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By Ken Miyamoto · August 5, 2022
We’re accustomed to listing our favorite movies from iconic directors, but let’s flip the script and discover what movies engaged, enchanted, and influenced the greatest directors in history. For this article, let’s go with arguably the greatest (or at least the most accomplished) director of our time — Steven Spielberg.
To call Steven Spielberg a success would be an understatement. The iconic filmmaker has not only become the first director in history to see his collected works cross the $10 billion mark but he has also directed in virtually every genre imaginable, including Action-Adventure, Science Fiction, Thriller, Horror, Crime Drama, Spy Drama, War Drama, Drama, Comedy, and Fantasy.
What are his favorite films?
“Before I go off and direct a movie, I always look at four films. They tend to be The Seven Samurai, Lawrence Of Arabia, It’s A Wonderful Life, and The Searchers.” — Steven Spielberg
An angel is sent from Heaven to help a desperately frustrated businessman by showing him what life would have been like if he had never existed.
A timeless tale that captures the imaginations of every generation since its debut. At first, it was considered to be a box office dud. However, when it went into syndication on television, it became a holiday tradition. The film was clearly a major influence on Spielberg, as you can see similar sentimental elements throughout most of his early films.
The aging patriarch of an organized crime dynasty in postwar New York City transfers control of his clandestine empire to his reluctant youngest son.
Spielberg and Coppola are friends and peers. They came up in their careers through the same decade of the 1970s. Spielberg’s close friend and collaborator George Lucas is also close friends with him. The film is widely regarded as one of — if not the — greatest movies ever made.
A collection of animated interpretations of great works of Western classical music, ranging from the abstract to depictions of mythology and fantasy, and settings including the prehistoric, supernatural and sacred.
Spielberg was heavily influenced by Walt Disney. Many people consider Spielberg to be the cinematic Walt Disney to those that grew up in the 1970s and 1980s. Disney brought magic to the cinema through animation that was ahead of its time — essentially creating the animated feature and changing the theatrical experience. Spielberg did the same with the visuals and storytelling within his movies.
A dead World War II bomber pilot named Pete Sandidge, becomes the guardian angel of another pilot, Ted Randall. He guides Ted through battle and helping him to romance his old girlfriend, despite her excessive devotion to Sandidge’s memory.
Spielberg loved the film so much that he eventually remade it with his Jaws star Richard Dreyfuss, entitling the underappreciated film Always.
A group of intergalactic criminals must pull together to stop a fanatical warrior with plans to purge the universe.
According to Gunn:
“Spielberg has said his favorite superhero movie is Guardians. I was in the editing room with Fred Raskin when I heard & I maybe kinda cried a little. I’m making movies because of Jaws & Raiders.”
A small town in California is attacked by Martians, beginning a worldwide invasion.
As has been the case three times so far with A Guy Named Joe, War of the Worlds, and West Side Story (not listed here), Spielberg has remade three of some of his favorite movies.
A Phoenix secretary embezzles $40,000 from her employer’s client, goes on the run, and checks into a remote motel run by a young man under the domination of his mother.
Spielberg is a huge fan of Hitchcock’s work. Maybe too huge. Hollywood legend tells the confirmed tale of how Alfred Hitchcock refused to meet with Steven Spielberg, who had, years prior, tried to sneak onto his sets to meet him. In Stephen Schochet’s 2001 audiobook Tales of Hollywood, Hitchcock’s morning routine was said to have been “upset by an uninvited young man hovering around [his] movie set.” That person was Spielberg. He was removed from the set by a cast member. Regardless, Spielberg clearly holds no grudge.
After uncovering a mysterious artifact buried beneath the Lunar surface, a spacecraft is sent to Jupiter to find its origins – a spacecraft manned by two men and the supercomputer H.A.L. 9000.
Spielberg was a huge admirer of Kubrick’s work as well. They later became friends and collaborated on what would become a Steven Spielberg science fiction classic, A.I.: Artificial Intelligence. But the film, according to Spielberg, is really Kubrick’s. He was just tasked with directing it after Kubrick’s death.
The story of T.E. Lawrence, the English officer who successfully united and led the diverse, often warring, Arab tribes during World War I in order to fight the Turks.
