This week sees the release of “Jurassic World,” the fourth film (and first in fourteen years) in the “Jurassic Park” franchise, which began with the 1993 blockbuster and at the time was the biggest film in history. It’s been fourteen years since the franchise has been on big screens, but “Jurassic World” also marks the appearance of something that’s been seen less and less often: the Amblin Entertainment logo.
The studio was set up by director Steven Spielberg, who was hot off the success of “Raiders Of The Lost Ark” alongside regular producers Kathleen Kennedy (who’s now in charge of the new “Star Wars” movies) and Frank Marshall in 1981. Named after Spielberg’s 1968 short “Amblin’,” and eventually accompanied by an iconic shot from “E.T.,” the company’s second release, it became the home for Spielberg’s movies and for those of his friends and collaborators, as well as a number of other projects that he produced.
It’s not unusual for a director, especially one as distinguished as Spielberg, to have his/her own production company, but it is rare for one to be as close to a household name as Amblin became. Particularly in the 1980s, the Amblin Entertainment banner signalled a kind of Spielbergian seal of approval for big, broad family entertainment that could be subversive and smart, such as a string of hits including “Gremlins,” “The Goonies” and “Back To The Future,” among many others.
The banner became increasingly rare in the movies in the 2000s as Spielberg gained his own studio with DreamWorks, reserving the Amblin name for the director’s own projects (though it’s continued to flourish in television with projects like “The Americans” and “Terra Nova”). But with “Jurassic World” once again bearing the logo, we decided that it was a good time to run down the history of one of Hollywood’s most iconic companies. Below you’ll find every theatrical Amblin Entertainment production ranked from worst to best. Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments.
70. “We’re Back: A Dinosaur’s Story” (1993)
Cannily targeted to tie in to “Jurassic Park” mania and landing in theaters six months after Spielberg’s blockbuster, this is a messy mostly lousy animated picture that sees two annoying children united with a bunch of dinosaurs by a time-traveling pilot. Bursting with ideas, very few of which are any good, it’s shoddily scripted, lowest-common denominator chasing and features an entirely bonkers cast (Walter Cronkite! Jay Leno! Julia Child!). Deservedly, it flopped hard.
69. “Always” (1989)
It’s appropriate that Spielberg, purveyor of 80% of the childhood memories of all 25-45-year-olds alive today, should himself span this list, but it’s surprising to see a title he directed ranked so low. But “Always” is awful, a schmaltzy tearjerker that somehow even squanders the casting of Audrey Hepburn in her final screen role. Victor Fleming‘s “A Guy Named Joe” was itself sentimental, due to its war-era setting; Spielberg’s remake hasn’t even that excuse.
68. “Balto” (1995)
Outcast half-wolf, half-dog Balto (voiced by Kevin Bacon) finds his inner pacifist hero, wins the girl (Bridget Fonda) and saves some sick kids in a film that is exactly as obvious as it sounds. This story of a sled dog’s journey to an inaccessible outpost is so perfectly charmless in look, voice work and story beats that it feels ancient, yet it was out the same year as “Toy Story” (and fared poorly as a result).
67. “The Little Rascals” (1994)
Proof that stupid reboots were not necessarily a 2010s-only proposition, “Wayne’s World” director Penelope Spheeris’ update of serial favorite “Our Gang” was a doomed proposition from the off, needlessly updating the setting without the sensibilities, centering the film around a very questionable romance, and relying almost entirely on a Kids Do The Funniest Thing sense of humor. There are a few good gags, but little else to salvage.
66. “Dad” (1989)
While not a Spielberg film in any way except that he’s credited as executive producer, this Gary David Goldberg movie, starring Jack Lemmon, Ted Danson and Ethan Hawke as three generations of men reconnecting under the spectre of old age and illness, is everything that detractors have ever accused Spielberg/Amblin of. Manipulative, cloying and hitting every emotional beat with all the finesse of a bass drum in a high school marching band, it feels made by a false sentiment-generating machine.
65. “The Flintstones” (1994)
This big-budget redo of the Hanna-Barbera favorite, starring John Goodman, Elizabeth Perkins, Rick Moranis and Rosie O’Donnell as Fred, Wilma, Barney and Betty was poorly regarded on release and remains so today. Rightly so: attempts to bring a ’90s ‘edginess’ with infidelity and embezzlement subplots land with a clunk, and the direction’s mostly inept. That said, the design is splendid, and it’s hard to imagine a better live-action Fred than Goodman.
