13 Movies Steven Spielberg Almost Directed

Steven Spielberg is one of the greatest living directors of our generation. The American filmmaker is the mind behind some of the biggest films of the last century. From his blockbuster defining run with iconic films like Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, and Jurassic Park to his more grounded war-themed movies like Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, and War Horse to his recent hot streak of West Side Story and The Fabelmans. With such an extensive filmography with gargantuan hits, it’s only natural for all the studios and producers to covet Spielberg to extend his Midas touch to their projects as well.

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Since making a film is a long-term, time-consuming commitment, there are only a few projects that Speilberg could feasibly do. There were many high-profile films that he was approached about doing or even was attached to at some point but eventually dropped out of. Here’s a list of some of the films that Spielberg almost directed, in order of when they came out.

Update February 8, 2024: This article has been updated with even more great films that Steven Spielberg almost directed and where you can stream the actual version of each film.

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)

Robert Shaw in The Taking of Pelham One Two Three
United Artists

Based on the John Godey novel of the same name, the ’70s classic revolves around four gunmen who hold a New York subway train for ransom. As the authorities scramble for answers, they discover loopholes in the highjacker’s plans. When Spielberg chanced upon this subject, he was fresh off the success of The Sugarland Express, but the studio thought that the film would be better suited for an older, more mature director instead.

They decided to move ahead with Joseph Sargent instead, whereas Spielberg went on to make Jaws, and the rest is history. The Taking of Pelham One Two Three garnered widespread critical acclaim and was praised as a phenomenal thriller, while Jaws sparked a worldwide phenomenon and equally terrified and captivated moviegoers, grossing over $476.5 million on a $9 million budget and becoming an undisputed cinematic masterpiece in the process. Stream on Prime Video

Jaws 2 (1978)

jaws 2

jaws 2
Release Date
June 16, 1978

Director
Jeannot Szwarc
Cast
Roy Scheider , Lorraine Gary , Murray Hamilton , Joseph Mascolo , Jeffrey Kramer , Collin Wilcox Paxton

It would seem like a no-brainer that Spielberg would be the one to direct the sequel to his groundbreaking blockbuster thriller Jaws, yet that didn’t end up being the case. Though Universal was eager to capitalize on the massive worldwide popularity of the original flick, Spielberg was not keen on the idea of creating a follow-up and stated at the San Francisco Film Festival in 1975 that «making a sequel to anything is just a cheap carny trick» and that he refused to entertain ideas for Jaws 2.

Nonetheless, the studio pushed forward and made plans for the sequel, which resulted in a grueling 18-month pre-production process. Eventually, Spielberg began to consider returning for Jaws 2 but due to his contract with Close Encounters of the Third Kind he would not be able to begin work on the film for another year. Universal was unable to wait on Spielberg and Jeannot Szwarc was ultimately hired as his replacement, and while the sequel was a box office success the critical reception was far more lukewarm than its predecessor. Rent/Buy on Prime Video

Superman: The Movie (1978)

The iconic DC Comics character was brought to the big screen in spectacular fashion in 1978’s Superman: The Movie, which famously featured Christopher Reeve as the eponymous protector of the world. Before Richard Donner (The Omen, The Goonies) took on directing duties, producer Ilya Salkind wanted Spielberg to helm the silver screen adaptation, yet his father and fellow producer Alexander Salkind was apprehensive and opted to «wait until [Spielberg’s] big fish opens.»

Jaws was a groundbreaking cinematic blockbuster that established Spielberg as a major household name, yet by the time he was offered the position as director for Superman: The movie he was already committed to his next venture Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Spielberg was also reportedly still offended they turned him down the first time. Despite having expressed immense interest in working on the superhero flick, Spielberg’s sci-fi extravaganza earned him nominations for both an Academy Award and Golden Globe and helped launch a reemergence of science fiction films in the 1980s. Stream on Prime Video

Rain Man (1988)

Before Barry Levinson was signed on to direct Rain Man, Steven Spielberg was one of the front-running candidates. Spielberg opted out of Rain Man, as things with Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade began to escalate. He only had five months to commit to the project, but he has gone on record stating his regrets about not directing Rain Man.

