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4 Steven Spielberg movies you need to see again

Posted September 19

Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) (Deseret Photo)

MOVIE LAND — It's safe to say we’re pretty fond of the Netflix original series, “Stranger Things.”

Whenever anything about Demogorgos, Eleven or the Upside Down Place pop up in conversation, we quickly agree that Nancy is a terrible friend before making comments about the '80s, childhood adventure movies, and of course, Steven Spielberg.

But while we collectively love “Stranger Things,” we’re not totally on the same page concerning the Spielberg library. Don’t get me wrong, we love the guy, but how can you comment on which of his movies are best when his historical dramas alone include “Empire of the Sun,” “The Color Purple,” “Munich,” “Schindler’s List,” “Amistad,” and “Saving Private Ryan”?

Which leads us to today’s movie list.

We have started a four-week look at some of Spielberg’s finest films in each genre. Beginning last week with “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” during each episode we will focus on a different movie, why they were great at the time, how they’ve influenced movie history, and how each movie holds up today. Choosing just four was painful, but after an obscenely long text thread, we’ve decided on the following:

"Raiders of the Lost Ark"

“Raiders of the Lost Ark” begins the way most movies end — with a thrilling, life-and-death action sequence. While the opening can be seen as an independent short story, it also sets up Harrison Ford’s character as a man who doesn’t factor danger into personal life decisions.

Written by “The Empire Strikes Back” legend, Lawrence Kasdan, the movie that hit screens in 1981 was the result of many, many drafts as both George Lucas and Spielberg had different ideas on their lead character. Spielberg imagined Indy as a darker, alcoholic playboy while Lucas liked the idea of a scholarly character attracted to adventure.

“Raiders” went on to become the highest grossing film of 1981 by a wide margin. With a budget of only $18 million, the film grossed over $300 million during its original theatrical release.

"E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial"

It wasn’t even a full year after “Raiders of the Lost Ark” before Spielberg’s next box office juggernaut hit the big screen. “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” was released one day shy of the “Raiders” anniversary and went on to become the highest grossing film ever. “E.T.” managed to hold on to that title until Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park” made record levels of cash in 1993. As a side note, and if stories are to be believed, Spielberg took the film to Columbia Pictures who passed on the project because it was a “wimpy Walt Disney Movie.”

One thing to look for next time you revisit “E.T” is the camera’s general perspective. Spielberg tried to shoot the film from a child’s eye level as much as possible to connect with his central characters.

"A.I. Artificial Intelligence"

“A.I. Artificial Intelligence” was a project that sat in development for literally decades, and includes one of the most famous Hollywood handoffs in history. By the time Spielberg decided to take over screenplay responsibilities, Stanley Kubrick already had 20 years of on-again-off-again work available for Spielberg to work with.

Today, the story of A.I. David and his human family is something of a forgotten chapter in Spielberg’s works, which is why the Popcorn Report wanted to take another look. Sitting currently at 73 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, is this a project that was simply ahead of its time, or did two of the most influential directors in cinematic history waste years of time and talent on a mediocre project?

"Saving Private Ryan"

As noted above, Spielberg has an impressive list of historical dramas credited to his name, so deciding which to cover this month was a difficult decision.

Ultimately, because the film was recently made available on Netflix and because it’s always fun to get angry when discussing how “Saving Private Ryan” lost to “Shakespeare in Love” for Best Picture back in 1999, we decided to go with the Tom Hanks/Steven Spielberg WWII movie.

It should be noted that “Saving Private Ryan” earns its R rating for the same reasons every serious war movie earns an R rating so keep that in mind when deciding which, if any, of your family members will be watching this one.

While you’re watching, it might be interesting to note that the Omaha Beach landing scene has been almost universally declared, in Empire Magazine’s words, as “the best battle scene of all time." Considering the number of war movies in existence, I can’t think of higher praise to offer a director.

Travis has been covering movie news, film reviews and live events for Deseret News and KSL.com since 2010 and currently co-hosts the KSL Popcorn Report. Follow Travis on Twitter @tspoppleton.

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