64. “The Flintstones In Viva Rock Vegas” (2000)
Marginally superior to its predecessor but not by much, this prequel becomes a sort of rom-com as Fred and Barney woo Wilma and Betty on a trip to Rock Vegas. Looser and less plotty than the first film, it’s still mostly a cash-in and suffers from a lack of John Goodman (though Mark Addy, aka King Robert Baratheon, isn’t a bad substitute), but feels closer to the cartoons at least.
63. “Little Giants” (1994)
One of Rick Moranis‘ final roles before he retired from acting, “Little Giants” sees the “Ghostbusters” star as a suburban dad who coaches local misfits into becoming a pee-wee football team that can take on the intimidating all-stars his brother (Ed O’Neill) manages. It’s almost exactly as formulaic as it sounds, with all the fart jokes, half-baked sub-plots, shoehorned-in NFL cameos (John Madden is third billed) and eventual triumph you might expect.
62. “In Dreams” (1999)
We often use “batshit” in a complimentary context, but here’s where we redress that —Neil Jordan‘s ludicrous “In Dreams” is batshit in the very worst way. Co-starring Aidan Quinn and Stephen Rea, Annette Bening plays a clairvoyant illustrator whose dreams are invaded by Robert Downey Jr‘s serial killer. Or something —despite some arresting visuals (in particular the flooded-town opening) even that overwrought description doesn’t come close to suggesting how facemeltingly dumb the film becomes.
61. “Hook” (1991)
Inexplicably beloved by the Buzzfeed generation, most of whom presumably haven’t seen it since they were kids, Spielberg’s reboot of “Peter Pan” stands as his worst “adventure” movie not containing the subtitle ‘Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull.’ A few performances, most notably Dustin Hoffman’s scenery-chewing Captain Hook, are fun, but this film is otherwise ill-conceived, treacly and hollow, setting a low bar for Joe Wright’s upcoming “Pan” to clear.
60. “An American Tail: Fievel Goes West” (1991)
Lacking even the immigrant-experience resonances of its predecessor and without the involvement of original filmmaker Don Bluth, “Fievel Goes West” is a bland sequel that sees the Mousekewitz family heading to an uninspired cowboy-ish setting. There’s a little more star power in the cast, including John Cleese as villain Cat R. Waul and one of the last performances by Jimmy Stewart as the sheriff, but there’s little else here to recommend it.
59. “Noises Off” (1992)
Michael Frayn’s “Noises Off” is one of the theater’s best-loved farces, but given that it’s about a disastrous production of a stage play, it’s not surprising that Peter Bogdanovich’s adaptation is broken from the off. The game cast, including Michael Caine, Carol Burnett, and Denholm Elliott in his final role, are having fun, but the material’s inherently unsuited for cinema and mostly feels airless and laugh-free as a result.
58. “A Dangerous Woman” (1993)
An atypical film for the company, being an indie-minded tragedy about a mentally disabled woman (Debra Winger in thick glasses) trying to find a sort of normal life and romance with a handsome handyman (Gabriel Byrne), this film came from Naomi Foner and Stephen Gyllenhaal (parents of Jake and Maggie, who appear here). There’s some nuance and sensitivity here, but it’s hard to escape the distinct whiff of Lifetime Movie throughout.
57. “Hereafter” (2010)
No one can accuse “Hereafter,” a turgid misfire scuppered by director Clint Eastwood’s tendencies toward self-seriousness and over-explanation which tries to tackle life after death, of lacking ambition. It’s just a shame that in trying so patently hard to move us, Eastwood and star screenwriter Peter Morgan (who shares the blame) create a film so lacking in movement as to be a total bore, despite committed work from Matt Damon, Bryce Dallas Howard et al.
56. “Men In Black II” (2002)
“Men In Black” was a giant hit, but Tommy Lee Jones‘s character had retired at its conclusion, which means that Barry Sonnenfeld’s sequel twists itself into knots to return him to the franchise. That’s the least of its problems: the plot retreads the original, most of the gags are lesser callbacks and there’s little visual invention either. There’s an occasional moment that reminds you of the first film’s charms, but this feels wrought of contractual obligation rather than inspiration.
