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9 Underrated Steven Spielberg Movies That Deserve More Love

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9 Underrated Steven Spielberg Movies That Deserve More Love

Steven Spielberg is responsible for some of the most memorable moments in cinematic history. Mentioning his name immediately brings to mind images like a small boat in a vast ocean, looking for a massive shark, or a small child flying on his bicycle across the moon. His work has inspired and influenced generations of filmmakers to tell bigger, more exciting stories, while still keeping them personal. He innovates with his movies, pushing himself and the medium beyond expectations, while still revisiting the great filmmaking masters like John Ford, David Lean, and Alfred Hitchcock to pull more lessons from their work. Spielberg has always been the perfect intersection between old and new Hollywood, using modern technology and classic techniques to make giant crowd-pleasers that move you.

While it would be difficult to say that Spielberg has made a legitimate bad film (as in utterly boring and completely unwatchable), he doesn’t always match our expectations. No one can hit a home run every single time they step up to the plate, but Mr. Spielberg can usually manage some strong base hits. Over the course of his incredible career, some films are regarded as classics, others are disappointments, and there are those that are fondly remembered by some, but rarely get a mention by anyone who doesn’t love them. Those are the movies we’re focusing on today. None of them are obscure or forgotten, they just don’t typically receive the acclaim they deserve.


9 Duel

Universal Television

In the 2017 documentary Spielberg, George Lucas mentions that the TV movie Duel from 1971 was what made him take Spielberg seriously as a filmmaker. Before that, Lucas felt his future lifelong friend’s work was a little too cute and fluffy, but the TV adaptation of this Richard Matheson story blew him away. If you haven’t seen it, the plot is simple: a man is driving home from a business trip when a tanker truck starts stalking him. It’s Halloween (or Jaws) in the desert. The film is bright, hot, and sweaty. The cinematography is smooth when it needs to be, and blunt the rest of the time. It’s a remarkable piece of suspense that doesn’t feel like it came from early 1970s television — it feels like a master painting on a cinematic canvas. Ask anyone who’s seen it if it’s worth checking out, and they will likely scold you for not watching it already.

Related: All of Steven Spielberg’s Best Director Oscar Nominations, Ranked

8 The Sugarland Express

William Atherton and Goldie Hawn in The Sugarland Express
Universal Pictures

Spielberg’s first theatrically released feature film was The Sugarland Express, starring Goldie Hawn and William Atherton as two parents on the run from the law to retrieve their baby. Inspired by a true story, it delves into an early example of the media sensationalizing a story to the point where every day people come out in droves to support two people who are, essentially, fugitives. It has many Spielberg trademarks, like epic dolly shots that communicate a lot of information, fast editing that keeps the pace moving, and skylines that take your breath away. On top of that, the movie is suspenseful, tragic, and perhaps the funniest movie Spielberg’s made. There are sequences and performances that are genuinely hysterical, proving that despite the misstep of 1941 (which still had some solid gags), Spielberg can handle comedy and should have made more of them.

7 Empire of the Sun

Christian Bale in Empire of the Sun
Warner Bros.

The first historical epic Spielberg made was Empire of the Sun, a World War II drama about an English boy (played by Christian Bale) who is separated from his parents in Shanghai and is forced to survive by his wits, requiring him to grow up far too fast. This is a huge movie, with scenes of such scope that it will take your breath away. In a lot of ways, this film serves as a testing ground for his later historicals like Schindler’s List, Amistad, Saving Private Ryan, War Horse, and Lincoln. It might be a little too slick for its own good, with the harsher story elements never quite hitting as hard as the story requires, but that doesn’t mean the film is a dud by any means. Again, this isn’t secretly his best movie or anything, but it deserves to be discussed far more than it is.

6 The Lost World: Jurassic Park

Dinosaurs in The Lost Word: Jurassic Park
Universal Pictures

The first Jurassic Park is such a perfect popcorn movie that any sequel would disappoint. That being said, The Lost World: Jurassic Park has garnered a reputation as being the perfect example of how not to do a sequel and that is not fair. When compared to the schlock of Jurassic Park III, and the horrifically inferior (and faux satire) Jurassic World movies, The Lost World works as an interesting deviation from the original. The predictable thing to do would have been to make another park and open it to the public (like Jurassic World), but they went in another direction that, essentially, sees mankind entering the dinosaur’s domain. Besides, there are some great action set pieces that stand shoulder to shoulder with any monster flick, and seeing the T-Rex terrorize San Francisco is some of the best monsters on a rampage storytelling America has ever produced.

