Movie Flashback: 15 Years Ago Spielberg First Visited U.S. History in This Epic
12.12.12 by Chris
Give us, us free. Give us, us free.
When most people think of Steven Spielberg, they think of big popcorn blockbusters like Jaws, the Indiana Jones movies, Jurassic Park, and E.T., but the director's legacy might be in his more serious movies, such as Schindler's List and this year's Lincoln. Before Spielberg told the tale of the 16th president, his first dramatic re-telling of American history was Amistad, which was released this week 15 years ago.
The movie, starring Morgan Freeman, Matthew McConaughey, and Djimon Hounsou, tells the true story of the fight for freedom of a group of African slaves in 1839. Instead of Daniel Day-Lewis portraying Abraham Lincoln, audiences got Anthony Hopkins portraying the sixth U.S. president, John Quincy Adams. Though the movie got critical praise, it's the rare Spielberg movie that was a dud at the box office and is partly responsible for the director having to wait 15 years to make his Lincoln movie.
Most of Spielberg's movies go on to become box office juggernauts, but Amistad is the exception. With a budget of $44 million, the movie barely earned its budget back in the U.S. (note — studios split box office grosses with theaters).
Spielberg had bought the rights to the book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln in 1999 and had hoped to have the movie released in 2009, the 200th anniversary of Lincoln's death. However, Paramount Pictures, which was co-financing the project, drew concerns that the movie was too similar to Amistad. Spielberg was eventually able to overcome those concerns, and, unlike Amistad, Lincoln is looking to become Spielberg's next big hit — the movie has grossed $97 million and counting.
In a way, Lincoln serves as a historic sequel to Amistad, continuing the story of the fight against slavery in the U.S.
Where to watch: Amistad is available on DVD, and on Amazon, iTunes, and Vudu.