly updating the otherwise pulp aesthetic with modern-day filmmaking techniques and conventions.

Like all of Spielberg's best movies, it's hard to pinpoint why exactly this movie is so good. For starters, it had an absolutely dynamite cast and crew—Harrison Ford starring, Spielberg directing, Lucas producing, Lawrence Kasdan writing, and John Williams scoring. From the efforts of those enormously gifted talents alone, Raiders promised to be something amazing, and sure enough, it was.

To this day, the titular character of Indiana Jones remains one of Ford's most iconic roles, and with good reason (I mean, who on Earth doesn't love that wise-cracking, charismatic, suave, rugged, fedora-wearing scoundrel?). And at the end of the day, we owe it to Spielberg—and Lucas and Kasdan and Ford himself, of course—for making it all possible.

Streaming on Paramount+

Image Credit: Paramount Pictures. 

4. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

E.T. the Extra Terrestrial

Spielberg's triumphant return to science fiction—the genre he had helped popularize with Close Encounters—came in the early 1980s' with E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. And just as had been the case with his first foray into sci-fi with Close Encounters, E.T. similarly proved to be a huge success for the director, earning Spielberg significant acclaim worldwide.

Ten-year-old Elliot (Henry Thomas) lives in the San Fernando suburbs with his family when he happens upon an alien creature left behind on Earth by the other members of his species. Forming a strong emotional and psychic link to the creature (who soon dubs himself “E.T.”), Elliot and his friends try to help the lost alien communicate with his homeworld and find rescue, before a group of bureaucratic government scientists can locate and capture E.T.

In a large way, E.T. feels like a brilliant inversion of Close Encounters. Whereas in the latter film the audience followed the storyline of the government researchers tracking UFOs, here we instead see the story from the alien's point of view, and the terrifying perspective he has of being left alone on a world he knows very little about and relentlessly hunted by the research team.

Full of heart and emotion, E.T. is perhaps the warmest of Spielberg's earliest films. Though all of his movies featured wonderfully layered portrayals of family dynamics, E.T. portrayed the close relationship between both friends and families.

As seen in the movie, the child protagonist has an uneasy relationship with everyone close to him. He argues constantly with his siblings and mother, has very few friends, and only through the close bond he forms with E.T. is he able to find the connection to another being he needs.

It's a powerful, otherworldly depiction of friendship, and one that again served as a massive achievement for Spielberg, earning significantly high numbers at the box office, and winning the Academy Award for Best Sound Effects, Best Special Effects, and Best Music.

Streaming on Peacock (premium subscription required)

Image Credit: Universal Pictures. 

5. Jurassic Park

Jurassic Park

Spielberg was at the top of his game in the '80s, producing and directing several of the decade's best and most noteworthy films (including The Color Purple, Temple of Doom, and The Last Crusade, as well as producing The Goonies, Poltergeist, Back to the Future, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit. 

Though his career transition in the '90s would begin with a somewhat shaky start—audience reception was mixed over his 1991 film, Hook—he managed to course-correct and come thundering back to the artistic levels he had maintained in the late '70s/early '80s with his next big project, Jurassic Park.

Loosely taken from the best-selling Michael Crichton sci-fi novel of the same name, Jurassic Park follows an ambitious industrialist’s (Richard Attenborough) plan to open a wildlife park of genetically-recreated dinosaurs on a small island off the coast of Costa Rica. Before he can open it to the public, the park's creator invites several visitors to gage their first impressions, only for things to go horribly wrong when the dinosaurs' enclosures are deactivated and they are all let loose.

In a way, Jurassic Park feels like the final film of Spielberg's early career. In its tone, style, and blend of comedy and suspense, it closely resembles his earlier work from Jaws onward—the cinematic tone that Spielberg began to shy away from in the 1990s', experimenting with dramatically different kinds of movies than any the director had worked on prior (Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan). It also possesses another key theme that Spielberg focused on in his early career—man's arrogance in trying to control or possess things they have no earthly business controlling (in this case, nature itself).

A remarkable feat of storytelling and the movie that pushed the boundaries of CGI—the dinosaurs still look amazing even by today's standards—Jurassic Park was a massive hit when it entered theaters, quickly becoming the highest-grossing movie of all time (a record it held until 1997's Titanic).

Like all the best early Spielberg movies, it's fun, lighthearted entertainment, bolstered by amazing action, suspense, comedy, music, and performances (Attenborough, Sam Neill, Laura Dern, and a hilarious, scene-stealing Jeff Goldblum).

Streaming on HBO Max

Image Credit: Universal Pictures. 

6. Schindler's List

Schindlers List

In the mid-'80s, Spielberg had begun testing himself with more dramatic works like The Color Purple, but it wouldn't be until 1993 that Spielberg fully committed himself to producing more somber, dramatic movies that came with the release of Schlinder's List. 

