How great is Spielberg?

I'm about to feed a monster into my auteur machine.

My Picture Palace Auteur Meter (PPAM for short) is a formula I have created to rate movie directors by comparing their longevity, productivity, box office, critical consensus and, natch, my opinion of them.

Here is the formula:

It's essentially a way to reduce art to a single, arbitrary and utterly meaningless number.

The machine has already delivered PPAM ratings for Tim Burton, Oliver Stone and Quentin Tarantino, but right now I'm going to process the career of a Hollywood giant - Steven Spielberg.

But, before we start, I have tweaked the PPAM a little. I will now use inflation-adjusted box office figures for the formula, which will shift the current ratings for Stone, Burton and Tarantino up a little. It was an idea suggested in the comments forum and I think it's a good plan, especially when we are considering careers that span decades.

Second, rather magnanimously, I will offer a me-free PPAM rating for each director. This will be called the AM and will sit next to the proper rating.

Right, so, let's crank up the PPAMbulator.

Here is Spielberg's filmography:

2012 Lincoln 

2011 War Horse 

2011 The Adventures of Tintin 

2008 Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull 

2005 Munich 

2005 War of the Worlds 

2004 The Terminal 

2002 Catch Me If You Can 

2002 Minority Report 

2001 A.I. Artificial Intelligence 

1998 Saving Private Ryan 

1997 Amistad 

1997 The Lost World: Jurassic Park 

1993 Schindler's List 

1993 Jurassic Park 

1991 Hook 

1989 Always 

1989 Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade 

1987 Empire of the Sun  

1985 The Color Purple 

1984 Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom 

1982 E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial 

1981 Raiders of the Lost Ark 

1979 1941 

1977 Close Encounters of the Third Kind 

1975 Jaws 

1974 The Sugarland Express 


A couple of points, I'm not including the Twilight Zone movie segment as only whole movies count and I'm starting the filmography with Sugarland Express, even though the marvellous Duel got a theatrical release in the UK and elsewhere.

So that is 27 films in 38 years. Big numbers.

This gives Spielberg a longevity rating (Lo) of 38, one for each year of being a productive director.

Lo = 38

Then we calculate his productivity rating (Pr) by dividing the number of films by the Lo rating and multiplying that figure by 100.

Pr = 71

Then we take Spielberg's total inflation-adjusted box office and divide that by the number of films to find his box office average per film. This is divided by 1,000,000 to create his box office rating.

Bo = 305.98

That is huge.

In the formula, these three figures are added together and divided by three.

Next, we take the average critical score for a Spielberg film on Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes, both websites that take a lot of film reviews and aggregate them into a single score.

So the average Spielberg movie gets 73 per cent on Metacritic and 79 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes.

Mc = 73

To = 79

These are very big figures across the board.

Then we get to my critical rating of Spielberg. Here is my rough ranking of his movies, with their rough percentage ratings:


Saving Private Ryan (100)

Jurassic Park (100)

Schindler's List (100)

Raiders of the Lost Ark (100)

Jaws (100)

ET (100)

Temple of Doom (100)

Empire of the Sun (100)

Last Crusade (100)

The Color Purple (100)


Tintin (80)

War Horse (80)

War of the Worlds (80)

Catch Me if You Can (80)

Minority Report (80)

AI (80)

Close Encounters (80)

The Sugarland Express (80)


Crystal Skull (60)

Munich (60)

The Terminal (60)

Amistad (60)

Hook (60)

1941 (60)


Always (40)

Lost World (40)



Phew. That was hard work. Way, way more good than bad in that filmography. Dividing my total rating by the number of films gives Spielberg an average rating of 80.

Me = 80.

So here are all the values for the formula - 

Lo - No of years between first film and latest = 38

Pr - Films per year divided by productive years x 100 = 71

Bo - Average box office per film - 305

Mc - Metacritic average career rating per film- 73

To - Rotten Tomatoes average rating per film  - 79

Me - My average rating for a Spielberg film - 80

And here is how they look in the final formula, complete with the highest ever PAAM rating:

Spielberg gets a huge 92.78 on the PPAM. Hard to beat.

And here is how he sits in the new, inflation-adjusted, PPAM Index.

PPAM Index

Steven Spielberg - 92.78

Quentin Tarantino - 78.30

Tim Burton - 72.58

Oliver Stone - 61.77

And here is the AM Index

Steven Spielberg - 94.11

Quentin Tarantino - 75.24

Tim Burton - 71.78

Oliver Stone - 57.78

I think Spielberg deserves to be at the top of the PPAM Index. He has a score that befits his stature.

Spielberg is too easily dismissed or underrated, but look at that filmography. What other director of our generation has so consistently created great movies? What other director could come out with Schindler's List and Jurassic Park in the same year? Nearly 40 years into his career and he is still directing great films like Catch Me If You Can, AI, War Horse and War of the Worlds.

Even Indiana Jones 4 proved that, even with the dead hand of George Lucas involved, Spielberg still knows how to tell a cool story.

If you want proof of Spielberg's longevity, have a look at this graph.

The red line is his Rotten Tomatoes average and the blue line is his inflation-adjusted box office.

Two interesting things stand out.

First, Spielberg has only ever had two monster, crossover, runaway era-defining hits - Jaws and ET. His films have done well ever since, particularly Jurassic Park, but they were not $1b monsters that crossed into popular culture like those two films.

Also, you can see from that graph that his box office has been pretty much in line with his critical reception. So much for the split between critics and audiences, with Spielberg they have been on the money. The red line shadows the blue line.

So, what do you think of my rating? Do you think Spielberg deserves to be top of the list so far? What's your favourite Spielberg film? Have I rated his movies fairly?

For the record, my favourite Spielberg film has to be Raiders. (Discuss.)

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