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An Ode to Bad Lists: Ranking Steven Spielberg’s Best Films

Can you believe Steven Spielberg has directed 34 movies over the last 51 years? He may have invented the summer blockbuster, but he’s shown incredible depth and has covered a diverse subject matter that he could very well be the greatest filmmaker of all-time. Naturally, people are going to have an opinion on what is his very best work, and conversely, his worst.

Popular pop-culture hub, the AV Club, put out a list last year ranking Spielberg’s best films in anticipation of the release of his most recent film, The Fabelmans. The AV Club may have some wit in its writing and news, but ranking cinema is certainly not one of them. This list happened to be an abomination and each of the fourteen byline authors should be ashamed. They did Hook dirty and we will not stand for it.

Following this tragedy of a ranking, it inspired Steve (The Flyperbole, himself) and I to go on a Spielberg journey of watching his entire filmography. This included watching any films we’ve never seen before and/or rewatching some classics to get reacquainted. See our much better ranking below (along with AVC’s for reference). Agree with us? Hate our list? Drop your thoughts in the comments. Also, let us know which filmmaker we should tackle next!

34. 1941
Jay – 34, Steve – 34, AVC – 29

Jay: I watched this movie solely for this ranking and I can safely say I don’t think I’ve seen a more unfunny comedy in my life. If you like this movie, is it just based on nostalgia? It includes every terrible racist trope that you’d use making a WW2 parody, but none of the jokes hit. You can see an attempt at the film trying to emulate Animal House, but fails miserably. On the plus side, this is the only truly terrible movie on this list.

Steve: God, this was abysmal. A comedy that isn’t funny. I can’t think of a movie that has aged more poorly than 1941. Casual World War II racism, a “hilarious” plot line involving attempted sexual assault, the friggin’ BACK OF THE BUS joke in the tank. Hachi machi was this bad. How do you waste John Belushi, Dan Akroyd, and John Candy???

33. The Terminal
Jay – 33, Steve – 32, AVC – 33

Jay: The one time I watched this movie it was for free when I was in college during one of those free movie nights at the student center. As a self-proclaimed novice film buff at the time, I was appalled at how mediocre a Spielberg film could be. Tom Hanks’ accent was atrocious and the film itself failed to tell a compelling story that went…anywhere.

Steve: Absolutely bizarre movie. Terrible accent work, strange relationship between the protagonist and antagonist, a love plot that goes nowhere. A janitor runs out onto the tarmac to stop a plane with his mop in-hand. The only saving grace is that it is mildly fun at times. Mildly.

32. Ready Player One
Jay – 30, Steve – 31, AVC – 32

Jay: I never read the book, so going in I felt like I had a blank slate to work with. The movie was just a masturbatory ode to the 80’s and 90’s and not in a fun way. You follow a boring plot with “oh yeah remember that!” for 2+ hours. The CGI wasn’t very good to boot and featured no real character arcs of consequence.

Steve: I am the last person to criticize the overuse of references, as I make about 500 pop culture references on Flyperbole a week, but good lord is Ready Player One just a hodgepodge of “hey, remember this thing from the 80s?” The worst part is, that’s faithful to the novel! I did not enjoy the mix of live action and CGI realms, even if it totally makes sense for the source material. I snuck into this movie after seeing Game Night and have no regrets.

31. Duel
Jay – 32, Steve – 28, AVC – 26

Jay: Spielberg’s first feature film! And you can certainly tell it. It is not a bad movie by any stretch, as it was made on a budget and was essentially a TV movie. It was well-acted and the tension/build-up of the confrontation between the driver and trucker lingered in the best way possible. Sadly, the ending was a bit flat and ridiculous, in my opinion (without giving anything away).

Steve: Yeah, this is a real starter film. It’s a pretty good TV movie, but that 70s pacing killlllled me. For some reason, I thought this was based on a Stephen King short story. Perhaps it’s because King has written a number of books and movies about killer cars.

