Steven Spielberg is a prolific filmmaker whose works have touched the minds and hearts of movie lovers since the 1970s. Spielberg’s filmography contains the world’s greatest actors performing in some of the greatest stories ever told, resulting in some of the greatest box office figures of all time.
Today, we will focus on the top 10 highest performing films by Steven Spielberg at the box office. These totals are unadjusted for inflation and account for worldwide box office results.
Expect to see a lot of brown, fur-felt fedora hats and a few dinosaurs before we reach the number 1 on the list!
10. Minority Report (2002) – $358,372,926
Steven Spielberg’s mind frequently returns to science fiction, and Minority Report is one of his most beloved works in the genre. The film is based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, whose literary works were the backbone of Blade Runner, Total Recall, and A Scanner Darkly.
Starring Tom Cruise and Colin Farrell, Minority Report is set in a future where psychic energy is used to predict crimes before they happen. When one of the arresting officers is accused of a violent future crime, he must evade capture to prove his innocence.
Fans of science fiction spent $358,372,926 at the box office to watch this fresh take on a classic movie formula by Steven Spielberg.
9. The Adventures of Tintin (2011) – $373,933,951
For the uninitiated, The Adventures of Tintin is a comic by Belgian cartoonist Georges Remi. Tintin (played by Jamie Bell in the film) is the prototypical boy adventurer and reporter, finding himself thrust into a variety of mystery, thriller, and science fiction scenarios.
Steven Spielberg first learned about The Adventures of Tintin in 1981 when a film critic mentioned it during a review for his new movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark. Georges Remi had become a mutual fan of Spielberg’s work and had once remarked that the director was “the only person who could ever do Tintin justice”. In 2011, 30 years after the release of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Steven Spielberg got the chance to prove himself.
Estimated to cost over $130,000,000 to make, the movie was both the first 3D feature film and the first animated feature film by Spielberg. He described the making of this movie as feeling “artistic and painterly”. The end result became the first non-Pixar film to win the Golden Globe Award for Best Animated Picture.
Although the movie severely underperformed in American theaters, overseas it was another box office smash for Spielberg. The Adventures of Tintin set sail with $373,933,951 tucked away in its back pocket.
8. Jaws (1975) – $470,653,000
Fear grips the beach-side town of Amity when something begins attacking people in the water. It’s up to three men on a boat to track down the source and take care of it by any means necessary. 1975’s Jaws was a nightmare to produce for the (then) unproven young director, Steven Spielberg, who only took on the job after the original director was fired by the studio.
The shoot schedule ballooned from 52 days to 155 days. The giant animatronic shark “Bruce” constantly malfunctioned and was barely used at all. In fact, “Bruce” plummeted straight to the ocean floor when it was first placed into the water, requiring a team of divers to bring it back ashore.
The precarious shoot paid off big in the end – Jaws was more than Steven Spielberg’s first blockbuster release: it was the first blockbuster release of all time! It is estimated that 67,000,000 Americans went to watch it in the summer of 1975, making it the first film to gross more than $100,000,000 at the box office.
By the time Jaws swam out of theaters, it took a $470,653,000 chunk out of audiences home with it.
7. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) – $474,171,806
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the third film in the original Indiana Jones trilogy, was a phenomenal send off by Steven Spielberg. Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) must locate his father, Professor Henry Jones (Sean Connery) and find the Holy Grail before the Nazis do. Hijinks ensue.
Spielberg had always wanted to do a James Bond movie, and was thrilled when Sean Connery (who played James Bond) signed on to co-star in the movie. 20 years passed before Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was released into theaters, and the iconic character proved himself to be a huge draw once again. Steven Spielberg had succeeded in establishing Indiana Jones as an enduring hero of cinema – much like James Bond.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was 1989’s third highest grossing film in America and whipped up $474,171,806 in theaters all over the world.
6. Saving Private Ryan (1998) – $481,840,909
Saving Private Ryan was released in theaters on July 24, 1998, to high critical acclaim. Nominated for an astonishing 11 Academy Awards, Steven Spielberg’s unforgivably accurate depiction of World War II would go on to win five Oscars, including Best Director and Best Cinematography.
Audiences were particularly enamored with the film’s signature 27-minute long recreation of the 1944 assault on Omaha Beach. The sequence took four weeks to film and was largely shot “run and gun” style with no storyboarding. The scene reportedly required over 1,000 extras portraying soldiers on both sides and 40 large barrels of fake blood. Steven Spielberg picked up the camera and shot many tense moments personally.
Saving Private Ryan earned just over $481,840,909 internationally against its $70,000,000 production budget.
5. War of the Worlds (2005) – $591,745,540
Tom Cruise teams up with Steven Spielberg for a modern re-imagining of Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds. The film explores the notion of alien extermination squads buried beneath the Earth’s surface waking up and destroying everything in sight. Ray Ferrier (Cruise) is a single father doing what he can to keep himself and his children alive in 2005’s fourth highest grossing film in the world.
