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Spielberg, Steven - Overview, Personal Life, Career Details, Chronology: Steven Spielberg, Social and Economic Impact

movie film movies directed

Amblin Entertainment and
DreamWorks SKG


Steven Spielberg has turned out some of the most popular, highest-grossing films in movie history. With his movie Jaws, he played a large part in ushering in a new era in modern cinema: the big-budget megahit. His critics claim his movies often depend too heavily on spectacular special effects. His fans call him the king of good storytelling. Whatever the opinion, no one can deny that Spielberg has impacted moviegoers since the 1970s, and in the process has built a movie-making empire of unmatched dimensions.

Personal Life

Steven Spielberg was born on December 18, 1947, in Cincinnati, Ohio. His father, Arnold Spielberg, was an electrical engineer who designed computers for RCA, GE, and IBM, and his mother, Leah Spielberg, was an accomplished pianist. Spielberg was the eldest of four children. Spielberg’s father moved the family frequently as he pursued jobs around the country, settling in Phoenix, Arizona, from 1957 to 1964. School proved to be difficult for Spielberg. He had trouble making friends because he moved so often, and at school he was constantly teased because he was often the only Jewish student.

At a very young age, Spielberg decided to make movies. His three sisters were his favorite subjects and appeared in many of his earliest attempts at filmmaking. His mother would help with the special effects. By age 13, Spielberg had already won a contest for his 40-minute war movie Escape to Nowhere. In 1964, he turned out Firefly, an earth-versus-alien epic nearly two-and-a-half hours in length.

Upon his high school graduation, Spielberg had hoped to attend film school at the University of California at Los Angeles, but his C grade average was not good enough to gain admittance to the competitive program. Instead, he attended California State College at Long Beach. College held little interest for Spielberg, though, and he spent most of his time at the movies. In a 1996 Cosmopolitan article, Spielberg told of the day that he began sneaking into Universal Studios in 1966. “I went back there every day for three months. I walked past the guard every day, waved at him and he waved back. I always wore a suit and carried a briefcase, and he assumed I was some kid related to some mogul . . . . So every day that summer, I went in my suit and hung out with directors and writers and editors.”

Spielberg married actress Amy Irving in 1985. They had one son before divorcing in 1989. In 1991, Spielberg married Kate Capshaw, an actress who starred in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Between them they have seven children.

Now known as a family man, Spielberg is often described as a giant kid. He typically dresses in jeans and sweatshirts and wears a baseball cap. He admits to a fondness for bad television movies and a love for video games. In a 1994 New Yorker article Tom Hanks described him fondly, saying, “The thing about Steven is he’s still the A.V. guy in junior high school. You know, the guy who brings the movie projectors around and knows how to thread them, and all that kind of stuff.”

Career Details

Though he may dress like an overgrown child, Spielberg has a reputation for being a shrewd businessman. Unable to direct all of the products he was interested in, Spielberg formed his own production company in 1980. The company was called Amblin Entertainment, after one of his first films. Movies that have been released under the Amblin banner include Gremlins, Back to the Future, Goonies, and Men in Black . Amblin also produced several animated films, including Who Framed Roger Rabbit, An American Tail, and Land Before Time. Amblin was likewise responsible for such television shows as the hit drama ER and the animated series Tiny Toons Adventures and Animaniacs. Many of his early films were made with his close friend, director George Lucas. In 1994, Spielberg merged his company with a new production company. He formed the company with former Disney president Jeff Katzenberg and billionaire music producer David Geffen. The power trio planned to combine their talents and envisioned the creation of their own multimedia entertainment projects. Criticized for its slow start, the company has been involved in making records, films, animated movies, toys, and video games. Despite the diversity of the company’s endeavors, Spielberg concentrates mostly on filmmaking. He continues to focus on what he has always done best, directing movies.

Spielberg began his career in 1969 when Universal Television’s Sid Scheinberg saw Spielberg’s short film, Amblin’. Spielberg left school and signed a seven-year contract with Universal. His first assignment was an episode of a 90-minute pilot for Rod Serling’s Night Gallery series. He then directed episodes of several other television shows. In 1971, Spielberg directed his first movie. Duel cost only $350,000 to make, drew rave reviews, and grossed over $5 million in foreign releases alone.

Spielberg made two more television movies before directing his first theatrical film. The comedy-drama, The Sugarland Express was released in 1974. The film received positive reviews, even earning Spielberg a best-screenplay award at the 1974 Cannes Film Festival, but it did not fare extremely well at the box office.

Spielberg’s next effort was more successful. Entrusted with the screen adaptation of Peter Benchley’s best-selling novel Jaws, the director unleashed a sensation; the story of an Atlantic seaside town terrorized by a great white shark seized the public imagination. The 1975 film became the highest-grossing motion picture to date. Its big budget and the incredible special effects used to portray the mechanical shark named Bruce set the stage for a new generation of high-budget, megahit movies. Though not every film was a hit, it was clear from the beginning that he knew how to win at the box office.

