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HORROR TEN SPOT: The Best Of Amblin Entertainment (Part 2)

4 years agoby: Jake Dee

It's no surprise J.J. Abrams' SUPER 8 is one of the most anticipated movies to hit the 2011 blockbuster slate. Rightfully so. The dude has the Midas touch, be it producorially ( "Alias," "Lost" etc.) or directorially (MISSION IMPOSSIBLE 3, STAR TREK). In fact, Abrams has become such an industry staple, it's hard to believe that SUPER 8, his '80s Amblin inspired retro tent-pole, is only the third feature film he's directed. Considering this, and considering how refreshing a change of pace SUPER 8 looks to be in comparison to the summer season of comic-book movies and rehashed sequels, we thought it'd be fun to examine some of the best Amblin has offered over the years. Genre work, crossover material, prestige projects, hell, let's highlight what has made the Spielberg brand so damn successful. Ready?!?

#10. MEN IN BLACK - BARRY SONNENFELD (1997)

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Truth be told, I could have easily slid another title in its place (EMPIRE OF THE SUN, CATCH ME IF YOU CAN), but at the risk of making this a monopolistic Spielberg tribute, and given the fact we're goddamn horror site, why not throw a little love to Barry Sonnenfeld's zany alien future in MEN IN BLACK? After-all, the film has not only spawned two sequels (MIB III is due May 25th), it can be argued the film opened the floodgates for unproven, non-heroic comic-book characters to flourish on the big screen. Yes, the film version was toned down and turned into light family entertainment, but with the massive success enjoyed, Hollywood must have recognized darker comics and graphic novels as viable stories to adapt to film. In the case of MIB, the film fuses charismatic actors with dazzling special F/X, not to mention Oscar winning makeup by the legendary Rick Baker. For its imagination, its success and to some extent its originality, MEN IN BLACK is among Amblin's finest.

#9. ARACHNOPHOBIA - FRANK MARSHALL (1990) 

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Not sure about you, but damn I love me some ARACHNOPHOBIA! With a pitch perfect comedic tone set to a universal fear (of spiders), Frank Marshall's July 18th, 1990 release is exactly the kind of focused and concentrated summer movie Amblin yielded in its heyday. Character driven spectacles. Besides, how can you ever go wrong with Jeff Daniels and John Goodman in the same film? Impossible. Admittedly, I'm not a big fan of spiders to begin with, so when it becomes clear actual spiders are being used in the film (to be replaced by CG nowadays no doubt), the shite always finds a way to make my skin crawl. Word is the smaller spiders in the film are a harmless New Zealand type called Avondale spiders. For the giant spider at the end though, a gnarly bird-eating species of tarantula was used, one that has an 8-inch leg span or more. Apparently it has a ferocious bite and is difficult to handle. Imagine a film using real, dangerous spiders nowadays. Unthinkable.

#8. GREMLINS - JOE DANTE (1984)

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Although co-responsible for creating the PG-13 rating (along with INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM), Joe Dante's family-horror outing is too much an Amblin staple to omit entirely. Again, the right note is hit...a wildly accessible tale of terror that never takes itself too seriously. You can revel in the tongue-in-cheek madness as well as indulge in the horrific kitsch; both play together in a way that's highly entertaining. Not only was Joe Dane handpicked by Spielberg to direct the film (he almost went with Tim Burton, but he hadn't yet directed a full feature), GREMLINS is the first time the Amblin Entertainment logo appeared onscreen. Taking the intercompany tie-in trivia further, the set for Kingston Falls is the same Universal lot used for BACK TO THE FUTURE. In fact, the movie theater scene in GREMLINS features the same theater that McFly crashes into when he returns to 1985 at the end of that flick. Oh the magic of movies!

#7. CAPE FEAR - MARTIN SCORSESE (1991) 

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COUNCILOOOOOOR! Veering away from the family fare, Spielberg recruited his pal Marty Scorsese to put his spin on the 1962 crime-thriller CAPE FEAR (Steve was originally going to direct). And boy are we glad he did! No doubt a paradigm shift for Amblin, as the few prestige pictures in the company's catalogue heretofore came from Spielberg himself (EMPIRE OF THE SUN, THE COLOR PURPLE). No longer simple family entertainment for the summer, CAPE FEAR was an R-rated fall release with some of the finest actors of its time. Bobby De Niro is flat-out petrifying as Max Cady, a vengeful inmate with pedophilic tendencies. Nick Nolte holds serve, with the gorgeous Jessica Lange at his side and a remarkable turn from an 18 year old Juliette Lewis. Interestingly, the infamous auditorium scene between Lewis and De Niro was completely adlibbed and do so in a single take.