The celebrated road dramedy won Levinson the Academy Award for Best Director, and Spielberg reflected on the difficult decision to walk away from the film and if it hurt in an interview in 1990:

«Sure it did…sure it did. When the film began winning Best Picture and Best Writer, I kept thinking, God, maybe I should have forgotten my entire friendship with George Lucas and said, ‘George, go hire somebody else to do Indy 3.’ … Of course I thought about that!”

He elaborated on his own personal thoughts on where he felt he ranked in Hollywood and his overall standing, further expressing to BBC One’s «Film Programme» series:

«Practically speaking, if my name had been on Rain Man, shot for shot what Barry had done … I probably in my hearts of hearts don’t think I would even have been nominated as director on that film, and I’m not sure the film would have won that many awards.”

Stream on Tubi

Cape Fear (1991)

Cape Fear poster

Cape Fear
Release Date
November 15, 1991

Cape Fear serves as the remake of the 1962 film of the same name, that’s based on John D. MacDonald’s book, The Executioners. The film’s plot revolves around Max Cady (Robert De Niro), who’s released from prison after 14 years for the sexual assault of a woman. Max then stalks his defense lawyer and his family for concealing evidence that would’ve worked in his favor.

Related: The 20 Best Movies of The ’90s, Ranked

Before Martin Scorsese was signed on to direct this revenge drama, Spielberg was attached to the project but eventually left because he felt it was too violent and instead exchanged the film with Scorsese in return for directing Schindler’s List. Cape Fear served as the seventh acclaimed collaboration between Scorsese and De Niro, while Schindler’s List is universally regarded as one of the finest films of all time, winning a whopping seven Academy Awards including Best Director for Spielberg. Rent/Buy on Prime Video

Shrek (2001)

Shrek

Shrek
Release Date
May 18, 2001

Few may know that the grumpy green ogre with a secret heart of gold was actually based on a children’s picture book, and Spielberg had long since wanted to make a traditional animated movie based on the misanthropic character. He had bought the rights to the literary work in 1991 before co-founding DreamWorks and had envisioned Bill Murray as Shrek and Steve Martin as Donkey.

Spielberg ended up selling the rights to the animated project to the newly founded DreamWorks, as he became very busy in the decade directing his epic masterpieces like Jurassic Park and Saving Private Ryan. Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson were then brought on to helm Shrek, which made history when it became the first movie to win the Academy Award for Best Animated film and spawned a lucrative and enduring fan-favorite franchise.Stream on Peacock

Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone (2001)

J.K Rowling’s books caused a tornado of a buzz upon their release in 1997, with a film adaptation an inevitable scenario. Spielberg was one of the front-runner candidates to helm the mega-hit novel series, having invested six months into developing the project with screenwriter Steve Kloves. The main reason for Spielberg dropping out of the project was due to a creative difference with Warner Bros. where Spielberg saw Harry Potter as an animated movie; the studio didn’t.

Spielberg wanted Haley Joel Osment to voice Harry Potter in the adaptation, and the legendary filmmaker felt that it was like «shooting ducks in a barrel. It’s just a slam dunk. It’s just like withdrawing a billion dollars and putting it into your personal bank accounts. There’s no challenge.» Despite having been in negotiations to direct Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Spielberg ended up declining the offer and opted to helm A.I. Artificial Intelligence instead. While the sci-fi flick is a revered entry in his illustrious catalog, it simply can’t compare to the groundbreaking impact the Harry Potter franchise had on the world. Stream on Max

Big Fish (2003)

Before Tim Burton was hired to helm Big Fish, Spielberg’s name was attached to the project. Spielberg saw Jack Nicholson as the ideal fit to play the role of Edward Bloom, a retired businessman with a penchant for narrating stories. He planned on partnering up with DreamWorks to co-finance the fantasy film, and he even had screenplay writer John August re-work the script in hopes of creating more material Nicholson could work with for the role.