Still widely considered to be one of the most upsetting movies of all time, Schlinder's List follows German industrialist and Nazi Party member Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) who saved over 1,200 Jewish lives by employing them in his production factory, preventing them from being sent to Nazi concentration camps.

Initially motivated by profit alone, Schlinder is soon moved by genuine human emotion to save as many Jewish workers as possible, putting him at odds with a psychopathic Nazi commander (Ralph Fiennes) seeking to eliminate as many of them as he can.

Easily Spielberg's most gut-wrenching movie, Schlinder's List is likely the finest, most heartbreaking portrayal of the Holocaust in all of film, with its raw scenes showing the inhumane treatment of Poland's Jewish population during the Second World War continuing to leave viewers in tears nearly thirty years later.

An acting tour-de-force for Neeson and Fiennes, it also showcased a miraculous shimmer of humanity in the darkest decade in mankind's history, brought to life by Neeson’s Schlinder, a man who refused to abide by his Party's horrifying policies, saving hundreds in the process.

A far cry from the family-friendly movies of his early career, Schlinder's List spelled a different, more dramatic phase in Spielberg's career moving forward, with the director adopting a more mature tone for many of his future films.

It would also become Spielberg's most critically acclaimed film in his career to date, winning seven Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Original Score.

Streaming on Prime Video and Hulu (premium subscription required for both)

Image Credit: Universal Pictures. 

7. Saving Private Ryan

Saving Private Ryan

Continuing with the more dramatic phase of his career that began with Schlinder's List, Spielberg's 1998 project saw him return once again to World War 2-ravaged Europe, this time directly tackling the subject of combat and the brotherhood that forms between soldiers.

Shortly after the successful Allied D-Day invasion of Normandy, an Army Ranger captain (Tom Hanks) and his remaining company are ordered to find a paratrooper (Matt Damon) whose three brothers were all killed in battle. On foot, the Ranger company venture deep into the heart of war-torn France, encountering numerous soldiers and settings illustrating the devastating effect the conflict has had on the country.

Noted for its extremely graphic, ultra-realistic portrayal of war, Spielberg was universally praised upon the film's release for depicting World War 2 and all its horrors in startling real light. (The opening scene alone, centering around the D-Day landings feels too real, making you wonder how the hell these men had the courage to land on the beach in the first place, never mind how they managed to survive it, anyway.)

Noted for its ensemble cast—featuring Hanks, Damon, Tom Sizemore, Barry Pepper, Vin Diesel, and Adam Goldberg, with Ted Danson, Bryan Cranston, and Paul Giamatti appearing in small roles—Saving Private Ryan doesn't pull any punches in its depiction of warfare, or the crippling psychological effects it causes in shell-shocked troopers.

Utilizing this large cast, Spielberg also manages to explore the close dynamics that form between soldiers (something that would carry over into the similarly-toned, equally devastating HBO series, Band of Brothers, which Spielberg produced).

One of the most critically acclaimed films of the 1990s', Saving Private Ryan would go on to win the Academy Award for Best Director, Best Film Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Sound, and Best Sound Effects Editing, though it controversially lost Best Picture to Shakespeare in Love in what many still consider a major upset.

Nowadays, it continues to rank favorably as perhaps the greatest war film ever made, as well as the most influential for its time (especially for its battle scenes, which made popular the use of tight angles, hand-held cameras, slow motion, muted colors, and that famous ringing sound effect whenever a character is dazed by an explosion).

Streaming on Prime Video and Hulu (premium subscription required for both)

Image Credit: DreamWorks Pictures. 

8. Catch Me If You Can

Catch Me If You Can scaled

From the '90s and 2000s' forward, Spielberg began a much more prolific stage in his career that saw him release films in rapid succession of one another, sometimes releasing two movies in a single year, such as 2002’s caper film, Catch Me If You Can, and his sci-fi thriller, Minority Report. 

Based on the life of Frank Abagnale (Leonardo DiCaprio), Catch Me If You Can follows a young con man who swindled his way into stealing millions by posing as a pilot, a doctor, and a lawyer in his teens and early twenties, and the efforts of the FBI to track him down.

Though the overall accuracy of the movie's events remains questionable, Catch Me If You Can remains an interesting, entertaining movie that seemed to mold both the lightheartedness of Spielberg’s earlier films with the biographical-heavy subject matter of his later career.

On paper, Frank Abagnale is the perfect Spielberg protagonist—he has charm, intelligence, and roguish likability reminiscent of a criminal Indiana Jones (instead of going after ancient relics, Abagnale goes after checkbooks), making Spielberg an ideal choice for helming the project.

In any other director's hands, this movie would've likely been a more straight-forward, Scorsese-esque crime film—complete with cursing, sex, and drugs galore—but Spielberg perfectly manages to recapture the tone found in his early films, blending crime, comedy, complex emotions, family, and loneliness into one fast-paced, entertaining film.

