Beyond the films that Steven Spielberg has directed, how has he influenced the movie-making industry? The answers are to be found in over 30 years of Hollywood history…
Steven Spielberg has enjoyed a long and lucrative career. His films are favourites of audiences around the world with each new release guaranteeing a box office windfall. But he is also the most successful film producer of all time, ahead of friend and Amblin Entertainment co-founder Kathleen Kennedy. That has put him in a unique position.
As far back as the late 1970s, Spielberg has been encouraging fellow filmmakers, and in many instances helped their projects see the light of day. The clearest example of this, in the early days, was his undoubting confidence in the abilities of writer-director team Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale. He helped them make the delightful comedies I Wanna Hold Your Hand and Used Cars. Although both films are still criminally under-seen, it was Spielberg’s stature and guiding hand that kept Zemeckis and Gale from throwing in the towel. Had they given up and allowed the rejection letters to point them in other career directions, we may never have seen their best film see the light of a cinema projectionist. Yes, without Spielberg, there probably wouldn’t be the critical and commercial smash hit Back To The Future.
So this list looks at the filmmakers who Spielberg has mentored and encouraged and the great films we wouldn’t have without him.
For more on Steven Spielberg please take a look at Top 10 Films’ Spielberg Week – eight straight days devoted to Spielberg. The week included such features as: Top 10 Steven Spielberg Characters, Top 10 Steven Spielberg Moments, and 10 reasons Jaws might be the best film ever made
10. Mega Budgets and High Concept: Jan De Bont (1996)
Spielberg is quite unique in his ability to take high concept ideas and add depth to them. But realising the quick-buck box office appeal of these types of films – characterised by plots that can be described in a few words and so doing fit nicely on the poster. One such film was the Amblin-backed special-effects extravaganza Twister. The film was a non-brainer in terms of the man behind the camera Jan Be Bont whose debut film as director was the hugely successful, equally high concept, Speed.
See also: Top 10 High Concept Films
9. Big enough to take on Disney: Don Bluth (1986 – 1988)
By the middle 1980s Spielberg was such a force in Hollywood he decided to take on Disney. Don Bluth, a Disney animation veteran, left the company to pursue personal projects. Spielberg supported this and Bluth’s films such as An American Tail and The Land Before Time were considered direct rivals to Hollywood’s most iconic studio.
See also: Top 10 Traditionally Animated Films
8. Spielberg-lite or like: Joe Johnson (2001)
Joe Johnson spent most of his formative professional years under the watchful gaze of George Lucas, working as one of the special effects artists on the original Star Wars films. He worked with Spielberg on the Indiana Jones films before moving into direction with films such as Honey, I Shrunk the Kids and Jumanji. Spielberg picked Johnson to director the second sequel to Jurassic Park in 2001.
7. World War II, I’m there! (2001 – 2010)
Spielberg has always had an interest in World War II and it comes through his work just as much as his interest in little green men. It is unsurprising then that his support of projects based on the war of 1939 to 1945 has been strong. This is probably best exampled by producing multi-million dollar television mini-series Band of Brothers and follow-up The Pacific. For film, in addition to his own work documenting the period from Schindler’s List and Empire of the Sun to the strong WWII elements of the Indiana Jones franchise, he produced Clint Eastwood’s double bill Letters from Iwo Jima and Flags of Our Fathers.
6. Helping a friend: Watch out for the spider! (1990)
Frank Marshall was, alongside Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy, one of the founders of Amblin Entertainment, the production company behind such classics as Back To The Future. Marshall is one of Hollywood’s most successful producers and his status in Tinseltown meant he could pretty much do anything he liked. But directing was something he hadn’t had a go by 1990 and he was itching to swap the producer’s chair for the director’s. So, with Spielberg’s backing and his own production studio behind him, he had a go at this profession he has seen many others excel at. The result was the brilliantly fun horror Arachnophobia.
See also: Spielberg’s success in a single image
5. Doing it for the Kids: A Young Sherlock Holmes (1985 & 2011)
Spielberg has always had a knack of telling stories that worked for children and adults. Often these films would feature children as the main characters (The Goonies, E.T.). Films such as Young Sherlock Holmes and more recently Super 8 rekindle those childhood ideals and make them accessible for a wider audience.
4. The Tobe Hooper Puppet: Things go bump in the night (1982)
There’s been a lot of talk about who actually directed Poltergeist with Zelda Rubenstein stating publicly that the only director she saw whilst filming was Spielberg. But whoever told the cameraman where to point his lens and the actors how to deliver their lines, Poltergeist is a film Spielberg wanted to make but couldn’t do it alone. It is far darker than his innocent tales of childhood dilemma and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre mastermind Tobe Hooper was undoubtedly the right man to show Spielberg the way to the dark side.
See also: Did Spielberg direct Poltergeist?
3. The Dark Side through Joe Dante: Don’t feed after midnight (1984 – 1990)
Like contemporaries Robert Zemeckis, John Landis, George Lucas, and indeed Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante was another filmmaker from the television generation whose media diet was made up almost entirely of flickering images on a box in the living room. It is little wonder that his unique humour and darkly comic style would appeal to Spielberg. Joe Dante is Spielberg’s much more cynical, less sentimental alter ego and he produced some of Dante’s best work – Gremlins I and II, and Innerspace.
2. A great idea for Richard Donner: Saving the Goon Docks (1985)
Steven Spielberg oversaw production of The Goonies as Executive Producer. However, the film was his idea before being written by Christopher Columbus for Richard Donner to direct. Interestingly, in actor Sean Astin’s recent book There and Back Again, he claims the film was directed by Richard Donner and Steven Spielberg who acted like “co-directors”.
See also: Top 10 Steven Spielberg Moments
1. Belief in the two Bobs: The Robert Zemeckis mentorship (1978 – 1990)
Spielberg had produced Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale’s first two films – I Wanna Hold Your Hand and Used Cars – and both had flopped at the box office. In the ensuing years Used Cars became a cult hit while I Wanna Hold Your Hand remains underrated and under-seen. However, this initial false start left the two Bob’s in a trick situation. No one was willing to hire them and they didn’t want to bring Spielberg down with them. So they tried to get Back To The Future off the ground without the man who made Jaws but the studios weren’t buying it. Thankfully, Zemeckis made the decision to direct Michael Douglas in Romaccing The Stone. It became a hit and suddenly Back To The Future looked more appealing. Deciding that the risk was reduced they invited Spielberg back onboard and the rest, as they say, is history. This relationship would also produce Back To The Future Parts 2 and 3 and Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
Written and compiled by Daniel Stephens.
Your turn – what are your favourite Steven Spielberg-produced films?
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