Total Recall: Best Steven Spielberg Productions
With Super 8 hitting theaters, we count down the best movies the great director managed behind the scenes.
5. Men in Black
It seems laughable now, but Men in Black spent a fair amount of time in development hell -- until, that is, Spielberg hired writer-producer Walter F. Parkes and his wife, Laurie MacDonald, to head production at Amblin. Parkes, who had been struggling to gain traction with Men in Black at Columbia, saw his new gig as a golden opportunity to jump-start the picture -- and he was right. With Spielberg's name attached, Black found a clear path from the studio lot to the big screen, where the sci-fi buddy comedy racked up nearly $590 million in grosses and raves from critics like David Edelstein, who called it "The smartest, funniest, and best-looking sci-fi comedy since the movies learned to morph."
When Spielberg decided not to direct Flags of Our Fathers and handed the reins to Clint Eastwood, he wasn't just altering the course of one World War II drama -- he was setting in motion the chain of events that would produce its companion piece. Inspired by his pre-production research, Eastwood came up with the idea to make a film that would present the Japanese side of the battle, and decided to shoot the two projects back-to-back. Letters from Iwo Jima ultimately suffered roughly the same middling commercial fate that befell Flags of Our Fathers, but was far and away the greater critical success, notching three Academy Award nominations and earning the admiration of writers like Lisa Kennedy of the Denver Post, who called it "a work of whetted craft and judgment, tempered by Eastwood's years of life, moviemaking and the potent tango of the two. It is the work of a mature filmmaker willing to entertain the true power of the cinema."
3. True Grit
When the marriage between DreamWorks and Paramount ended in 2008, the studios had to divvy up hundreds of projects in development -- and when the dust settled, the Coen brothers' True Grit remake stayed at Paramount, with Spielberg retaining an executive producer credit. A few Coens fans raised their eyebrows (or freaked out on their favorite Internet film forum) when they spotted Spielberg's name in the IMDb credits, but ultimately True Grit remained, as cinematographer Roger Deakins promised one concerned commenter, "very much the Coens' film and nothing else" -- in other words, the 10-time Academy Award nominee that MSN's Glenn Kenny called a "visually and sonically beautiful movie that uses space, distance and time to immerse you in a very particular world of mystery, awe and brutality."
Even before they worked together on the Back to the Future trilogy, Spielberg had a long history with the writing duo of Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale -- but until they put Marty McFly behind the wheel of that fateful DeLorean, their partnership was a study in box office futility, producing the commercial duds I Wanna Hold Your Hand, 1941, and Used Cars. Not wanting to sully their association with Spielberg, Zemeckis and Gale resisted bringing him a serious pitch for Back to the Future -- until they finally hit paydirt with Romancing the Stone. Suddenly, executives who'd rejected Future were eager to be a part of it, but Zemeckis and Gale gave first dibs to their old friend, and thus was a franchise born -- as well as the film that Slant's Eric Henderson called "one of the rare big-budget entertainments that's improved with time."
In the early 1980s, when Spielberg and George Lucas were looking for someone to write them a big check for Raiders of the Lost Ark, Paramount chief Michael Eisner didn't blink -- so when Eisner moved to Disney later in the decade and needed help getting a long-gestating live-action/animated noir project off the ground, Spielberg was happy to return the favor. The result was one of the decade's defining films, a smash hit that blended cutting-edge technology with a well-written script and old-school slapstick -- not to mention blink-and-you-missed-'em cameos from dozens of cartoon celebrities. Who Framed Roger Rabbit? is, in the words of the Washington Post's Rita Kempley, "as cunning as Wile E. Coyote and chipper as a flock of cartoon bluebirds."
In case you were wondering, here are Spielberg's top 10 movies according RT users' scores:
1. Transformers -- 89%
2. Back to the Future -- 88%
3. The Goonies -- 88%
4. True Grit -- 86%
5. Akira Kurosawa's Dreams -- 86%
6. Letters from Iwo Jima -- 85%
7. The Last Days -- 84%
8. Memoirs of a Geisha -- 82%
9. Back to the Future Part II -- 80%
10. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen -- 76%
Finally, here's Spielberg giving a storyboarding lesson at the AFI in 1978: