Steven Spielberg is one of the most prolific filmmakers of all time. He rose to prominence in the New Hollywood movement of the 1970s when he defined the summer blockbuster. Unlike many of his New Hollywood peers, Spielberg remains just as popular and relevant today.
Whether he’s telling the story of a theme park full of cloned dinosaurs or a 25-foot great white shark terrorizing a seaside town or an archeologist-turned-explorer seeking the fabled Ark of the Covenant, Spielberg tends to conclude his movies with big, spectacular set-pieces that capture the audience’s imagination.
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The made-for-TV gem that put Spielberg on the map, Duel, is essentially a feature-length car chase, so the whole movie feels like a climax. A man commuting across the Mojave Desert for business – aptly named Mann – runs afoul of the largely unseen driver of a tractor-trailer who starts relentlessly pursuing him.
This cat-and-mouse chase comes to a head in the big finale when Mann tricks the truck driver into careening over the edge of a cliff.
9 Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom
The most thrilling action sequence in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is the mine cart chase, but the climactic set-piece that follows is a close second. Indy, Willie, and Short Round flee from the Thuggee cult across a rickety rope bridge suspended over crocodile-infested waters.
Then, just when they think they’re in the clear, Mola Ram and his thugs corner them from both sides. Seeing no other option, Indy chops the bridge in half and the heroes and villains dangle from the cliff.
8 West Side Story
Not only did Spielberg’s remake of West Side Story manage to live up to the classic original; it actually surpassed it in many ways – including its depiction of the darkest scene in the musical. The climax of Spielberg’s West Side Story is handled much more subtly and sensitively than the heavy-handed original.
As per the original, Spielberg’s revamp culminates in Tony dying in Maria’s arms. Thanks to Rachel Zegler’s impeccable delivery, the emotions of Maria’s final monologue ring true.
7 Bridge Of Spies
Spielberg’s spy caper Bridge of Spies culminates in the prisoner exchange. This is a suitably tense showdown, but it’s also an emotional moment as Soviet spy Rudolf Abel bids farewell to his American lawyer James B. Donovan.
The beauty of this movie is that it starts off as a standard Cold War thriller and ends up telling the story of an unlikely friendship, played with heartfelt sincerity by a perfectly matched Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance.
6 Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade
The biggest, baddest, boldest set-piece in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is the tank chase. The climactic scene that follows isn’t very action-packed, but it’s still iconic and engaging. Indy races through the temple housing the Holy Grail so he can save his father’s life and ends up face-to-face with the ghost of the knight guarding it.
As the temple crumbles, Indy’s father inspires him to let go of fortune and glory and embrace what really matters: his family and friends. Riding off into the sunset would’ve been the perfect ending for Indiana Jones’ story if Spielberg could resist making a fourth movie.
5 Saving Private Ryan
Nothing in Spielberg’s World War II epic Saving Private Ryan lives up to the visceral opening D-Day sequence. But the intense climactic set-piece comes close. This scene has tanks and fighter planes, but it never loses sight of the characters and their relationships.
Captain Miller gets one of Spielberg’s most deeply affecting death scenes as he tells Ryan to earn the sacrifices that his fellow soldiers made to save him.
4 Jurassic Park
The two most exciting sequences in Jurassic Park are the T. rex’s escape and the velociraptors’ attack in the kitchen. The climactic set-piece brings these two monsters together and solidifies the movie’s message of “Life… uh… finds a way.” As the survivors flee from the raptors, the T. rex arrives to take care of them.
After John Hammond played God and endangered his grandchildren’s lives, nature found a way to sort itself out. The T. rex’s roar is brilliantly punctuated with the falling “When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth” banner.
3 E.T. The Extra Terrestrial
After the titular alien is captured by the government in E.T. the Extra Terrestrial, Elliott and his friends break him out and race their bikes down to the mothership so they can send him home. Along the way, E.T. makes the kids’ bikes fly past a full moon in one of cinema’s most recognizable images.
The real climax is E.T.’s heartbreaking farewell with Elliott. This scene is a real tearjerker. Only Spielberg could make audiences care this much about a slimy otherworldly creature.
2 Raiders Of The Lost Ark
In the terrifying climactic sequence of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indy’s first adventure, the Nazis incur the wrath of God by opening the Ark and unleashing the vengeful spirits within.
This scene pushes the boundaries of the PG rating with exploding heads and melting faces. This ending has been criticized because Indy himself has nothing to do with the resolution of the conflict. But it’s still an undeniably spectacular sequence.
Quint’s Indianapolis speech acts as the “calm before the storm” in the final act of Jaws. Shortly thereafter, the shark returns to take down the Orca. Quint is eaten alive, Hooper is trapped in a cage at the bottom of the ocean, and Chief Brody finds himself on a sinking boat with limited options. He shoves an air tank in the shark’s mouth, climbs up to a vantage point, and shoots the tank.
Brody signs off with a cool action hero one-liner: “Smile, you son of a b***h!” In the film’s glorious climactic money shot, the shark explodes into a million pieces. Not only does Brody vanquish the great white that’s been terrorizing Amity Island; he conquers his fear of the ocean.
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About The Author
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Ben Sherlock is a writer, comedian, independent filmmaker, and Burt Reynolds enthusiast. He writes lists for Screen Rant and features and reviews for Game Rant. He’s currently in pre-production on his first feature (and has been for a while, because filmmaking is expensive). You can catch him performing standup at odd pubs around the UK that will give him stage time. Previously, he wrote for Taste of Cinema, Comic Book Resources, and BabbleTop.
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