One of the most influential personalities in cinema history, Steven Spielberg is the best-known director in Hollywood, and one of the richest filmmakers in the world. There’s an extraordinary number of commercially successful and critically acclaimed credits to his name, either as a director, producer, or writer. He has helped define popular filmmaking since the mid-1970s than anyone else. He may not be the greatest director who has ever lived, but he’s indisputably the most successful and the highest-grossing director in Hollywood.
Spielberg’s work keeps audiences flooding into cinemas five decades into his career. Until today, he still keeps himself at the cutting edge of filmmaking and cinema development.
He is the father of blockbuster movies.
Though Star Wars did more than any one of Spielberg’s movies in launching the summer blockbuster era, back then, summer tentpole movies were synonymous with Spielberg’s films. He helped create the concept of blockbuster movies, and he is the most widely revered as the father of blockbusters. His influence on contemporary filmmaking runs beyond box office bombshells. He devoted his work across genres, shaping the public’s love for cheesy, all-out, ridiculously expensive summer fun-rides.
Spielberg’s E.T., a timeless tale of friendship between a young boy and an alien, is once a sci-fi classic and a kid’s film. But for a film that was released in 1982 to take more than $750 million dollars at the global box office is nothing short of phenomenal, and four Oscars sit in the movie’s portfolio too.
Jaws was the movie that made him a household name. The tale of a great white shark terrorizing the seaside community of Amity was a suspense masterpiece, and delivered one of the most memorable music scores in movie history.
Raiders of the Lost Ark mixed random elements like mysterious tombs, ancient relics, Nazis, jungles Harrison Ford – and made an iconic whole of a movie. The film took more than 20 times its production costs at the box office and remains one of the highest grossing films in movie history. It picked up four Oscars and numerous awards and ranks number two on the Empire’s list of 500 Greatest Movies Ever Made.
He made movies that appeal to both youngsters and adults.
Spielberg has proved himself capable of appealing to both audience demographics plenty of times. His well-liked films in the likes of Jaws and Schindler’s List are for the grown-ups, while Hook is for the children.
But his greatest successes came when he was able to unite both demographics in films such as E.T., Indiana Jones, and Jurassic Park. Take E.T. for instance – it’s a heart-warming tale of a sweet little alien who befriended a child, but the power-hungry military meditations on otherness and nature of friendship coupled with an intelligent script makes takes it out of the realms of children’s filmdom.
Meanwhile, Raiders of the Lost Ark serves as the most tangible example of the director’s ability to blur the lines between films for the young and the grown-ups. Both children and men alike adored Indiana Jones as a hero, and the sequel Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom led to the creation of the PG-13 rating in 1984. Before this, either the whole family could go to a theatre, or only adults over 18 could attend, with no grey area in between.
Whether it’s about stranded aliens, the adventure of an archeologist, marauding sharks of high-concept sci-fi, Spielberg is undeniably able to tell great stories that will appeal to both the young and grown-up.
He was an early adopter and innovator of CGI.
At the beginning of his career, Spielberg was already sensational. He broke into the film industry using special effects and the latest technology in filmmaking. His 1975 classic, Jaws, was one of the first movies to use animatronics extensively. Jaws, along with his work in Close Encounters of the Third Kind defined a new generation of film that paved the way for other films with big effects and big budgets.
Though his early efforts may appear a little clunky to the modern eye, the sharks in the film terrified the audience at the time, and laid the groundwork for 1993’s Jurassic Park.
When it was released in the early 1990s, Jurassic Park turned out to be a total revelation. Back then audiences have already seen computer-generated special effects, but they always looked a bit low-tech. But Jurassic Park’s dinosaurs looked totally real. It was mind-blowing what Spielberg and the production team were able to pull off, given the technology and processing power available back then.
Without Spielberg, movies like Lord of the Rings and Titanic would most likely not have been as spectacular and as successful as it has become.
He co-founded DreamWorks and helped bring back animated films.
Spielberg has also been at the forefront of developments in the animation world. He is one of the co-founders of DreamWorks SKG, which is one of the most successful new film studios recently. DreamWorks helped bring back the animated feature with big hits like the Shrek movies, Madagascar, Kung Fu Panda, How to Train Your Dragon, Monsters vs. Aliens, and so on. DreamWorks has managed to become a viable rival for Pixar, and in the process, broke down Disney’s hold on the animation department.
Spielberg’s latest movie, Ready Player One, is a benchmark in virtual reality (VR) films, and is one of the very few films set in a VR universe that actually succeeded in being intelligent and fun.
Historically, being fun and being intelligent has been hard to reconcile on film. While movies like The Matrix and Strange Days are excellent in the brooding sci-fi scale as it represented the worst-case scenarios of a VR future – you couldn’t describe it as fun.
He helped shape and preserve the memory of World War II.
We cannot explore the future of humanity without safeguarding the past, and Spielberg has done a lot to keep World War II in the minds of people worldwide. His war films, including Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, The Pacific, and Empire of the Sun helped solidify the image of both sides of the war for a lot of people. His stories offered new insights to the war.
The most iconic of those is Schindler’s List. In 1993, Spielberg proved that he could do far more than aliens, dinosaurs, and whip-cracking action with the telling of the true-to-life story of Oskar Schindler. Schindler was a German businessman who saved the lives of more than a thousand people, mostly Polish and Jews, during the Holocaust by hiring them in their factories. The film, which was mostly shot in black and white documentary style, had Oscar winner written all over it. Schindler’s List is far from a blockbuster, but it went on to pick up seven awards. It has become the go-to film to watch if you want to learn about the Holocaust and WWII.
He took on tough adaptations and made them possible.
Spielberg’s A.I.: Artificial Intelligence was the only project he collaborated with Stanley Kubrick. Though it was a flawed movie – it attracted criticism for encapsulating the worse in both directors – it was at least a tough and brave undertaking. Kubrick has been working on the script for AI for years, but never made the movie because he felt that the computer graphics available were not advanced enough to bring justice to the story. But Spielberg was willing to do it and completed the project, dedicating it to Kubrick after his death in 1999.
Spielberg is not a director who would easily back down on a difficult project. He is also known to take on tough book adaptations like Hook, Minority Report, and of course, Schindler’s List.
He kept science fiction alive.
If it had not been for Terra Nova and Falling Skies, there would not really be any new shows about aliens and time travel on television lately. These kind of TV shows are a vanishing breed, and Spielberg lent his talent and clout to making them viable. He has also helped create Taken, an alien abduction mini-series that won an Emmy.
We also have Spielberg to thank for being willing to mix it up on TV, as his productions include Animaniacs, Pinky and the Brain, Amazing Stories, Freakazoid, and Seaquest.
His films became more mainstream due to spin-off merchandise.
Spielberg’s films situated themselves more readily to the mainstream culture through the concept of spin-off merchandise. High-grossing movies like E.T. and Jurassic Park took the film industry to new levels with merchandising schemes that outsold their inspirations. Spielberg’s films became an inspiration for other filmmakers to create a sense of identity or brand around each movie as its own institution. In the past, there had been cult classics were fans were seen as devoted to one movie, but Spielberg’s films elevated all blockbusters by selling the image of the movie through cross-marketing with other cultural fixtures like toys and fast food.