Including his two nominations for directing and co-producing the presidential biopic Lincoln, Steven Spielberg has earned 15 Academy Award nominations throughout his career. During the 1970s and 1980s, he received five of those nominations – for notable masterpieces such as Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. While Spielberg received the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award in 1987 for his producing work, he wouldn’t have any success in landing a competitive win – until the 1990s began.
1993 was a good year for Spielberg the filmmaker, as he had two acclaimed blockbusters on his hand. While audiences savored the dinosaur effects of his adaptation of Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park (which would win three Oscars on its own), Spielberg was also crafting another powerful film based on a book. This film would be the adaptation of Thomas Kenneally’s work Schindler’s List, about a German businessman who spared over 1,100 Jews from Nazi termination during World War II. The black-and-white epic was a risky gamble for Spielberg, but one that would pay off with critics and audiences. Oscar took notice, awarding the director his first competitive statuettes – winning Best Director and Best Picture.
Five years later, Spielberg had an opportunity to repeat his Schindler’s List double with the ambitious war drama Saving Private Ryan – about a group of soldiers asked to send one of their own back home, after his brothers have been killed in combat. The Tom Hanks-led blockbuster was another critical and financial success, with Spielberg landing two more nominations for directing and producing. While he would win his second Best Director Oscar, Spielberg would not earn a second Best Picture prize – Saving Private Ryan lost to the Bard-driven romantic comedy Shakespeare in Love.
After his great success in the 1990s, the following decade and start of the 21st century would provide a few more opportunities for Spielberg to add to his Oscar haul – but to no avail. In 2005, he was back for directing and producing nods for the docudrama Munich, about the investigation and response to the horrifying murders of a group of Israeli athletes during the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, Germany. Spielberg would walk out of the ceremony empty-handed, as Best Picture and Best Director respectively went to the ensemble drama Crash and Brokeback Mountain filmmaker Ang Lee. The following year, he was nominated as a producer of Clint Eastwood’s Japanese-set World War II drama Letters from Iwo Jima.
Despite having an acclaimed year in 2011 with two hit films in War Horse and The Adventures of Tintin, Spielberg only had one nomination that year to show for his efforts. He was snubbed on the directing shortlist for War Horse, but landed a Best Picture nomination for producing the adaptation of the stage success. Then came his ambitious drama Lincoln, with Daniel Day-Lewis in the title role of the legendary 16th President. Spielberg landed two more nominations for directing and producing; a third statuette for Best Director would have tied him with Frank Capra and William Wyler, and leave him one shy of tying John Ford’s record of four trophies in that category. That occasion would have to wait for another film – Spielberg lost to Life of Pi‘s Ang Lee, and Lincoln would lose Best Picture to Argo.
Since his career’s beginnings in the early 1970s, Steven Spielberg has risen to take his place as one of cinema’s most influential and discussed filmmakers. While his box office glories have largely established this, his critical standing has also played a role in his legacy – with his Academy Award count part of that standing. From his first nomination for Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Spielberg has earned 15 nominations and three competitive awards for directing & producing. With his two bids this year for Lincoln, he continued to add to his resume from Hollywood’s biggest night – even if he would walk out empty handed after the 85th Academy Awards ceremony.