‘1941’ and a ranking of Spielberg films


Image copyright Universal Pictures/Columbia Pictures

The Enzian Theater in Maitland, Florida, will screen Steven Spielberg’s 1941 (4 stars) tonight at 9:30 p.m., in glorious 35mm (or not so glorious, depending on the quality of the print). It’s arguably the genius director’s only cult film, thanks to its quirky, below-the-radar, love-it-or-hate-it appeal.

The comedy, which was released in 1979 to mixed reviews, is a parody of the paranoia that broke out briefly in California following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Convinced that the Japanese are ready to invade the U.S. mainland, residents and the military overact to the perceived threat in increasingly hilarious ways.

The production is memorable for its Oscar-nominated (traditional) visual effects and its all-star cast, which includes Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Christopher Lee, Robert Stack, Slim Pickens, John Candy, John Landis, Mickey Rourke, Patti LuPone, Lorraine Gary, Ned Beatty and the scene-stealing Eddie Deezen as a ventriloquist stuck on a Ferris wheel. (Yes, really.) And look for clever references to Spielberg’s Duel and Jaws.

The film has two theatrical versions. A 146-minute cut was previewed in 1979 but was immediately cut to 118 minutes for wide release. That original version has since been re-rereleased on DVD and Blu-ray as the “director’s cut.” The Enzian is screening the 118-minute version tonight, according to Tim Anderson, programming coordinator.

If you’re curious about where 1941 fits in with the other films in the Spielberg pantheon, see the list below, which represents my attempt to rank and rate all 30 of the director’s theatrically released feature-length films. Yes, Duel got a theatrical release, though it was first seen as an ABC Movie of the Week. (This list does not include the partially lost Firelight, made for $500, when Spielberg was 17 years old.)

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (5 stars), 1977/80
Jaws (seventh-highest-grossing movie in the U.S., adjusted to inflation) (5 stars), 1975
Duel (5 stars), 1971
Saving Private Ryan (4 ¾ stars), 1998
Schindler’s List (only Spielberg film to win the Best Picture Oscar) (4 ¾ stars), 1993
E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (fourth-highest-grossing movie in the U.S., adjusted to inflation) (4 ¾ stars), 1982
Jurassic Park (4 ¾ stars), 1993
Raiders of the Lost Ark (with creative producer George Lucas) (4 ¾ stars), 1981
Empire of the Sun (4 ¾ stars), 1987
A.I. (4 ½ stars), 2001
Bridge of Spies (4 ½ stars), 2015
Catch Me If You Can (4 ¼ stars), 2002
Minority Report (4 ¼ stars), 2002
Munich (4 ¼ stars), 2005
1941 (premiere/extended version) (4 stars), 1979
Lincoln (4 stars), 2012
War of the Worlds (4 stars), 2005
Amistad (4 stars), 1997
The Adventures of Tintin (3-D version) (4 stars), 2011
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (3 ¾ stars), 1989
War Horse (3 ¾ stars), 2011
The Color Purple (3 ¾ stars), 1985
The Terminal (3 ¼ stars), 2004
Always (3 ¼ stars), 1989
Twilight Zone: The Movie (one of four directors) (3 stars), 1983
The Sugarland Express (3 stars), 1974
Hook (2 ¼ stars), 1991
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (2 stars), 1984
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (1 ½ stars), 2008
The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1 ½ stars), 1997

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