Streaming on Paramount+

Image Credit: DreamWorks Pictures. 

9. Lincoln

Lincoln 1

Spielberg began wading into biographical subject matter beginning with Schindler's List, the first of a few movies he would direct centered around a real-life historical personage.

From there, Spielberg would begin to invest more and more of his time focusing on these historical films, following Schlinder's List with Amistad, Lincoln, Bridge of Spies, and The Post, each of which remain excellent in their own right, though the best of them likely remains to be the Daniel Day-Lewis vehicle, Lincoln.

Set at the beginning of 1865—a mere four months before his assassination—Abraham Lincoln (Day-Lewis) correctly believes the Civil War is winding down, and that the US must begin working on Reconstruction before allowing the seceded states to return to the Union. To accomplish this, Lincoln tries to ensure slavery's abolition is passed by the House of Representatives, who are torn in two over Lincoln's new 13th amendment and on the verge of not letting it pass.

Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Doris Kearns Goodwin, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (brilliantly adapted by Pulitzer-winning playwright Tony Kushner), Lincoln examines the life of one of the most complex, enigmatic presidents in US history.

As intelligent and politically astute a politician Lincoln may have been, Day-Lewis's Lincoln balances out a more insecure, emotionally aloof side to the famous statesman—someone who outwardly seems very confident and stern in his decisions, yet internally struggling over the right course of action to take.

The role of Lincoln was and forever will be a challenging role for any skilled actor to take, but Day-Lewis—as always—perfectly managed to take on the role wholeheartedly, delivering a nuanced portrait of perhaps the greatest president the country has ever known.

Praised upon release for Day-Lewis's performance (the role would earn him the Academy Award for Best Actor) and Spielberg's direction (specifically his production design, which would also win an Oscar), Lincoln would become Spielberg's second most critically acclaimed film after Schlinder's List, going on to win a total of 41 awards and earn 131 nominations.

Streaming on HBO Max

Image Credit: DreamWorks Pictures. 

10. The Post

The Post

In the past few decades, Spielberg has managed to stay artistically fresh by constantly taking on projects rooted in different genres and subject matters. One moment, he's directing an animated adventure film based on a Belgian comic strip (The Adventures of Tintin), the next a Roald Dahl adaptation (The BFG), and before you know it, he's onto a 1960s' era biopic about The Washington Post. 

Set in the early 1970s', Katherine Graham (Meryl Streep) has just inherited ownership of her family's newspaper, The Washington Post. Struggling to compete with the hard-edged journalism and prestige of other publications (namely The New York Times) and lacking strong journalistic experience, Graham and her team—including legendary Post editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks)—struggle to establish the newspaper as a legitimate news source.

When the paper develops a story centered around the Pentagon Papers—a collection of classified documents relating the US's involvement in Vietnam from the 1940s'—Graham agonizes over the choice over whether to pursue the story and increase The Post‘s reputation, antagonizing Richard Nixon and alienating her political friends.

A brilliant meditation on journalism and freedom of speech, The Post feels almost like the perfect loose prequel to the definitive '70s journalism film, All the President's Men, (fittingly, The Post ends with a serious hint at the Watergate scandal that would claim Nixon’s career).

Both movies feature similar themes over press censorship as well as including some overlapping key characters (including editor Ben Bradlee). Both films also raise serious questions over just how much American citizens should know about their government and politicians—key issues that continue to remain relevant and timely today.

Chosen by the National Board of Review as the best movie of 2017, The Post would earn numerous nominations upon release, including the Academy Award for Best Picture and Best Actress (for Streep), remaining one of Spielberg's most favorably ranked movies in recent years.

Not currently streaming, but available to rent online

Image Credit: DreamWorks Pictures. 

Final Thoughts

West Side Story (Steven Spielberg Movies)

Steven Spielberg is easily one of the most accomplished, well-known directors working in Hollywood today. His long career has spanned five decades and over 30 films, many of which remain some of the most highly praised, famous movies in modern film.

Whether talking about Spielberg's early career focusing on sci-fi or adventure films that balance suspense with comedy, or his later, more serious historical epics, there's no denying the continuing popularity of Steven Spielberg today, even as the director approaches 75-years-old and continues to remain hard at work producing films on a regular basis.

With Spielberg's new movie, West Side Story, set for release on December 10, we hope this list offers a decent, in-depth look at some of the director's finest movies to date.

Additionally, we also highly recommend seeing some of Spielberg's other, equally entertaining movies, including The Sugarland Express, Minority Report, Bridge of Spies, The Adventures of Tintin, and War Horse.

Image Credit: 20th Century Fox. 

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This post was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.

Featured Image Credit: 20th Century Fox. 


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Richard Chachowski is a freelance writer based in New Jersey. He loves reading, his dog Tootsie, and pretty much every movie to ever exist (especially Star Wars).