Related: The Best Performances in Tim Burton Movies, Ranked

As time went by, Spielberg decided to opt out of the film to complete Minority Report and start the prep for Catch Me If You Can. Producer Dan Jinks had said, «Once Steven decided he wasn’t going to do it, we put the script back to the way it was.Steven even said, ‘I think I made a mistake with a couple of things I asked you guys to try.'» By the time Burton took over as director, the script for Big Fish was in tip-top shape. It went on to become a critical and commercial success and earned four Golden Globe nods, while Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can also proved to be a lucrative venture and garnered widespread acclaim. Rent/Buy on Prime Video

Memoirs of a Geisha (2005)

memoirs of a geisha

memoirs of a geisha
Release Date
December 6, 2005

Cast
Suzuka Ohgo , Togo Igawa , Mako , Samantha Futerman , Elizabeth Sung , Thomas Ikeda

Since the publishing of the book of the same name in 1997, Spielberg wanted to adapt the Arthur Golden novel Memoirs of a Geisha for the big screen. He went on to buy the rights but instead opted for a producer’s role on the film, with Rob Marshall taking over as director. The revered filmmaker was hot off the heels of his Oscar-winning World War II triumph Saving Private Ryan when he debated directing the adaptation.

However, Spielberg’s DreamWorks partner David Geffen felt the project was «not good enough for him» as a follow-up venture and he was convinced to take on A.I. Artificial Intelligence instead. Memoirs of a Geisha hit theaters the same year Spielberg’s Munich and War of the Worlds did, and while it was an overall success it failed to reach the heights as the latter sci-fi extravaganza. Rent/Buy on Prime Video

Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)

Steven Spielberg was interested in making The Curious Case of Benjamin Button back in 1991, with Tom Cruise in the lead role. However, he opted to direct Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List instead, before ultimately being reunited with Tom Cruise in 2002 for Minority Report.

Once Spielberg opted out of the project, David Fincher was brought on board along with longtime Spielberg collaborators Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall in 2004. Prior to Fincher’s hiring, an additional version of the drama was kicked around in the late ’90s with Ron Howard attached to direct and John Travolta to star, yet nothing ever came to fruition. Fincher was nominated for an Academy Award for his work on the engrossing picture, and he was named Best Director by the National Board of Review. Stream on Paramount+

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)

Spielberg wanted to direct The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, with Jim Carrey in the titular role, as the duo had previously been interested in joining forces for Meet the Parents before the venture ultimately fell through. Spielberg and DreamWorks opted out of the project in 2004 when Paramount put the project in a turnaround, and Spielberg moved on to direct War of the Worlds and Munich instead.

Carrey eventually dropped out of the lead role following scheduling conflicts, and the film wouldn’t be made until 2013, with Ben Stiller directing and starring as the lead character. Spielberg’s historical drama Munich was a modest critical and commercial success, while War of the Worlds (which was released the same year) dominated the box office and raked in over $600 million, becoming the fourth highest-grossing picture of the year. Rent/Buy on Apple TV+

Interstellar (2014)

Originally written with an emphatic lens for Steven Spielberg to direct, Interstellar was later tweaked for Christopher Nolan with his brother Jonathan working as a screenwriter. Despite Nolan bringing his unique visual style to the film, it would be interesting to see how Interstellar would’ve been shaped under the emotionally rich gaze of Spielberg.

Spielberg departed the sci-fi spectacle when his production company DreamWorks moved from Paramount and Walt Disney Studios, and Nolan officially signed on in 2013, nabbing a hefty $20 million salary against 20% of the film’s total gross. Spielberg shifted his focus to the historical drama Bridge of Spies starring Tom Hanks, which was named as one of the Top Ten Films of the Year by the American Film Institute. Stream on Prime Video

American Sniper (2014)

Loosely based on Chris Kyle’s 2012 memoirs of the same name, American Sniper documents the long term trauma attached to war. Having a strong penchant for human emotions, Spielberg was brought on board to direct the film, but eventually parted ways after having a disagreement with Warner Bros. over the budget and because of his desire to take a more psychological approach to the storytelling.

Spielberg felt that the budget constraints would hinder his overall vision (which resulted in a screenplay approaching 160 pages), and he officially dropped out in 2013. The powerful drama was then passed on to Western legend Clint Eastwood, who cast Bradley Cooper to play the titular role of Chris Kyle. American Sniper grossed over $547 million and became Eastwood’s most financially successful project of his career. Stream on Max

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