One of the most successful and important films that Steven Spielberg did not direct but executive produced was Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), which made so much money that it led to a major increase in the investment and the budgets for animated films. That combined with the success of Amblin’s An American Tail (1987) and The Land Before Time (1988) led Spielberg to found Amblimation in 1989. Amblimation made the films An American Tail: Fieval Goes West (1991), We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story (1993) and Balto (1995) for Universal, before the studio closed in 1997 and the animation crew made a shift to DreamWorks, a studio which Spielberg founded in 1994 along with former Disney chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg and record executive David Geffen to self-distribute their own films. DreamWorks had a lot of success with animation thanks to movies like Shrek, but Spielberg had more success with animation on television with Warner Bros., thanks to Tiny Toon Adventures, Animaniacs, Pinky and the Brain and Freakazoid!, all brilliant and hilarious television series which were aimed primarily at kids but could be enjoyed by anyone.
Spielberg’s directorial follow-up to Always (1989) was the fantasy swashbuckler Hook (1991) inspired by the J.M. Barrie book Peter and Wendy and starring Robin Williams as an adult Peter Pan who has lost touch with his inner child and learns to embrace it again when he returns to Neverland after Captain Hook (Dustin Hoffman) kidnaps his children. It received a mixed response from critics and even Spielberg himself grew to become disappointed with how it turned out, but it was a success at the box office and it does have a cult following, so the opinion from moviegoers over whether or not it is a good movie is largely divided.
But Spielberg’s bigger box office success was Jurassic Park (1993), which surpassed Spielberg’s 1982 sci-fi spectacle E.T. the Extra Terrestrial as the highest-grossing film ever made at the time of its release. Based on the book by Michael Crichton, the film tells the story of a wealthy businessman (Richard Attenborough) who teams up with genetic scientists to create a wildlife park of dinosaur clones, before it all goes horribly wrong. The cast also included Sam Neill, Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum. Not only did it earn critical praise for its story but it was also a landmark in animatronic and computer-generated visual effects for its believable portrayal of dinosaurs. The movie’s popularity led to the sequel The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997) also directed by Spielberg, and Jurassic Park III (2001) directed by Joe Johnston, as well as the current Jurassic World trilogy.
Spielberg was responsible for directing the biggest blockbuster of 1993 and amazingly he was also responsible for directing the Oscar winner for Best Picture that same year. Based on Thomas Kinnealy’s 1982 historical non-fiction book Schindler’s Ark, the film Schindler’s List told the story of real-life German industrialist and Nazi Party member Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) and how he had a change of heart and saved over a thousand Jewish refugees from Nazi concentration camps by employing them during World War II. The film also starred Ben Kingsley as Schindler’s accountant Itzhak Stern and Ralph Fiennes as Nazi officer Amon Göth. It received praise for its realistic portrayal of the horrors of the Holocaust, which Spielberg shot like a documentary and decided to portray in black & white, and it won accolades for its acting, atmosphere, tone and sensitive direction of a heartbreaking story. Schindler’s List ended up winning seven Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score, Best Cinematography, Best Editing and Best Art Direction.
Schindler’s List also received a large amount of praise from the Jewish community with some Holocaust survivors being grateful that the story was finally being told to a large audience in a major film. Spielberg continued to work with survivors when he founded the Shoah Foundation in 1994, a non-profit organization making audio-visual interviews with survivors accessible for educational purposes. Plus Spielberg executive produced the 1998 documentary The Last Days, which tells the story of five Hungarian Jews and what they did during the Holocaust, focusing on the horrors of life in Nazi concentration camps but also the perseverance of the survivors and their will to live. The film won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature and is currently available to watch on Netflix.
Spielberg continued producing films this decade like Twister (1996, Jan de Bont), Men in Black (1997, Barry Sonnenfeld) and The Mask of Zorro (1998, Martin Campbell) and he also would once again direct a Jurassic Park film the same year he would direct a historical drama in 1997. In addition to The Lost World: Jurassic Park, which featured the return of Jeff Goldblum and the introduction of Julianne Moore as his girlfriend who go to ANOTHER island that is cloning even MORE dinosaurs (*SIGH* when will they learn?), Spielberg would direct Amistad.
Amistad was based on the 1839 events of the Mende tribesmen. Abducted for slave trade aboard the Spanish slave ship La Amistad, they managed to overtake control of the ship and were later involved in a legal battle which had to be resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1841. It was largely based on the account of the 1987 book Mutiny on the Amistad by historian Howard Jones and starred Djimon Hinsou, Morgan Freeman, Anthony Hopkins and Matthew McConaughey. The film received a warm reception among those who have seen it, but that was a small audience.
Spielberg’s final historical drama of that decade Saving Private Ryan (1998) would be more popular, even more popular than Schindler’s List. The war epic written by Robert Rodat took place during the 1944 invasion of Normandy in World War II and told the story of U.S. Army Rangers Captain John H. Miller (Tom Hanks) and his squad as they search for their fellow soldier Private James Francis Ryan (Matt Damon), a paratrooper who went missing during battle. The film gained a significant amount of attention and praise for its graphic depiction of the violence of war, something Hollywood has shied away from until that point.
Another huge success for Spielberg, audiences, critics and Academy members were unanimous in their love for the film’s realism, great acting and heroic and patriotic story at the center of the plot. It became the highest-grossing film of 1998 and a Best Picture Oscar nominee, although it controversially lost that award to Shakespeare in Love, with some blaming Shakespeare in Love producer Harvey Weinstein for spending more money on his film’s publicity during awards campaigns and pressuring Academy voters. Nonetheless Saving Private Ryan is considered one of the greatest films of the nineties and one of the best war films ever made.
In addition to being a great movie, Saving Private Ryan had a lasting impact on the entertainment industry. Its popularity raised the interest among viewers for WWII-themed stories and media and its influence in pop culture led to video games like Activision’s Call of Duty and Electronic Arts’ Medal of Honor, a first-person shooter game that was originally released for PlayStation and was created and partly written by Spielberg. Plus Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks would create the television miniseries Band of Brothers, which aired on HBO and dramatized the events of the “Easy” Company Infantry Regiment of the U.S. Army up until the end of the war. Spielberg and Hanks would also executive produce the 2010 HBO miniseries The Pacific which focused on the U.S. Marine Corps within the theater of the Pacific War, and Spielberg and Hanks are also set to executive produce Masters of the Air, which will focus on the U.S. Air Force and is set to be released on Apple TV+.