30. Indiana Jones & Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Jay – 29, Steve – 29, AVC – 34

Jay: This movie should have worked. Cold War-Era Soviets were the perfect post-WW2 enemy to pit against the iconic Indiana Jones. However, could they not have found a better angle than the alien plot? Did we need Shia LeBouf as an inconsequential son plot (on top of his dialogue/acting being underwhelming? Did we need him swinging through the jungle with CGI monkeys? Did we need Indy surviving a nuclear blast in a fridge? (sorry, Steve). Cate Blanchett was absolutely wasted in this.

Steve: Weirdly, Indiana Jones surviving a nuclear blast in a lead-lined refrigerator is the high point of the film. I truly did not enjoy the extra terrestrial aspect of this film. Shia LeBouf was such an awful choice to be the son of Indiana Jones. There are some good ideas in this film that were terribly executed.

29. Always
Jay – 31, Steve – 25, AVC – 30

Jay: Learning afterward this was a remake of a pulpy-1940’s film with the same plot made it make a whole lot more sense. It isn’t a good film and I’m not sure why Spielberg wanted to make it other than giving Richard Dreyfuss some work (it me, not a huge Dreyfuss fan). John Goodman is the #1 highlight of the movie as he provides the biggest laughs and feels. As Steve notes, Ted Baker wasn’t the right call here and someone with a bit more gravitas and humor would have helped pull it off a bit better.

Steve: Weird film. I liked some aspects of it. Richard Dreyfuss is good. John Goodman is a delight. One of the biggest drawbacks is the actor that they cast in the role of Ted Baker, who is essentially the successor to Dreyfuss’ Pete. Brad Johnson is just a big hunk of meat. I read on the *always reliable* IMDB factoids that they tried to get Paul Newman, Robert Redford, and Tom Cruise in that role. I imagine this film might be a little higher on this list if that had happened.

28. Sugarland Express
Jay – 27, Steve – 27, AVC – 28

Jay: This is a bizarre movie, but enjoyable! Based on a true story, but with some liberties taken. Goldie Hawn is great in this and isn’t something I say about most Goldie Hawn performances. As his first go-around with a feature film, I can’t give it much more guff.

Steve: Spielberg’s first feature definitely feels like Spielberg’s first feature. It’s a neat film to watch by modern standards to see aspects of Spielberg’s direction on the classic films that he would go on to make.

27. The BFG
Jay – 24, Steve – 30, AVC – 25

Jay: I don’t think it was THAT bad, but a weird movie to have sandwiched in Spielberg’s filmography between Bridge of Spies and The Post. It’s a children’s movie and should be viewed as such. It tells, what I feel, is a nice story about a BFG (Big Friendly Giant) who battles demons of isolation and companionship. Some scenes are just too much (see: Fart scenes with the Queen of England).

P.S. I always think of BFG as standing for “Big Fucking Gun” from the DOOM video game series.

Steve: *snaps* Hated it. This is another example of Spielberg being bad at comedy. There is a scene where the royal corgis are propelled by farts out of a room. I should think this is the funniest thing ever. Yet, here I am, not thinking that it is the funniest thing ever.

I feel like this would have been a better movie if it was either purely a cartoon or done with 80s style puppetry. The mix of live action and CGI did not work. I am also not the biggest fan of Mark Rylance, and you get a whooooole lot of Mark Rylance in the BFG.

P.S. I always think of BFG as standing for “Big Fuckin’ Guy”.

26. West Side Story
Jay – 28, Steve – 24, AVC – 8

Jay: This is the one film on this list I couldn’t make it all the way through (made it about 1 hour before turning it off). I’m not a musical guy, but the acclaim intrigued me and it was frickin’ Spielberg! It was a gorgeous movie and felt amazingly produced. I was just bored to tears.

Steve: This is a tough one, because I think this is really well-filmed. However, I really don’t care for musicals. Mark this under admired, but not enjoyed.

25. War Horse
Jay – 15, Steve – 33, AVC – 19

Jay: This is probably my one true outlier on this ranking that I enjoyed more than anyone. I’m a sucker for animal movies. I’m a sucker for war movies. This is BOTH! I can’t tell you how many times I cried pulling for Joey. The bond between the main character and horse make it just so warming and becomes so devastating as you see the horrors of WW1 progress. Yes, I was tired when the movie ended, but it felt so good.

