‘The Next Spielberg’ – Motion Picture Thoughts #8


Every means of entertainment has a couple of greats. The next Michael Jordan – the next Elvis Presley – the next Lionel Messi. I’m sure there are a number of ‘nexts’ you can come up with at the drop of a hat. Today, I want to discuss the label ‘the next Spielberg’, which I’ve seen thrown around a lot. Some times it’s gift, and some times it turns out to be a curse. What is in the Spielberg-name? What does it mean to be the next Spielberg? And… Well, who is the next Spielberg? 

The one thing that athletes always say when compared to the greats is that they are their own thing. I like how people think when they make that argument. I like that people feel they are unique. But let’s be honest, we have been in the sound era of films for almost 90 years (beginning in 1927) – at this point you’re inspired by something you’ve seen before. Most things you come up with have been seen before. Trends may change, and artists may come up with new guidelines or techniques – but being compared to the greats is a compliment, it is not limiting your talent whatsoever.

Spielberg is an excellent director, I don’t think he is the best of all-time, but he is an excellent director. He is always able to get the most out of the actors on set, he knows how to build a story, he is one of the best storytellers of all-time, and he is able to both create thrilling critically acclaimed films, and films that appeal to the public.

Jaws (1975); Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981); E. T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982); The Color Purple (1985); Jurassic Park (1993); Schindler’s List (1993); Saving Private Ryan (1998): Those are just some of the excellent films Spielberg has made – just some of them. You can’t argue with that resume.

Spielberg has also served as a producer on a ton of films, with some of the following even marketing the movie as having been produced by him: Real Steel (2011); Cowboys & Aliens (2011); Super 8 (2011); The Mask of Zorro (1998); Men in Black (1997). So, I’ve heard two people having been referred to as the next Spielberg, so let’s get to them, and see if the moniker fits.

The Next Spielberg

Was M. Night Shyamalan the next Spielberg?

Newsweek once called M. Night Shyamalan the next Spielberg. As far as I’m aware, Shyamalan had just released Signs (2002), when he became tied to the great Steven Spielberg. Now, why am I phrasing the above question in past tense? Well, let’s be honest: after having been called the next Spielberg by Newsweek, he would end up directing five less-than-pleasing films, to put it kindly: The Village (2004); Lady in the Water (2006); The Happening (2008); The Last Airbender (2010); After Earth (2013).

After that run of films, you cannot call him the next Spielberg – but I’ll say that The Sixth Sense (1999), Unbreakable (2000), and Signs (2002) are three remarkable films, and I probably would’ve put him on my directors-to-keep-an-eye-on-list if it existed in the early 2000s. He definitely had the potential to be ‘the next Spielberg’, but he didn’t quite make the cut after having one of the worst run of films from 2004 to 2013. But he is a great storyteller, and he seems to be rebuilding his reputation with his newest film, The Visit (2015), which I actually really liked.

Is J. J. Abrams the next Spielberg?

This is the candidate that makes the most sense to me. And it is very appropriate that his successor (though one could question if we need one) should be a fan of his, who just happens to have become a friend of his. J. J. Abrams’s films appeal to the moviegoing public, he is a great storyteller, and he is incredibly talented. Abrams has had his hand in both creating (Cloverfield) and reviving (Star Trek; Star Wars) huge franchises. He is probably more famous for producing, though.

Abrams has produced (not written or directed) movies like 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016) and Infinitely Polar Bear (2014), but, as a producer, you probably know him better for his involvement in television shows like Felicity, Alias, Lost, Fringe, Person of Interest, Alcatraz, and Almost Human.

A solid storyteller, a prolific producer, and a huge talent. But there’s something missing for him to be a new Spielberg. He might be a recognizable name with audiences, but he has yet to steal the hearts of Academy Award voters. His films have, so far, mainly been gigantic blockbusters. But even though he may not be ‘The New Spielberg’, he could still be ‘The Next Spielberg’. Only time will tell.

Well, who is the next Spielberg? Sound off in the comments.

– I’m Jeffrey Rex

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