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We’re here to celebrate the Steven Spielberg movies that were pretty awful. Even the King of Hollywood can flounder sometimes.

Extra-Terrible: What are Steven Spielberg’s very worst movies?

Steven Spielberg is attributed with changing the entire landscape of American cinema. Touted as a ‘pioneer’ and credited with the very first summer blockbuster, Jaws, Spielberg’s role in Hollywood is nothing short of monumental. He is one of the most popular and prolific directors and producers ever, plus the highest-grossing film director in history.

Despite all of his accolades, it’s virtually impossible to have an almost fifty-year career without a single misstep. Even icon Steven Spielberg can’t make every movie as incredible as Close Encounters of the Third Kind. We’re here to celebrate the Spielberg movies that were pretty awful. Even the King of Hollywood can flounder sometimes.

1941 (1979)

It’s hard to believe that a Spielberg movie with John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, and John Candy could be decidedly unfunny, but here we are. 1941 was Spielberg’s only attempt at a true comedy and came right after his first two huge successes: Close Encounters and Jaws

1941 is a WWII action-comedy about Los Angeles panicking at the news of a Japanese attack. The satire had multiple running gags and some of the biggest comedians of the ‘70s and somehow manages to barely warrant a smile. While it’s slowly developed a cult-like fan club, 1941 still goes down as one of the worst received movies in Spielberg’s whole career. 

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

There are few movies that fire up the Film Daily team as much as Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and not in a good way. Phrases like “the worst film I ever saw at the cinema” and “by the time the swinging monkeys happened, it was just like ‘Okay, I guess we’re all in hell now’” got thrown about, and that was before the aliens came up. 

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull takes our beloved nazi-fighting archeologist and puts him on a quest for a telepathic crystal skull (yes, you read that right, telepathic). The fourth movie in the Indiana Jones franchise bizarrely turns away from the action-adventure genre and into a 1950’s sci-fi throwback, which loses steam not long after the Area 51 shootout in the opening. 

Disappointed Indiana Jones fans have coined the term “nuking the fridge” as the new “jumping the shark”. Enough said.

Ready Player One (2018)

Based on Ernest Cline’s best selling 2011 novel, Ready Player One, Spielberg’s take on the sci-fi adventure novel left fans seriously disappointed. While it’s hard for any adaptation to include everything from the original novel, Speilberg chose pop culture references over character development, which took all of the depth away from the story. 

Taking place in 2045, Ready Player One focuses on a world where humanity mostly exists in virtual reality, using a software called OASIS. In the novel, OASIS is equivalent to the real world’s internet, a vital part of everyday life, while the film depiction of OASIS as more of a game softens the edges of the overall story considerably.  

Plot holes, shallow characters, an underwhelming conclusion, and frenetic quality to the movie left us wanting our 2+ hours back.

The Terminal (2004)

The worst thing about The Terminal was all the time we spent waiting for it to be good. It feels like it should be a good movie. Tom Hanks and Catherine Zeta-Jones star in the story of a sweet Eastern European man forced to live in New York’s JFK Airport after the mid-flight collapse of his country’s government. 

The Terminal appeared in theaters only three years after 9/11, so the story of a man whose country’s political upheaval meant he didn’t have valid papers to enter the increasingly vigilant US felt relevant and political. Instead, Spielberg delivered a floundering romantic comedy set inside an immigration crisis, which missed so many marks we forgot where it was aiming.

Always (1989)

By the time they make Always, Spielberg and Richard Dreyfuss have already done both Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind together. It would stand to reason that their remake of the 1943 romantic drama A Guy Named Joe would be something special, as the pair were reportedly obsessed with the classic film. That reasoning would be wrong. 

Always follows a daredevil pilot Pete (Dreyfuss) who dies fighting a forest fire, and then receives an assignment to go back to earth to guide his successor, Ted (Brad Johnson).  The assignment turns especially painful as Pete is forced to watch his true love, Dorinda (Holly Hunter) fall in love with Ted. 

While Hunter is easily the best part of Always, she can’t redeem the lack of chemistry between her and either ‘true love’, Dreyfuss or Johnson. Speilberg tries to cover the sparkless romance with saccharine sentimentality, ending up creepy and cloying. 

Meanwhile, it stands to reason that Speilberg and Dreyfuss’s obsession with A Guy Named Joe kept them from updating the script for modern audiences, adding stilted dialogue to the overall mess. Always is less a romance than it is the story of a creepy old-timey ghost skulking around his ex after she’s moved on. How very charming.

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  • Spielburg was always absurdly overated. You could go through every movie he made and find directorial flaws a film student would not make. Discontinuities, bad editing…the works. A very few of his movies are outstanding. He uses the shotgun approach where it is a random chance that the supporting members of the film crew can break through and supersede his mediocrity. “Close Encounters” was one of the first movies I ever saw and appeared to be directed at morons from first frame to last. Nearly all of his movies have zero staying power and I predict that 20 years from now he will hardly be remembered beyond Two or three movies.

    August 14, 2020

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