Steve: I really did not like War Horse. The film was exhausting. And the horse is with this group. Now it’s with this group. World War I is bad. Whooooo caaaaarreeeessss. Maybe it caught me on a bad day? NOT FOR ME.

24. Indiana Jones & Temple of Doom
Jay – 23, Steve – 23, AVC – 23

Jay: It is really impressive that Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was so bad that Temple of Doom was dethroned as the worst Indiana Jones movie. It isn’t a good movie, but has a lot of amazing moments. I still have nightmares about alligators because of this film. Kate Capshaw is terribly cast and is a terrible actor. The movie hasn’t aged particularly well and holds it back from being a bit higher.

Steve: I probably reference this film more than 90% of this list. It has some truly great moments, including the entire introductory sequence in Shanghai. Once Indy lands in India, the movie starts to drag and becomes uncomfortable. Is it the darkness? Is it the racist tropes (which, admittedly, also applies to the intro segment that I just praised)? It’s problematic as all hell. Yet, Short Round is a great sidekick and the heart grabbing is iconic. I would never like to hear Kate Capshaw scream again for the remainder of my days.

23. The Adventures of Tintin
Jay – 22, Steve – 22, AVC – 22

Jay: Another film that I skipped over because it didn’t appeal to me that I ended up watching  because of this ranking. It is a ton of fun, but not terribly deep. The voice acting is top notch from folks like Daniel Craig, Jamie Bell and Andy Serkis.

Steve: It’s a lot of fun and I really liked the animation. I’m really not sure what else to say.

22. Jurassic Park: The Lost World
Jay – 26, Steve – 17, AVC – 24

Jay: This is not a good movie and a complete letdown from the incredible first picture and just feels like a poor imitation. On top of that it doesn’t even feature the best characters from the first (Dr. Grant and Dr. Sattler) and yes I know this is based off the book which doesn’t even have them in it. It does give a great performance from Pete Postlethwaite who fills in for the Muldoon position. I will never get over the third act which doesn’t make any sense in how it transpired.

Steve: Why did I mark this so high? Was I high when I finalized my rankings? This movie was a huge disappointment to me as a child. I guess I watched it a couple of years ago and appreciated it a little more than I did when I was younger. Maybe it’s all overcompensation for the T-Rex / RV scene, which is one of the only well-translated scenes from the book.

21. The Fabelmans
Jay – 17, Steve – 26, AVC – 9

Jay: Speaking of masturbatory films, here is one for the ages. Spielberg making a pseudo bio-pic film about himself! Honestly, I probably would have liked this a lot more if anyone but Spielberg was directing it. However, I did like the performances, especially from Paul Dano and Michelle Williams. The story is engaging, even if the movie runs a tad too long. The meeting with the main character and John Ford (which is based on a true story) is fantastic.

Steve: I probably have this too low, and films like this are why I hate ratings. Like with War Horse, I didn’t actually care that much about The Fabelmans. I know it’s Spielberg’s love letter to his parents and film, but it just did not connect with me.

20. War of the Worlds
Jay – 25, Steve – 16, AVC – 11

Jay: I clearly hate this movie more than most. While it is fun to look at, the script is just so barren of any logic. It did a “Signs” where the invading aliens did no real homework on where they decided to set up shop. The son is one of the most annoying child characters I can remember (which says a lot) and he just randomly shows up safely at the end after his defiant “I hate my dad” death-charge. Tom Cruise is typical Cruise here and Dakota Fanning was a delight as an actor back then, huh?

Steve: There is a level of spectacle that I really enjoy in Spielberg’s War of the Worlds. Specifically, the sequence where the aliens initially attack and Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise) has to get his family the hell out of Dodge, is fantastic and one of the best frenetic sequences that Spielberg has ever made. Young Dakota Fanning is also amazing in this film.

19. Amistad
Jay – 18, Steve – 19, AVC – 27

Jay: I did not expect a legal drama when watching this and perhaps that made it a bit easier to watch because of the obvious subject matter. It is a well-done film and gives you fantastic performances from the likes of Djimon Honsou, Matthew McConaghey, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Anthony Hopkins. It is a little unremarkable, but still a solid and mandatory watch.