In 1977 Spielberg released his next film project, the science fiction story Close Encounters of the Third Kind, another enormous box office hit. Spielberg released Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981. The action drama set in the 1930s, with Harrison Ford starring as archaeologistadventurer Indiana Jones, was so successful that Spielberg released two sequels, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, in 1984 and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. in 1989.

In 1982 Spielberg made movie history again with the release of E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. The movie, a story about a boy and his friendship with a loveable alien trying to find his way home, is close to Spielberg’s heart. He has drawn comparisons between the emotions that are portrayed in the movie and those that he felt when his parents divorced. Despite its overwhelming popularity with fans and critics alike, and its many nominations, E.T. received no Academy Awards.

Chronology: Steven Spielberg

1947: Born.

1975: Directed Jaws.

1979: Directed Raiders of the Lost Ark.

1981: Directed and co-produced E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial.

1984: Directed and co-produced The Color Purple.

1985: Directed and co-produced Empire of the Sun.

1991: Directed Hook.

1993: Directed Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List.

1994: Established DreamWorks SKG.

1997: Directed Amistad .

1998: Directed Saving Private Ryan.

In 1986 he made The Color Purple, based on Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name. While the film received some impressive reviews, Spielberg received criticism for patronizing African Americans and for sentimentalizing rural Southern poverty. Nonetheless, the movie did well at the box office and introduced two new stars, Oprah Winfrey and Whoopi Goldberg. The movie received a record-tying 11 Academy Award nominations, but failed to win in any category, and Spielberg himself was not even nominated. Empire of the Sun was released in 1987. Based on a true story, the movie recounted the adventures of a young British boy in Shangai during World War II. The film earned fair reviews and box office attendance. Also, in 1987 Spielberg finally received recognition for his work as the Academy of Motion Pictures bestowed on him one of its highest honors, the Irving J. Thalberg Award. The award recognizes a distinguished body of works.

Taking a break from serious films which had not fared as well as some of his others, Spielberg’s megahit Jurassic Park was released in 1993. The subject of one of the most intensive pre-release promotions in film history, the story centered on a present-day theme park that featured genetically engineered dinosaurs as the main attraction. Based on a book by Michael Crichton, the film was such a hit that Spielberg could not resist the temptation to do a sequel, and subsequently released Jurassic Park: The Lost World in 1997, which grossed $229 million.

In the years 1993-98, Spielberg finally quieted all the critics who did not believe he could make an “adult” movie. His film Schindler’s List, a black-and-white movie filmed in Poland, was a lengthy Holocaust drama based on the true story of a German factory owner who saved the lives of thousands of Jews who worked for him. The critically acclaimed film earned seven Academy Awards, including awards for best picture and best director. The film held personal meaning for Spielberg who had shunned his Jewish heritage as a child because he had been an outcast. He described his Jewish awakening as the birth of his son Max in 1985, when he began thinking about his family and the stories about the Holocaust that had been told to him when he was young. He told Harper’s Bazaar in 1994, “Not since E.T. had I felt such a personal calling, to do something I actually feel part of.” Spielberg set up two public foundations with his earnings from the movie for the purposes of studying the Holocaust and keeping it alive the memory of the Jews who died in it.

A later Spielberg work, Saving Private Ryan, released in the summer of 1998, told the story of eight American soldiers during World War II who go behind enemy lines to retrieve a lost paratrooper after it is discovered that all three of his brothers had been killed during the war. The movie received excellent reviews. Spielberg’s realistic portrayal of the D-Day invasion of the beaches of Normandy have led many to call it the greatest war movie of all time.

Social and Economic Impact

Spielberg entered filmmaking at a time when big budgets that paid for high-tech special effects and major marketing campaigns were not the standard. With the unprecedented success of Jaws, that all changed. In a time when no movie had grossed $100 million in the United States or Canada, Jaws grossed almost half a billion dollars. Ticket sales skyrocketed Close Encounters of the Third Kind into the top-ten moneymakers up to that time. E.T. not only topped box office sales, but also became an overwhelming merchandising and video success. The movie made $700 million, the largest box office take at the time, and earned over $1 billion in merchandising. Jurassic Park quickly became the highest-grossing film at its release. Spielberg has made big movies into big business. His estimated gross income for 1997 was $283 million. A Forbes correspondent asked the question, “Has Spielberg had his hand in every single blockbuster coming out of Hollywood—or does it just seem that way?”

Spielberg has once been accused of making only kids’ movies with plots full of action and special effects, but without depth. Yet, his success with Schindler’s List in 1994 and Saving Private Ryan in 1998 have changed his image. These movies brought issues to the forefront that spoke to many people. He presented history in ways that no one had before him. In 1998, Time magazine named Spielberg in its list of the 100 most influential people of the twentieth century. In Time ‘s tribute to Spielberg, film critic Roger Ebert affirmed Spielberg’s place on the list. “In the history of the last third of twentieth century cinema, Spielberg is the most influential figure, for better and worse. In his lesser films he relied too much on shallow stories and special effects for their own sake In his best films he tapped into dreams fashioned by our better natures.”

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over 5 years ago

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