Rejecting offers to direct ‘Jaws 2’, ‘King Kong’ and ‘Superman’, Spielberg and actor Richard Dreyfuss re-convened to work on a film about UFO’s, which became ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ (1977). One of the rare films both written and directed by Spielberg, Close Encounters was a critical and box office hit, giving Spielberg his first Best Director nomination from the Academy as well as earning six other Academy Award nominations. It won Oscars in two categories (Cinematography, Vilmos Zsigmond, and a Special Achievement Award for Sound Effects Editing, Frank E. Warner). This second blockbuster helped to secure Spielberg’s rise. However, his next film, ‘1941’, a big-budgeted World War II farce, was not nearly as successful and though it grossed over $92.4 million dollars worldwide (and did make a small profit for co-producing studios Columbia and Universal) it was seen as a disappointment, mainly with the critics.
Spielberg then revisited his Close Encounters project and, with financial backing from Columbia Pictures, released Close Encounters: The Special Edition in 1980. For this, Spielberg fixed some of the flaws he thought impeded the original 1977 version of the film and also, at the behest of Columbia, and as a condition of Spielberg revising the film, shot additional footage showing the audience the interior of the mothership seen at the end of the film (a decision Spielberg would later regret as he felt the interior of the mothership should have remained a mystery). Nevertheless, the re-release was a moderate success, while the 2001 DVD release of the film restored the original ending.
Next, Spielberg teamed with Star Wars creator and friend George Lucas on an action adventure film, ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark‘ (1981), the first of the Indiana Jones films. The archaeologist and adventurer hero Indiana Jones was played by Harrison Ford. The film was considered an homage to the cliffhanger serials of the Golden Age of Hollywood. It became the biggest film at the box office in 1981, and the recipient of numerous Oscar nominations including Best Director (Spielberg’s second nomination) and Best Picture (the second Spielberg film to be nominated for Best Picture). Raiders is still considered a landmark example of the action-adventure genre. The film also led to Ford’s casting in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner.
A year later, Spielberg returned to the science fiction genre with ‘E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial’ (1982). It was the story of a young boy and the alien he befriends, who was accidentally left behind by his companions and is attempting to return home. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial went on to become the top-grossing film of all time. E.T. was also nominated for nine Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director.
Between 1982 and 1985, Spielberg produced three high-grossing films: ‘Poltergeist’ (1982), for which he also co-wrote the screenplay; a big-screen adaptation of ‘The Twilight Zone’ (1983), for which he directed the segment “Kick The Can”; and ‘The Goonies’ (1984) on which he was executive producer and also wrote the story on which the screenplay was based.
His next directorial feature was the Raiders prequel ‘Indiana Jones & the Temple of Doom’ (1984). Teaming up once again with Lucas and Ford, the film was plagued with uncertainty for the material and script. This film and the Spielberg-produced Gremlins led to the creation of the PG-13 rating due to the high level of violence in films targeted at younger audiences. In spite of this, Temple of Doom is rated PG by the MPAA, even though it is the darkest and, possibly, most violent Indy film. Nonetheless, the film was still a huge blockbuster hit in 1984. It was on this project that Spielberg also met his future wife, actress Kate Capshaw.
In 1985, Spielberg released ‘The Color Purple’, an adaptation of Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name, about a generation of empowered African-American women during depression-era America. Starring Whoopi Goldberg and future talk-show superstar Oprah Winfrey, the film was a box office smash and critics hailed Spielberg’s successful foray into the dramatic genre. Roger Ebert proclaimed it the best film of the year and later entered it into his Great Films archive. The film received eleven Academy Award nominations, including two for Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey. However, much to the surprise of many, Spielberg did not get a Best Director nomination.
In 1987, as China began opening to Western capital investment, Spielberg shot the first American film in Shanghai since the 1930s, an adaptation of J. G. Ballard’s autobiographical novel ‘Empire of the Sun’ (1987) starring John Malkovich and a young Christian Bale. The film garnered much praise from critics and was nominated for several Oscars, but did not yield substantial box office revenues. I’s one of y favourite Spielberg films and was one of the best films of the year.