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Action! Spielberg Lights Up the Screen

Spielberg’s first professional job came when he was hired to direct a segment of the pilot for Night Gallery. The success of this show led Spielberg to greater opportunities. After directing a few other segments, Spielberg finally got his first feature-length assignment in the form of a television show called Name of the Game. It would be the first of many successful forays for Spielberg into the world of television, including directing episodes of the hugely popular Columbo.

He was beginning to prove himself and Universal felt confident in signing Spielberg to do three made-for-TV movies. The first, Duel, came in 1971 and was a critically acclaimed thriller. Spielberg had expressed a desire to move over to CBS but Universal, realizing the budding talent that they had on their hands, insisted he finish his contract. Thus, in 1972, Spielberg produced Something Evil, and Savage, neither of which Spielberg would be particularly proud.

It wasn’t until 1974 that Spielberg would make the jump from television into feature films. Based on a true story of a highway police chase in Texas, Spielberg’s The Sugarland Express was well-liked by the critics but couldn’t find success at the box-office. The producers, however, had been impressed with Spielberg and were willing to offer him a more ambitious project.

In 1975, just one year after The Sugarland Express, Spielberg released Jaws, a film about a killer shark that went on to win three Academy Awards and earn over $260 million. He followed this with another hit, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, just two years later. Spielberg’s success streak would soon come to a halt with the release of 1941, a comedy about WWII that was a spectacular failure. “I’ll spend the rest of my life disowning this movie,” Spielberg later told the New York Times.

Spielberg pulled himself back on track in 1981 with the release of Raiders of the Lost Ark, a film produced by Star Wars’ George Lucas that would go on to become the biggest film of the year and earn countless Oscar nominations. He followed this success with E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial the next year, the story of a friendship between a boy and an alien that became the top-grossing film of all time for many years, as well as Spielberg’s personal favourite. Realizing their winning combination, Lucas and Spielberg would team together down the road to create two more hugely successful Indiana Jones movies.

The hits for Spielberg just kept coming. With The Twilight Zone in 1983 and The Color Purple in 1985, Spielberg had established himself as a serious filmmaker within Hollywood, capable of both action-adventure films and serious dramas. The years between 1987-1991 proved to be mildly successful for Spielberg, with the release of Empire of the Sun, Always, A Guy Named Joe and Hook. In the mid-1990s, Spielberg would regain his stride. Both 1993’s Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List became two of the highest grossing and most critically acclaimed films of all time, with the latter earning Spielberg an Academy Award for Best Director and Best Picture.

For the next four years, Spielberg took a break from directing films to build his new studio DreamWorks, which produced over ten films that grossed over $100 million each before being sold to Paramount Pictures and its umbrella company, Viacom. He returned to directing in 1997 with a sequel to Jurassic Park and Amistad, a film based on a true story about the rebellion of African slaves. In 1998, Spielberg released Saving Private Ryan, a WWII epic that would earn him his second Academy Award for Best Director and would inspire him to team up with Tom Hanks to produce a TV mini-series on the same subject called Band of Brothers.

The new millennium proved no less successful for Spielberg, whose back-to-back A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, Minority Report, and Catch Me If You Can were loved by critics and the public alike. These were followed by The Terminal, War of the Worlds, and Munich, all of which kept the Spielberg blockbuster spirit alive. He is currently working on producing an Indian Jones 4 film, a Transformers film for release in 2007 and has teamed up with Mark Burnett to star in a reality show called On the Lot. He has also begun to branch out his activities, getting involved in the video game industry, as well as toys and restaurants.

In 2005, Empire magazine listed Spielberg as the number one greatest film director of all time. His impact on both the film industry and American pop culture is undisputed and, thirty-plus years later, Spielberg remains at the top of his game.

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