Born on this day in 1946, the most commercially successful filmmaker on the planet was born in Cincinnati, Ohio. Steven Spielberg’s family were Ukrainian Jews who had escaped the Pogroms to settle in the US.
From a young age, Spielberg became fascinated with film. Aged 12, he made his first home movie by crashing his train set. Growing up in Phoenix, Arizona, the teenage Spielberg experimented with film until he put together his first feature, Firelight, in 1963, a sci-fi film made for under $600.
In 1965, Spielberg’s family moved to California, where he went to study film at university and his parents divorced. These early years of his life were fictionalised in the director’s most recent film The Fabelmans. While some accused the film of navel gazing soppiness, it’s also a passionate depiction of the role his parents played in crafting the filmmaker of today.
After university, Spielberg started directing television episodes, before moving onto TV films, starting with 1971’s Duel which was praised at the time and has gone on to be recognised as a cult classic.
Spielberg’s true theatrical feature film debut was then with 1974’s The Sugarland Express. It was the first time Spielberg worked with composer John Williams and was a modest success, and put the director on the map.
What followed established Spielberg as one of the most influential directors of the New Hollywood era. Over the next decade, Spielberg would next direct Jaws in 1975, before other colossal hits Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
The decade after would see Spielberg follow up his first two Indiana Jones film with another, before he entered a second era of astounding creative success with Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List (both 1994), before Saving Private Ryan, producing the ‘Band of Brothers’ miniseries, and A.I. Artificial Intelligence.
Although not every single film has been a bona fide hit, Spielberg managed to maintain relevance into the sixth and seventh decade of his life with films like Lincoln (2012) and West Side Story (2021).
Over his career, his films have been nominated for a staggering 147 Academy Awards, winning 35 of them. Personally, he been nominated nine times as Best Director, the only director to be nominated across six different decades. He won Best Director twice, for Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan, as well as Best Picture once, again for Schindler’s List.
Spielberg is also the most commercially successful director in history. When Jaws was released, it became the highest-grossing film of all time. It’s a feat he achieved again with E.T. and Jurassic Park. In total, his films have had a worldwide gross of over $10 billion.
Much like fellow filmmakers Ken Loach, Martin Scorsese and Ridley Scott, Spielberg has managed to maintain a phenomenal career since his debut way back in the 70s. Happy 77th birthday!