Hi folks and welcome to my latest top 10. I’m going a little bit left field and looking at the Top 10 films where Spielberg hasn’t directed but has been credited as Producer or Executive Producer. One of the attractions of Spielberg to me growing up, was even if he wasn’t in the directors chair he seemed to be involved in the majority of films that I enjoyed growing up.
With over 170 Production credits to his name, putting a Top 10 wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be at first. I immediately discounted any that he had directed, and obviously ignored the dozens currently on his announced slate on IMDB. I have also culled a few more by not looking at sequels, however this still left me with a plethora of options. So I decided to go with the heart and not the head on this one, which means quality productions such as the Coen’s True Grit are left off and also there is the omission of crowd favourites Innerspace and The Money Pit which would have been 11 and 12th respectively if I had too.
One further caveat is that I haven’t seen all the films on the list so I may have missed some of your favourites that I’m not too familiar with. So without further ado, here is the Top 10 list of my favourite Spielberg Production credits.
10. Twister (1996) Dir: Jan De Bont
After the stresses and strains of the emotional experience of Schindler’s List, Spielberg was taking an unprecedented 4 year break from the Director’s chair. He was, however, very much keeping his head in the game with his Producers hat on, with a variety of TV shows, the hilarious and anarchic Animaniacs and the rather damp squib (pun very much intended) Seaquest DSV. Movie wise is was a mixed bag, including the fun and sprightly Caspar (which again just missed this list) and the cringeworthy Flintstones (Steven Spielrock anyone???).
1996 was a summer of big blockbuster action films, with Roland Emmerich’s fantastic Independence Day leading the way, Michael Bay showing considerable restraint, by his standards anyway, with the ridiculously entertaining The Rock and we met Ethan Hunt for the first time as Mission Impossible burst onto our screens via the Channel Tunnel.
Crashing into the 2nd place in the Box Office chart that summer was Twister, a film about a group of storm chasers battling to find the Big one in the American midwest. With spectacular, Academy Award nominated visual effects (it lost out to Independence Day), the film actually touches on a number of Spielbergian themes, our group of Chasers are all Science nerds, there are broken relationships, there is the destruction of small town America, it is all there. The script is a bit hokey, but whoever watches films like this for Shakespearean delivery, this is a perfect Sunday afternoon movie.
9. *Batteries Not Included (1987) Dir. Matthew Robbins
I watched this again recently and to be fair it has aged, but what we have here is a simple tale of triumph over adversity and an enormous sense of a community coming together to beat the odds, which are traditional Spielberg themes.
The film is anchored by a beautiful pair of leading performances from Jessica Tandy as the dementia suffering Faye and the dazzling Hume Cronyn who plays her steadfast husband Frank. Originally conceived as a story to be included in Spielberg’s Amazing Stories, the idea had enough legs to be made into a full length film.
It’s a charming tale, with plenty of 1980s schmaltz, that tales off slightly in the final act. A film that still appeals to all ages, the adults will enjoy the nostaglia, and the youngsters will giggle at the alien antics.
Worth noting also that *Batteries Not Included was the screenwriting debut of Pixar legend Brad Bird who would go on to direct The Incredibles and also some of the later Mission Impossible franchise. I wouldn’t be too surprised if the bigwigs at Pixar didn’t get a large portion of their ideas for 2008’s UP from the set up here as there are plenty of shared themes, not least the last house standing setting.
8. Poltergeist (1982) Dir. Tobe Hooper
Yeah I know, Spielberg directed Poltergeist, yadder, yadder, yadder. Erm, no he didn’t, and to constantly claim that he did is quite offensive to Tobe Hooper. Yes Spielberg was by all accounts a very hands on Producer, and a number of themes smack of Spielberg, not least the Suburban setting, the dysfunctional family, the young children in peril etc, but those are just the headlines and this is Hooper’s film.
Despite the setting and the family dynamic, the characters, in particular the adults don’t really fit the Spielberg mould of the time. The Freelings are pot smoking ex-hippies, trying to hold onto their youth, whilst they can, (one fan theory I read was that the whole plot was imagined by Diane whilst high off the pot!!). The reliance on effects that are now quite dated, again doesn’t appear to fit in the practical mentalities of Spielberg at the time, i.e. E.T, Raiders etc.
