This week sees the latest movie release from one of the true greats of cinema, with legendary director Steven Spielberg’s cold war thriller Bridge Of Spies hitting UK cinemas.
The film has been picking up rave reviews, and looks to continue the director’s near flawless, 50-year big screen output.
But Spielberg’s not just one of the best creatives to grace the entertainment industries: he is also one of the most prolific, offering his name to a wide variety of projects both behind the camera and in other areas.
As well as the list of classics films he has directed, there are countless projects he has been involved in, both in cinema and beyond – and some will surprise you.
Here are some of the most surprising projects Steven Spielberg has ever been involved with.
The Prince of Egypt (1998)
Through his position as co-founder of DreamWorks, Spielberg has a lot of unlikely executive producer credits under his belt. A lot of them uncredited too.
The Prince of Egypt came at a time when DreamWorks were making a concerted effort to match the brilliance of Disney’s animated classics (and coming rather close) towards the end of the nineties. Films like The Road To El Dorado matched beautiful hand drawn animation with irreverent humour to keep both adults and kids entertained.
The Prince of Egypt was the first real stab at an animated take on a classic story for the company, and was overseen by Spielberg and executive producer Jeffrey Katzenberg, after Spielberg quipped “you ought to do the Ten Commandments” during a highly professional meeting in the director’s living room.
Just Like Heaven (2005)
Perhaps even more surprising is Spielberg’s involvement in this mid-noughties piece of rom-com fluff.
Uncredited once more as executive producer (presumably in an effort not to blight his CV), Spielberg obtained the rights to produce this film from Marc Levy’s novel If Only It Were True, before handing over directorial duties to Mean Girls director Mark Waters.
If there was one thing the film did do well, it was the debunking of a widely believed urban myth that Jon Heder had died shortly after filming Napoleon Dynamite.
Paranormal Activity (2009)
Paranormal Activity‘s endless sequels and gimmicky jump-scares have turned the franchise into ‘just another annual Halloween release’, so it’s hard to remember that the original’s static-cam found-footage shtick was genuinely terrifying, with audience’s eyes scanning the tableau in front of them for the ‘activity’ they knew was coming their way.
But it’s unlkely that this low-budget horror flick, shot on a strict seven-day time frame and fiercely independent, would even have made it to the big screen were it not for Spielberg’s involvement.
When a DVD copy of an early cut landed on his desk, it impressed Spielberg so much (he had to stop watching the film halfway through as he was genuinely spooked by the experience, and completed it in daylight hours the next day), that he cut a deal with director Oren Peli to rejig the film for a wider release, tweaking the film’s ending to suit larger audiences. The original can still be found on the film’s DVD extras.
This comedic tale of alien lifeforms with a metabolism rate so high they are able to evolve into more and more outlandish creatures at terrifying speed, is often forgotten in the pantheon of sci-fi.
It’s not surprising, given the film’s decidedly B-movie tone, and the fact that it’s short-lived, Saturday morning cartoon series is arguably more fondly remembered than the film itself.
Spielberg once again served as an uncredited executive producer, pumping funds into a film that probably won’t be remembered as one of his best projects.
Transformers series (2007 – )
While it’s no secret that Spielberg serves as executive producer behind the Michael Bay directed franchise of gargantuan robots smashing themselves into things, it’s made all the more surprising by the divisive nature of the films.
The first one was passable, and its admittedly great special effects have carried on through the three sequels we’ve seen since. They’ve just become so bloated; so indulgently long that thin plots are stretched to breaking point, and only so much dodgy scripting can gloss over the fact that it’s all style over substance.
Still, as long as they keep raking in inordinate amounts of money at the box office, they’ll keep coming. And this’ll be our reaction.
Before the Shrek franchise went way overboard with the pop culture references, and sacrificed quality in favour of casting Jonathon Ross as an ugly stepsister, the series was the jewel in DreamWorks’ animated crown.
It’s strange to think executive producer Spielberg had a hand in creating the over-the-top fairytale world, but the director had actually been keen to adapt the picture book Shrek! for the big screen for almost a decade prior to the film’s release, acquiring the rights in 1991.
That was years before DreamWorks was even founded. So the vision was a long work in progress.
LEGO MovieMaker Kit (2000)
You see stop-motion animated LEGO movies crop up on YouTube all the time. Whether it’s the latest trailers re-imagined in brick form or something entirely original, many out there are left thinking how great it’d be to make one of their own, if only they had easy access to the right equipment.
It’s exactly that market that LEGO were tapping into in with the release of the MovieMaker set, a Spielberg endorsed and branded package that came with a LEGO webcam, the necessary filming and editing software, and a LEGO film set to play out your creations on.
Taking cues from some of Spielberg’s greatest hits (dinosaur themes were common), the set also included a rare minifigure of the director himself. Technology overtook the whole idea and now “Brickfilms” are accomplishable with even the simplest of smartphones. We’ve got a set lying in the bottom of a wardrobe somewhere. Best get on eBay.
Medal of Honor series (1999 – )
It’s not just in the world of film where Spielberg has made an impact.
There was a time when World War II shooters based on real-life events were all the rage in gaming. Two major series survived side-by-side; Medal Of Honor rubbing shoulders symbiotically with Call Of Duty. Then the latter upped the Michael Bay factor with its Modern Warfare franchise, jumped everything forward 100 years and Medal of Honor was left behind.
Despite a fairly unsuccessful rebooting campaign a few years ago, we’ve not heard much from the forgotten shooter. Which is a shame, because its first few entries were racking up review scores in the 9-out-of-10 region at the turn of the millennium, helped in part by compelling stories devised and written by none-other than Spielberg himself, credited as a co-creator of the franchise. Spielberg’s hefty knowledge of the conflict was evidenced through films like Saving Private Ryan, but not many would have predicted that expertise could make such a successful jump to video games.
Steven Spielberg’s Directors Chair (1996)
As part of the fledgling CD-ROM medium, many developers began experimenting with ways in which PC games could be presented. This led to a surge in so-called FMV (Full Motion Video) games, a sub-genre of adventure gaming in which all of the scenes were pre-filmed, and the player’s choices progressed them through the story, determining which scenes they were able to see next.
Most of the time these were low-budget and hilariously shonky, thanks in part to amateurish acting and production values. Steven Spielberg’s Director’s Chair managed to be both of these things, despite featuring a plethora of Hollywood names on both sides of the camera.
This game had you ‘creating’ your own film under the guidance of Spielberg; filming, and editing pre-generated clips featuring Jennifer Aniston, Quentin Tarantino and other big names, and is fondly remembered as a bit of a cult classic.
Boom Blox (2007)
When it was announced in 2005 that Spielberg and EA were to team up to collaborate on a series of new video games, many were intrigued to see what the results would be.
Few could have predicted the unveiling of Boom Blox, a puzzle game for the Wii in which players use physics based objects to collapse towers, or prevent them from falling.
Spielberg served as a designer on the project, wanting to “create a video game that I could play with my kids” and “show [them] they can have fun playing games that are non-violent and much more creative and strategic”. Fair enough then.