Lean was one of Spielberg’s favorite directors. You can see the influence the film had on Spielberg classics like Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Saving Private Ryan.
After he becomes a quadriplegic from a paragliding accident, an aristocrat hires a young man from the projects to be his caregiver.
French cinema has always drawn Spielberg in. This contemporary film was a surprise addition to the list, but if you read below, you’ll see why this excellent film made the list, beyond its own excellence.
When the menace known as the Joker wreaks havoc and chaos on the people of Gotham, Batman must accept one of the greatest psychological and physical tests of his ability to fight injustice.
Spielberg and Nolan have collaborated together before (Interstellar). Nolan is often considered to be the next generation’s Spielberg in many ways, pushing the boundaries of visuals and cinematic technology.
A young boy, left without attention, delves into a life of petty crime.
Truffaut was a major influence on Spielberg early on in his career. Like Spielberg later on, Truffaut changed contemporary cinema, shooting scenes with visual flair while showcasing truly sentimental and poignant character stories. You can see the influence this film had on other Spielberg films like Empire of the Sun. Spielberg was later honored to Truffaut in his film Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
A committed film director struggles to complete his movie while coping with a myriad of crises, personal and professional, among the cast and crew.
Another Truffaut film. In this case, one that came out shortly before Spielberg’s rise to fame. And the film itself is a little meta, telling the story of a director trying to make a film. There’s no question that Spielberg likely identified with the character.
Following the death of publishing tycoon Charles Foster Kane, reporters scramble to uncover the meaning of his final utterance: ‘Rosebud.’
Spielberg said of the film:
“Citizen Kane’ is to me the American style. In its exuberance, in its innovation, in its use of lighting, time forwarding, film editing, makeup, docudramatic performance, it was the milestone movie of the last two generations.”
A spoiled brat who falls overboard from a steamship in the 1920s gets picked up by a New England fishing boat, where he’s made to earn his keep by joining the crew in their work.
Once again showcasing Spielberg’s clear influences, this film starred Spencer Tracy, one of Spielberg’s favorite actors. It was also directed by a director that comes up a couple of times on this list. We see character influences that later showed up in Spielberg’s work — stories involving young boys as protagonists as they come of age. We’ve seen this from Spielberg in films like E.T., Empire of the Sun, the opening sequence of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and War Horse.
Three World War II veterans, two of them traumatized or disabled, return home to the American midwest to discover that they and their families have been irreparably changed.
World War II is a topic that Spielberg covered well in Saving Private Ryan and the miniseries he produced, Band of Brothers. It’s been told in Hollywood circles that Spielberg screens the film for friends each year. It came out the same year as It’s a Wonderful Life, both covering the dynamics of World War II and the effects the war had back home.
An American Civil War veteran embarks on a years-long journey to rescue his niece from the Comanches after the rest of his brother’s family is massacred in a raid on their Texas farm.
Ford and Spielberg are often compared to one another, both having experience in telling epic stories on equally epic landscapes. Spielberg watches a John Ford film before every movie that he directs.
Michael Dorsey, an unsuccessful actor, disguises himself as a woman in order to get a role on a trashy hospital soap.
Steven Spielberg’s E.T. was 1982’s most successful box office hit. Do you want to know what was second? Sydney Pollock’s Tootsie. Spielberg would later work with that film’s star Dustin Hoffman in Hook. They had previously been in development for Rain Man, until Spielberg had to pull out of that film due to scheduling. Both Pollock and Spielberg were good friends and admirers of one another.
A veteran samurai gathers six samurais to protect a village from the cruel bandits. As the samurais teach the natives how to defend themselves, the village is attacked by a pack of 40 bandits.
Kurosawa was another visionary ahead of his time, so it’s no surprise that his films were major influences on Spielberg’s own work. He was a major influence on Spielberg’s directing style and the two became friends before Kurosawa’s death.
Ridiculed because of his enormous ears, a young circus elephant is assisted by a mouse to achieve his full potential.
Spielberg truly captures Disney’s nack for cathartic sentimentality in many of his films. You can look at this animated classic and see shades of E.T. — the silent character that can’t speak but manages to capture our hearts.