Poltergeist has some terrific setpieces and the most terrifying clown this side of IT, and is again one of those films that nostalgia has been kind too, and it makes this list because Steven Spielberg produced it, not directed it.
7. Deep Impact (1998) Dir Mimi Leder
1998 was the year of Twin film battles, where films with similar themes go head to head. In animation we had Dreamworks Antz, facing off against Pixar’s A Bug’s Life, Peter Weir’s The Truman Show up against Ron Howards Ed TV, and Spielberg’s own Saving Private Ryan and Terrence Malicks The Thin Red Line.
As far as audiences were concerned however, the biggest battle was the fight to save the Earth in two films about cataclysmic asteroids are set to crash into and destroy Earth films. Winning this particular box office battle was Michael Bay’s, Bruce Willis starring preposterous (even for an asteroid film) Armageddon, which inexplicably was only held off the number 1 spot for the year by Titanic.
Personally, I always thought from viewing both Armageddon and Deep Impact that the Mimi Leder film was superior, in every way, from the science involved to the script, (Armageddon’s is so hilariously bad, its actually quite fun). The main difference between the two, is that Deep Impact has very little if any testosterone and with Leder at the helm why would there be, there is a seriousness with the situation, we are drawn into the characters, we care for them, we want them to succeed. We don’t really give a toss about Bruce and his neanderthal mates.
Deep Impact is a classic Friday night movie, with a fabulous ensemble cast, who all contribute. Booking the trend somewhat of 90s action flicks and in complete contrast to Armageddon’s gung ho, if there is a lead in Deep Impact then it is surely the excellent Tea Leoni’s determined journalist, who more than holds her own alongside Morgan Freeman (playing the President we all wish they had now), Robert Duval’s seasoned Astronaut and an early role for Elijah Wood.
Armageddon may have triumphed at the box office but there is no doubt which is the superior film.
6. Men In Black (1997) Dir. Barry Sonnenfeld
Probably the film in the list that had the least input from Spielberg, here very much Executive Producing through Amblin, however that is no reason not to include it. Very loosely based on the early 1990s comics by the same name, (the films are considerably lighter in tone than the comics), Men in Black deals with a fictious Government agency who deal with extra-terrestrial life that lives, generally in perfect harmony with humans on Earth, the catch being, that humans don’t know about due to the MiB organisation.
The first and by some considerable distance the best of the series is helped by a brilliant double act, taking the buddy movie to new heights. We have the seasoned old pro, the craggy faced Tommy Lee Jones, playing it straight as die throughout, alongside the cocky new recruit, an at the top of his game Will Smith. The chemistry between the two leads is fantastic and it is a shame that they have struggled somewhat to replicate that in the lacklustre sequels that followed.
Once more the effects are really good and Sonnenfeld demonstrates some of his Gothic tendencies that he employed so well in his Addams Family films in the early 90s.
Men In Black was a box-office monster, helped in no small part to the star wattage of Biggest Star in the Galaxy at the time Will Smith, it helped that he had an absolute banger of a theme tune to accompany it, but this film would have been nothing without Jones’s, sardonic and occasionally moving performance.
5. Gremlins (1984) Dir. Joe Dante
There are three rules that you have to follow if you’re going to take care of your Mogwai, it becomes apparent quite quickly that they are all utter balls. We all know about the nonsense of not eating after midnight, I mean when does that end, can you book a table at the breakfast buffet or is there a certain time you have to reach before you can kick back with a croissant. There’s also the issue of time zones but lets not go there. But what about never getting them wet, through fear of multiplication, yet at one point the hoard of Gremlins are clearly seen walking through snow with no ill effect. Then there is the fear of bright lights, which a bit like when you ask your teenage kids whether they heard you ask them to empty the dishwasher, depends on what mood they are in at the time, for example the Gremlins seem ok in the lighted kitchen when they are helping themselves to the cake mix.
Now lets not be an old fuddy duddy about this, these glaring plotholes are part of pop culture folklore and are very much a part of the appeal of this perennial festive classic. Mixing extreme lightness, carol singing Gremlins, break dancing Gremlins, even Snow White singalong Gremlins, with terrifying darkness, the chainsaw attack, the grizzly water fountain finale and worst of all the reason why Kate doesn’t celebrate Christmas, we have a film that at one point you think the whole family could enjoy and the next would make an interesting double bill with Driller Killer.
