Steven Spielberg‘s name usually comes to mind when people think of fantastic filmmakers. One glance at the films he directed would certainly support the thought, as he directed classics like Jaws and Jurassic Park. And he has a history of being nominated for the Oscars, picking up a total of eight nominations for Best Director for films including Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Raiders of the Lost Ark.
The Best Director winner usually has a history of winning the Best Picture Oscar, as well, with 67 out of 94 recipients sharing the award. But has the critically acclaimed and popular director Steven Spielberg managed to earn many Best Picture nominations at the Academy Awards?
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Spielberg’s first Academy Awards Best Picture nomination came after he had already been nominated twice for Best Director. He was also nominated for the Best Director Oscar with this film, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, in 1983. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial follows the adventure of an alien that is left stranded on Earth. A little boy called Elliott names him E.T, and they embark on a journey to send the alien back home. Even though E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial may have proved to be more popular since 1983, the film lost to Richard Attenborough for Gandhi in both the Best Picture and the Best Director categories. However, the film did win the Oscars for Best Original Score, Best Sound, Best Sound Effects Editing, and Best Visual Effects.
The Color Purple
Steven Spielberg’s second Best Picture nomination was for The Color Purple in 1986, and this was one of the rare times his film was not also nominated for Best Director. The Color Purple was a period drama that starred Whoopi Goldberg in one of her first roles, as the main character, Celie Harris. Danny Glover and Oprah Winfrey also acted in this film. The film followed Celie as she dealt with the issues of being an African-American woman living in the early 1900s. Unfortunately, The Color Purple did not take home the Academy Award. Instead, it went to Out of Africa, which Sydney Pollack directed. Surprisingly, the film was nominated for eleven Oscars that year but won none of them.
The first time Spielberg won both the Best Picture Oscar and the Academy Award for Best Picture was in 1994 when he won for Schindler’s List. Schindler’s List showcased Liam Neeson as Oskar Schindler, a German businessman who, during World War II, employed more than a thousand people, most of whom were Jewish, and saved them from the Holocaust. The film also starred Ben Kingsley and Ralph Finnes and was nominated for twelve different Oscars that year, winning seven, including Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Score. Interestingly, Spielberg’s films did not just walk away with those Academy Awards. Jurassic Park, which Spielberg also directed, was also nominated for three Oscars and managed to win all three, bringing the total number of nominations for his films that night to fifteen while winning ten.
Saving Private Ryan
Saving Private Ryan was nominated for both Academy Award for Best Director and Best Picture in 1999. It won Best Director but not Best Picture. The film won four Oscars in addition to Spielberg’s win for Best Director, including Best Film Editing and Best Cinematography, and was nominated for a total of eleven Academy Awards. Starring Tom Hanks, Adam Goldberg, and Matt Damon, the film was an ensemble war epic that told the story of a squad that tried to find a paratrooper whose three brothers were killed in action. The film is widely regarded as one of the greatest war films, notably for its graphic depiction of the landing at Omaha Beach. Instead of Saving Private Ryan, the film that won Best Picture that year was Shakespeare in Love, directed by John Madden.
Munich garnered both a nomination for Best Picture and Best Director in 2006 and three other nominations. However, it lost in all categories, losing Best Picture to Crash directed by Paul Haggis, and the Best Director category to director Ang Lee, for Brokeback Mountain. Munich featured Eric Bana as Avner Kaufman, and Daniel Craig. The film was based on a book named Vengeance, written by George Jonas, and was a dramatization of the events following the Palestine Liberation Organization’s killing of members of the Israeli Olympic Team in 1972.
