There are few, if any, filmmakers who have had such an impact on modern culture as Steven Spielberg. From harrowing tales of evil sharks and mysterious aliens, to glorious adventures that reach the depths of what it means to be a child, Steven Spielberg’s filmography is more colorful and influential than any other filmmaker alive. THE BFG, opening this weekend, marks his 32nd foray into the field of feature filmmaking. Compiling a list of his top ten is like making a list of your favorite children (if you had a lot of children). Regardless, these are the ten best films from director Steven Spielberg.

10. Catch Me If You Can – 2002

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The DiCaprio/Hanks duo in Spielberg’s CATCH ME IF YOU CAN is one of the most entertaining on-screen match-ups in Spielberg’s filmography. The film is a sprawling, almost unbelievable true story of a con-artist and the man chasing him down. It has a great mix of Spielberg’s love for non-fiction and admiration for young heroes, resulting in an immensely entertaining and ultimately heartbreaking film. There are few true stories as crazy as this and Spielberg managed to fit it all into one concise and well-paced film. It’s easy for stories like this to get out of hand, but Leonardo DiCaprio pulled off a great performance. Coupled with Hank’s veteran approach, they are electrifying on screen together. It also features Christopher Walken and another amazing score by John Williams. It’s hard to go wrong there.

Best Moment: “Are you a collector?”

READ: Is the James Bond franchise reaching its inevitable end?

9. Lincoln – 2012

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The youngest of Spielberg’s films to make this list, LINCOLN is one of his best period pieces. Abraham Lincoln is one of the great American heroes, and Spielberg brought his story to the big screen in a big way. With an Oscar-winning performance by Daniel Day Lewis and an impressive supporting cast, it’s easily one of Spielberg’s late-career highlights. While it is sluggish for some, it’s one of the best representations of the American Civil War on the big screen. Many biopics tend to get out of hand and bite off more than they can chew, but LINCOLN dedicates itself to one small period of the great man’s life and still feels like a complete story. Spielberg has a way with historical pictures and condensing stories. This film not only shows what Lincoln did for the country, but how it impacts his family and personal life. It also features some stunning work from long-time Spielberg cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, who harkened back to the frame rates and shutter speeds that were employed in SAVING PRIVATE RYAN to help showcase the horror of such a personal conflict.

Best Moment: Honest Abe walking down a moonlit hallway —perhaps where the movie should have ended.

8. Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade – 1989

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The third (and last, to some) on-screen adventure for Indiana Jones marked the end of the ’80s for Spielberg, and he went out with a bang. It’s hard to go wrong with Harrison Ford and Sean Connery, and their on-screen chemistry as father and son is magnetic. It’s easy for sequels to tread familiar waters, but the best ones find ways to synthetically add to their character’s canon. Much like EMPIRE STRIKES BACK filled in backstory and universe gaps, LAST CRUSADE adds to Indy’s character in the form of his father and references to his childhood. The flashback in the beginning of the film is the best thing to happen to the franchise’s sequels for this exact reason. Much like RAIDERS, it is also steeped in realistic mythology, unlike TEMPLE OF DOOM, which took a darker and more mystical approach with its central conflict. This was the perfect send-off for one of the decade’s greatest heroes. It is an honest and believable adventure, filled with the fun and spirit of the original film while adding to Indy’s sacred mythology. Movies like this find Spielberg at the top of his game.

Best Moment: “We named the dog Indiana!”

7. Close Encounters of the Third Kind – 1977

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Written by the man himself, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS is one of the seminal alien features to ever grace screens. It’s a love letter to the sci-fi genre from Spielberg. It astonished a generation of believers and promoted a sense of awe in the face of an alien threat. Too often aliens are seen as adversaries and conquerors (something Spielberg would explore many years later), but here, they were a positive force that touched the lives of millions. Spielberg’s script dealt with issues close to home: On the surface, it’s a simple alien caper. Look deeper and it delves into the tortured souls of its main characters who feel a call to something greater in life. Like many of his films, the characters in this are some of the best in the genre. Many alien films concern themselves only with violence, horror and visual effects. By straying away from those tendencies and barely alluding to the extra terrestrial beings, Spielberg allows for a more personal and humanity-driven film. It is also interesting that music plays such a key element in the film that binds people of different cultures together. This helps highlight the theme of togetherness found in the film, that it should be easy for people to come together for something great. They just don’t make them like this anymore.

Best Moment: Dreyfuss plays with a pile of mashed potatoes: “This means something. This is important…”

6/5. Saving Private Ryan (1998) & Schindler’s List (1993)

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It is hard to move either of these films one way or the other on this list. In many ways, they are two sides of one of Spielberg’s most brilliant, expertly crafted, and historically important coins. With SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, Spielberg managed to tell a tale of allied soldiers in WWII and turn it into one of the defining films that represents one of the darkest times in our history. Its star-studded cast creates an array of memorable characters many of us will never forget. As mentioned before, the cinematography in the film (like in LINCOLN) helps to elevate its conflict. Thanks to its willingness to show violence and its tendency to slow the action down, the film feels extremely personal and realistic. The audio mixing of bullets flying, men screaming, and Captain Miller’s drowning anxiety are more than enough to send views into the feverish nightmare that was WWII.

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With SCHINDLER’S LIST, Spielberg did the same thing to the opposite side of the conflict. It’s heartbreaking and savagely depressing, but one of the most important films ever made. Spielberg was so distraught while making it that he refused to take payment for it, claiming any money made from this film would be “blood money.” It’s a lengthy film, with sprawling characters and moments, but it is the quiet ones that stand out. Liam Neeson’s character’s desire to save people, against Fiennes’ desires to kill all in his path, represents the conflict that manifested in the 1940s, perhaps the darkest time in history. Spielberg’s choice to film in black and white not only makes it feel timely and historic, but it is a clever way to break viewers’ hearts—the only thing shown in color is a small child’s red jacket, and as viewers follow its progression throughout the film, they slowly realize the true horror a human being can bring upon another.

