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#VanTukkaFriday Icon of the Week: Steven Spielberg (1970s – 1990s)

Steven Allen Spielberg’s filmmaking career has spanned over forty years, boasting a body of work that covers a multitude of themes and genres. But it is his early science-fiction and adventure films that captured the imagination of a generation – pioneering the model for the modern Hollywood blockbuster.

Born in 1943 in Cincinnati, Ohio, Spielberg started making movies in his early teens – creating ‘adventure’ films with his buddies and charging 25c admission to his screenings while his sister sold popcorn. After starting his career working on TV shows and doing made-for-TV movies, he released his debut feature film, The Sugarland Express, in 1974. It didn’t rake in the cash by any means, but the critics had taken notice… it was the start of the Spielberg phenom. Soon after that he was given the director’s chair for a thriller-horror film based on a Peter Benchley novel – that film was Jaws. It was an awe-inspiring hit. It won three Oscars, grossed $740m at the box office (setting a domestic record), and led to what was known as ‘Jawsmania’. Jaws (and, by extension, Spielberg himself) basically created the idea of the Blockbuster.

Through that one movie, Steven Spielberg became a household name (and also one of America’s youngest multi-millionaires), and he was going nowhere but up. The next movie after Jaws was 1977’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind – a seminal sci-fi film that, in 2007, was selected for preservation in the National Film Library by the US Library of Congress – and Spielberg would go on to direct blockbuster after blockbuster throughout the next two and-a-half decades.

From adventure series’ like Indiana Jones, to period dramas like The Color Purple and sci-fi’s like E.T. Spielberg’s movies held a magic that few could resist. He consistently drew audiences to the cinema (three of his movies – Jaws, E.T. and Jurassic Park – broke records to each become the highest-grossing film ever made in 1975, ’82 and ’93, respectively) and filled entire families with the magic of the movies.

His work was always laced with a childlike sense of wonder and faith. The stories he brought to life on screen could just as easily been the stuff of Saturday morning kids’ shows. In the words of film critic Roger Ebert, Spielberg’s best characters are like “plucky kids who aren’t afraid to get in over their heads”. When you sat down to watch a Spielberg movie, you became that plucky kid – seeing the world with the same awe and wonder.

With his cutting-edge filmmaking & special effects, he was able to show us what we had never seen before; to transport us – through his own imagination – to other worlds and other times. That’s what movies are supposed to do, and what filmmakers have been trying to do ever since.

It is no wonder then, that Steven Spielberg remains one of history’s most influential Hollywood film directors, producers and movie moguls… it is because of his undeniable ability, as Ebert puts it, to tap directly into “dreams fashioned by our better selves”.

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