55. “How To Make An American Quilt” (1995)
As though test-tube formulated to give women’s films a bad name (and how much worse a name is there than “How to Make an American Quilt”?) Jocelyn Moorhouse‘s sophomore film after the terrific “Proof” is so much soft-focus soap. Winona Ryder, Samantha Mathis, Anne Bancroft, Kate Capshaw, Jean Simmons, Maya Angelou and Alfre Woodard have a few diverting stories, but the film’s more a down comforter than a quilt —and we’re allergic to feathers.
54. “An American Tail” (1986)
Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be, but even those of us who are roughly the target age for Amblin’s first foray into animation can’t muster up too much of it for Fievel Mouskewitz & co. This sincere and well-meaning film directed by animation pioneer Don Bluth tackles a worthy subject in the immigrant experience, but its moral rectitude can’t conceal that it’s been thoroughly eclipsed in the animation boom in the subsequent decade.
53. “Jurassic Park III” (2001)
The first non-Spielberg directed entry in the franchise (protege Joe Johnston stepped in), this film returns to the (boring) setting of “The Lost World” and returns Sam Neill’s Alan Grant to the franchise. As a result, it all feels like a retread of past glories, particularly given that the new characters (William H. Macy, Tea Leoni, Alessandro Nivola) are kind of bland. Johnston’s helm as director is competent, but this is mostly uninspired.
52. “The Money Pit” (1986)
A repetitive comedy that relies too much on slapstick and the fresh-faced charms of its stars (Tom Hanks and Shelley Long) and too little on genuine wit, “The Money Pit” feels very much like a one-joke premise stretched out to feature length. Director Richard Benjamin (“My Favorite Year“) mounts some impressive set pieces as domino-effect disasters make the eponymous house fall down around its new owners’ ears, but the high concept is rubble already ten minutes in.
51. “Memoirs Of A Geisha” (2005)
A rare non-Spielberg attempt at Amblin Oscar-bait, “Memoirs Of A Geisha” adapted the best-seller by Arthur Golden regarding a young Japanese girl (Zhang Ziyi) raised as a geisha. It fulfilled part of its purpose, picking up six Oscar nods and winning three, but they were all in below-the-line categories, a definite judgement on Rob Marshall’s pretty but turgid melodrama, which also attracted controversy for casting Chinese actresses in Japanese roles.
50. “To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything! Julie Newmar” (1995)
For a film about drag queens, Beeban Kidron‘s ‘To Wong Foo’ is triumphantly innocuous, but still feels like a lesser version of Aussie sleeper “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,” right down to the cumbersome title. Patrick Swayze and Wesley Snipes, while game, seem chosen largely for the disconnect between their hunkiness and their high heels, and the film’s ultimate message of acceptance, while unobjectionable, is just too rote to be genuinely inspiring.
49. “The Lost World – Jurassic Park” (1997)
Whatever the flaws in the original “Jurassic Park,” none of us would hesitate in calling out its merits as virtuosic family entertainment. But the scares, thrills and spectacle all felt immediately old second time out, with the more-is-not-necessarily-better rule applying not just to the dinosaurs but even to Jeff Goldblum and the intra-human intrigue too. Still, there’s one cracking (!) sequence featuring Julianne Moore and a back windshield, and it’s probably a little better than the third outing.
48. “Small Soldiers” (1998)
Featuring a surprising level of violence (toy-on-toy but still grisly for PG-13) and a dark tone without a clear-cut moral, Joe Dante‘s “Small Soldiers” is a textbook case of a film that is best viewed as a nostalgic adult. On release, it underperformed, despite a starry voice cast and some state-of-the-art effects in bringing its CG toy protagonists to life, but it is worth another look today, albeit clunkier and miles less charming than Dante’s best.
47. “The Terminal” (2004)
Not so much bad as instantaneously forgettable, this odd little dramedy stars Tom Hanks, in a based-in-truth story that follows a man stranded at JFK, suddenly without nationality due to a coup in his home country. There’s potential perhaps for a scathing indictment of the effect of geopolitical manoeuvring on the everyman citizen, but Spielberg instead gives in to his weakness for gentle whimsy, and at 128 minutes film feels wildly lacking dynamic, not unlike a long layover.
