December 18, 1946
Cincinnati, Ohio, USA
Director, Executive, Producer, Screenwriter, Restaurateur
Holly Hunter, Margot Kidder, Sarah Miles, Amy Irving, Kate Capshaw
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Perhaps the world's most famous filmmaker, Steven Spielberg succeeded in combining the intimacy of personal vision with the requirements of the modern commercial blockbuster. Though his astonishing success delayed his acceptance as a serious artist for decades, few denied that Spielberg's work decisively influenced 20th century filmmaking through his potent imagery and universally recognizable emotion. With "Jaws" (1975), he made the first movie to cross the $100 million mark at the box office and ushered in an era of summer blockbusters that remained the status quo for decades. Over the next three decades, Spielberg directed some of cinema's most successful movies - "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" (1977), "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (1981), "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial" (1982), "Jurassic Park" (1993) and "Minority Report" (2002) were all major financial successes as well as highly entertaining films. If nothing else, Spielberg's films were landmarks in special effects, both in their visual and aural aspects, as well as in the audience response they elicited. His most poignant films - "The Color Purple" (1985), "Schindler's List" (1993), "Saving Private Ryan" (1998) and "Munich" (2005) - earned Academy Award consideration and cemented his place as one of Hollywood's greatest directors. Spielberg turned creative mogul when he formed DreamWorks studios with Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen in 1994, and still managed to pursue numerous philanthropic and cultural projects, most notably serving as chairman for the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, all the while continuing to deliver beloved films that resonated with moviegoers the world over.
Born in Cincinnati, OH on Dec. 18, 1946, Steven Allan Spielberg was the eldest child of Arnold and Leahanni Spielberg. Because of his father's job, the future film director spent much of his childhood in several places, as his family often moved. An awkward and lonely child growing up, Spielberg took solace in movies. The first film Spielberg ever saw, Cecil B. DeMille's "The Greatest Show on Earth" (1952), would have a lasting impact on the youngster's life and opened his mind to the magic of moviemaking. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Spielberg did not attend a major university film program and was thus, largely self-taught. At age 16, Spielberg fashioned his first film, "Firelight" - a two-hour science fiction movie that a local movie house in Phoenix, AZ consented to run for one evening. The $400 production was Spielberg's first real commercial success, earning him a profit of $100. When Spielberg's parents divorced in 1965 - an incident which deeply affected the sensitive youngster - he moved to Saratoga, CA where he attended Saratoga High School. After graduation, Spielberg applied to USC film school, but was rejected three separate times. Spielberg opted to attend Long Beach State instead, but ended up dropping out before he got his degree. In 1968, the 22-year-old got a job at Universal Studios as an intern, thus marking the beginnings of one of Hollywood's greatest careers. It was at Universal, that he made his first short film entitled "Amblin'" (1969). The 24-minute film sufficiently impressed executives at the television unit of Universal enough that Spielberg was offered a job as a TV director. In 1969, Spielberg made his directorial debut, helming the TV movie pilot for Rod Serling's "Night Gallery" (NBC, 1970-74). This led to more directing work on such weekly series as "Columbo" (NBC, 1971-78) and "Marcus Welby, M.D." (ABC, 1969-1973). One of his early made-for-TV movies, "Duel" (ABC, 1972), starring Dennis Weaver, was released theatrically in Europe, where it enjoyed both critical and commercial success.
Spielberg's first theatrical film, "The Sugarland Express" (1974), was an entertaining and poignant tale about a Texas woman and her escaped convict husband fighting to regain custody of their baby. Loosely based on a true story, "Sugarland" delved into the concept of the broken family - a theme deeply personal to Spielberg - and one that he would later revisit in subsequent films. Well made, but poorly marketed, the film was a failure at the box office. Spielberg's second film, however, the now-classic "Jaws" (1975), was a phenomenal success both critically and financially. Made for about $15 million, "Jaws" grossed an awe inspiring $260 million domestically, ushering in the modern age of the summer "blockbuster." Ironically, the very film, which propelled Spielberg to the A-list of Hollywood directors, came dangerously close to ending his career before it had even begun. A legendarily troubled production from the start, "Jaws" had a score of obstacles to overcome, among them a neophyte director, a disgruntled crew, a hostile writer and worst of all - a malfunctioning lead "actor." When the automated shark created for the movie - nicknamed "Bruce" by the Spielberg and the crew - failed to work properly, the young director was forced to rely heavily on mood and suspense to suggest, rather than show, the great white. Spielberg's desperate plan proved to be an inspired stroke of genius which not only kept audience members on the edge of their seat, but so frightened them with its air of underwater mystery, that beach-going dropped off sharply that summer.
