“The work that I’m proudest of is the work that I’m most afraid of.” – Steven Spielberg
Once an icon of late 20th-century cinema, there is no doubt that director Steven Spielberg has found it tricky to find his footing in the landscape of cinema with the industry possessing far more challenges than it did in the filmmaker’s heyday. Where the director once enjoyed the complete freedom to play out his cinematic fantasies, in today’s day and age he finds himself restricted to the demands of industry expectation, leading to such flops as The BFG, Ready Player One and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
Speaking about his contemporary endeavours to The Guardian, Steven Spielberg noted, “Fear is my fuel and confidence is my enemy. If I’m on my heels, I get better ideas than, let’s say, coming in to do the sequel to Jurassic Park. It’s a lot better for me not to make the sequel to Jurassic Park”. Though Spielberg does enjoy the odd sequel or reboot, such as in West Side Story or War of the Worlds, often the director injects each respective film with a dose of his signature style and pizzazz.
Having worked with the likes of Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Leonardo DiCaprio, Ansel Elgort and Daniel Day-Lewis throughout his 21st-century career, Spielberg remains an icon of modern cinema, even if he struggles to retain the magic of his early career.
Creating 15 films since the turn of the century, from small dramas to epic blockbusters, let’s take a look back at the ten best Steven Spielberg films of the 21st century.
The 10 best Steven Spielberg films of the 21st century:
10. Lincoln (2012)
Winner of two Oscars at the 2013 Academy Awards, Lincoln is a factual account of the 16th US President, Abraham Lincoln, who struggled to contain the chaos of his own cabinet during the American Civil War.
Starring Daniel Day-Lewis in a career-defining role as the titular president, Lincoln is a thrilling biopic that undoubtedly acted as a vehicle for the actor to collect his third Academy Award. Featuring alongside the likes of Sally Field, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Hal Holbrook and Tommy Lee Jones, Day-Lewis embodies the psychology and mannerisms of one the most iconic presidents of American history.
9. A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
In the hands of Stanley Kubrick before it was transferred over to Steven Spielberg, A.I. Artificial Intelligence is a rather bizarre science fiction journey following the story of a young android boy trying to find himself in a human world.
Haley Joel Osment plays the child in question, an empty character devoid of true emotion that Osment plays surprisingly well considering his young age of 13. Jude Law, William Hurt, Robin Williams and Brendan Gleeson also feature in the film to create an impressive supporting cast that helps to make A.I. Artificial Intelligence a bizarre viewing experience that blurs the lines between drama, action and science fiction.
8. The Terminal (2004)
A rare romantic comedy from the influential filmmaker, The Terminal is a surprisingly effective, if painfully sweet, film starring Tom Hanks, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Stanley Tucci, Diego Luna and Zoe Saldana.
Spielberg mainstay Tom Hanks plays an Eastern European tourist who finds himself stranded at JFK airport in New York, with the film following his daily interactions with the staff and everyday people that come through the terminal. Though it certainly isn’t groundbreaking, The Terminal plays out with an energy that we have come to expect from Steven Spielberg, interweaving characters and plot-points with effortless proficiency.
7. Bridge of Spies (2015)
A classic, simple Cold War thriller from Steven Spielberg, Bridge of Spies sees Tom Hanks play the real-life American lawyer recruited to defend a Soviet spy in court and organise an exchange with the enemy for an American U2 spy plane pilot, Francis Gary Powers.
An intricate and consistently thrilling film, Bridge of Spies works so seamlessly because of its impressive cast that includes Mark Rylance, Alan Alda, Joshua Harto and Amy Ryan, with Rylance winning an Academy Award for his supporting part in the film. Though it falls back on cliche and good old American patriotism a little too often, Bridge of Spies remains one of Spielberg’s better modern efforts.
6. War of the Worlds (2005)
Action-packed and terrifying in equal parts, Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds is one of the most underrated films of the filmmaker’s modern career, starring Tom Cruise as a desperate divorced father trying to save his family’s life.
An age-old science fiction tale of alien invasion, War of the Worlds is a terrifying depiction of terror from above, as gargantuan ‘tripods’ war machines cause carnage for the victims of earth. Frantic and chaotic, Speilberg’s film perfectly captures the panic of such an event whilst still making the film a hugely enjoyable ride, largely thanks to the sheer commitment of the lead performance from Tom Cruise.
5. Minority Report (2002)
Capturing the attention of a cultural zeitgeist upon its release in 2002, Minority Report, adapted from the science fiction novel of the same name by Philip K. Dick, is a mind-bending intelligent genre flick that well translates the author’s original vision.
The very first time Spielberg would collaborate with Tom Cruise, Minority Report also featured Colin Farrell and Max von Sydow in its futuristic tale that follows a special police force that is able to arrest criminals before they’ve committed a crime. A visionary concept, excellently brought to life by Spielberg, Minority Report remains one of Spielberg’s greatest ever science fiction films.
4. Munich (2005)
Depicting the bleak events of the Black September massacre, Steven Spielberg’s Munich stars Daniel Craig, Eric Bana, Ciarán Hinds and La Haine director Mathieu Kassovitz in this intense historical drama.
Following the capture and massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics, the film follows five men tasked with eliminating those responsible for the fateful day’s shocking act of violence. Though violent and shocking, Munich demonstrates Spielberg’s famous sympathetic touch, handling the sensitive subject with careful examination and poignancy with a stand out lead performance from Eric Bana.
3. West Side Story (2021)
Steven Spielberg’s latest film is a thankful return to form, remaking the iconic 1961 original musical West Side Story, starring Ansel Elgort, Rachel Zegler, Maddie Ziegler, Rita Moreno and Ariana DeBose.
With the songwriter of the original film, Stephen Sondheim, having only passed away shortly before the release of the film, Spielberg’s musical is a respectful, rousing ode to the iconic artist. Bringing the likes of ‘America’, ‘Somewhere’ and ‘Maria’ to life on the silver screen in vibrant colour and dance, Spielberg shows remarkable proficiency for the musical genre despite having never made such a film before.
2. The Post (2017)
If there’s one actor that Steven Spielberg can’t get enough of, it’s Tom Hanks, with the two stars having worked together on five different films, including 2017s The Post that saw the actor in amongst an impressive ensemble cast.
Joining Meryl Streep, Sarah Paulson, Bob Odenkirk, Carrie Coon, Bruce Greenwood and Jesse Plemons, Tom Hanks leads as Ben Bradlee, an editor who together with his publisher (Streep) battle to cover a long-running government conspiracy. An enthralling film about the power and importance of journalism, Spielberg demonstrates that he can orchestrate a story without the need for any significant moments of thrilling action.
1. Catch Me If you Can (2002)
Not only Steven Spielberg’s finest film of the 21st century but also up there with some of his very best films of all time, Catch Me If You Can is a wild thriller that never stops surprising the viewer with its frenetic pace.
With Leonardo DiCaprio in the exhilarating lead role as the real-life spinster Frank Abagnale Jr, the actor has visible fun, toying with the supporting cast of characters including Tom Hanks as an FBI agent and Amy Adams as an unfortunate lover. A film of many moving parts, Spielberg manages to craft a crime thriller that also taps into emotional beats and incredibly ends on a high note too. It’s a piece of movie magic that only Steven Spielberg could create.