46. “The Goonies” (1985)
Yes, you loved it as a kid. And yes, the idea of it — working class kids on an adventure involving buried treasure and mobsters — is a great one. But separate it from any nostalgia, and take a look now, and there’s surprisingly little to like about Richard Donner’s adventure picture. Chris Columbus’ script is uneven and thinly plotted, it’s rarely either funny or exciting, and it might qualify as the shrillest motion picture ever made.
45. “The Legend Of Zorro” (2005)
“The Mask Of Zorro” had been a pleasant surprise, but despite original director Martin Campbell returning along with his stars Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, “The Legend OF Zorro” can’t match it. Throwing marital troubles and (horror!) a cute kid into the dynamic of the original, the film’s plot, centering on California joining the United States, isn’t just convoluted, it’s also dull. The swordplay’s sometimes fun, but this is worse than the first film in every way.
44. “Harry And The Hendersons” (1987)
Following in the footsteps, and formula, of “E.T,” “Harry And The Hendersons,” sees John Lithgow and his family take in a wounded Bigfoot who becomes part of the family. It’s pro-environment, anti-hunting message is laudable, Rick Baker’s Oscar-winning make-up is excellent, and Lithgow’s committed, but this is otherwise uneven and sentimental stuff, so it’s fitting that the film’s most lasting impact on pop-culture was an extended “30 Rock” joke.
43. “A Far Off Place” (1992)
Two decades before “Wild,” Reese Witherspoon kicked off her career close to nature with “A Far Off Place,” a Disney adventure about two children and a young African boy fleeing poachers across the Kalahari desert. DoP Mikael Salomon (“The Abyss”) makes a capable directorial debut, and Witherspoon’s strong even this young, but the tacked-on American love interest is deeply irritating, and it’s not sure if it’s “Walkabout” or a Disney nature movie.
42. “Casper” (1995)
A live-action reboot of the 1930s friendly ghost, this is probably on the upper end of the mid-1990s revivals of older properties, even if it’s only middling in terms of Amblin’s output. Pitting Casper, Bill Pullman and his teen daughter Christina Ricci against Cathy Moriarty’s ropey villain, it spends too much time on an dull teen romance subplot, but director Brad Silberling makes it more nuanced, and visually interesting, than he had to.
41. “War Of The Worlds” (2005)
Loosely adapting H.G. Wells’ classic, this saw Spielberg give a sort of grounds-eye view of an alien invasion through an ordinary family man (Tom Cruise). There’s the occasional cracking set piece, but the 9/11 imagery the director deploys feels tasteless even now, Cruise is strangely miscast (in part because this hit as his public persona went craziest), and the script runs out of steam as it shrinks in scale in the third act.
40. “Back To The Future Part III” (1990)
A reaction against the perceived underperformance of the second, darker and more ambitious installment (‘II’ made just over half what the first film did, off a budget twice as high) Zemeckis’ third go-round with Marty McFly and Doc Brown is the most simplistic. It still contains fun elements and the Wild West setting references classic Westerns frequently, but it runs out of steam quicker than an 1880s locomotive trying to reach 88mph.
39. “Deep Impact” (1998)
Mimi Leder‘s “Deep Impact” is these days best known probably as a trivia answer (Q: Which of the two comet-collision movies lost the Summer of ’98?) Billed as kind of the thinking person’s “Armageddon,” that’s about right, provided that person doesn’t think too hard. But that doesn’t make it vastly superior to Bay’s bombastic take, just a sight less entertaining, featuring a downbeat ending in which part of the seaboard is washed away by President Morgan Freeman‘s tsunami-like gravitas.
38. “The Hundred Foot Journey” (2014)
Maybe it’s just that we’re suckers for foodie films, but we kind of enjoyed “The Hundred Foot Journey.” Based on a best-selling novel, it sees Om Puri’s Indian family come to France to open a restaurant across the street from the Michelin-starrred Helen Mirren, leading to all kinds of romance for both them and their juniors. Like much of Lasse Hallstrom’s output, it’s bland, mediocre even, but comfortingly so, like eating a warm naan bread.