His transcendent follow-up, "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" (1977), revealed the first flowering of his cinematic obsession with the magical world of childhood innocence, as well as the outside forces that inevitably threaten it. Though initially terrifying, as they were sight unseen, by the film's end, the alien creatures in this revisionist work resembled strange and wondrous children as they exited the mother ship, presenting a more benign representation than the monstrous conquerors of 1950s sci-fi films. These beings offered the promise of life beyond the restrictions of middle-class conventions - something the bachelor director felt strongly about at that time in his then childless existence. When Richard Dreyfuss - cast again in a Spielberg film after his performance as Matt Hooper in "Jaws" - boards the mother ship for unknown adventures, it is the film's final grandiloquent embrace of the possible. Released the same year as the effects-laden "Star Wars," "Close Encounters" was the more cerebral hit, and the iconic shot of the child, Barry Guiler (Cary Guffey), standing in the red-lit doorway before being snatched away, remained a classic cinematic shot. Riding high after two back-to-back blockbusters, Spielberg attempted a colossal big-budget comedy with "1941" (1979), a loud, sprawling and wildly uneven film about paranoia along California's West Coast in the wake of Pearl Harbor. Though it ultimately turned a profit, the film, which starred then red-hot comics John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, was perceived as a bloated, self-indulgent flop. Spielberg took the blunt of the criticism, with many reviewers wondering if the Hollywood wunderkind had been anointed too soon.
A humbled Spielberg chose his next project carefully by planning to work under the watchful eye of a tough producer and one of his closest friends, George Lucas, on what would turn out to be one of his signature films: "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (1981). The movie introduced the world to Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford), the fedora-sporting archaeologist and intrepid adventurer that became the most popular screen hero since James Bond. Paying an obvious homage to the classic cliffhanger serials of their youth, Lucas recalled that Spielberg was highly stressed throughout the filming of "Raiders," convinced that it would be his last chance to redeem himself after the failure of "1941." Spielberg's fears proved unfounded. "Raiders" became the biggest moneymaker of 1981 and earned a score of Oscar nominations, including one for Spielberg for Best Director. As if that were not enough, "Raiders," in a way, inspired the penultimate Spielberg film, which would follow soon after. During his "Raiders" shoot, Spielberg was so wearied by the rigors of location shooting in Tunisia and Peru, that he would relax by concocting a story - a little personal tale featuring a couple of kids and a lost alien. In doing so, Spielberg set the stage for his next project, "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial" (1982). "E.T." captured the hearts and minds of moviegoers of all ages and went on to become the highest-grossing film of all time until it was beaten by one of Spielberg's own films, "Jurassic Park" in 1993. The film so wove its way into the fabric of pop culture, the phrase "E.T. phone home" became a classic line and the sale of Reeses Pieces peanut butter candies went through the roof.
In 1984, Spielberg directed his first sequel, the much anticipated "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom." Exceedingly violent and somewhat racist - specifically, in its depiction of Indian culture - the film inspired the MPAA to create the new PG-13 rating the following year. Bad blood abounded, as Spielberg and Lucas recoiled from the uproar of angry parents who thought they were taking their children to see a B-movie adventure, but instead watched along with their children as a live man's heart was ripped from his chest. Despite the bad aftertaste, the film was nevertheless highly successful, both financially - and for Spielberg - personally, as well. It was while shooting the film that Spielberg met and fell in love with future wife, Kate Capshaw, who was cast as Indiana Jones' love interest, nightclub singer Willie Scott. Unfortunately, at the time, Spielberg was already married to actress Amy Irving with whom he had a son, Max. The two eventually divorced in 1989, but not before Spielberg had to pay Irving a whopping $100 million settlement - one of the largest in U.S. history. The eighties also marked a shift in Spielberg's artistic and commercial concerns, as he began devoting more time to producing films and television programs. After scoring critical acclaim for directing the big screen adaptation of Alice Walker's "The Color Purple" (1985) and his World War II drama "Empire of the Sun" (1987), Spielberg oversaw the production of a series of popular escapist fantasies. Through his production company, Amblin Entertainment, Spielberg also produced several animated features and conventional genre films. He even diversified into TV with the fantasy anthology series, "Amazing Stories" (NBC, 1985-87), which he executive produced.
In the early 1990s, Spielberg reshifted his duties, once again making directing his main priority. Lending his name to various Amblin productions (while leaving the actual producing chores to others), Spielberg returned to the big screen with the crowd-pleasing fantasy "Hook" (1991), an expensive, quirky update of the classic J.M. Barrie Peter Pan story. Budgeted at over $60 million, the film earned impressive box office, but due to an unprecedented deal brokered by Creative Artists Agency, wherein Spielberg and stars Dustin Hoffman, Robin Williams and Julia Roberts split a huge cut of worldwide revenues, it failed to make much money for its studio. Despite mixed reviews, "Hook" was nevertheless notable for showing a newly emerging "grown-up" Spielberg, which revealed itself in his handling of such themes as parenthood, responsibility and old age. Spielberg's next project, the $70 million CGI extravaganza "Jurassic Park," represented a return to the kind of muscle-bound adventures that served Spielberg so well in the past. Though the cast of characters was relatively shallow, the film was a landmark in visual effects - bringing dinosaurs back to life! - and forever changed how action films were made. The film, which spawned two sequels, grossed an unprecedented $914 million worldwide and reestablished Spielberg as Hollywood's golden boy.
