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7 best Steven Spielberg sci-fi movies, ranked

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A man confronts a woman in Minority Report.

20th Century Studios

Fifty years ago, Steven Spielberg directed his first theatrical film, The Sugarland Express. Since then, Spielberg has established himself as one of the greatest filmmakers of his generation, with a long list of blockbusters and critically acclaimed movies to his name including Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, and many more.

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Spielberg’s first film, we’re looking back at the seven best Steven Spielberg sci-fi movies. For someone who broke into the industry with genre flicks, there aren’t a lot of science fiction films in Spielberg’s filmography. But the ones here rank among the greatest sci-fi movies of all time.

7. Ready Player One (2018)

Tye Sheridan's Wade Watts looks up to Olivia Cooke's Art3mis in Ready Player One.
Warner Bros. Pictures

Spielberg doesn’t tackle many sci-fi stories anymore, and his most recent genre film, Ready Player One, is noticeably softer than his previous films. There’s just not much of an edge to this adaptation of Ernest Cline’s novel, but there’s plenty of nostalgia for everyone older than 30. The story takes place approximately two decades in the future, where Earth is in such bad shape that the vast majority of the survivors spend way too much time in the virtual world of the OASIS.

The OASIS is such a valuable resource that its creator, James Halliday (Mark Rylance), leaves a posthumous puzzle to solve that will award the winner full control over his creation. Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) and his friends make it their mission to win the contest and save the OASIS. But they’ve got some very powerful enemies standing in their way both in the OASIS and in the real world.

Watch Ready Player One on Netflix.

6. War of the Worlds (2005)

Tom Cruise and Dakota Fanning in War of the Worlds.
Paramount Pictures

Spielberg’s take on H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds is a very loose adaptation of the original story that’s built around Tom Cruise’s character, Ray Ferrier. Ray’s a somewhat irresponsible longshoreman and a father of two kids, Rachel (Dakota Fanning) and Robbie Ferrier (Justin Chatwin), who is no longer married to their mother, Mary Ann (Miranda Otto).

After the kids get dropped off with Ray, an alien invasion decimates everyone around them. With no way to fight back, Ray takes his children and flees in the hope of finding safety. And the more Ray runs, the more he realizes that there is no safe place to hide from the invaders.

Watch War of the Worlds on Hulu.

5. Minority Report (2002)

People float in a pool in Minority Report.
20th Century Studios

Cruise and Spielberg’s first collaboration was an adaptation of Philip K. Dick‘s Minority Report. In this world, a Precrime Division has made murder almost impossible in Washington, D.C., thanks to a system that utilizes three precognitive individuals who can see future crimes before they happen.

Chief John Anderton (Tom Cruise) is the top cop in Precrime, and he’s been super-dedicated to the job ever since the abduction of his son years ago. Suddenly, just as Precrime is about to expand into a national program, the precogs predict that Anderton will murder Leo Crow (Mike Binder), a man whom he has never met. Anderton goes on the run to prove his innocence, but every step that he takes brings him closer to his encounter with Crow and the latter’s death.

Watch Minority Report on Paramount+.

4. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

A scene from Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Image via Columbia Pictures

The first big sci-fi movie of Spielberg’s career was Close Encounters of the Third Kind. By modern standards, this ’70s film moves at a glacial pace, and Spielberg has done better work since then. But in 1977, this was a big hit and it helped propel Spielberg to further heights in the industry.

Close Encounters follows ordinary people – like Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) and Jillian Guiler (Melinda Dillon) – who have a brush with visitors from another world. Neither Roy nor Jillian can go back to their normal lives afterwards. For Jillian, she needs to get her son back from the aliens, while Roy barely notices that his family has abandoned him as he obsesses over the alien ship. Their stories, and the entire narrative, intersect late in the film as they get a much closer encounter than they expected.

Watch Close Encounters of the Third Kind on Mubi.

3. A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)

Haley Joel Osment in A.I. Artificial Intelligence.
Warner Bros. Pictures

A.I. Artificial Intelligence had a decades-long road to the big screen under the guidance of Stanley Kubrick, who passed the project on to Spielberg a few years before he died. Kubrick’s involvement with the story is probably why this is one of Spielberg’s darkest films. The Sixth Sense‘s Haley Joel Osment stars as David, a realistic childlike android who longs for the love of his human mother, Monica Swinton (Frances O’Connor).

After being abandoned by Monica to spare him from destruction, David sets out to become a “real boy” like the lead character of The Adventures of Pinocchio. Along the way, David encounters Gigolo Joe (Jude Law), an android who is sympathetic to his quest. This film could have gone even higher on the list if it had ended at a certain point in the story, rather than going for the traditional Spielberg feel-good moment at the end. Regardless, it’s still a great movie.

Watch A.I. Artificial Intelligence on Paramount+.

2. Jurassic Park (1993)

Dr. Grant distracts the T-Rex in Jurassic Park.
Universal Pictures / Universal Pictures

Dinosaurs walk the Earth again in Spielberg’s adaptation of Michael Crichton’s sci-fi novel Jurassic Park. At the time, CGI animation was still in its relative infancy, and audiences weren’t used to seeing such convincing recreations of dinosaurs. Some of the film’s animatronic dinosaurs also helped sell the illusion that they were real. In the present, there have been so many Jurassic Park and Jurassic World movies that they no longer feel special. Except for the original, of course.

In the film, Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill), Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), and Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) are personally invited by Dr. John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) to his private island in order to witness the scientific miracle of his cloned dinosaurs, as well as Hammond’s wacky ambitions to turn them into theme park attractions. When the dinosaurs get loose, it’s anything but a Disney ride. Instead, the humans will be lucky if they make it off of the island alive.

Watch Jurassic Park on Netflix.

1. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

Elliot and E.T. gaze up at the stars in E.T.
Universal Pictures

Even digitally swapping the FBI agents’ guns for walkie-talkies couldn’t hold down E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. The offending digital edits have since been reversed by a repentant Spielberg himself. Forty-two years after its initial release, this film still stands up as not only the best sci-fi movie that Spielberg has ever directed, but also one of the very best films in his career.

The E.T. animatronic puppet is far more convincing than the vast majority of CGI creations, but a lot of that credit also has to go to the young performers, Henry Thomas and Drew Barrymore, both of whom treat E.T. like he’s just another actor on the set. Their belief in E.T. is so convincing that the audience goes along with it as well. The story is so famous by now that it’s been parodied many times. An abridged version of the plot is that E.T. is accidentally stranded on Earth, where he befriends Elliot (Thomas) and Gertie Taylor (Barrymore), as well as their older brother, Michael (Robert MacNaughton).

While the kids love E.T., his declining health and his mental link to Elliot threatens both of their lives. The only way to save them is to find a way for E.T. to phone home. John Williams’ glorious soundtrack seals the deal, especially as the kids and E.T. make their getaway from government agents on floating bicycles. It just doesn’t get better than that.

Rent or buy E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial on Prime Video or other digital outlets.

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