37. “War Horse” (2011)
Spielberg’s ambitious adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s children’s classic, about a boy (Jeremy Irvine) seeking to reunite with his horse, which has been press-ganged into service in the Great War, has its charms, including some of the best work that Janusz Kaminski ever did for the director. But the script clunks and creaks rather than soars more often than not, and the film proves bland and prestige-y in a way that the director’s best serious fare never does.
36. “Fandango” (1985)
Best known now for being the vehicle that broke out Kevin Costner, this ‘Big Chill‘-meets-“Easy Rider” finding-yourself road trip film was also the breakthrough pic for director Kevin Reynolds. It’s actually pretty good, if overfamiliar, and Costner does show the easy charm that would make their reteam, “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” a massive hit a few years later. They teamed again on notorious flop “Waterworld” though, so swings and roundabouts.
35. “*batteries not included” (1987)
Combining the friendly aliens of “E.T.” (it’s interesting how many of the 1980s ripoffs of that movie came from Amblin themselves) with, uh, the post-“Cocoon” star power of Hume Croyn and Jessica Tandy, this sweet-natured family film, co-written by Brad Bird, sees some tiny robotic aliens helping an East Village apartment complex evade eviction. It’s forgettable (bar the impressive VFX), but perfectly charming and entirely harmless.
34. “Joe Versus The Volcano” (1990)
The debut feature from director John Patrick Shanley (“Doubt“) and a notorious bomb on release despite starring surefire draws Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan at the height of their bankability, there’s no denying this one is a mess. But it’s a fascinating one, that more than merits reevaluation: from the exceptional production design to the overtly philosophical nature of its allegory, it is a most unusual romantic comedy that is far from cookie-cutter Amblin.
33. “The Land Before Time” (1987)
Before “Jurassic Park,” dinosaurs became a smash hit with “The Land Before Time,” an epic from animation legend Don Bluth. The story of young Littlefoot, who after being orphaned, sets out on a journey with some new friends to ‘the Great Valley,’ it’s a sort of prehistoric “Bambi,” right down to the traumatic deaths. Sweet and simple, it’s beautiful to look at and obviously superior to the FOURTEEN (!!!) DTV sequels that followed.
32. “The Color Purple” (1985)
It’s best remembered now as a film that was nominated for eleven Oscars and failed to win any (continuing a run of luck with Spielberg at the Academy that would continue for another eight years), but the Bearded One’s adaptation of Alice Walker’s novel, about a young African American woman (Whoopi Goldberg) in the early 1900s is better than its reputation, a sensitive and nuanced film that balances the misery of the novel with the director’s trademark optimism.
31. “Young Sherlock Holmes” (1985)
From Cumberbatch to McKellen, Sherlock Holmes is everywhere these days, making Barry Levinson’s “Young Sherlock Holmes” about thirty years ahead of the curve (one of the reasons, perhaps, that it underperformed). Prefiguring modern-day prequel mania, it’s a pretty enjoyable little adventure that doesn’t quite capture the spirit of the original tales, but has plenty of thrills and spills, and is definitely better than the Guy Ritchie ones…
30. “Continental Divide” (1981)
A testament to the subtler abilities of John Belushi, this odd couple comedy was Amblin’s first feature, netting director Michael Apted fresh off “Coal Miner’s Daughter” and writer Lawrence Kasdan the year after ‘Empire Strikes Back’‘ and the year before ‘Raiders.’ The story of a city-beat reporter doing a fluff piece on a reclusive ornithologist is nowhere near the calibre of its participants’ best work, but it’s a sweet-natured old-fashioned romcom nonetheless.
29. “Men In Black 3” (2012)
Trading in the wisecracks for time-travel twists, this was a surprisingly somber closer to Barry Sonnenfeld’s trilogy, with Will Smith’s J traveling back in time to team with the younger version of K (Josh Brolin). The film had a disastrous production, halting production midway through to rewrite the script, but proves to be surprisingly engaging, especially when Michael Stuhlbarg’s quirky time-traveler is on screen. And hey, Paul Thomas Anderson’s a fan…
28. “The Mask Of Zorro” (1998)
An old-fashioned adventure film from erratic journeyman Martin Campbell (who directed duds like this film’s sequel and “Green Lantern” but also twice resurrected the Bond franchise with “Goldeneye” and “Casino Royale“) here he and his game cast of Antonio Banderas, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Anthony Hopkins manage to retain a lot of the verve that made the swashbucklers of old such good fun. It’s no classic, but it has studied the classics and learnt their lessons well.