Steve: I watched this on the same week as The Color Purple and…that was a decision… Amistad is by no means a light film, but I found it flowed a little better than The Color Purple for me due to the legal storyline. Amazing cast and a compelling legal drama.

18. Bridge of Spies
Jay – 16, Steve – 21, AVC – 20

Jay: I love a good spy thriller, Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance. To boot it’s based on a true story and co-written by the Coen Brothers. Its sleek and great cinematography and acting all-around.

Steve: I liked it, but didn’t love it like I thought I should. Maybe it’s the Mark Rylance of everything? I just don’t like him as much as Senor Spielbergo apparently does. Pretty good, but I wanted better.

17. Munich
Jay – 21, Steve – 14, AVC – 14

Jay: I’m the low-man here as I don’t think this was entirely remarkable and the thing I remember most of the film are the dudes from from Knocked Up talking about it in a club as the reason they are going to get laid. It’s a well-made, gorgeous film but felt a bit hollow.

Steve: I remember liking this revenge film and especially Eric Bana’s performance. I am now realizing that I should have rewatched this. I am a pro!!!

16. The Post
Jay – 20, Steve – 11, AVC – 10

Jay: I am…not a sucker for most journalism thrillers. Streep and Hanks are great here, but I honestly didn’t care and we’ve seen so many films about Watergate/Nixon that I don’t know whether it felt needed or not. The more interesting storyline in all this is Streep’s character and her as the new head of the Washington Post. The misogyny and her uphill battle was one I was invested in and wanted to see more.

Steve: I am a total sucker for movies about the media industry. Good Night and Good Luck , Network, as a former media major, I am allll about them. So, of course, The Post scratched that itch for me. This might be my favorite Hanks role post Catch Me if You Can (with all apologies to Bridge of Spies). Meryl Streep is tremendous, as always. Most important of all – there’s a mini Mr. Show reunion in this film, as both Bob Odenkirk and David Cross show up!

15. The Color Purple
Jay – 10, Steve – 20, AVC – 17

Jay: A heavy movie that delivers a complete performance by the actors and director. This isn’t an easy watch by any means, but talent like Whoopi Goldberg, Oprah, Margaret Avery and Danny Glover suck you into this terrible, terrible world. I think it’s incredible that this was Spielberg’s first period drama and a complete departure to what he had done previously.

Steve: Another case where a film should probably be higher on the list. Objectively speaking, The Color Purple is very good. I found it to be extremely emotionally heavy. I cried like a baby near the end. Oprah is my standout performer, she is tremendous here. I just don’t know if I can handle ever seeing this again.

14. Hook
Jay – 14, Steve – 15, AVC – 31

Jay: The movie that started Steve and I down this path. Why is this movie maligned? Is it because I wasn’t an adult when I first watched this movie? Is it perfect? Not by any stretch, but hell if it isn’t just pure joy. Robin Williams is perfectly cast and at the top of his game as adult Peter Pan. I will go and say this is the best Peter Pan movie ever made. Campy showings from Dustin Hoffman and Bob Hoskins upsell this even more. It is infinitely quotable and you can’t tell me it doesn’t give you goosebumps when Peter discovers his happy thoughts and flies for the first time as an adult? The imaginary food fight? The level of detail with the costumes and set designs? I wanted to live in this Neverland as a kid…and still as an adult.

Steve: Hottest takes on the entire list from us. Our elder millennial is showing here BIG TIME. But, dammit, do I ever love RUFIO, RUFIO, ROOF-EE-OOOOOOOOOOOO.

Hook gets a ton of shit, but it’s a lot of fun. It’s super weird, but everyone is having a blast. Dustin Hoffman is a delight as the namesake villain. Robin Williams as the elder Peter Pan is perfect. It’s a guilty pleasure that I will not apologize for.

13. Empire of the Sun
Jay – 19, Steve – 9, AVC – 16

Jay: This is a very good movie, but not an easy watch. The best thing about it is Christian Bale’s masterful performance and seeing the slow decay of his world around him. It’s a long film and that holds it back a bit for me as I like a tight ship. I did enjoy the very early career performance from Ben Stiller.

Steve: Young Christian Bale is so damn good in this film. It was probably the second best performance I saw in my list of Spielberg films that I had never seen before (number one coming shortly). I found Empire of the Sun really beautiful. It is a little long, but I’m not holding that against it.