I’m sure Gremlins was made with one eye firmly on the merchandising potential and this has often raised questions at to who this film is aimed at. What is undoubted is that it is hilarious and at times scary as hell. A sequel, which many devotees prefer to the original, I’m not one of them, arrived 5 years later and was more a satirical look at movie sequels and merchandising tie-ins. The original though is a black comedy that has landed itself firmly in the pop culture lexicon for the past 30 plus years. Still to this day, despite it’s obvious nonsensical plot, it is tremendous entertainment and Christmas just isn’t Christmas without it.
4. Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) – Robert Zemeckis
Ok, the mixing of live action and animation was nothing new in 1988, Disney themselves had been making films since the early 1940s in this format, however films that had placed an animated lead character alongside a human lead were few and far between and seen as little more than a gimmick.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit is in all sense an purposes a Film-Noir with a Looney Tunes, technicolour back drop. From the hilarious prologue short cartoon “somethin’s Cookin” starring Roger and the (we found soon after) hard drinking, womanising Baby Herman we have the tone set, for one of the most innovative blockbusters of the 80s.
There are plenty of elements of this film that perhaps are aimed at an older audience, for example one of the scariest villains of any childhood with the horrific Judge Doom, and of course the Femme Fatale who quite frankly will have many of the male and female audience questioning their sanity.
Technically magnificent, it still very much holds up today. Bob Hoskins is brilliant as the cynical, grieving, hard drinking Eddie who has a particular dislike for Toons, but the true star of the show is Zemeckis, who never lets get away from its noir routes.
3. Super 8 (2011) Dir. J.J Abrams
It is no secret how much of an influence Spielberg has been on the career of J.J Abrams, and in 2011, Abrams made Super 8, his love-letter homage to Spielberg, in this quite brilliant science-fiction tale. This is the entry in the Top 10 that is probably the least talked about, and has largely been forgotten by the film community, which is a crying shame as I would say it is easily in my Top 10 movies of the last decade.
It’s all here in this one, clear references to E.T, and The Goonies from Spielberg’s back catalogue, with touches of Stand By Me and even Alien, it is sci-fi, action mixed with nostaglia all set in a nice Spielberg inspired Suburban community.
Led by a sparking young cast the film is told from their point of view as they try to solve the riddles of the mysterious goings on that follow a train crash in their town. The friends agree to get together to help make a horror movie using a Super 8 camera, a further nod to Spielberg’s own childhood, and over time they bond. The film is a thrill ride in the traditional Spielberg way, at times it is genuinely scary and at other points, deeply moving, the main character has recently lost his mother in a workplace accident, the absent parent a recurrent Spielberg theme.
A film about friendship, a film about belonging, this is more than just a kids monster movie. It’s legacy lives on with the Netflix produced, and majorly Spielberg inspired Stranger Things.
2. The Goonies (1985) Dir. Richard Donner
In 1985 Spielberg was taking his first real steps into Directing films, aimed more at critical acclaim that box office receipts, with his adaptation of Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. Having been dismissed a nothing more than a popcorn peddler, a PT Barnum figure if you will, by many a critic, Spielberg decided to focus on what was deemed more grown up material.
Thankfully, it didn’t mean that he had lost his sense of humour or his desire to be involved in wholesome family entertainment. Whereas the Color Purple dealt with themes of domestic abuse, incest and segregation, in 1985 he produced two of the most iconic 80s films that were as far away from the above as possible (actually may be not the incest, but we’ll come back to that later in the blog).
The Goonies is one of those rare breed of films, where you would be pushed really hard to find anyone who has anything bad to say about it. It is a very simple of tale of friendship and adventure, a real kids adventure film that has spanned the generations, from people like myself who loved it since its release, to my parents who were delighted at the time that there was a film that wasn’t a cartoon or involved galaxy’s far far away to entertain the kids, and now my children who watch it now and can’t comprehend that it was made 35 years ago.
And that there is the point, The Goonies is timeless, it is so fresh it could have been made last week. Perfectly cast from the noble Sean Astin as self appointed leader, to 80s icon Corey Feldman as the most punchable but still likeable Goonie, Mouth. Then there is my favourite, Ke Huy Quan, fresh from playing Indy’s card playing best mate, as the inventive James Bond fanatic Data, and of course the Pop Culture icon, Jeff Cohen’s Chunk, who’s confession scene is possibly the finest moment in the whole of 80s cinema.
