Steven Spielberg is one of the greatest directors to ever come out of Hollywood. For over 40 years, his movies have captivated audiences worldwide, all while collecting numerous awards and breaking many records at the box office. Ahead of his latest release Ready Player One, let’s visit some fascinating facts about the movies of a true icon of the silver screen.
42. The Home Movies of Young Steven
Steven Spielberg first cut his teeth on movie making through his dad’s 8mm camera, and he would film scenes like a train wreck using his model train set. Moreover, like many young boys, Spielberg was a Boy Scout. In order to earn his photography merit badge, he directed what would be his first movie, the nine minute western The Last Gunfight. He decided to make a movie instead of going the normal route of taking still photographs because the family still camera was broken at the time.
41. Prolific Output
Spielberg made his feature film directorial debut in 1974 with The Sugarland Express. His next film will be Ready Player One, hitting theatres in March 2018. Spielberg got his start in Hollywood directing many television episodes and made-for-TV movies. This includes the feature length 1971 television movie Duel, which first aired on ABC and was later released theatrically in many markets, including a limited release in the US.
40. Spielberg’s Screenplays
In addition to the films he has directed, Spielberg also received an official screenplay or “Story by” credit for three films he did not direct—Ace Eli and Rodger of the Skies, Poltergeist, and The Goonies.
His first major hit was the 1975 thriller Jaws. Spielberg’s insistence on filming the movie on location in the Atlantic Ocean and issues with the life-size mechanical shark led to many delays and caused the movie to go over budget. Nevertheless, Universal Pictures spent a lot of money in promoting the film, including many television spots, a large scale nationwide release, and numerous merchandise tie-ins. It was all worth in the end, as Jaws would prove to be a major box office success, and was at the time the highest-grossing domestic film. With its extensive marketing strategy, many consider Jaws to be the prototype for summer blockbusters.
38. A Rare Feat for Most, Not for Steven
Directing a movie is time consuming and mind draining activity. As a result, it’s rather unusual for a director to release two films in the same year. Incredibly, Spielberg has accomplished this feat no less than six times. He has done this in 1989 (Always and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade) 1993 (Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List), 1997 (The Lost World: Jurassic Park and Amistad), 2002 (Minority Report and Catch Me If You Can), 2005 (The War of the Worlds and Munich), and 2011 (The Adventures of Tintin and War Horse).
37. Close Encounters With Editing
Post-production on Spielberg’s 1977 Close Encounters of the Third Kind proved to be a very arduous process. Spielberg has said that editing the last 25 minutes of the film was the most difficult experience of his professional life. He and editor Michael Kahn went through thousands of feet of film to find the perfect cut. After the initial cut, Spielberg was still unhappy, and ordered reshoots.
36. The Start of a Precise Collaboration
Behind every great director is an equally astute editor. Close Encounters of the Third Kind was the first time Michael Kahn worked as an editor for a Spielberg-directed film, but it would not be the last. With the exception of E.T. the Extra Terrestrial, Kahn has edited every single film directed by Spielberg. Kahn has received a record three Academy Awards for Editing for his work on the Spielberg films Raiders of the Lost Ark, Schindler’s List, and Saving Private Ryan.
35. Steven’s Frequent Stars
Some actors who have appeared in multiple Steven Spielberg-directed films include Richard Dreyfuss (Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Always), Harrison Ford (the Indiana Jones movies), Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies, The BFG, Ready Player One), and Tom Hanks (Saving Private Ryan, Catch Me If You Can, The Terminal, Bridge of Spies, The Post).
34. The Sound Behind the Pictures
Perhaps the most notable Spielberg collaborator is composer John Williams. With the exception of only The Color Purple, Bridge of Spies, and Ready Player One, Williams has provided the original musical score for the other 29 movies Spielberg has directed.
33. Childhood Imagination
E.T. the Extra Terrestrial was based on Spielberg’s own childhood. After his parents divorced, Spielberg felt increasingly isolated and alone. In response, Spielberg imagined an alien companion that he felt was “a friend who could be the brother I never had and a father that I didn’t feel I had anymore.”
32. Reclaiming a Record
Jaws lost the title of highest grossing movie of all time to the first Star Wars film—directed by Spielberg’s close friend George Lucas—in 1977. Spielberg would reclaim this distinction with the release of E.T. the Extra Terrestrial.
31. Directing Two First-Time Stars to Glory
The Color Purple was the film debut of Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey, and both of them would receive Oscar nominations for their performances. Margaret Avery was also nominated for her performance in The Color Purple. In all, 14 actors have been nominated for an Academy Award for performances in a Spielberg-directed film.