#6. JURASSIC PARK - STEVEN SPIELBERG (1993)

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In a visual marvel that still holds up two decades later, Spielberg's adaptation of Michael Crichton's JUSRASSIC PARK is a truly a landmark achievement. Culling Oscars for Best Sound, Best Sound F/X and Best Visual F/X, again Spielberg strikes a perfect balance of broad, blockbuster entertainment with otherworldly horror. Just as he did with JAWS, also released in June, Spielberg tapped as much into a fascination with dinosaurs as he did with the terror of killer sharks 18 years prior. Honestly, I think the wisest thing Spielberg did was marry live-action animatronics with just the right amount of CGI. For fear of the film looking too much like a videogame, he limited the amount of computer graphics, relied on the practical, and made the film as realistic as possible. Shockingly, only 15 minutes in the entire film show actual dinosaur footage; 9 minutes of the late great Stan Winston's animatronics and 6 minutes of ILM's CGI.

#5. E.T. - STEVEN SPIELBERG (1982)

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Until JURASSIC PARK was released a decade later, Spielberg's E.T. was the highest grossing motion picture of all time. And it doesn't take a genius to figure out why. Made for only $10.5 million, 10% of which solely dedicated to the alien creature puppets and various animatronics, E.T. has become such a iconic pop mainstay that the films trademark image of the alien flying across the moon in the bicycle basket has actually become synonymous with Amblin Entertainment. Again, a deft formula is in place here...a child-centric, family oriented sci-fi adventure that appeals widely, with characters and a genuine heartbeat that everyone can get a pulse of. It's a wildly successful marriage of art and commerce, of the challenging and the palatable. So much so that of all the movies being feted on this list, SUPER 8 seems most reminiscent of this and THE GOONIES, what with the whole adventurous suburban childhood element.

#4. BACK TO THE FUTURE - ROBERT ZEMECKIS (1985) 

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"Wha..wha..is it hot?" Bob Zemeckis' 1985 time-travel opus is probably the one film I've seen more than any without actually owning a copy. Still, I'll quote this shite verbatim! In fact, the more I see it, the more I'm inclined to say BACK TO THE FUTURE is a perfect film. It has everything: action, adventure, drama, comedy, romance, sci-fi, even Oedipal horror...all woven together in a cogent and highly enthralling 116 minutes. Things that are set up early on (like the clock tower) are so effortlessly paid off as the story unfolds, nothing ever seems forced or contrived. Then there's the excellently drawn characters, the memorable one-liners and visual iconography (Delorean as a time machine), all anchored by a 23 year old Michael J. Fox (who turns 50 this week...happy b-day Mike). It's pretty crazy to think Zemeckis and company actually shot for four weeks with Eric Stoltz cast as Marty McFly. I love the Stoltz and all, but seriously, can you imagine anyone other than Fox playing the part?

#3. THE GOONIES - RICHARD DONNER (1985) 

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Yes it's only number three on this here litany, but truth be told, THE GOONIES is probably my all time favorite Amblin film. Hell, it's gotta be in my top ten all time. This and STAND BY ME, the two films that utterly defined my childhood. What I think works so well about the rollicking action-adventure is that, no matter what age you are when watching it, Richard Donner's direction does such a wonderful job of making you feel like a kid. And not just any kid, a Goonie. You really become immersed into the gang. A gang comprised of misfits and castoffs, which is important distinction given that we all tended to watch this film growing up, during our formative years. Therefore, the film's message of "be who you are" or "be proud of who you are" is one that, through osmosis, seeps into your psyche at an early age. It subconsciously instills a valuable lesson while you're attention is diverted by first rate entertainment. Damn I love this movie!

#2. SAVING PRIVATE RYAN - STEVEN SPIELBERG (1998)


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I distinctly recall sneaking beers into the Arlington theater in Santa Barbara when I was 15 to watch, what I would later realize is one of the all time great war pictures, Steven Spielberg's WWII epic SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. Pun aside, I was blown away. Teeming with an all-star lineup, Spielberg brings such a level of verisimilitude to his recount of the Normandy Landings and subsequent search for a displaced soldier that it's pretty much become the measuring stick used to gauge all other war stories. The film earned Spielberg his second Directing Oscar, and also won Best Screenplay, Cinematography, Editing and Sound Editing. Interestingly, SAVING PRIVATE RYAN was released in late July of 1998, smack dab in the dead of summer. Simply another testament to how Amblin can simultaneously usher in artistic statements and commercial entertainment. 206 bodies counted, 40 barrels of fake blood allocated, as Hanks' character says at the end...SAVING PRIVATE RYAN "earns this" place among Amblin's elite.