12. A.I: Artificial Intelligence
Jay – 9, Steve – 18, AVC – 18

Jay: I still love this movie and its Pinocchio inspired tale that is injected into this future timeline that just tugs all the right strings for me. Haley Joel Osmont was a revelation during this era and this movie is no exception. His journey is beautiful and the colorful characters like Gigolo Joe (portrayed wonderfully by Jude law) enhance everything. The “Flesh Fair” segment is terrifying and all too relevant in our world still.

Steve: The Kubrick-Spielberg combo just makes such an odd mix. It does not ultimately work for me. It’s a shame, because there is a lot of good stuff in A.I.. Haley Joel Osment delivers his second best performance (after The Sixth Sense, of course) and really breaks your heart at times.

11. Lincoln
Jay – 13, Steve – 10, AVC – 12

Jay: Daniel-Day Lewis, that’s it. The movie itself is just fine. Beautiful to look at, acted well all-around. But it is ultimately DDL’s film.

Steve: That Daniel Day Lewis fella is pretty good, eh? This was the best performance in all of my “catchup” Spielberg films. I truly believed that DDL was Lincoln at times.

10. Schindler’s List
Jay – 11, Steve, 12, AVC – 4

Jay: I watched this for the first time because of this ranking (yes, yes I know). It was hard to watch and I never intend to do so again. When films are tough like this, it’s hard to rank them high as opposed to something that is infinitely re-watchable. Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley and Ralph Fiennes are very good in this. I hope I never see them in this again.

Steve: A tremendous movie that probably should be higher on this list. Here’s the thing, as great as it is, I never want to watch it again. It is an amazing film. It is an important film. But it is also perhaps the most depressing film of all time. This was definitely the ranking that I had the toughest time with.

9. Catch Me If You Can
Jay – 8, Steve – 13, AVC – 13

Jay: Fun, fun, fun. The only collaboration between Spielberg and Leonardo DiCaprio, which we should be left wondering, “why?” This was a match made in heaven. It tells a compelling thriller, based on a true story, with the aforementioned DiCaprio and the legendary Tom Hanks. Everything works for me, there is no weakness. I will churn butter every time for this movie.

Steve: A fun, charming movie that I really enjoy, but doesn’t quite crack my top ten. Hanks and DiCaprio are really great and I love their game of cat and mouse. It’s not quite visually dynamic enough to be top ten for me, but it’s still really damn good. “Do you concur?” lives rent free in my head.

8. Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Jay – 12, Steve – 5, AVC – 6

Jay: This is a fascinating movie that works really well for the 70’s, in which it was made. It doesn’t quite have the heart of an E.T., but seeing the impact of contact with extraterrestrial intelligent life on people’s lives gives some insight on what we might see if it were to actually happen. Richard Dreyfuss once again stars here, but his character just doesn’t work for me. I’ll let Steve tell the joke we had discussed while watching this, but his character was such a bad dad and husband. The ending is supposed to be sweet and satisfying, but it didn’t work for me. I’d love to see a remake/reboot of this with some updates.

Steve: This was my favorite of the films that I had not seen before this watch through. Close Encounters is a wonderful movie that I cannot believe that I just saw for the first time within the past calendar year. The sense of awe and wonder that the team of Spielberg and John Williams can evoke is on full display.

7. Minority Report
Jay – 7, Steve – 7, AVC – 15

Jay: This is arguably the last film from what might be Spielberg’s most impressive 4-film run (Saving Private Ryan, A.I., Catch Me If You Can, Minority Report), IMO. Anything you base off of Phillip K. Dick is going to wind up a good flick. Spielberg might be one of the best directors for his material. This is once again Tom Cruise at his best with excellent visual/directing we expect from top-of-his-game Spielberg.

Steve: One of the most underrated Spielberg films. Minority Report has such a cool, gritty view of the future. The entire plot line with Tom Cruise losing his child at the pool has stayed with me to this day and gives me nervous sweats whenever I have to help watch someone’s kids.

6. Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade
Jay – 3, Steve – 8, AVC – 21

Jay: F!@# you AVC. It is the BEST Indiana Jones because you get Nazis AND Sean Connery. The opening sequence is the best in the series (send all hate my way) and best action/set pieces as well. As mentioned, Sean Connery just adds another level as Indy’s dad.You chose wisely, if you agree with me.

Steve: I adore The Last Crusade. Sean Connery is wonderful as Indy’s father. I can think of so many great lines off of the top of my head.

“We named the *dog* Indiana.”

“Nazis. I hate these guys.”

“How did you know she was a Nazi?” “She talks in her sleep.”


Be right back, I have to go watch Last Crusade again.

Jay – 5, Steve 4, AVC – 3

Jay: The original summer blockbuster. It’s a perfect film and just the right amount of Richard Dreyfuss that he doesn’t ruin it for me. Quint is an all-time iconic movie character and it is still a genuinely terrifying movie. I refused to swim in the deep end of my pool at night because of this movie.

Steve: I went on Jaws the ride before I saw Jaws the film. I knew OF Jaws for basically my entire life, but had not seen it until I was 30 years old. It lived up to the hype.

4. Jurassic Park
Jay – 6, Steve – 2, AVC – 7

Jay: I saw this movie for the first time as an 8 year old kid in the theaters. I still think about the experience and wonder. You see the brachiosaurus in the same awe as Dr. Grant. You are biting your nails as the kids are stalked by the velociraptors in the kitchen. You laugh as that bad lawyer guy is eaten off a toilet. Jurassic Park is as much of an experience as it is a film. Its both wondrous and thought-provoking.

Steve: Nothing filled me with that Spielberg wonder as a child like Jurassic Park. I was nine years old when I saw this film in the theaters and it remains one of my favorite film experiences to this day. The effects in Jurassic Park hold up to this day. I could probably recite half of the movie to you without thinking. Jurassic Park is one of the key reasons that I love movies.

3. E.T.
Jay – 1, Steve, 6, AVC – 2

Jay: This is my pinnacle. A coming of age story, sci-fi adventure with so much heart and passion that it makes me want to watch it again just thinking about it. It doesn’t rely on big name, world class actors to prop up a mediocre story. The journey is everything and Spielberg is at his best here as a masterful storyteller with iconic visuals. If you don’t or didn’t shed a tear at the end, you have no heart.

Steve: I really should have rewatched E.T. as part of this whole experiment. I’m sure I’m not giving it a high enough ranking. It’s a great film. But it doesn’t hold the place in my heart that Jurassic Park and Raiders does. It isn’t the definitive genre pieces that Private Ryan and JAWS are. That’s not to say that it’s not amazing. Who doesn’t know Ellliootttttttt and Reese’s Pieces and hiding among a bunch of stuff animals? It’s an all-timer that I will be revisiting soon.

2. Indiana Jones & Raiders of the Lost Ark
Jay – 4, Steve – 1, AVC – 1

Jay: I might get massacred for my ranking here and that’s fine. Raiders is absolutely amazing cinema and introduces an iconic hero that may never be topped. Harrison Ford embodies Indiana Jones and his globetrotting adventures puts that spark in anyone who watches it to start digging up the backyard. Obviously props to George Lucas for the story, but Spielberg is the one who elevates the film to legendary status. The Last Crusade just does it a tad better.

Steve: God, just one of my favorite films of all-time. One of the greatest themes of all-time. The greatest face melting scene of all-time. Raiders is close to a perfect film. It’s fun, it’s thrilling, it’s iconic. Raiders is the perfect adventure film and an achievement that the franchise has been attempting to catch ever since.

1. Saving Private Ryan
Jay – 2, Steve – 3, AVC – 5

Jay: There may never be a war movie, and certainly not a WW2 film, better than Saving Private Ryan. I debated putting this at #1 and could very well be my 1A in this case. Despite the horrific subject matter, namely the storming of Normandy, this is probably the Spielberg film I’ve watched the most. This is the film that introduced us to Vin Diesel after all.

Steve: It’s the greatest war movie ever made, right? The Normandy scene is the perfect encapsulation of just how awful and terrifying war is. It’s glorious and gritty and horrifying and awful. The death of Private Mellish (Adam Goldberg) haunts me to this day.