Together, these films represent a time in history that should never be forgotten. Thankfully, they never will.

RYAN’S best moment: The D-Day Invasion

SCHINDLER’S best moment: The girl in the red jacket.

READ: The impact the original ALIEN film had on feminism in the sci-fi genre!

4. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial – 1982

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When one thinks of a Steven Spielberg film, thoughts often turn to this early ’80s masterpiece. There is no other film that so perfectly captures the anxiety, wonder, and loneliness of being a child. With an incredible cast of child actors and some amazing effects, it is a defining moment in this filmmaker’s career. It represents a generation of lost children and stands for everything Spielberg believes in: hope and positivity. Films like this simply don’t exist today. Spielberg filmed it chronologically in order to benefit the child actors, and it certainly worked. There are few child performances as good as the ones in this film. The enchanting music coupled with the simple shots of average home life for a middle-class family don’t glorify its setting, but give reason as to why children tend to obsess themselves with “make believe.” Sometimes it’s best to believe there’s something better out there, even if it is an odd looking alien that can fly.

Best Moment: Elliott’s ride in the sky.

3. Raiders of the Lost Ark – 1981

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This movie has it all. Harrison Ford invented one of the greatest mythological heroes of all time. Lawrence Kasdan wrote one of greatest screenplays in the history of film. John Williams created one of the most beautiful and iconic film scores ever. And Spielberg, the brilliant puppet-master, brought it all together to create one of the greatest and most original adventures on screen. It is unparalleled in film today. For many, it was the start of a long-time love affair with film. Indy was a hero to every viewer, and a goal that so many strive to achieve today.

When everything in a film work so well, it is difficult to pinpoint the reasons for its success. Harrison’s coolness was thought unbeatable after STAR WARS, but Indiana Jones somehow matched it. Perhaps it’s the realistic nature of the film, the thought that this man could actually exist. Or it’s the romantic way that Spielberg manages it, making it about the relationships between the heroes as much as its set pieces. There’s also the balance between horror and hilarity, Indy’s ability to laugh in the face of adversity. Whatever it is, it has yet to be topped in modern action movies. It is the adventure film that all others compare to, and one that none shall ever surpass.

Best Moment: The brilliant opening sequence, from grueling jungle trek to daring cave escape.

2. Jaws – 1975

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JAWS is the film that put Spielberg on the map. At the age of 27, the young director took a superb cast to sea with a broken mechanical shark and an unfinished script and made the world’s first summer blockbuster. Families flocked to the theater and didn’t dare set foot in the water for weeks. It was the film that first brought people together to share the grandiose experience of the summer movie season, and with good reason. It has an incredible score, excellent pacing, and a superb cast to ground its engrossing and natural conflict.

The characters in the film represent three sides of one goal: understanding nature. Roy Scheider’s Brody wants  to find a balance, a way for the people to co-exist with the underwater predator. Richard Dreyfuss’s Hooper wants to understand it, to study it, and to perhaps use it. Robert Shaw’s Quint wants only to conquer it, to get revenge and to destroy it. It is through these lenses that the story is told. Thanks to some behind-the-scenes mishaps, the shark is barely ever seen. The actors carried the weight of the film and viewers choose which battle they want to see won, even if they don’t know it. It’s horrific, thanks to the small glimpses of the shark and the realistic view of such a natural creature causing so much destruction. There are many imitators to the classic shark tale, but none can manage to pull it off like this.

Best Moment: Quint’s story—Robert Shaw reciting some of John Milius’s finest words.

1. Jurassic Park – 1993

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It is hard to put into words the impact that JURASSIC PARK has had. For this writer, at the very young age of two, it spawned a life-long obsession with the art of film. For the industry, it launched it into a new era of big-budget special effects and capabilities. Without JP, we probably wouldn’t have THE LORD OF THE RINGS or the STAR WARS prequels. For the rest of the world, however, JURASSIC PARK is the perfect family film, one that is as wondrous and jaw-dropping as it is terrifying and exciting. The score is perfect, the screenplay is tight and fresh, and the performances are out of this world. From breath-taking views of dinosaurs to nail-biting action sequences, Spielberg nailed every single moment on screen.

The thing that sets JURASSIC PARK above the rest, however, is something that seems to have been lost over the past twenty years: character. Everyone in this film has depth, an arc, an attitude and a moment to shine. Dr. Malcolm is smooth and cool, Tim and Lex are perfect avenues for younger views, and Ellie Sattler is the ultimate badass. It is characters like these that make a film about dinosaurs feel insanely real. It spawned disappointing sequels and tons of imitators, but none shall ever surpass Spielberg’s masterpiece. It kicked open the door for a new generation of blockbusters that can’t seem to top it.

Remember the first time you saw that beautiful animatronic T-Rex storm through the electric fence and roar? Name another movie that has made you feel that way.

Best Moment: The entire damn thing.

It is safe to say that Steven Spielberg will go down in history as one of the greatest and most influential filmmakers of all time. All one needs to do is give his filmography a cursory glance before realizing how great the work he has done is. With THE BFG dropping this weekend and READY PLAYER ONE on its way, it’s possible we’ll see Spielberg return to his adventure-film roots. In a world of sequels, reboots, and superheroes, this might just be exactly what we need from him.

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