#1. SCHINDLER'S LIST - STEVEN SPIELBERG (1993)

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1993 was a huge year for Mr. Spielberg. Six months after shattering box-office records (his own) with JURASSIC PARK, he assembled one of the most powerful and prestigious films ever committed to celluloid. Not only is SCHINDLER'S LIST an awe-inspiring technical achievement, from the impeccable performances to the spot on period-direction, it also recounts perhaps the single greatest human atrocity this planet has ever seen; the holocaust. Profoundly moving, emotionally exigent, SCHINDLER'S LIST won seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Director, Writer, Editing, Music, Cinematography and Art Direction. The fact that Amblin Entertainment went from populist blockbuster fare to high-art prestige pictures, all in the span of a dozen years, not only says a lot about what the adroit capabilities Spielberg has as a filmmaker, but how in tune with what audiences are willing and able to experience. As Affleck says in JAY AND SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK, "you do the safe picture, then you do the art-house picture." Spielberg has mastered this balance!

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1:06PM on 06/04/2011
The Goonies deserves its high billing because it so perfectly captures the 'Amblin feel.' The ideal growing up adventure comedy. The innocent wonderment of E.T. crossed with the swearing, dead bodies, and Corey Feldman of Stand By Me. The glow of that lantern just instantly takes me to a better place.
The Goonies deserves its high billing because it so perfectly captures the 'Amblin feel.' The ideal growing up adventure comedy. The innocent wonderment of E.T. crossed with the swearing, dead bodies, and Corey Feldman of Stand By Me. The glow of that lantern just instantly takes me to a better place.
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6:56PM on 06/03/2011
The Goonies over E,T. and Jurassic Park and Back to the Future....AND Gremlins??? Are you nuts!? Goonies is WAY over rated. It is actually a very bad film. I can understand the generational gap on people liking it but it is in NO WAY better than those 4.
The Goonies over E,T. and Jurassic Park and Back to the Future....AND Gremlins??? Are you nuts!? Goonies is WAY over rated. It is actually a very bad film. I can understand the generational gap on people liking it but it is in NO WAY better than those 4.
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4:55PM on 06/03/2011
The Indiana Jones movies were Lucasfilm fellas, not Amblin.
The Indiana Jones movies were Lucasfilm fellas, not Amblin.
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4:15PM on 06/03/2011

would've changed a few

Don't get me wrong this is a solid list no matter which way you look at it. there isn't a dud included, but I kinda thought or at least hoped (as a previous poster mentioned) that this would be the more "magical" or genre Amblin movies. As amazing and classic as they are, Saving Private ryan( a personal fave) and Schindlers List feel odd here. And have to agree - WTF on Indy?;-P
Don't get me wrong this is a solid list no matter which way you look at it. there isn't a dud included, but I kinda thought or at least hoped (as a previous poster mentioned) that this would be the more "magical" or genre Amblin movies. As amazing and classic as they are, Saving Private ryan( a personal fave) and Schindlers List feel odd here. And have to agree - WTF on Indy?;-P
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3:18PM on 06/03/2011

close

I would totally agree with the movies on this list but not in the same order. Was Saving Private Ryan better than Back to the Future? Really? Which one would you rather watch right now? Also, I think you put Schindler's List at #1 because you felt peer pressure. Don't give in!
I would totally agree with the movies on this list but not in the same order. Was Saving Private Ryan better than Back to the Future? Really? Which one would you rather watch right now? Also, I think you put Schindler's List at #1 because you felt peer pressure. Don't give in!
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1:15PM on 06/03/2011
Again, I'd have left off Ryan and Schindler (since they're obviously the best movies on the list) in favor of movies that were more evocative of what we love about Amblin. Who Framed Roger Rabbit, An American Tail, The Money Pit.
Again, I'd have left off Ryan and Schindler (since they're obviously the best movies on the list) in favor of movies that were more evocative of what we love about Amblin. Who Framed Roger Rabbit, An American Tail, The Money Pit.
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+2
12:57PM on 06/03/2011
Great list. I would personally put E.T. at #1, but other than that it's great. And for anyone who complains about Raiders or Jaws not appearing on the list, they were Spielberg movies but not Amblin movies.

Also, Private Ryan didn't win screenplay, it's fifth oscar was for sound mixing (it won both sound awards)
Great list. I would personally put E.T. at #1, but other than that it's great. And for anyone who complains about Raiders or Jaws not appearing on the list, they were Spielberg movies but not Amblin movies.

Also, Private Ryan didn't win screenplay, it's fifth oscar was for sound mixing (it won both sound awards)
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12:33PM on 06/03/2011
Great list! This is for the company Spielberg started, he was directing for Paramount when he did the Indy films so they couldn't make this list.
Great list! This is for the company Spielberg started, he was directing for Paramount when he did the Indy films so they couldn't make this list.
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11:15AM on 06/03/2011

Indiana Jones

This is a good list, however I think Raiders of The Lost Arc or The last Crusade should have been included.
This is a good list, however I think Raiders of The Lost Arc or The last Crusade should have been included.
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10:18AM on 06/03/2011
if this list could get one more entry, I'd probably add "Raiders Of The Lost Ark" somewhere, but oddly enough i agreed with every entry on the list.
if this list could get one more entry, I'd probably add "Raiders Of The Lost Ark" somewhere, but oddly enough i agreed with every entry on the list.
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