Steven Spielberg is renowned for working in a number of genres: suspenseful horror (Jaws), historical drama (Schindler’s List), action-adventure (Raiders of the Lost Ark). But arguably the genre classification that he’s most commonly associated with is science-fiction.
Spielberg has told all kinds of sci-fi stories over the years, from the existential tale of humankind’s first contact with alien life to the more intimate coming-of-age tale of a young boy making friends with an alien stranded on Earth. The director has helmed some classics of the genre, as well as a couple of forgettable entries. So, here are All Of Steven Spielberg’s Sci-Fi Movies, Ranked.
9 Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
This is basically at the bottom of the list because it’s a sci-fi movie. Aliens really, really didn’t belong in an Indiana Jones movie. The script went through a ton of different writers and drafts over the years – how did aliens remain a key component of the plot until the final cut?
There are a lot of ridiculous set pieces in this movie, from Indy surviving a nuclear blast by hiding in a refrigerator to Shia LaBeouf swinging around the jungle with his newfound computer-generated monkey friends. It’s just a mess, from start to finish, and a slap in the face to fans of the franchise.
8 The Lost World: Jurassic Park
The first of many terrible sequels to Jurassic Park, The Lost World could’ve been called The Lost Cast, because Jeff Goldblum is the only major actor that returned. Sam Neill and Laura Dern dodged a bullet with this one. It’s a flabbier movie than its predecessor, with a plot that’s nowhere near as tightly structured – or, really, all that cohesive.
In its third act, The Lost World turns into a pastiche of movies like Godzilla and King Kong as a T. rex is let loose on the streets of San Diego. This could’ve been fun if the setup wasn’t so stupid.
7 A.I.: Artificial Intelligence
Stanley Kubrick was planning to direct A.I.: Artificial Intelligence from his own story, but he died while writing the script. As a retelling of the Pinocchio story with a cyborg who wants to be real boy in place of a magical puppet, A.I. would’ve been interesting as one of Kubrick’s cold, calculated, meticulously crafted cinematic masterpieces.
But after he died, Steven Spielberg brought the movie to the screen as a warm, heartfelt, family-friendly Spielberg movie. Bringing this tone to a Kubrickian story resulted in a tonal mess. It’s not a bad movie, but it’s easy to picture it being a stronger film if Kubrick had completed his own vision.
6 Ready Player One
This film adaptation of Ernest Cline’s novel of the same name relies way too heavily on nostalgia. Whereas the book used its pop culture references as a thematic language to deepen the story, the movie uses them to feed the audience “member berries.” Some pop culture-referencing set pieces work, like the affectionate homage to The Shining (replacing Blade Runner from the book, since the filmmakers couldn’t get the rights to Ridley Scott’s seminal sci-fi neo-noir) as the characters enter the Overlook, which is a treat for fans of Stanley Kubrick’s horror masterpiece.
But most of the time, the pop culture references come off as a commercial in lieu of a movie. Plus, the gamer dialogue is cringeworthy. Still, the visual effects are spectacular.
5 War of the Worlds
Steven Spielberg’s modernized, big-budget adaptation of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds shoots the tripod invasion from the ground level. We see the invading Martian forces as the unsuspecting people of Earth see them – towering above us, blowing up skyscrapers, terrorizing the world.
Tom Cruise stars as a negligent father trying to get his estranged children to their mother amidst a brutal alien invasion. It’s fun to see Cruise in an unlikable role, far removed from his usual charming self. This is Spielberg’s 9/11 movie, as the imagery in this movie was inspired by news footage from the attacks. War of the Worlds perfectly captures America’s post-9/11 fears.
4 Minority Report
Adapted from a story by Philip K. Dick, Minority Report is a prime example of a fantastic premise executed well. Most of the time, when a movie has a lucrative premise, the filmmakers don’t bother to explore it, because they expect the premise to be enough. Minority Report is the opposite of that, crafting a great story to back up its fascinating premise of a futuristic police force that can predict crimes before they even happen.
Tom Cruise stars as John Anderton, who is predicted to be 48 hours away from killing a man he’s never met. As he goes on the run, he has to figure out who this man is and why he’s going to kill him.
3 Close Encounters of the Third Kind
When he was trying to find the right angle from which to tell a story about aliens landing on Earth, Steven Spielberg was inspired by post-Watergate paranoia. So, he centered Close Encounters of the Third Kind around a government cover-up. There are no explosions in this movie – the aliens don’t invade London or blow up the White House – and Spielberg instead relies on good storytelling and strong character development.
Close Encounters culminates in a beautiful climactic set-piece as Earth’s first contact with alien life is depicted not as the end of days, but as an awe-inspiring landmark in human history.
2 E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
What makes E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial work is that it’s a heartfelt coming-of-age story first and a sci-fi spectacle second. It may be the adorable little alien whose name (if you can call it that) is in the title, but this is Elliot’s story. It’s a movie about a kid who is an outcast at school and doesn’t get a lot of attention from his mother, who meets an alien that’s stranded on Earth and needs to get home.
For the first time in his life, Elliot has a friend – and that friend needs his help. Henry Thomas nails the role. Usually, the acting is obvious with child performers, and you can see them reciting lines, taking you out of the movie, but that’s not the case with Thomas’ authentic lead performance.
1 Jurassic Park
From Steven Spielberg’s meticulously focused direction to its groundbreaking use of brand-new visual effects that have surprisingly aged pretty well, Jurassic Park is a masterclass of blockbuster cinema. The scene with the velociraptors hunting the kids in the kitchen is some brilliantly suspenseful filmmaking, bringing Hitchcockian techniques to keep the audience on the edge of their seats.
Sam Neill, Laura Dern, and Jeff Goldblum make a compelling trio as Drs. Alan Grant, Ellie Sattler, and Ian Malcolm, each playing a rounded, well-developed role, and also sharing terrific chemistry with one another. Thematically, Jurassic Park is a cautionary tale about playing God. It’s a movie that everyone seems to agree is a modern masterpiece.
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