Nonetheless, as Spielberg grew closer to middle age, so too did his need to be taken seriously. Long since dismissed as a maker of commercial entertainment for the masses, Spielberg now yearned for artistic legitimacy more than ever. In response, the filmmaker tackled a subject matter of deadly importance for his next project in his unforgettable Holocaust drama, "Schindler's List" (1993). Filmed in black-and-white with few stars and even fewer stylistic indulgences, this bleak version of Thomas Keneally's Booker Prize-winning novel marked a dramatic change-of-pace for this purveyor of warm WASPy visions. For once, he went against his instincts and made an impressively restrained, documentarian drama of Jewish suffering that built to a shattering, yet life-affirming conclusion. The resulting film earned Spielberg the most respectful notices of his career. That the film, which earned seven Oscars including Best Picture and Best Director, also grossed over $100 million domestically did not hurt either.
As an encore, Spielberg returned to familiar ground with the inevitable sequel "The Lost World: Jurassic Park" (1997), which merely rehashed the story of the far superior original. Although it made money, it was a forgettable film and largely derided by fans and critics alike. Spielberg then tackled the tricky historical drama "Amistad" (1997), based on a true story of a mutiny on a slave ship that spawned a legal battle in the U.S. Meticulously staged, the film was noted for its depiction of the Middle Passage, a harrowing portrayal of the conditions of slavery. Overly long and heavy on sentimentality, however, critical response to "Amistad" was only lukewarm. Undaunted, Spielberg returned to the battlefields of WWII the following year for his next, and arguably, most acclaimed film, "Saving Private Ryan" (1998), a three-hour fictionalized look at a heroic military rescue mission and the effect it had on those involved. Praised for its no-holds-barred depiction of war, the film was quickly anointed as one of the year's best by critics. In total, "Saving Private Ryan" earned over $200 million at the box office and 11 Academy Award nominations. Although it was heavily favored to take home the Best Picture award that year, the film ended up shockingly losing out to "Shakespeare in Love" (1998). For his effort, however, the Academy nevertheless reaffirmed their respect for Spielberg by awarding him his second Oscar for Best Director.
In the fall of 1994, Spielberg, recording mogul David Geffen, and former Disney production head Jeffrey Katzenberg, formed a new multimedia entertainment company. Christened DreamWorks SKG, the company produced live-action and animated features, TV programs, recordings and interactive computer software in a relatively cost efficient manner. According to Spielberg, DreamWorks would grant its filmmakers "moral rights" to protect the original versions of their films after release. The studio also decided to give its animators and screenwriters contracts that guaranteed them a share of a given film's success in defiance of the standard creative bookkeeping for the industry. Spielberg was slated to oversee the design of the studio's planned physical plant, laid out like a college campus on the old Howard Hughes aircraft site near the wetlands of Playa Vista, CA. However, after much back-and-forth debating, the Playa Vista site was scrapped and DreamWorks ended up being housed on the Universal lot, c xisting with Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment facilities. After a slow start, the mini-studio eventually came into its own with such hits as "American Beauty" (1999), "Gladiator" (2000), "Shrek" (2001), "A Beautiful Mind" (2001) and "Minority Report" (2002) - all of which were either produced or co-produced by DreamWorks.
Still, directing continued to remain Spielberg's primary passion and he continued to explore the boundaries of his talents within a commercial context. Hoping to integrate his trademark crowd-pleasing sensibilities with bleaker, more philosophical views, Spielberg elected to make "A.I.: Artificial Intelligence" (2001), a $90 million sci-fi fable about a Pinocchio-like android boy. The film, which had long been attached to one of Spielberg's idols, Stanley Kubrick, boasted eye-popping visuals and fine performances from stars Haley Joel Osment and Jude Law. Even so, when all was said and done, "A.I." was considered a noble failure, earning only $78 million in its domestic release. Fortunately, Spielberg returned to top blockbuster form the following year when he adapted Phillip K. Dick's sci-fi novella, "Minority Report," a fast-paced, sci-fi thriller starring Tom Cruise. The leanest, meanest Spielberg film in years, "Minority Report" proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the aging director still had what it took to stand toe-to-toe with Hollywood's new generation of video game-inspired action directors.