27. “Innerspace” (1987)
Joe Dante‘s riff on “Fantastic Voyage” sees Dennis Quaid miniaturized and injected into the body of hypochondriac Martin Short and is a buzzy, endearingly loopy action-comedy, in which the gag rate is so high that you scarcely notice the holes. Or at least it was at the time — it hasn’t worn the intervening years particularly well, though elements like Short’s performance and the surprisingly effective romance plot involving Meg Ryan, still shine.
26. “Arachnophobia” (1990)
Spielberg’s longtime producer Frank Marshall made his directorial debut with this silly, campy, affectionate B-movie, and pulled it off to genuinely enjoyable jump-scare effect. The plot is paper thin, a kind of exploitation movie in which arachnids are the slasher killers hiding behind every shower curtain (and, memorably, in every bowl of popcorn), but the cutting of the tension/release sequences is masterful, and it’s not like it takes itself even a bit seriously.
25. “Twister” (1996)
Harking back to simpler times when “tornado chaser” seemed like a viable career option for a maverick scientist, Jan de Bont‘s daft disaster film is out of fashion now, but still contains more personality and gung-ho entertainment value than most subsequent go-rounds (ahem, “San Andreas“). It’s cartoonish fun with good effects and an enjoyably eclectic cast including Helen Hunt, Bill Paxton, Philip Seymor Hoffman and Cary Elwes (who is only missing a mustache to twiddle).
24. “The Bridges Of Madison County” (1995)
What you make of this one depends on what you’d make of Clint Eastwood directing and starring in an adaptation of a book that was a sort of Nicholas Sparks best-seller of its time, with the gruff one playing a photojournalist romancing Meryl Streep’s married housewife. We’re mostly pro: Clint was at the height of his directing powers here, and there’s more “Brief Encounter” to the film than “The Notebook,” plus two very fine performances and some lovely photography.
23. “Catch Me If You Can” (2002)
Reteaming Spielberg with Tom Hanks, and introducing megastar Leonardo DiCaprio into the mix, this biopic of fresh-faced conman Frank Abagnale Jr is given an enjoyably light, bouncy tone by Spielberg for much of its (over-extended) running time, but becomes less interesting as it goes into darker territory near the end. Still, there’s much to like, not least one of DiCaprio’s best turns, and a heartbreaking against-type performance by Christopher Walken.
22. “Flags Of Our Fathers” (2006)
Considered in isolation from its corollary, “Letters from Iwo Jima“, ‘Flags,’ is Clint Eastwood‘s investigation into the nature of heroism and survivor’s guilt amongst the WWII U.S. soldiers who participated in the Iwo Jima campaign and survived, only to become (literal) poster boys for the war effort. It’s a solid, moving effort, framed in a back-and-forth structure that is respectful and careful to contextualize, but it’s much elevated by being considered one half of a diptych.
21. “Cape Fear” (1991)
A highly atypical entry in the Amblin oeuvre, and their sole collaboration with director Martin Scorsese, this sensationalist remake of the J. Lee Thompson 1962 potboiler ups the ante as regards sex and violence, if not necessarily substance. In so doing, Scorsese, aided by a grotesquely physical Robert De Niro turns in a picture that subverts, indeed rips apart the concept of the American nuclear family that so much Amblin stuff was dedicated to upholding.
20. “The Adventures Of Tintin” (2011)
Somewhat underrated by many on release, Spielberg’s first foray into animation (and 3D motion-captured animation at that) has its flaws, like an ending that peters out rather than truly satisfies. But Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish’s script is witty and respectful to the source material, it’s perfectly cast (Andy Serkis is especially great as Captain Haddock), and has a couple of the best set-pieces of the director’s career.
19. “The Trigger Effect” (1996)
This unjustly neglected David Koepp film might have more of a concept than a storyline, but the concept is fascinating and the somewhat B-level cast (Kyle MacLachlan, Elizabeth Shue, Dermot Mulroney) actors sell its dystopian vibe very convincingly. Basically posing the question: what would happen if the world’s electronics ceased to function, and coming to a persuasively grim conclusion about societal and familial breakdown, it has retained, or even gained, relevance over the past two decades.
