The most commercially successful filmmaker in Hollywood history, Steven Spielberg was born December 18, 1946, in Cincinnati, OH. A lifelong cinema buff, he began directing his first short movies while still a child, later studying film at California State University and winning notice for his 1969 short feature Amblin'. He first made his mark in television, directing Joan Crawford in the pilot for Rod Serling's Night Gallery and working on episodes of Columbo and Marcus Welby, M.D. Spielberg's first feature-length effort, 1971's Duel, a taut thriller starring Dennis Weaver, was widely acclaimed as one of the best movies ever made for television.
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Spielberg permanently graduated to feature films with 1974's The Sugarland Express, but it was his next effort, Jaws, which truly cemented his reputation as a rising star. The most successful film of 1975, this tale of a man-eating Great White shark was widely recognized as the picture which established the summer months as the film industry's most lucrative period of the year, heralding a move toward big-budget blockbusters which culminated two years later with his friend George Lucas' Star Wars. Spielberg's follow-up, 1977's Close Encounters of the Third Kind, was another staggering success, employing state-of-the-art special effects to document its story of contact with alien life.
With the 1979 slapstick-war comedy 1941, Spielberg made his first major misstep, as the star-studded picture performed miserably at the box office. However, he swiftly regained his footing with 1981's Raiders of the Lost Ark. Produced by Lucas, the film was one of the biggest hits of the decade, later launching a pair of sequels as well as a short-lived television series. However, it was Spielberg's next effort which truly asserted his position as the era's most popular filmmaker: 1982's E.T. the Extra Terrestrial, the touching tale of a boy who befriends an alien, was hailed upon release as an instant classic, and became one of the most commercially successful movies of all time.
After 1984's Raiders of the Lost Ark sequel, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Spielberg went against type to direct The Color Purple, an adaptation of Alice Walker's much-honored novel exploring the lives and struggles of a group of African-American women during the Depression years. The film went on to gross over $100 million at the box office, later securing 11 Academy Award nominations. A 1987 dramatization of J.G. Ballard's novel Empire of the Sun was his next picture, and was one of his few box-office disappointments. A similar fate met the sentimental Always (1989), a remake of the wartime weeper A Guy Named Joe, but Spielberg returned to form with the same year's Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
With 1991's 60-million-dollar production of Hook, Spielberg again fell victim to negative reviews and lackluster box-office returns, but in 1993 he returned with a vengeance with Jurassic Park. That same year, he released Schindler's List, an epic docudrama set during the Holocaust. The picture won seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director honors.
As befitting his role as a major Hollywood player, Spielberg and his company, Amblin Entertainment, also produced a number of highly successful features, including 1982's Poltergeist, 1985's Back to the Future, and 1988's groundbreaking Who Framed Roger Rabbit? He also diversified into television, beginning in 1985 with the anthology series Amazing Stories and later supervising the animated series Tiny Toon Adventures and the underwater adventure Seaquest DSV. However, in the wake of Schindler's List, Spielberg's status as a power broker grew exponentially with the formation of Dreamworks SKG, a production company he headed along with former Disney chief Jeffrey Katzenberg and music mogul David Geffen; consequently, Spielberg spent much of the mid-'90s behind the scenes, serving as executive producer on films such as Twister (1996), Men in Black (1997), and two 1998 films, Deep Impact and The Mask of Zorro.
Spielberg returned to the director's chair with the 1997 smash The Lost World, the sequel to Jurassic Park. The same year, he was rewarded with several Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for Amistad, a slavery epic for which he served as both director and producer. Whatever disappointment Spielberg may have felt over not actually winning any of the above awards was most likely mollified the following year with Saving Private Ryan. The World War II epic, which Spielberg directed and produced, won a staggering 11 Academy Award nominations. Eventually winning five, the film lost out to Shakespeare in Love for Best Picture. Ryan did win a Golden Globe for Best Picture (in the Drama category), as well a Best Director nod for Spielberg.
After taking the helm for a short documentary chronicling American history for the millennial New Years Eve celebration broadcast, Spielberg took another shot at summer blockbuster success with the sci-fi drama A.I.. Featuring Oscar nominated child actor Haley Joel Osment in the role of a robot boy who longs to be human, and adapted from an original idea from Stanley Kubrick, the high-concept film received a decidedly mixed reception at the box office. The following year, however, would find Spielberg once again coming out on top with two remarkably upbeat chase films. Adapted from a short story by revered science fiction author Phillip K. Dick and starring Tom Cruise as a the head of an elite "pre-crime division" of police officers who use a trio of psychics to predicts criminals' crimes so that they can be arrested before they have a chance to commit them, Minority Report proved an exhilarating sci-fi action epic. A mere six-months later, Spielberg's fast-paced crime adventure Catch Me If You Can adapted the real life exploits of legendary con artist Frank Abagnale, Jr. to the big screen to the delight of audiences hungering for an entertaining and lightweight holiday release.
2004 saw Spielberg team with Hanks yet again, this time for the lighthearted comedy The Terminal. Also starring Catherine Zeta Jones, the film centered on a man without a country who takes up residence in an American airport. The following year found the director diving back into the big-budget sci-fi genre with War of the Worlds. Starring Tom Cruise, the ambitious film was adapted from H.G. Wells classic alien-invasion novel of the same name. After this Hollywood juggernaut, Spielberg cinematically visited his Jewish heritage for the first time since Schindler's List with 2005's critically acclaimed Munich. Beginning with the 1972 Munich Olympics at which 11 Israeli athletes were kidnapped and later murdered by the Palestinian terrorist group Black September, the film follows the small group of Mossad agents recruited to track down and assassinate those responsible. Praised for its sensitive and painful portrayal of ordinary men grappling with their new lives as killers, Munich earned Spielberg a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination, reminding audiences and critics alike of the filmmaker's ability to go far beyond the realm of simple adventure and fantasy.
In 2006, Spielberg produced Clint Eastwood's two films about WWII, Flags of Our Fathers, about the American soldiers at Iwo Jima, and Red Sun, Black Sand, which takes a look at what life was like for men in the Japanese military; both films received broad critical acclaim. In 2008, Spielberg re-ignited the Indiana Jones franchise with the fourth installment in the saga, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. While critical response to this outing was mixed, it scored at the box office and satisfied many moviegoers.
During the years that followed, the number of efforts that bore Spielberg's producing imprimatur grew exponentially. These included The Lovely Bones (2009), the Coen Brothers' remake True Grit (2010), the J.J. Abrams-directed sci-fi fantasy Super 8 (20011) and the eagerly-awaited sequel Men in Black III (2012). Meanwhile, Spielberg reassumed the director's chair for a varied series of pictures, including The Adventures of Tintin (2011). His long gestating Abraham Lincoln biopic Lincoln hit screens in 2012 starring Daniel Day-Lewis as the iconic president and Sally Field as his first lady, and the movie went on to be nominated for a number of Oscars including Best Director and Best Picture. ~ Jason Ankeny, Rovi