The tomboyish Martha Plimpton playing the sarcastic Steph, a pre-Thanos Josh Brolin playing the tough older brother, and every schoolboys crush Kerry Green as cheerleader Andy round out one of the most likeable casts of any film.
Terrific pantomime villain support comes from Anne Ramsay, Robert Davi and a young Joe Pantoliano as the criminal Fratellis, add to the brilliance of this simple piece of entertainment.
You don’t hear of anyone stating they don’t like The Goonies, because there is nothing not to like. I would question anyone who disagrees with that probably doesn’t like films at all, but for a film about a bunch of kids looking for buried pirate treasure (btw didn’t know the name One-Eyed Willy was a bit dubious when I was a kid……….ah innocence) to still be this endearingly popular 35 years on is an absolute credit to everyone involved. Now about that incest……..
1.Back to the Future (1985) Dir. Robert Zemeckis
Ok we’ll get to that shortly. Back to the Future could well be the perfect film. It is entirely possible that no film made before or since has resonated or landed in the pop culture psyche as much. Similar to the Goonies it is one of those films that everyone has seen, and everyone, even none film fans get a little smile on their face if you mention it.
When I was growing up in the 80s and as was often the way in Manchester, school holidays were often dominated by bad weather, and my older brother and I had a stock pile of films recorded from the BBC and ITV that would regularly be watched almost on loop. There was obviously the Star Wars trilogy, the aformentioned The Goonies and of course Back to the Future, possibly the most quotable film for me and my brother.
What is often overlooked with Back to the Future is the perfection that is it’s screenplay. My brother now lives in America and it dawned on me during a recent WhatsApp video call just how much we quote the film in general conversation, and I’m not just talking about the “Great Scott’s” of this world I’m talking the more subtle lines. For example, if my brother is wearing something a bit unusual, I will say “and what are you wearing Dave?” which Marty mutters to his brother Dave who is inexplicably wearing a business suit in the altered future………my brother is not called Dave.
My brother and I used to cook lunch during the School holidays and he would often jokingly throw in the line “Damn it Man, I sliced my hand” in honour of Marvin Berry cutting his hand trying to open the boot of his car whilst the keys were locked inside, or if one of us was playing music at an annoying volume, the other walk into their room, and say “hold it fellas, I’m sorry you’re just too damn loud”.
It’s little things like this that make this film special to everyone who has had the pleasure of seeing it. Similar to the Goonies, it is incredibly fresh and could have been made last week. Led by Michael J Fox as Marty McFly, nobody my age (I was 8 when the film was released) had ever seen anyone cooler than Marty. He was the most awesome character growing up and is probably still my favourite now when all said and done.
Are there issues? Well you could argue that the mother/son incestuous connotations is a little Oedipal, and some may today question the friendship between Marty and Doc, but from a story telling point of view it is brilliantly done and in the case of Marty and Lorraine, (played by another 80s icon the simply stunning Lea Thompson), is resolved carefully without too much cringe.
Worth noting also that Back to the Future has my number 1 punch the air moment when George, a suitably awkward Crispin Glover, finally stands up to Biff, quite possibly the greatest screen bully ever, played with dotable menace by Thomas Wilson. It still gets a cheer to this day.
Back to the Future was followed up by two quick fire sequels in 1989 and 1990 and, despite never truly hitting the heights of the original, are fantastic watches, and may well be the second and third part of the most complete trilogy. Pray tell nobody gets the insane idea to reboot, remake or simply go back in time to update the original. Some things are best left well alone.
My name is Dominic Holder and I like to promote the beauty and wonder of Cinema in my writing. I spend a lot of time promoting the power of Cinema as a tool of wellbeing to anyone and everyone. I love all kinds of films but in particular I am a devoted fan of Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, John Williams, Star Wars, Disney and Marvel. My love of Cinema stems from a trip as a 4 year old to local cinema in Bolton to watch a Star Wars/Empire Strikes Back double bill, it was the first in a series of life changing moments, I knew from the moment the Imperial Star Destroyer engulfed the screen at the start of A New Hope I was hooked. Thankfully nearly 40 years later I still get excited and still find escapism and happiness within this wonderful medium.
You can read more of my blogs on Film at www.dominicholder.wordpress.com