18. “Super 8” (2011)
A very conscious homage to past Amblin fare that happened to be produced by the company itself, this was J.J. Abrams’ autobiography-as-blockbuster, following a bunch of juvenile moviemakers in the late 1970s who uncover evidence of a strange creature. The film never satisfyingly unites its coming-of-age elements with its CGI explosions, but it’s still an engaging and warm film with some excellent performances (Elle Fanning especially). And it’s way better than “The Goonies.”
17. “Lincoln” (2012)
Spielberg’s anti-sensationalist, occasionally overweight, account of the 16th President’s last months is largely brought to life by the strength and sly wit of Daniel Day-Lewis‘ performance. And by a very reliable supporting cast of character actors, particularly James Spader, Tommy Lee Jones and David Strathairn. If it’s not instantly lovable, it’s still a master craftsman working with a great actor to deliver an insightful and ultimately moving portrait that scratches a little of history’s tarnish away.
16. “Letters From Iwo Jima” (2006)
Predictably, “Flags of Our Fathers,” with its patriotic title and iconic poster (which the film itself deconstructs) did nearly triple the domestic numbers (never very high) of “Letters from Iwo Jima” which is the story of the same campaign told from the Japanese side. It’s a shame because ‘Iwo Jima’ is the better film, and the more unusual, a lot down to having Eastwood, the quintessential American director locate himself so entirely in the “enemy” point of view.
15. “Gremlins 2: The New Batch” (1990)
Reviled on release, this misunderstood sequel to Joe Dante‘s horror-comedy hit ditches the horror to deliver bizarre sketch-comedy satire. It’s only a disappointment if you expect something similar to “Gremlins” (to be fair, not an unreasonable expectation), but taking in isolation the batshit verve and sheer gall has to be applauded even as you practically feel Dante, here given carte blanche, setting fire to his chances of ever getting this degree of creative freedom again.
14. “Munich” (2005)
Before this year’s “Bridge Of Spies,” Spielberg entered the espionage game with this based-in-fact story of the Mossad hit squad who set out to avenge the attack on Israeli athletes during the 1972 Olympics. Tony Kushner’s top-notch script makes this perhaps the director’s most mature and morally complex work, and Spielberg and his excellent cast do it justice, even if some of the final moments, most notably the heavy-handed final shot, don’t ring true.
13. “Empire of the Sun” (1987)
Like many filmmakers who were blessed with more box office success than critical acclaim early on, Spielberg always had the urge to balance his spectacular blockbusters with more serious fare. And arguably the first time those instincts worked in harmony was in this adaptation of JG Ballard‘s memoir, in which Christian Bale plays the spoilt British boy forced to grow up too fast in war-torn Asia — a stirring epic that’s both sweeping and intimate in scale.
12. “Men In Black” (1997)
Two sequels and two decades later, the Barry Sonnenfeld franchise has paled, but the original film is still a high watermark for the high-concept action/comedy that was Amblin’s main schtick for a time. Giving Will Smith‘s loudmouth charm the perfect foil in Tommy Lee Jones‘ taciturn gruffness, the hugely enjoyable tentpole spawned a clutch of pop culture memes too, like the memory-eraser and the tendency to suspect all pugs of being foulmouthed aliens in disguise.
11. “Monster House” (2006)
We’re on the record as fans of Gil Kenan‘s funny/scary mo-cap animated film: within the canon of Amblin films it feel like it’s among the best recent iterations of that Dante-esque horror/comedy/kids movie hybrid that the studio used to handle so well. In contrast to the blandness that has dogged a lot of Amblin’s forays into animation, here even the uncanny valley can’t swallow up the creative storytelling of Kenan’s feature debut (co written by Dan Harmon, btw).
10. “Back To The Future Part II” (1989)
Eternally divisive round here, the second installment of Robert Zemeckis‘ trilogy is either a disappointingly muddled sequel or a terrifically inventive expanded return to the time-travel-action-comedy vibe of the first, depending on who you talk to. And since you’re talking to the latter camp: “Back to the Future Part II” is a worthy successor to one of the all-time greats, that ventures into the actual future — an ambitious, dicey proposition, but really the only honest option.
