"We're gonna need a bigger boat."
Spielberg's first big hit almost ruined his reputation as a director. Going over-budget and over-schedule (mostly due to Spielberg's insistence of using mechanical sharks) the production of Jaws took 159 days to complete, convincing many of the crew that the movie was going to be a disaster. "I was pretty naive about mother nature and the hubris of a filmmaker who thinks he can conquer the elements was foolhardy," Spielberg said of the production to AICN in 2011. "But I was too young to know I was being foolhardy when I demanded that we shoot the film in the Atlantic Ocean and not in a North Hollywood tank." Spielberg can call it whatever he likes, but the end result was that, even 38 years later, audiences are still terrified to get into the water for fear or what lurks beneath. Also, as Spielberg notes, Jaws "gave me final cut for the rest of my career," an advantage that would boost his career going forward.
Coincidentally, Jaws won three Academy Awards for Best Film Editing, Best Original Dramatic Score, and Best Sound, and was nominated for Best Picture, but did not win. Spielberg was not nominated as Best Director, something that would change for his next movie, after 1977's Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
"It belongs in a museum!"
Introducing the iconic character of Indiana Jones and launching a franchise, Raiders of the Lost Ark was the brainchild of George Lucas and was originally titled The Adventures of Indiana Smith, with Philip Kaufman (The Outlaw Josey Wales, Invasion of the Body Snatchers). In fact, it was Kaufman that conceived of including the Ark of the Covenant, while Spielberg thankfully decided against the name "Smith."
The role of Indy obviously went to Harrison Ford, but only after Tom Selleck, who had screentested for the role, had to back out due to his commitment to the Magnum P.I. TV show. Ford got dysentery during the movie's location shooting in Tunisia, where the movie shot in some of the same locations that Lucas had used for Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. Ford had rehearsed a fight scene with a swordsman that included him using his whip, but due to his exhaustion from dysentery, Ford suggested he just "shoot the sucker," creating one of the more memorable moments in the movie.
Raiders of the Lost Ark won 5 Academy Awards for technical achievements including Visual Effects and Film Editing, and scored Spielberg his second Best Director nomination in a row, though, again, he would not win.
"These people. My people. I want my people."
Spielberg went back to basics for Schindler's List, working with one of his lowest budgets in years and shooting the movie entirely in black and white just months after finishing Jurassic Park. He initially convinced Universal to purchase the rights to the book Schindler's Ark in 1983, and gave himself 10 years to mature enough as a director to feel ready for the experience (though he did offer the movie to directors like Roman Polanski and Martin Scorsese in the interim). Spielberg's timeline was a success, earning him his first Academy Award for direction.
The movie follows Nazi party member Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson), who saved the lives of 1,200 Jews from concentration camps all over Poland and Germany. The book and movie were inspired by real-life Holocaust survivor Poldek Pfefferberg, who spent his life trying to get the story of his savior made by Hollywood. Spielberg cast several roles with descendents from those that survived the Holocaust due to Schindler.
Schindler's List also won several other Academy Awards, including Best Picture, but Neeson and Ralph Fiennes, who played the disturbingly sadistic Nazi commandant Amon Goeth, did not.
"Ryan? Anybody know Ryan?"
After finishing another Jurassic Park movie, The Lost World and another period drama in 1997's Amistad, Spielberg again returned to World War II for another Academy Award–winning story. "I think that World War II is the most significant event of the last 100 years," Spielberg told American Cinematographer in 1998. "The fate of the Baby Boomers and even Generation X was linked to the outcome. My earliest films, which I made when I was about 14 years old, were combat pictures that were set both on the ground and in the air."
Saving Private Ryan focused on a small group of U.S. infantrymen who track down the sole remaining brother of the Ryan family (Matt Damon). Ironically, the quest to find Ryan is made after General Marshall (Harve Presnell) reads a letter written by Abraham Lincoln. The D-Day sequence, considered by many to be one of the best battle scenes of all time, took two months to shoot and cost $12 million dollars. The movie started a partnership between Spielberg and Tom Hanks, who went on to produce two WWII-themed series for HBO: Band of Brothers and The Pacific.
Saving Private Ryan did not win Best Picture (inexplicably, Shakespeare in Love did instead), but Spielberg won his second Best Director Oscar.
While your 8 hours (plus, due to running times) are already up, here a couple more Spielberg movies you should know, though, inexplicably, neither won any awards.
"I'm poor, black, I might even be ugly, but dear God, I'm here. I'm here."
Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name by Alice Walker, The Color Purple followed a Southern woman named Celie (Whoopi Goldberg), who struggles to find her identity while dealing with the decades of abuse at the hands of her father and husband. The critically acclaimed movie exposed the racism, sexism, poverty and abuse that many African American women faced in the early 1900s and was nominated for 11 total Academy Awards (Spielberg was not nominated as director), winning none. The movie was not without some controversy, particularly with a white director working on an entirely African American story, but, still, some journalists contend that The Color Purple was snubbed due to Oscar politics.
"Spielberg made the first major movie in years that was entirely devoted to an aspect of the black experience in America, and the Hollywood establishment ignored the movie for reasons that had little or nothing to do with the movie itself," wrote noted critic Roger Ebert after the Oscar ceremony. "It's not even that the voters didn't like it. They probably did like it. But in the politics of Oscar (can't you hear them saying), 'This just wasn't Steven's year.'"
"P-52, Cadillac of the sky."
If ever there was an undiscovered gem among Spielberg's movies, it's 1987's Empire of the Sun. One of Spielberg’s few box office missteps, the adaptation of J.G. Ballard's novel was the director's follow-up to The Color Purple. Initially, Spielberg was only going to produce the movie, while David Lean (Lawrence of Arabia) was going to direct, but Spielberg jumped into the director's chair after Lean walked out.
Set during World War II, Empire of the Sun introduced a 12-year-old Christian Bale, earning the actor his first of many acclaimed performances as the protagonist Jim, who comes of age while imprisoned in an internment camp in Japanese-occupied China. Also in one of his first roles was Ben Stiller, who played one of the American POWs in the camp, and claims that he came up with the idea for Tropc Thunder during production on Empire of the Sun.
Like The Color Purple, Empire of the Sun was nominated for several Academy Awards (6 nominations total), but, also like The Color Purple, came away with none.
Spielberg hasn't just had success at the Academy Awards as a director. Back to the Future (Best Sound Mixing), Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (Best Sound Editing, Best Visual Effects and Best Film Editing), Men in Black (Best Makeup) and Letters From Iwo Jima (Best Sound Editing) are just a few of the movies Spielberg has produced that have also come away with Oscar gold.