5 Catch Me If You Can

Leonardo DiCaprio in Catch Me If You Can
DreamWorks Pictures

Another comedic film based on a true story, Catch Me If You Can sees Leonardo DiCaprio conning his way to millions of dollars by convincing people he’s more important than he is. In the hands of another filmmaker, this would be a darker story about how coming from a broken family can warp your sense of morality, which may be a more rewarding film on an artistic or philosophical level, but Spielberg manages to make everything slicker and more classic Hollywood. Even though this is technically a true story, it never feels like it. Instead, Catch Me If You Can is a perfectly crafted piece of entertainment that serves no other purpose than to take you on a journey, and no one is better at that than Spielberg.

Related: All of Steven Spielberg’s Movies from the 90s, Ranked

4 The Terminal

Tom Hanks and Catherine Zeta-Jones in The Terminal
DreamWorks Distribution

Also inspired by a true story, The Terminal isn’t quite the movie you’d expect. Another example of a story that could be explored through a more philosophical lens, Spielberg decided, instead, to make a sweet and gentle romantic comedy. Tom Hanks plays Viktor Navorski, a man from a foreign land who is forced to remain in an airport terminal because his country’s government no longer exists. During his time there, he meets Amelia Warren, played by Catherine Zeta-Jones. She travels a lot, and they run into each other so often that a relationship starts to form. The key to the film is Viktor’s charm and how he changes the surrounding lives with his positive outlook, including Amelia, helping her see she deserves better than to be the other woman to a man who has no intention of leaving his wife. It won’t change your world, but it will make you smile consistently during its runtime and sometimes that kind of escape is really nice.

3 Munich

Eric Bana in Munich
Universal Pictures

Spielberg does not get enough credit for his ability to capture impactful violence like nobody else. It’s easy to show a bunch of blood spray all over the place, or limbs getting chopped off and eliciting a reaction from people. It’s far more difficult to have a single gunshot shake the audience to their core, and that is what he achieves in Munich. A spy film inspired by actual events, where a group of men tracked down and murdered terrorists involved in the 1972 Olympics in Munich, the film is cold, tense, and angry. While certain scenes feel like classic Spielberg glitz, most of it is dirty, sweaty, and terrifying. There are images of such raw brutality in this film that will never leave your subconscious. It raises questions about morality that never get answered. For anyone who thinks Spielberg is incapable of making a movie with the same level of intensity and cruelty as say Scorsese or Tarantino — you haven’t watched Munich and you really should.

2 Bridge of Spies

Tom Hanks in Bridge of Spies
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

On the opposite end of the spy spectrum is the 2015 film Bridge of Spies, starring Hanks as a lawyer brought into foreign affairs to negotiate a prisoner transfer between America and Russia during the Cold War. He is a man entirely out of his depth, operating solely based on his moral compass. It doesn’t have the same ambiguity as Munich, but it has tension in spades. Mark Rylance is absolutely superb in his role as a man whom we’re never quite sure is a spy, but he certainly seems like one. He and Hanks are acting together on another level entirely, with their scenes drawing you into this world better than any amount of set design or camera work ever could. Still, the sets and cinematography paint an expansive tableau around a personal story, making even the most mundane scene bubble with tension and suspense.

1 The Post

Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks in The Post
20th Century Fox

The Post seems like a movie that should have been made by a younger, hungrier filmmaker, someone hoping to make a name for themselves by filming tight, enclosed spaces, with primarily men arguing with each other. It’s a small movie about a newspaper calling out the United States government and exposing the lies they’ve been telling about the Vietnam War for years. It’s exactly the kind of story that an independent filmmaker could build a career on by making it all about dialogue and facial expressions. Instead, Spielberg masterfully stepped in and made one of the most engaging movies of his career.

It’s still about people talking at each other and arguing and fighting their own personal demons, but it takes you through the story with such steady, confident hands, that you feel like you know everything about that time, place, and the people involved. He is so adept at making sure you understand how high the stakes are, that when the time comes for Katherine Graham (Meryl Streep) has only seconds to decide whether to publish a story, you hold your breath. Only someone as gifted and experienced as Spielberg could make a pause in a conversation feel like the last few seconds before a nuclear bomb goes off.

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