Steven Spielberg‘s latest directorial effort, the semi-autobiographical drama The Fabelmans, premiered last year to critical acclaim. The director has dominated the big screen for over five decades, winning over critics and audiences and cementing his place as a cinematic institution.
Although he has explored numerous genres, including thrillers, noirs, and action pieces, Spielberg’s influence on sci-fi is undeniable. The revered filmmaker has delivered some of the most iconic sci-fi pictures in modern history, pushing the boundaries of what’s possible and challenging audiences with his emotional and richly rewarding narratives that never sacrifice the spectacle he has mastered over the decades.
9 ‘The Lost World: Jurassic Park’ (1997)
The sequel to 1993’s groundbreaking and game-changing blockbuster, 1997’s The Lost World: Jurassic Park sees Jeff Goldblum reprising his role, joined by Julianne Moore and Vince Vaughn. The plot finds Ian Malcolm and a team traveling to Isla Sorna to prevent John Hammond’s nephew from taking dinosaurs to a theme park in San Diego.
Grander, louder, and less compelling, The Lost World is a rare Spielberg outing that disappoints. Goldblum is still in fine form, and the dinosaurs are as impressive as ever. However, the film is Spielberg on auto-pilot, checking boxes without feeling any connection whatsoever to the material. Spielberg is a director famous for his close bond with each project, and this quality is sorely lacking in The Lost World, a film that marked the beginning of the end of the Jurassic Park series by trying to imitate rather than innovate.
8 ‘Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’ (2008)
Spielberg and Harrison Ford returned to the world of Indiana Jones with the 2008 sequel Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. The plot centers on Indy as he reunites with Marion Ravenwood and their son, Mutt, to fight KGB agents led by the ruthless Irina Spalko.
Although elevated by a wickedly campy villainous performance from Cate Blanchett, Crystal Skull remains an overblown and puzzling entry in the Indiana Jones series. The sci-fi elements don’t quite fit with a franchise famous for its historical approach, and the father-son dynamic between Indy and Mutt is forced and often cringe-worthy. There’s plenty to admire in Crystal Skull, especially how willing it is to step out of its comfort zone; alas, it turns out, fans didn’t want it to.
7 ‘Ready Player One’ (2018)
2018’s Ready Player One is Spielberg’s most recent sci-fi offering, set in a world where most people use a VR program called the OASIS. Tye Sheridan stars as Wade Watts, an orphaned player trying to win a mysterious contest that promises ownership of the OASIS before an evil corporation can.
An ode to the ’80s films that Spielberg himself inspired, Ready Player One is an odd entry in the director’s filmography. It’s not forgettable, but it’s not quite memorable either. The visuals are great, the premise intriguing, and the cast is game, but something about it doesn’t quite click; perhaps it’s because the narrative is so paper thin that the film must depend entirely on the striking visuals. While Spielberg delivers on the action department, his strengths as a visual and emotional storyteller get wasted in a film that’s more style than substance.
6 ‘War of the Worlds’ (2005)
Spielberg’s second collaboration with Tom Cruise was 2005’s War of the Worlds, one of the best disaster movies of the new millennium. Based on H. G. Wells‘s seminal 1898 novel of the same name, the film revolves around a divorced father trying to protect his two children during a violent alien invasion.
War of the Worlds might be Spielberg’s most shameless blockbuster, but what a blockbuster. Enhanced by Cruise at the peak of his star power, the film is a chilling thrill ride that perfectly captures the anxiety of Wells’ masterful novel. With visual effects that rival any modern picture and a surprisingly humane narrative, Spielberg offers a worthy adaptation that lives up to its revered source material.
5 ‘A.I. Artificial Intelligence’ (2001)
Haley Joel Osment stars in Spielberg’s thought-provoking sci-fi A.I. Artificial Intelligence. The story centers on David, a humanoid childlike android programmed with the ability to love. Confused about his place in the world, David sets on a lengthy journey in a world where human-robot relationships are at a crossroads.
A.I. plays to Spielberg’s strengths as a filmmaker. Cerebral but profoundly empathetic, the film is a powerful exploration of love, winding and at times puzzling, but always compelling and, in a word, entertaining. Spielberg’s distinctive optimism pours from the screen, resulting in a rewarding cinematic experience strengthened by the director’s ever-reliable visuals.
4 ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ (1977)
Spielberg’s first sci-fi movie, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, would have a considerable and lasting influence in the genre for years to come. The film tells the story of a blue-collar worker in Indiana whose life suffers a 180 after a chance encounter with a UFO.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind is the ultimate celebration of Spielberg’s strengths and interests, a gripping and fascinating exploration of the unknown. The film finds purpose in Spielberg’s distinctive approach, blending its weighty sci-fi themes with undeniable warmth and empathy, resulting in a unique entry into a genre often criticized for being cold and detached. Close Encounters of the Third Kind marked the start of a revolution for sci-fi, with Spielberg at the forefront of the genre’s expansion.
3 ‘Minority Report’ (2002)
Cruise and Spielberg’s first collaboration came in 2022 with the sci-fi thriller Minority Report. Set in a world where crimes are stopped before they happen, the film follows John Anderton, a top official at the specialized police department in charge of preventing crimes, who gets accused of a future murder and must go on the run to clear his name.
Based on Philip K. Dick‘s 1956 novella, Minority Report is among Spielberg’s most cerebral films. However, it never succumbs under the weight of its daring ideas; instead, it utilizes them in service of a thrilling story that balances plot and action with impressive and enviable dexterity. Cruise adds further gravitas to the story while embodying the physicality of the action star he was born to be. Minority Report is an exhilarating, non-stop sci-fi adventure, darker than many other Spielberg efforts but ultimately just as rewarding.
2 ‘Jurassic Park’ (1993)
Jurassic Park is arguably the first-ever blockbuster. The film centers on a group of experts who travel to a secluded Central American island where a millionaire businessman has successfully cloned dinosaurs in the hopes of opening a theme park. Sam Neill, Laura Dern, and Jeff Goldblum star.
It isn’t an overstatement to say Jurassic Park invented the modern blockbuster. The film was a cultural phenomenon and a milestone for visual effects in cinema, redefining what was possible and opening a new threshold for science fiction. Stirring, at times terrifying, and consistently jaw-dropping, Jurassic Park is a cinematic spectacle to the tee, a film that forever changed how audiences look at and consume summer entertainment. Featuring some of Spielberg’s most memorable sequences and a complex narrative that raises more than a few questions, Jurassic Park is a triumph that many have tried to and failed to imitate.
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Spielberg’s 1982 sci-fi masterpiece, tells the story of an alien left behind on Earth. Befriending a young boy called Elliott, E.T. must find a way back home before his presence becomes known to the outside world.
ET. is a rewarding, uplifting, and breathtaking masterpiece. The film is a genuine experience, a powerful depiction of innocence and childhood that lives up to the so-called “movie magic” many pictures talk about but so few feature. E.T. might be Spielberg’s best movie, full stop, a game-changing chapter in cinematic history that continues to wow and dazzle forty years after it first captured an entire generation’s heart.
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