It’s difficult to utter the words “underrated” and “Steven Spielberg” in the same sentence. After all, he is often credited as the most celebrated director of our time. And why shouldn’t he be? As director, the man gave us Indiana Jones, Jaws, Jurassic Park, and E.T. That’s an iconic short list of films that is rivaled only by Alfred Hitchcock himself. But with an oeuvre so standout that it is the envy of Tinsel Town, it becomes incredibly easy to talk about the great films of Steven Spielberg and overlook the the other gems. Fortunately, you have us!
The following 5 films are what we consider to be some of the more glossed-over entries in Spielberg’s filmography. Because this is Action A Go Go, we specifically zeroed in on the movies that we consider “action ” films. That is, movies that use action to drive a sizable chunk of its plot along. Seeing how Spielberg is considered a master of suspense these flicks provided us with plenty of thrills as we revisited them. Do yourself a favor and do the same…
5. War Horse (2011)
Story: Young Albert enlists to serve in World War I after his beloved horse is sold to the cavalry. Albert’s hopeful journey takes him out of England and to the front lines as the war rages on.-IMDB
The People Who Get Paid to Talk: Typically this is where we talk about the actors with the most commanding presence on screen. But that’s the thing about War Horse. The horse is the star. His name is “Joey”, and Spielberg gets more emotional kick out of this four-legged creature than most directors get out of A-List actors.
Oh. Tom Hiddleston is in it too.
What’s Action A No No: Look…the movie is a World War I film, but it is also a tear-jerker. Don’t do what we did and watch this around your boys. They’ll never let you hear the end of it.
What’s Action A Go Go: Like we said, the movie is a war film. Even better, it is a war film by the man who gave us Saving Private Ryan. Expect one harrowing scene after another featuring both man and animal escaping near death.
4. War of the Worlds (2005)
Story: As Earth is invaded by alien tripod fighting machines, one family fights for survival. -IMDB
The People Who Get Paid to Talk: We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Tom Cruise commits like no other. As estranged father Ray Ferrier, Cruise starts of as an arrogant bachelor, but when the aliens show up you totally buy into the fact that he is a Dad way in over his head…with aliens way over his head! It’s like catching up with Top Gun‘s Maverick decades later and then throwing extra-terrestrials at him.
What’s Action A No No: The ending is little too neat for some. But it also keeps in line with the source material despite being a modernized version of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds. Are you a better writer than Wells? Well…shut up then.
What’s Action A Go Go: The Cruise/Spielberg collaboration started with Minority Report and continued with War of the Worlds. It is kind of awesome seeing two pop icons of the ’80s firing on all cylinders (for the most part). Cruise and Spielberg understand the psychology, execution, and visual language of movies. Together they create a 9/11 parable that stood out even during a time when everyone was loading their movies with September 11th overtones. The ending may have some rough spots, but 2005’s War of the Worlds is an excellent glimpse into America’s paranoia after the World Trade Center collapsed.
3. Duel (1971)
Story: A business commuter is pursued and terrorized by the malevolent driver of a massive tractor-trailer. -IMDB
The People Who Get Paid to Talk: Similar to War Horse, the star of this 1971 TV movie isn’t human. It’s a truck. This is Spielberg’s precursor to Jaws, and you can really see the seeds of genius being laid here. A distressed Dennis Weaver (really the only actor with lines in the film) plays the whole thing up by totally unraveling on screen. Movie of the week entertainment at it’s purest.
What’s Action A No No: If you’re one of those clowns who needs CGI and green screen then you’ll be sorely disappointed here. This is Spielberg at his most practical — left to only rely on his filmmaking know-how.
What’s Action A Go Go: If you like b-movie silliness then you’ll love this. As we said earlier, this is Steven Spielberg with no ILM toys at his disposal. The director really flexes his action muscle here by drawing you in through camerawork, performance, and pacing.
2. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
Story: A skirmish in Shanghai puts archaeologist Indiana Jones, his partner Short Round and singer Willie Scott crossing paths with an Indian village desperate to reclaim a rock stolen by a secret cult beneath the catacombs of an ancient palace. -IMDB
The People Who Get Paid to Talk: You can bet that if someone is talking in this movie then it is probably going to be considered racist or sexist. Welcome to 1984, mutha@#$%!
What’s Action A No No: This movie is dumb. Dumb. Dumb. Dumb. But…
What’s Action A Go Go: …that’s why we love it, damn it! Temple Of Doom is Spielberg at his most tasteless. Considering that this is the same director that gave us Oscar-winning films such as The Color Purple, Schindler’s List, and Saving Private Ryan, you better believe Steven backpedaled from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom after release. Especially since this flick was considered so violent that they invented a rating because of it!
ToD might be the only film in the Indiana Jones franchise that delivers on the series’ initial concept of being an homage to movie serials without reservation. It is very much in line with the violent, racist, sexist, and flat-out ignorant chapter plays of Hollywood’s golden era. Aaaaand…it’s kind of fun watching a family director lose his $#!+ for an 1hr and 58mins. Um, unless you’re Chinese, Hindu, or female. Thumbs up!
1. Munich (2005)
Story: Based on the true story of the Black September aftermath, about the five men chosen to eliminate the ones responsible for that fateful day. -IMDB
The People Who Get Paid to Talk: This is a great cast! Especially Eric Bana, whose sense of duty gets put through the ringer as he spirals down the path of revenge. Geoffrey Rush is great as the by-the-book numbers-cruncher working with Bana’s Israeli kill squad. Also, Spielberg has an eye for talent. Scoring Daniel Craig right before he debuted as Bond in Casino Royale.
What’s Action A No No: Spielberg caught a lot of flack for making a film that could be viewed as a criticism of Israel’s response to Black September. While Munich is definitely a suspense-thriller, the film’s controversial commentary might have a little something to do with why this brilliant movie is overlooked.
What’s Action A Go Go: Make no mistake. This is Steven Spielberg’s spy movie. Munich is very much based on historical events, but all the elements of a spy film are there: The gadgets, the intrigue, the double-crosses…everything. More important is the fact that the director used the 1972 terrorist event to examine America’s then ongoing War on Terror.
This is Spielberg at his most fearless. Commonly referred to as a commercial director, Munich once again proves that he isn’t just a master of suspense but a master of storytelling.