American filmmaker Steven Spielberg has been making movies for over half a century, and the result has been one of the most prolific, memorable, and beloved careers of any director in the history of cinema.
There’s plenty of good reasons why Spielberg is such an acclaimed auteur, having created universally loved classics like Jurassic Parkand E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. His movies are diverse and accessible; some with a fun sense of adventure and wonder, others with deeply impactful emotional power. So, with the theatrical release of The Fabelmans, it’s worth looking back at underappreciated movies like Midnight Specialand Romancing the Stone which fans of the director are likely to enjoy.
Lines Divide Them, Hope Unites Them — ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’ (2008)
Based on John Boyne‘s heartbreaking novel, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is about the blossoming friendship between two boys, Bruno and Shmuel. One of them a Nazi prisoner, the other the son of an SS officer.
This profoundly affecting film brings together the sense of childlike wonder of movies like E.T. and the harrowing war drama of ones like Schindler’s List and Empire of the Sun. It’s very strange to feel such sweetness and joy from the friendship between the two main characters, with such a horrifying historical event as the backdrop.
An Adventure No One Could Imagine… Or Survive — ‘Romancing the Stone’ (1984)
Director Robert Zemeckis is good friends with Steven Spielberg, so it’s no wonder that many of his movies feel Spielbergian. One of the most fun (and underrated) is Romancing the Stone, about a novelist who winds up hopelessly stranded in the jungle.
The movie mixes adventure, romance, and comedy in all the best and most well-balanced ways. It’s genuinely funny, thrilling, and a blast of fun, with an iconic cast featuring Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner, and Danny DeVito. If exciting adventures through exotic locations are your thing, Robert Zemeckis has got you covered.
Three Wonderful Loves — ‘The Best Years of Our Lives’ (1946)
This timeless classic about three WWII veterans returning home won 7 Oscars including Best Picture, so it’s not exactly a hidden gem. But it is underrated, since not many modern audiences give it the praise it deserves.
The Best Years of Our Lives is one of Spielberg’s favorite movies of all time. He watches it once a year, and it’s not hard to see why he loves it so much and how it has influenced his work. It’s nuanced and optimistic, offering a bittersweet portrayal of very dark subject matter.
Good Reasons To Fear the Dark — ‘Fright Night’ (1985)
In this ’80s campy horror movie by Tom Holland (no, not that one), a teenager discovers that his new neighbor is a vampire, so he turns to a has-been actor famous for portraying a ghoul hunter.
Fright Night is generally regarded as one of the most entertaining vampire movies in the genre, as fun and lighthearted as it is genuinely scary. It feels greatly informed by ’80s aesthetics and pop culture influences, making it the perfect Saturday night watch for those who miss old-school Spielberg.
Carpenter’s Venture Into Romantic Sci-Fi — ‘Starman’ (1984)
Although John Carpenter is mainly known as one of the most talented horror directors of all time, he also dipped his toes in other genres, often with success. One such case is Starman, about an alien who takes the form of a young widow’s husband and asks her to take him to Arizona.
The drama is mature and moving, and the tone is offbeat, silly, and romantic. The movie is generally reminiscent of Spielberg’s old sci-fi movies, but is much more its own thing, and one of Carpenter’s best films.
Powerful Story of Nine Strange People — ‘Stagecoach’ (1939)
Calling one of director John Ford‘s greatest films “underrated” should be a bit of a stretch; but as the years have passed, people have come to talk less and less about Stagecoach, an amazing Western about a traveling group of people whose journey is complicated by an Apache leader.
Some racial insensitivities have caused the film to not age particularly well. But, if one is willing to set that aside, it’s evident how Ford’s action scenes and camera movements greatly influenced Spielberg’s characteristic style.
A Love Letter to Indiana Jones — ‘Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made’ (2015)
Fan films are a wonderful thing, an immortal testament to the love for cinema. Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made is a documentary about three tenagers who took years to shoot a remake of their favorite film: Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Raiders! is a love letter to a love letter to Spielberg. It’s sweet and inspiring, and an ode to the passion and dedication that goes into fandom culture and moviemaking.
He’s Not Like Us — ‘Midnight Special’ (2016)
Jeff Nichols‘s sci-fi mystery Midnight Special, about a father and son who go on the run after the dead learns that his child has special powers, is one of the most underrated sci-fi movies of recent years.
This is a touching tale about parenthood and protection as much as it is a thrilling sci-fi drama. It’s very well written and wonderfully directed, full of homages to ’80s genre cinema and to Spielberg’s work, like Close Encounters of the Third Kind. If you’re a sci-fi fan and you still haven’t watched Midnight Special, you simply must get around to it.
The Man, the Myth, the Legend — ‘Spielberg’ (2017)
This HBO documentary is a must-see not just for Spielberg fans, but all movie fans. It documents the life and career of the man himself with sincerity and great understanding for the director’s vision.
The documentary is admirable well put together, and full of insights into Spielberg’s career that fans are bound to find delightful. Throughout its runtime, the movie shows over and over again why it’s safe to call this one of the greatest and most versatile directors to ever live.
An Ultimatum from Outer Space — ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’ (1951)
The great Robert Wise made multiple amazing movies in his career, but few are as iconic as The Day the Earth Stood Still, about an alien and a robot who land on Earth after WWII, and tell humans to be peaceful or face destruction.
The movie is insanely creative and it revolutionized the sci-fi genre, which is obviously no easy feat. As such, it influenced the works of many directors. Most notably, Spielberg. Elements of this movie can be seen all across his sci-fi filmography, which makes it the perfect film for fans of the director to watch.
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