erik lundegaard

Is Steven Spielberg the Most Popular Director in Movie History?

Steven Spielberg on the set of "E.T."

Spielberg, in his heyday, with friend.

Twenty-six movies have grossed more than $1 billion worldwide, but Steven Spielberg, the man considered the most popular director in movie history, didn't direct any of them. (His biggest, unadjusted, is “Jurassic Park” at $983 million.) Thirty-nine movies have opened domestically to more than $100 million, but Steven Spielberg, the man considered the most popular director in movie history, directed only one of them: the now-thoroughly and deservedly discredited “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” which wheezed across the finish line at $101 million in May 2008.

Which raises the question: Is Steven Spielberg the most popular director in movie history?

Oh yeah. By a long shot. 

The above milestones, $1 bil and $100 mil, are 21st-century milestones, and Spielberg's heyday was earlier. These are the top 10 movies of all time, domestically, adjusted for inflation: 

  Movie Adj. Gross Gross Year Director
1 Gone with the Wind $1,733,542,900 $198,676,459 1939 Victor Fleming
2 Star Wars $1,528,266,100 $460,998,007 1977 George Lucas
3 The Sound of Music $1,221,923,900 $158,671,368 1965 Robert Wise
4 E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial $1,217,110,200 $435,110,554 1982 Steven Spielberg
5 Titanic $1,162,371,000 $658,672,302 1997 James Cameron
6 The Ten Commandments $1,123,980,000 $65,500,000 1956 Cecil B. DeMille
7 Jaws $1,098,916,300 $260,000,000 1975 Steven Spielberg
8 Doctor Zhivago $1,065,082,200 $111,721,910 1965 David Lean
9 The Exorcist $948,940,900 $232,906,145 1973 William Friedkin
10 Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs $935,220,000 $184,925,486 1937 (Six directors)

Spielberg is the only director to make the list twice. James Cameron, a rival for the title of most popular director in movie history, adds his second film, “Avatar,” at No. 15; but then Spielberg immediately usurps him again with “Jurassic Park” at No. 17. George Lucas, another potential rival for the title, adds his second, the abyssmal “Star Wars, Episode One: The Phantom Menace,” at No. 18, before Spielberg adds a fourth, “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” at No. 21. 

That's right: Steven Spielberg has four of the 25 highest-grossing American movies of all time, adjusted for inflation, and no other director has more than two.

If you plunge further, into the top 100 American movies of all time, these are the only directors who appear more than once*:

Director  App.
Steven Spielberg 6
George Lucas 5
Peter Jackson 3
Chris Columbus 3
James Cameron 2
George Roy Hill 2
Sam Raimi 2
Cecil B. DeMille 2
Robert Zemeckis 2
Christopher Nolan 2
Robert Wise 2
David Lean 2
William Wyler 2
Joss Whedon 2
Lee Unkrich 2

* Not included are the Disney directors, since as many as 11 directors worked on a single film. 

Only Lucas is close, and that's where he tops out. Spielberg keeps going. He also has No.s 102 and 103. He has no rival. 

This is a long lead-in to the poor domestic box office of his latest film, “The BFG,” which opened to $19.5 million this weekend. It finished behind the third weekend of “Finding Dory” ($41 mil), and the opening weekends for “The Legend of Tarzan” ($38) and “The Purge: Election Year” ($30). 

It's true that most Roald Dahl stories don't do particularly well at the box office—the two Willie Wonkas being the exception. It's also true that Spielberg is turning 70 in December, and the wonder and energy felt in his earlier films has been replaced by muted tones and somber discussions. I get trying to recapture the magic of youth, and I think he did that with the underrated and underseen (in the U.S.) “Tin Tin” movie; but there's something to be said for making movies for adults—particularly in this adolescent age of movies, which Spielberg helped create.

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Posted at 08:17 AM on Sun. Jul 03, 2016 in category Movies - Box Office  

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