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An Inside Look at Steven Spielberg’s Entire Career in Photos

Jul 25, 2023

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Steven Spielberg has consistently pushed the boundaries of moviemaking with almost every single one of his releases. You’re allowed to think the iconic director is a bit overrated—and you are perfectly entitled to that wrong opinion. But with his ability to bring dinosaurs and aliens to the big screen in imaginative ways, to his more grounded human stories giving actors some of their career-best performances, Spielberg’s phenomenal filmography is one that we can all proudly look back at in awe.

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1971: Dennis Weaver in Spielberg’s Duel

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Spielberg worked as a writer and director for hire after dropping out of film school in 1968, with his first credit in the 1969 pilot of the show Night Gallery. After building a solid TV directing resume on shows like Columbo, The Psychiatrist, and Marcus Welby, M.D. he got the chance to direct a TV film, which became Duel.

Duel, which followed a salesman who suddenly becomes pursued by a relentless truck driver, impressed TV audiences and execs enough that Spielberg was allowed to shoot more scenes to expand it into a theatrical cut.

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1973: Shooting His First Feature

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After shooting a few more TV movies post-Duel, he got to direct The Sugarland Express for Universal Pictures. The film starred Goldie Hawn and William Atherton as two criminals who take a police officer hostage on a drive through Texas to retrieve their child before he is put in foster care.

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1973: On the Set of Sugarland Express

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The film wasn’t a huge box office smash upon release, but critics praised the filmmaking on display, performances, exciting car chase scenes and the more gritty take on a road movie. Spielberg still proved himself well enough to producers Robert Zanuck and David Brown with Sugarland Express that they began work on their next collaboration: Jaws.

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1974: Spielberg on Break Filming Jaws

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Production on this classic thriller quickly ballooned over budget, to the point where the film crew gave the production the nickname

“Flaws” due to things constantly going wrong. Spielberg confessed that he thought he tanked his career after shooting the film. “No one had ever taken a film 100 days over schedule.”

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Filming Jaws in Open Water

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The main source of production issues was the young director’s insistence that they film not in a more controlled water tank, but out in the ocean. This added to the realism of the film, but caused plenty of headaches for the people actually on set shooting.

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1975: Roy Scheider & Bruce in Jaws

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A fun fact from the set is that the prop sharks were named Bruce, after Spielberg’s lawyer Bruce Ramer. A crew of 40 technicians made these three pneumatically-powered sharks, supervised by Bob Mattey, who created the giant squid in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

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1976: Shooting Close Encounters of the Third Kind

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Spielberg made Close Encounters of the Third Kind for Columbia Pictures, with the initial concept being inspired by a memory of watching a meteor shower in New Jersey with his father. While he set out to do a more reasonable production after the harrowing experience making Jaws, he later joked in Steven Spielberg: A Biography by Joseph McBride that it ended up “twice as bad and twice as expensive.”

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1978: Spielberg Directing War-Comedy 1941

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1941 is a hidden gem from Spielberg’s catalog, a World War II comedy involving a panic caused in Los Angeles following the Pearl Harbor attacks. It had a stellar cast of Dan Aykroyd, Christopher Lee, John Belushi, and Toshiro Mifune in one of his few American film roles. Spielberg also recalled that John Wayne tried to get him to stop making the movie because he viewed it as unpatriotic.

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1978: With George Lucas at the DGA Awards

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Spielberg and George Lucas became friends around the late 60s, enjoying camaraderie with other young directors at the time like Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, and Brian De Palma. The two later became creative partners as they began working on the Indiana Jones film series together, with Spielberg as director and Lucas as story writer and executive producer.

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1980: Filming Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark

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Spielberg & crew started shooting Raiders of the Lost Ark in June of 1980. Filming stretched all over the world, with locations including Hawaii, La Rochelle, Tunisia, and studio shoots at Elstree Studios where things like these gorgeous miniature displays were built.

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1981: Between Scenes Filming E.T.

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The director returned to sci-fi for this drama about an extra terrestrial friendship that is still emotional to this day. Spielberg decided to shoot the film chronologically—unusual for Hollywood productions—which helped the child actors stay invested in the beats of the story without doing it out of order.

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1982: Posing with the E.T. Puppet

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Carlo Rambaldi, the special effects artist behind the aliens of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, returned to create the E.T. puppet. His signature extending neck was inspired by Rambaldi’s own surreal painting known as Women of Delta. The face was also said to be inspired by Ernest Hemingway, Albert Einstein, and Carl Sandburg.

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1985: With Whoopi Goldberg on the Set of The Color Purple

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Spielberg took on a much more grounded drama when he helmed the adaptation of Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The film was a great success with particular praise going to Whoopi Goldberg, Oprah Winfrey, and Margaret Avery’s performances. Some critics dinged the move for softening some key moments from the book, and questioned whether Spielberg was the right choice of a director over a Black filmmaker.

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1985: Rocking the Mickey Mouse Tee at an Oscar Nominee Lunch

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At the 57th Oscars, Spielberg’s film Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was nominated for Best Original Score and Best Visual Effects. However, he’d already been personally nominated for three Best Director trophies and one Best Picture award in prior ceremonies.

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1985: With a Young Ke Huy Quan at the Publicists Guild Awards

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Here’s Spielberg with Short Round himself, Ke Huy Quan. Not only did he have a huge role in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, but Quan also starred in The Goonies (which was based on an original story by the director).

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1986: Filming Empire of the Sun

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Spielberg continued to make challenging dramas with war film Empire of the Sun, following a boy who becomes a prisoner in a Japanese internment camp.

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1988: On the Set of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade Alongside George Lucas

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Spielberg shot another globetrotting adventure with Indy in 1988. The film went through extensive rewrites with early drafts being completely different from what we saw today. Spielberg reportedly suggested that Indiana Jones’ father be introduced to add a new character dynamic, which ended up working wonders for the finished product as Harrison Ford and Sean Connery worked very well together.

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1989: With Robin Williams Filming Hook

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Hook became another troubled production after going 40 days past its schedule. Though it still has some incredible moments and great performances, it debuted to mixed reviews that knocked its script. Spielberg has expressed some disappointment with the film in the past, saying, “I’m a little less proud of the Neverland sequences because I’m uncomfortable with that highly stylized world.”

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1991: With Kate Capshaw at Universal Studios

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Spielberg and actress Kate Capshaw met while making Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, getting married later in October of 1991. The two have five children together.

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1992: Making of Jurassic Park

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One of Spielberg’s most praised achievements is, of course, the Michael Crichton adaptation of Jurassic Park. Four studios put down offers for the film rights before the book even came out, and Crichton went with Universal Pictures and Spielberg.

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