10 Best Steven Spielberg Movie Blockbusters Ranked

Summer conjures up memories of standing in long lines outside movie theaters, in the heat no less, in anticipation of a cinematic escape. And what summer blockbuster director/producer name most comes to mind? Steven Spielberg.

These Spielberg movies released during the summer under the Amblin Entertainment label were unique for their time. For example, Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) both included promising alien encounters, which was an unusual turn from the usual sci-fi alien creepiness. And the Reese’s Pieces trail shown in E.T. was the first corporate produce placement. Stand aside James Cameron, Spielberg is the king of the summer blockbuster with adventures that transcend age.

‘Gremlins’ (1984)

Gremlins is based on Roald Dahl’s book The Gremlins published in 1943. A sweet little mogwai pet named Gizmo is given to teenager Billy Peltzer (Zack Galligan) as a gift by his father. Gizmo gets wet and multiplies into many mogwais. The Chinese folklore creatures are then fed after midnight, turning them into evil gremlins who destroy the small Kingston Falls town.

Spielberg discovered the Gremlins script created by renowned screenwriter and director Chris Columbus. Gremlins was a box office hit, had a sequel, and this year an HBO Max animated series brings back Gizmo in Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai.

‘The Goonies’ (1985)

Who doesn’t love summer adventures with pirates, maps and hidden treasures? The Goonies was released in June 1985 and accomplishes all of the above in a feel-good, dark and inappropriate at times coming-of-age adventure. Spielberg wrote the original story about a band of misfits trying to save their neighborhood from greedy land developers. The screenplay was written by Columbus and directed by Richard Donner.

Goonies has become a retro classic where the characters are believable because of an incredibly talented cast. This includes Sean Astin, Brolin, Corey Feldman, Ke Huy Quan, Kerri Green, Martha Plimpton, Anne Ramsey, Robert Davi and Joe Pantoliano.

‘Poltergeist’ (1982)

This sci-fi creepy classic was written and produced by Spielberg, but since he was in contract directing E.T. at the same time, Toby Hooper directed the film about ghosts terrorizing a family in the fictitious California suburban community Cuesta Verde.

One of the most terrifying scenes is with 10-year-old Oliver Robins as Robbie Freeling who was pulled under his bed by a frightening clown-faced doll. Some say the Poltergeist franchise had a curse on actors during production. The arms of the clown doll were wrapped so tightly around Robin’s neck that Spielberg noticed he was turning blue in the face. Heather O’Rourke, who played Carol Ann, was the blond young angelic face who reminded us, “They’re here.” Shockingly O’Rourke died during the production of Poltergeist III.

‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ (1977)

This Spielberg list would be incomplete without the groundbreaking Close Encounters of the Third Kind, remastered in September 2017 and originally released in November 1977. This inspiring extra-terrestrial kidnapping story was Spielberg’s next blockbuster and won an Oscar for Best Cinematography and Special Effects.

In Close Encounters, Richard Dreyfuss plays a convincing Roy Neary, the anxiety-ridden electrician who encounters a UFO at a railroad crossing and then obsesses about it by sculpting his visions of a mountain (Devils Tower) in his mashed potatoes. The final UFO landing scene is when the E.T. doppelgänger aliens use hand signals to communicate with government experts. This scene was one of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring of its day when the aliens and humans use a sequence of five musical notes to create a tête-à-tête. Close Encounters created the alien sub-genre, that made extra-terrestrials not seem so bad after all.

‘Saving Private Ryan’ (1998)

In his lifetime, Spielberg has won two Oscars for Best Director: Schindler’s List in 1994 and Saving Private Ryan in 1999. This vivid World War II movie was released in July 1998, therefore making it on Spielberg’s top summer blockbuster list.

The 25-minute D-Day landing scene of American army soldiers storming Omaha Beach, Normandy was a shockingly-real immersion into the hell these brave young men faced. The battle sequence with Captain Miller (Tom Hanks) is epic with the SFX auditory illusions of hearing loss from surrounding bombings. Spielberg created the most realistic interpretation of soldiers in combat ever seen on screen.

‘Jurassic Park’ (1993)

Jurassic Park was not the first movie about dinosaurs and people coexisting on earth. That goes to The Lost World (1925), a silent film adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s (Sherlock Holmes) story about a South American expedition of dinosaurs. Spielberg adapted a similar story, Michael Crichton’s 1990 novel about a remote dinosaur breeding ground/theme park that goes awry.

The memorable water cup scene directed by Spielberg was genius. Audiences realize a giant unseen T-Rex is approaching because the water in a plastic cup on the Jeep dashboard ripples with each of the dinosaurs nearing stomps. The scene was both terrifying and exciting to first see this incredibly realistic CGI T-Rex, earning it an Oscar for Best Visual Effects and Sound Mixing.

‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ (1981)

Spielberg got help from writer and producer George Lucas on this one as Lucas conceived the thrilling adventure and pitched it to his friend. The first Indiana Jones & the Raiders of the Lost Ark movie came out in June 1981, just one year after Harrison Ford starred in The Empire Strikes Back.

Ford seamlessly brought his Hans Solo charisma and sarcasm to another daring adventurer, archeologist Dr. Henry Indiana Jones. The professor’s vulnerable confession, “Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes?” was probably the most memorable line from the film. The summer blockbuster was filled with nonstop fast action sequences searching for rare treasures. Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood was a breath of fresh air as a tough anti-damsel in distress.

‘Jaws’ (1975)

The horror film directed by Spielberg is based on the 1974 novel about a killer shark by Peter Benchley. The film won Oscars for Best Sound, Film Editing and Music and was nominated for Best Picture.

Duuuunnnn duun. These two musical notes created by John Williams helped generate the scariest fish on-screen. The 25-foot-long predator shark terrorized audiences so much that people avoided swimming in the ocean because of shark phobia. Jaws is THE original blockbuster as it was the first movie ever to earn more than $100 million, and it way surpassed that with $260 million domestically. It is the most memorable beach blockbuster ever. And it’s probably one of Richard Dreyfuss’ top performances.

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, released in June 1982, became the highest-grossing film of all time ($359m domestically and $619m worldwide). In the story, E.T. is the kindhearted alien who befriends a 10-year-old boy named Elliott (Henry Thomas) whose family is dealing with divorce. Melissa Mathison was nominated for her original screenplay that was directed by Spielberg and starred a six-year-old pig-tailed Drew Barrymore. The film won four Oscars and was nominated for several other awards, including Best Picture and Spielberg as Best Director.

E.T. was so heartwarming that it moved Neil Diamond to tears, so much that he wrote a song inspired by the movie called “Heartlight” (1982). “Turn on your heartlight. Let it shine wherever you go. Let it make a happy glow. For all the world to see.” The mesmerizing visual effects including Elliott and E.T.’s bike ride in the sky across a neon moon are now the trademark for Amblin Entertainment. E.T. surpasses Jaws as the top Spielberg summer blockbuster that transcends all ages and is one of the greatest blockbusters of all time.

‘Super 8’ (2011)

Spielberg did not write Super 8, but his E.T. and Close Encounters sci-fi storytelling are what brought him to produce the movie alongside writer and director J.J. Abrams. Super 8 takes place in a fictional 1979 Ohio town where pubescent filmmaker youngsters record their zombie movie on a super-8 camera and come across an infesting alien.

In Super 8 teenagers Alice Dainard (Elle Fanning) and Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) haphazardly try to save others from a scary extraterrestrial monster who takes victims to an infested underground purgatory known only by a secret military operation. Sound familiar? Super 8’s darker Spielbergian themes are paralleled by the Upside Down in the more recent Netflix series Stranger Things, where, the human Demogorgon Vecna, compares to the Super 8 alien named Cooper. Super 8 is a must-see for any Stranger Things fan.

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