Spielberg cannily chose to follow-up that artistic and commercial triumph by helming a refreshingly more down-to-earth affair in the form of the light-hearted drama, "Catch Me If You Can" (2003). Based on the true-life story of con man Frank Abagnale, Jr., the film starred Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks, respectively, as Abagnale and the F.B.I. agent assigned to capture him. Not only did Spielberg succeed in flawlessly recreating the nostalgic innocence of the early 1960's setting, he also managed to coax out DiCaprio's most charming and mature performance to date. The director reteamed with Tom Hanks a third time for a seemingly unlikely project, "The Terminal" (2004) - the tale of an Eastern European immigrant (Hanks) who, due to a political regime change and passport snafu, is forced to reside in a New York City airport terminal. Although the film had its share of wonderful moments, overall, it was regarded one of Spielberg's more artificial-feeling efforts.
Much more effective was Spielberg's riveting remake of the H.G. Wells sci-fi classic, "War of the Worlds" (2005). Adding a contemporary spin on the familiar tale, Spielberg cast Tom Cruise as a working class father who must step up and protect his two children during a horrific alien invasion. By year's end, Spielberg - who had begun favoring a fast-paced production schedule for his projects - launched into another of his long-gestating passion projects. The result was "Munich" (2005), a tense chronicle of revenge and retribution following the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre. Working closely with two of the film's primary screenwriters, Eric Roth and, later, Tony Kushner, Spielberg took pains to craft a story that would offer a balanced look at the politically charged incident. Despite external criticisms over its politics and psychology, "Munich" succeeded as one of Spielberg's masterworks, utilizing all of his talents as a cinematic storyteller to dizzying effect. As the year came to a close, Spielberg seemed poised to open a new chapter in his career. Having reached the end of his run as a movie executive/businessman, Spielberg oversaw the sale of DreamWorks SKG to Paramount Pictures. The former, having failed to fully flower as a full-fledged movie studio, nevertheless made Spielberg, along with his partners, Katzenberg and Geffen, a tidy profit and freed him to once again focus on directing fulltime.
In 2007, industry trades announced Spielberg's next project would be a fourth installment of the much loved Indiana Jones series. Eighteen years after "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" (1989), the new film re-teamed Spielberg with producer George Lucas and star Harrison Ford. Along for the ride were Oscar-winner Cate Blanchett as a new villain and Shia LeBeouf as Indy's son. Filming began in June 2007 for a 2008 release - much to the pent-up anticipation of fans for almost two decades. When "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" finally premiered in May, fans turned out en masse, making it one of the biggest moneymakers of the year, despite less than stellar critical reviews. Meanwhile, Spielberg received the Cecil B. DeMille Award at the 2009 Golden Globe Awards after he was originally slated for the honor the year before, only to have the ceremony pushed back due to the Writers Guild of America strike in 2007.
After working once again with director Michael Bay to produce "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" (2009), Spielberg reunited with Tom Hanks to serve as executive producer on "The Pacific" (HBO, 2010), an epic 10-part miniseries chronicling the bloody battles of Guadalcanal, Iwo Jim and Okinawa, as seen through the eyes of three U.S. Marines (Joseph Mazzello, James Badge Dale and Jon Seda). "The Pacific" was hailed by critics on its way to earning 24 Emmy Award nominations, including one for Outstanding Miniseries in 2010. The following year, he visibly served as a producer on the J.J. Abrams thriller "Super 8" (2011), which many critics saw as the younger director's personal ode to Spielberg. He also reunited with Bay to produce "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" (2011) and collaborated with producer Peter Jackson on "The Adventures of Tintin" (2011), a motion-capture 3-D adventure that was the first installment of a proposed trilogy. Meanwhile, Spielberg returned to Academy Award contention with "War Horse" (2011), a sweeping historical epic about a young British lad (Jeremy Irvine) whose beloved horse is sold to the cavalry in France during World War I, sparking a long and extraordinary odyssey that tests the boundaries of loyalty and friendship.
Though nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, "War Horse" Spielberg went home empty handed. But such was not expected to be the case with his next film, "Lincoln" (2012), his long-awaited biography about the last months of the life and presidency of Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis). Hailed for both its epic scope and a mesmerizing performance by Day-Lewis, the film entered awards season as an odds-on favorite. Spielberg first conceived of doing a film about Lincoln as far back as 1999, when historian Doris Kearns Goodwin told him about writing a biography on the 16th president. After snapping up the rights to the novel before it was published, Spielberg spent years developing on unsatisfactory draft of a script. Finally, while promoting "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," he announced that he was set to shoot in 2009, though the actual production was stalled for another two years. But his determination paid off as "Lincoln" earned universal praise from critics, with some going as far as to say it was one of the best biographies ever to be put to film. Not surprisingly, by year's end, Spielberg earned Golden Globe and Oscar nods for Best Director, while the film itself received Best Picture nominations.