War of the Worlds was a passion project of Steven Spielberg’s. The Oscar-winning director purchased one of the last original copies of the radio script at an auction. A previous attempt at the story was shelved in the late 1990s after the success of Independence Day beat it to the punch.
The September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks on The World Trade Center in New York City served as inspiration for the film’s gritty, realistic scenes of mass destruction. It was the first major film to use real M1 Abrams tanks instead of designer impostors. The film’s mass hysteria was fueled by thousands of background extras, stuntmen, and National Guard troops.
Altogether, it is estimated that Spielberg’s War of the Worlds cost a cool $132,000,000 to produce. The gamble was well worth it when the movie did $591,745,540 worth of damage worldwide.
4. The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997) – $618,638,999
1993’s Jurassic Park featured groundbreaking computer animation which brought dinosaurs back to life and shattered box office records. When it was all over, Steven Spielberg decided to take a break from filmmaking and would not return until production began on 1997’s follow up, The Lost World: Jurassic Park.
The sequel guaranteed more of everything – more dinosaurs, more stunts, and more immersive special effects, such as the rare in-theater strobe lights which were triggered by gun shots or lightning effects featured in the film. Steven Spielberg was initially only attached to produce the movie, but ultimately stepped in to handle director duties himself.
Expectations for the $78,000,000 sequel were high: how would it stack up to its $63,000,000 predecessor?
Despite straying away from the more serious sci-fi tone of the original, critics and fans were willing to overlook the movie’s flaws. It generated $618,638,999 worth of business in 1997, surpassed only by James Cameron‘s Titanic.
3. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) -$792,910,554
Steven Spielberg’s tale of a young boy who helps an alien creature return home to the stars was nominated for 9 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Writing and Best Cinematography.
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial was a groundbreaking film experience. Whereas Jaws filmed scenes from the water to connect audiences to the killer shark, E.T. parks the camera at a child’s eye level. Save for Elliott’s own mother, adult faces are never seen until the last half of the film when they arrive to threaten E.T.’s life.
On June 11th, 1982 fans of Spielberg’s previous Close Encounters of the Third Kind lined up for the director’s latest family friendly sci-fi movie. When the credits rolled, audiences sat teary-eyed, hopeful for the little critter’s future. With thoughtful cinematography and storytelling, Spielberg successfully blurred the line between reality and the silver screen. People were genuinely touched.
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial was by far and away the highest grossing film of 1982, earning $792,910,554 before becoming the single highest-grossing film in movie history… for a time!
2. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) – $786,636,033
Harrison Ford stars as famed adventurer and archaeologist Indiana Jones in Steven Spielberg’s 2008 action-adventure reprisal, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. United with Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf), the adult son he never knew about, Indy must journey to an exotic location to retrieve the titular crystal skull.
Outfitted with a $185,000,000 budget, the newest installment updated the franchise with modern, flashy computer-aided visual effects, and critics weren’t impressed. For a series that once famously featured its cast plunging their hands into insect-stuffed holes in the wall (for real), fans felt cheated that the first Indiana Jones film in decades was almost completely devoid of real danger.
Even Indiana Jones’ iconic leather bullwhip was, at one point, ordered to be computer generated because of new film safety rules. Harrison Ford himself demanded the whip be a real prop, or else he wouldn’t be a part of the film!
After 19 years away from theaters, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull overcame its flaws and unearthed $786,636,033. Harrison Ford is set to return in the recently announced Indiana Jones 5, though no other details exist on the new film.
1. Jurassic Park (1993) – $1,029,153,882
Ever since Paul Wegener’s 1915 silent horror film The Golem, audiences have been enthralled with live-action creature effects. It should come as no surprise to discover the top grossing film of Steven Spielberg’s career features innovative, decade-defining creature effects.
Based on the Michael Crichton novel of the same name, Jurassic Park was a guaranteed blockbuster before it opened on June 11th, 1993. As a matter of fact, Universal struck a movie deal with Crichton in 1989 before the novel was released in 1990 for a reported sum of $2,000,000.
Steven Spielberg’s obvious achievement in this film was bringing dinosaurs back to life with the help of Industrial Light and Magic. When audiences saw and heard the Tyrannosaurus Rex for the very first time, they were silenced and left stunned. The world had never seen CGI so convincing, that their brains struggled to believe it wasn’t real. These computer animated segments were anchored in reality by monsterous 12,000 pound real-life animatronics.
Jurassic Park was king of the box office in 1993, bringing in a colossal $1,029,153,882 – good enough to secure the title of “Highest Grossing Movie of All Time” for a few years before eventually losing to James Cameron’s Titanic.
The latest in the series, Jurassic World, opened worldwide on June 12, 2015. At the time of this writing, it has already surpassed the original with an estimated $1,477,000,946.