Letters from Iwo Jima
Letters from Iwo Jima was nominated for Best Picture in 2007 and was not directed by Steven Spielberg but by Clint Eastwood. This film is the only one on the list not directed by Spielberg, but because he produced the film with his production company, Amblin Entertainment, he was also nominated for Best Picture. The film lost Best Picture to The Departed, and Clint Eastwood while nominated, lost Best Director to the director of that film, Martin Scorsese. That was the only Academy Award the acclaimed director has ever won. Letters from Iwo Jima starred Ken Watanabe and was a foreign-language film, as it was in Japanese. The film was about the Japanese side of the Battle of Iwo Jima, while Eastwood’s other film, Flags of Our Fathers, told the story of the American side of the battle.
A Steven Spielberg-directed film was not be nominated for Best Picture for six years after his nomination for Munich. War Horse was nominated next in 2012. War Horse shows the story of a horse who encounters different people, touching different lives and stories, amidst World War I. This was the first Spielberg film set in World War I. War Horse lost the Best Picture category to The Artist, directed by Michel Hazanavicius. War Horse picked up six nominations and failed to win any Academy Awards.
The Abraham Lincoln biopic, titled Lincoln, was nominated for twelve Oscars in 2013 and only managed to win two. While up for Best Picture and Best Director, Steven Spielberg lost in both categories. The two Oscars that Lincoln won went to Daniel Day-Lewis for Best Actor for playing President Abraham Lincoln, and the film won Best Production Design, as well. Lincoln lost Best Picture to Argo, which Ben Affleck directed, while Spielberg lost the Best Director Oscar, again, to director Ang Lee for Life of Pi. The film had a large ensemble cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jared Harris, Tommy Lee Jones, and Sally Field, who played First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln. The film followed Lincoln from a few months before the end of the Civil War until his assassination.
Bridge of Spies
Bridge of Spies was nominated for Best Picture and five other awards in 2016. This Spielberg film was a historical drama that starred frequent Spielberg collaborator Tom Hanks as James B. Donovan, a lawyer who was enlisted to oversee the transfer of his client, a KGB spy named Rudolf Abel, played by Mark Rylance. Abel was captured in the United States during the Cold War, and the CIA negotiated for his transfer for a shot-down CIA pilot in Germany. Mark Rylance won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in the film, but the film did not win Best Picture. Spotlight won instead, a film directed by Tom McCarthy.
Spielberg was nominated for Best Picture again two years later for another film with Tom Hanks, The Post. Meryl Streep starred as Katharine Graham, the publisher of The Washington Post, and Tom Hanks played Ben Bradlee, the editor of the same publication. The film served as somewhat of a prequel for All the President’s Men, which Alan J. Pakula directed. The Post was about publishing the Pentagon Papers, leading to the publication of the Watergate scandal. Meryl Streep received a nomination for Best Actress in 2018, while Spielberg was nominated for Best Picture and lost to The Shape of Water, directed by Guillermo del Toro.
West Side Story
Spielberg obtained a nomination for his first musical film this year at the 2022 Academy Awards for both Best Picture and Best Director. The second adaption of the musical West Side Story, Spielberg’s West Side Story showcased Rachel Zegler and Ansel Elgort as Maria and Tony, respectively. The Academy Awards drew in some controversy this year by initially not inviting the star of the film, Zegler, to the ceremony. They rectified their mistake by inviting her to present an award with Euphoria actor, Jacob Elordi.
Some regarded the film as good if not better than the original adaptation in 1961, directed by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins. Many praised Spielberg for his directing efforts with the musical. However, the film did not win Best Picture. Instead, it went to CODA, directed by Sian Heder. Spielberg also lost the Best Director Oscar to Jane Campion for The Power of the Dog. Ariana DeBose did manage to take home the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as Anita in West Side Story. Spielberg has since confirmed that West Side Story was the only musical he intended to make.
Even though Steven Spielberg is well-respected both by critics and the audience alike, and even though he had been nominated for an Academy Award nineteen times throughout his storied fifty-year career, he has only won an Oscar three times. Spielberg won Best Director twice while being nominated eight times, and only won Best Picture once while being nominated eleven times. Hopefully, the acclaimed director keeps producing fantastic films so that he might add a few more gold statues to his mantle one day.