Steven Spielberg became a household name because of his extraordinary achievements in film making. He is considered one of the founding pioneers of the New Hollywood Era and ushered in the concept of a Hollywood blockbuster. His journey to becoming one of the most prominent American directors starts at just the age of 10 and only grew from there.
Spielberg found his passion for film making at an early age. He started using his family’s video camera to record family events but grew tired of shooting birthday and holiday celebrations. By age 12, he filmed his first movie using a script, cast of actors, and primitive special effects such as using his own toy trains to stage a wreck sequence. The movie was a silent film called The Last Train Wreck and lasted about 3 minutes. When he was 17, Spielberg made a science fiction called Firelight. It took about $500 to make and Spielberg made back the money after only one night of renting out a local theater to show the movie. The movie was about aliens that abducted humans to create a human zoo. Firelight eventually inspired Spielberg’s hit movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
In hopes to keep creating original films, Spielberg applied to the directing programs at USC and UCLA. He was rejected from both schools due to his poor grades in high school, which were in-part due to his dyslexia. Eventually settling for state school, Spielberg graduated with an English degree, as there was no film program. To make up for his lack of film education, he furiously watched every movie he could and often snuck into the Universal Studios lot to witness movies being made.
In hopes to keep his creative spirit alive, Spielberg directed a short film called Amblin’. It was a simple story about a boy and girl who hitchhike from the Mojave Desert to the ocean. After it won awards in the Atlanta and Venice Film Festival, executives at Universal Studios signed him to a 7-year contract. It was only a couple years prior that he was sneaking onto the Universal lot, now, he directed there.
The first full length movie Spielberg made was a television film called Duel. It was about a truck driver who terrorizes a man on his commute to meet a client. It took 16 days to make and cost $350,000 to produce. (Fun fact, there is a scene in the film where the truck topples over the side of a cliff. The same sound that the truck makes on its descent to destruction is the same as when the fin of the Great White shark in Jaws falls to the bottom of the sea).
Spielberg then decided to embark on the project that would change his career forever, Jaws. The idea for the film came from a book about a Great White shark that terrorizes a small, coastal town. Many people thought the film would tank due to Spielberg’s inexperience, but the movie ended up bringing in over 100% of its 3.5-million-dollar budget and stayed at the №1 spot for 14 straight weeks, cementing it as the first true box office hit. It was the highest grossing film of all time until a movie about a galaxy far far away was released. Jaws was considered the first Hollywood Blockbuster film and Hollywood finally saw how to create a worldwide media event.
Today, Jaws has one of the most iconic scores and some of the most famous quotes of all time, including, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat”, which was actually ad libbed by actor Roy Scheider. A major part of the movie was the shark itself, which ended up proving to be more difficult than first thought. The mechanical shark was 25 feet long and weighed more than a ton. Its massive size caused it to not operate well in deep waters. The shark ended up getting dubbed “the great white turd” by Spielberg because of its difficulties and does not fully show up in the film until an hour and 21 minutes in, but still managed to terrify audiences.
This monumental success allowed Spielberg to embark on a variety of projects. With this success under his belt, he then produced films including Close Encounters of the Third Kind, ET, the Indiana Jones Trilogy, The Color Purple, Schiendlers’s List, Saving Private Ryan, War of the Worlds, and Jurassic Park.
Indiana Jones proved to become one of the most popular trilogies of all time. The second film, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom led to the creation of the PG-13 rating. Spielberg found the material to be too scary for smaller children but not too intense for teens. He suggested to the Motion Picture Movie Association of America that a rating between PG and R should be made, leading to the creation of the PG-13 rating.
Jurassic Park was Spielberg’s second mega-smash hit and his top grossing movie of all time, making more than $1.03 billion to date. Spielberg got to explore the use of autonatromics in the film while also incorporating CGI that was unlike anything people had seen.
Some of Spielberg’s more recent films include War Horse, Lincoln, The Post, Bridge of Spies, and Ready Player One. His most recent project, a revival of West Side Story, is in post-production. In total, Spielberg’s films have been nominated for 17 Academy Awards, winning four, making him one of the most highly regarded directors in Hollywood. Compared to other famous directors, such as Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, and Michael Bay, Spielberg is the highest grossing director of all time.
Spielberg is the creator of the Hollywood movie blockbuster. He turned going to the movies into an event. His movies can be recognized by a mere quote such as “Phone home!”, a haunting score about a giant fish, or a movie poster of a skeletal dinosaur. Many of his movies have been family friendly, which enables them to reach a more diverse and wide audience. Out of his 36 movies, only 4 are rated R. Spielberg’s ability to reach both older and younger audiences have made him Hollywood’s best-known director, as ranked on IMDB. Spielberg’s impact is tangible in the world of cinema and will guarantee him a spot in history.