30. At Last a Winner
Despite the many nominations over the years for his actors, it wasn’t till 2012 when an actor won an Oscar for a performance in a Spielberg film. In 2012, Daniel Day-Lewis’ title role in Lincoln finally broke the drought, as he won Best Actor in a Leading Role. However, Spielberg didn’t have to wait long for a second winner, as Mark Rylance would win Best Supporting Actor for his role in Spielberg’s 2015 film Bridge of Spies.
29. Putting the “Jones” in Indiana Jones
The creation of Indiana Jones was a collaborative effort between Spielberg and George Lucas, and fulfilled Spielberg’s wish to make a film with a James Bond-like character. At first, Lucas wanted to name the character Indiana Smith. Spielberg, however, wasn’t a fan of the proposed surname. He responded more favorably to Lucas’ second suggestion of Jones.
28. From the Written Word to the Big Screen
Many of Spielberg’s films are adaptations of novels, short stories, and non-fiction books by noteworthy authors. Some of the prominent writers whose works Spielberg has adapted for cinema include: Alice Walker (The Color Purple), J.G. Ballard (Empire of the Sun), Thomas Keneally (Schindler’s List), Michael Crichton (Jurassic Park), Philip K. Dick (Minority Report), H.G. Wells (War of the Worlds), Hergé (The Adventures of Tintin), Doris Kearns Goodwin (Lincoln), Roald Dahl (The BFG), and Ernest Cline (Ready Player One).
27. Breaking His Own Record
Spielberg’s 1993 dinosaur film Jurassic Park would become a worldwide hit, and became the highest grossing film of all time, surpassing Spielberg’s own E.T. the Extra Terrestrial.
26. Going Back in Time
Schindler’s List was filmed largely in black and white. This allowed the film to take on a more documentary-like appearance. It is thus far the director’s only movie to be shot in this manner.
25. Well-Deserved Victory
For its unrelenting look at the horrors of life in a concentration camp and the heroic efforts of Oskar Schindler, Schindler’s List received the Academy Award for Best Picture. As a producer, Spielberg himself received a statuette to go along with the Best Director award he also won for his work on the movie.
24. Best Pictures
Spielberg has directed nine movies that have been nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. These films are: E.T. the Extra Terrestrial, The Color Purple, Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, Munich, War Horse, Lincoln, Bridge of Spies and The Post. As a producer, Spielberg also received a Best Picture nomination for the Clint Eastwood-directed Letters from Iwo Jima. As of 2018, the only one of these movies that has won is Schindler’s List.
23. Battling the Censors
Ahead of its release in the Philippines, the local censor board decided to cut some scenes from Schindler’s List that depicted nudity. Feeling that this would compromise his artistic vision, Spielberg tried to pull the movie from Philippine theatres before the altered version of his film could be screened. Eventually, the Senate and the country’s president intervened and overruled the censor board, allowing Schindler’s List to be shown in its original form.
22. A Noble Cause
After Schindler’s List, Spielberg established the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation. This organization records and archives the first-hand accounts of the survivors of the Holocaust and other genocides so that their experiences may never be forgotten. Spielberg has also used money made from Schindler’s List to finance documentaries related to the Holocaust.
21. No Director’s Commentary
Spielberg has refused to do director’s commentary for any of the home media releases of his films. He prefers his movies to speak for themselves.
20. Spielberg’s Most Impressive Scene
The opening scene of Saving Private Ryan, which depicts the storming of Omaha Beach on D-Day by Allied forces, is a technical marvel. It took four weeks to film, required the use of 1,000 extras, including some real-life amputees, and cost $11 million on its own. Perhaps its most impressive feat is that it wasn’t storyboarded in advance, and Spielberg called the action as it was happening before the camera, lending to the scene’s chaotic and frenzied nature.
19. Putting His Actors to Work
In order to get his actors to know what it felt like to be a soldier, Spielberg arranged Saving Private Ryan cast members Edward Burns, Barry Pepper, Vin Diesel, Adam Goldberg, Giovanni Ribisi, and Tom Hanks to attend a rigorous 10-day military boot camp led by former Marines.
18. Best Director Near-Record
Spielberg has won the Best Director award at the Academy Awards twice, for his work on Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan. He was also nominated for his work on Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T. the Extra Terrestrial, Munich, and Lincoln. His seven nominations is only one behind the eight received by Martin Scorsese and Billy Wilder. It’s a little further, however, from the 12 received by William Wyler.