9. “Saving Private Ryan” (1998)
Spielberg’s immense account of a WWII military unit sent to find one man has its flaws — unnecessary bookending and the more obvious flag-waving (like actual waving flags) among them. But mostly this is Spielberg at his most inspired and kinetic: the 24-minute long Omaha Beach sequence is still an unforgettable benchmark for recreating the chaos and terror of war, and the performances, particularly a broken, noble Tom Hanks and a wired Barry Pepper, are outstanding.
8. “Minority Report” (2002)
Following in the footsteps of “Total Recall” and “Blade Runner” is a lofty aim for a sci-fi movie, but Spielberg pulled off his own Dick adaptation in style with his first collaboration with then-world’s-biggest-star Tom Cruise, who plays a future-cop framed for a murder he hasn’t yet committed. Textured and noirish, it becomes more conventional in its last reel, but until then is one of the director’s richest, most inventive and thrilling sci-fi pictures.
7. “A.I. Artificial Intelligence” (2001)
Plotting one of the more interesting trajectories for a Spielberg film, recent years have seen unflattering assumptions about “what Kubrick would have done” recede and “A.I” grow steadily in critical estimation. The film is undeniably flawed, but it’s a reevaluation we’re happy to see happen: if it’s messy it due to its immense ambition, filled with striking ideas, making it exactly the sort of risk established filmmakers should be encouraged to take.
6. “Gremlins” (1984)
One of the films responsible for the Amblin brand (and for the creation of the PG-13 rating), and one of their best pictures, this Chris Columbus-penned story of a pet with hidden teeth, and the carnage that results, melds Joe Dante’s subversive B-movie spirit with a Spielbergian sense of suburban wonder. Darkly funny, gloriously splattery and just a ton of fun, it’s a blockbuster highlight of the mid-1980s.
5. “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” (1988)
Almost miraculous in its existence, for bringing together cartoon icons from different companies, for being a studio tentpole starring Bob Hoskins, and for being a honest-to-god noir movie about 2D creatures (with three-dimensional characters), “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” remains Robert Zemeckis’ non-“Back To The Future” high point, as well as a technical marvel, a legitimately involving thriller, a top-notch comedy and a love-letter to the golden age of animation.
4. “Jurassic Park” (1993)
If this week’s “Jurassic World” proves, unlike the two earlier sequels, to be worthy of mentioning in the same breath as Steven Spielberg’s original 1993 film, then it might end up as one of the best blockbusters in years. The original “Jurassic Park” takes Michael Crichton’s irresistible conceit — a theme park with real dinosaurs! — and infuses it with a sense of awe that few but Spielberg could pull off, real and loveable human characters, and breathless set pieces.
3. “Schindler’s List” (1993)
It’s fashionable to quote Kubrick: “The Holocaust is about six million people who get killed; ‘’Schindler’s List’’ is about 600 who don’t” but it misses the point of Spielberg’s film, which may suggest that goodness can, on an individual basis, survive genocide, but does not soft soap the horrors of mass murder, or its annihilating effect on humanity at large. Stark and passionate, “Schindler’s List” earns it plaudits (among them seven Oscars) without reservation.
2. “E.T: The Extra-Terrestrial” (1982)
The hardest choice this list has entailed was deciding the order of our first and second favorites. “E.T.” is a fundamental part of most of our childhoods, and in the cycling-against-the-moon scene gave Amblin a Spielberg image so iconic it became their logo. Unabashedly sentimental in the best way and goddamn heartbreaking for anyone who’s ever had a friend or been a kid, ask us again in half an hour and it would likely take the top spot.
1. “Back to the Future” (1985)
Pure cinematic crack from beginning to end, Robert Zemeckis’ now-anointed classic was a huge hit at the time, but its dizzy inventiveness and lightning wit (1.21 gigawatts of it) has seen it only increase in stature in the intervening years. Endlessly rewatchable, immensely quotable and featuring a built-in nostalgia plot that echoes how many of us feel about it now, perhaps even more than the film that gave the company their logo, ‘BTTF’ is the film that best encapsulates the joyous mass-market entertainment perfection that Amblin consistently shot for.
Would you put things completely differently? Do you believe that “We’re Back” is superior to “Jurassic Park?” Or that “Always” is better than “Schindler’s List?” You can make your case in the comments below.