17. Taking Over From a Master
The 2001 Spielberg-directed film A.I.: Artificial Intelligence was largely based on the original story and work of legendary director Stanley Kubrick. Kubrick was never able to make the film and entrusted Spielberg to carry out his vision. The two would have many conversations regarding aspects of the film. Kubrick passed away in 1999, but Spielberg still relied heavily on the various notes and drafts he had acquired from him to make the film. The film itself was dedicated in honor of the late legendary director.
16. Long Years of Research
Spielberg spent nearly a dozen years researching his film Lincoln. He painstakingly recreated many aspects of Abraham Lincoln’s office, even getting the wallpaper right.
15. AFI Honors
Five of Spielberg’s films were included in the American Film Institute’s 100 Years…100 Movies list—the most of any director. The original list from 1997 included Close Encounters of the Third Kind, while the updated 2007 list dropped it in favor of Saving Private Ryan. The films that were on both lists were Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T. the Extra Terrestrial, and Schindler’s List—the highest ranking of his films at number 8 in the updated list, up from 9 in the original list.
14. Using His Own Work for a Laugh
During the filming of underwater scenes in War of Worlds, Spielberg used large speakers to play the John Williams-composed music from Jaws to prank actors Tom Cruise and Dakota Fanning.
13. National Film Registry
Six of Spielberg’s films have been included in the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry. These films are considered to be “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant films” worthy of preservation. These films are: Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T. the Extra Terrestrial, Schindler’s List, and Saving Private Ryan.
12. World War II
World War II is a recurring theme and setting in the films of Spielberg. He has featured the war or the lead up to the war in the films 1941, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Empire of the Sun, Schindler’s List, and Saving Private Ryan. Spielberg has said in an interview, “I think that World War II is the most significant event of the last 100 years; the fate of the baby boomers and even Generation X was linked to the outcome. Beyond that, I’ve just always been interested in World War II. My earliest films, which I made when I was about 14 years old, were combat pictures that were set both on the ground and in the air.”
11. First Foray Into Animation
Spielberg tried something new with the 2011 release The Adventures of Tintin, as it was his first wholly animated film. The film used a motion capture technology by actual actors, which was then computer generated into an animated film, mimicking the style of the comic books by Hergé.
10. Quick Turnaround
Spielberg’s 2017 film The Post was made very quickly. From initial shoot to final cut, the film took only nine months to make. Spielberg expedited the production because he felt the story about Washington Post reporters trying to publish the infamous Pentagon Papers was especially important in the current climate of fake news and misinformation.
9. Doing Things Old School
Spielberg and longtime editor Michael Kahn preferred to edit the films the old-fashioned way of splicing celluloid on flatbeds. They only made the switch to digital with the computer animated 2011 film The Adventures of Tintin.
8. On the Horizon
In addition to 2018’s Ready Player One, Spielberg is also working on a new installment in the Indiana Jones series, a remake of the musical West Side Story, and an adaptation of David I. Kertzer’s novel The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara.
7. Box Office King
No surprise here: Spielberg is the highest grossing director of all time. Combined, his movies have made a whopping $9.5 billion at the worldwide box office.
6. Attached to Direct
Spielberg was at one point attached to direct many films that were eventually passed onto other directors. These include: Cape Fear, Memoirs of a Geisha, and Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. He only dropped out of the latter because George Lucas had left the Director’s Guild of America, and as a member Spielberg couldn’t directed his friend’s movie.
5. Freaky Family Outing
Close Encounters of the Third Kind was partly inspired by an frightening incident from Spielberg’s childhood when his parents quickly, and without any prior warning, shuttled him and his siblings into the family car and drove out to a secluded area to view a meteor shower.
4. Reluctant Director
Spielberg was understandably hesitant to sign on to direct to the film adaptation of Alice Walker’s novel The Color Purple. As a Jewish-American male who grew up in suburbia, Spielberg felt unsure how he would do justice to a novel about oppressed African-American woman in the rural South. He was eventually convinced to take on the movie by its producer and music supervisor Quincy Jones, who told Spielberg that not being an alien didn’t prevent him from making the empathetic E.T.
3. A Difficult Experience
As a Jewish-American filmmaker, the subject matter of Schindler’s List touched Spielberg rather deeply. In order to raise his spirits during the often depressing filming of the movie, Spielberg asked comedian and good friend Robin Williams to call him with jokes. Spielberg would also watch many episodes of Seinfeld during the film’s production to cheer himself up.
2. Trouble on War Horse
While filming in damp terrain during War Horse, Spielberg nearly drowned in the mud. He was luckily saved by members of his crew.
1. His Best T. Rex Impression
When filming Jurassic Park, the dinosaurs were added in post-production—including all of their sounds. To give the actors something to respond to, Spielberg himself made dinosaur sounds through a megaphone while they were filming. He must have been a little hard to take seriously after that!
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