Anyone would be lucky to receive a nod in the category at hand, let alone as many as Spielberg.
Every fan of the film industry should know Steven Spielberg and his many accomplishments since he debuted with Duel in 1971. He’s the most financially-successful director in history, yes — but he’s also among the most decorated recipients in Academy Award history. Although some of his most critically acclaimed projects were omitted from their respective races at the Academy Awards, there’s still plenty to discuss here with Spielberg.
He’s tied with seventeen other filmmakers for having two Best Director wins at the Academy Awards. Two people have three wins — Frank Capra and William Wyler — while John Ford sits on top with four total wins throughout his career. If Steven Spielberg wins for The Fablemans (2022), he’ll be tied with Capra and Wyler — just spitting distance from Ford’s record.
But even if he doesn’t win, a solitary nomination at the Academy Awards is no small feat. Anyone would be lucky to receive a nod in the category at hand, let alone as many as Spielberg. But all that said, this will be a ranking of every Best Director nomination for Steven Spielberg at the Oscars.
Although 2005 is actually viewed as one of the weaker years for film in the twenty-first century, Steven Spielberg nonetheless had some stiff competition on his hands at the Academy Awards. For Best Director, Bennett Miller was also nominated for his efforts on Capote (2005), for example. However, the man who reigned triumphant ended up being Ang Lee thanks to his neo-Western romantic drama, Brokeback Mountain (2005).
As for Spielberg, though: in the year at hand, he released a title called Munich (2005). It didn’t quite hold a candle to Brokeback Mountain as far as the Academy was concerned, but it did nonetheless help bolster Spielberg’s status as a juggernaut of the industry.
With Lincoln (2012), Spielberg directed Daniel Day-Lewis in the titular role to tremendous, widespread acclaim. In fact: it won Day-Lewis his third ever Best Actor achievement at the Academy Awards, setting the record for most wins in the category and solidifying himself as perhaps the greatest actor of his generation, if not of all time. And there’s a solid argument to made for Spielberg in that same respect, but of course with regard to directing.
He’s the most financially successful filmmaker on the Hollywood block, and at the time Lincoln released, he already had two wins for Best Director. That’s a pretty strong argument. However, here at 85th Academy Awards, director Ang Lee beat Spielberg once again by making Life of Pi (2012). Lee tied his win with this release, and could honestly be considered a more acclaimed filmmaker due to his undefeated record against Spielberg. Ang Lee doesn't have anywhere near the amount of nominations, though. Spielberg is only climbing further up the ranks in that regard.
One of Steven Spielberg’s most recent films, West Side Story (2021) is of course an adaptation of the 1957 stage play of the same name. In fact, it’s the second ever adaptation thereof following the 1961 film by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins. The version at hand of course garnered Spielberg a nomination for Best Director at the Academy Awards, but he ultimately came up short to Jane Campion for her project Power of the Dog (2021).
The original film version from Wise and Robbins received widespread acclaim, including eleven total nominations at the 34th Academy Awards. Exactly 60 years later at the 94th ceremony of the association, Spielberg’s adaptation received six more nominations on top of Best Director. And one of those nominations included a win from Ariana Debose for Best Supporting Actress. In the end, both adaptations are among the most seminal musicals ever released.
Of course, there are no results yet for the film at hand, as the 95th Academy Awards have not yet taken place. However, a mere Best Director nomination for The Fablemans (2022) has officially tied Steven Spielberg with Martin Scorsese for the second-most wins in the category. With nine total nods, only William Wyler has beaten them with twelve total nominations.
At the upcoming Oscars, Spielberg’s competition includes Martin McDonough for The Banshees of Insiherin (2022), Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert for Everything Everywhere All At Once (2022), Todd Field for Tár, and Ruben Östlund for Triangle of Sadness (2022). This is the second time Spielberg has been nominated in consecutive years, and with a quick glance of those directors listed above, it’s likely that he’ll come up short again. But if he does manage to pull out a win, it will without a doubt be among his most impressive awards to-date.
Somehow, Steven Spielberg didn't receive a single personal nod at the 48th Academy Awards for his work on Jaws (1975), which means Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) was the first picture to garner him a nomination for Best Director. He ended up losing to Woody Allen for his efforts on Annie Hall (1977), but Close Encounters remains a seminal entry in his filmography nonetheless.
In terms of general modern appeal, this science fiction flick has regrettably — for everyone involved, really — been overshadowed by the original Star Wars (1977) that was directed by George Lucas. It's hard to compete with what was at the time of release the highest-grossing movie ever made. But still, Close Encounters made tremendous money in itself at the box office while also receiving admirable scores across the critical board. In terms of Spielberg's future films: this list might not exist without this project from 1977.
This is one of those movies that almost transcends the general audience's knowledge of Steven Spielberg’s oeuvre. It obviously sparked a series of sequels that ultimately encompass one of the biggest movie franchises of all time — the Indiana Jones intellectual property — with spinoff video games, toys, and even a television show spawning all thanks to Raiders of the Lost Arc (1981).
But make no mistake about it — just because Raiders appealed to audiences of all ages and utilized a relatively simple structure of storytelling, Steven Spielberg’s direction was successful to a seriously impressive degree. He was of course nominated for his work at the Academy Awards, but ultimately lost Best Director to Warren Beaty for his epic historical drama, Reds (1981). A somehwat controversial result, but there should be no shame in the end.
At the time of release, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) was the highest-grossing film of all time, surpassing George Lucas’s Star Wars (1977) from just a few years prior. And on top of its financial success, E.T. was also a massive hit with critics and award associations.
For his visionary work on this family-friendly science-fiction flick, one of those nominations was obviously for Best Director — Spielberg's third Oscar nomination in the category. But it’s worth noting that this was his first nomination for Best Picture, as well. However, he came up short in both respects to Richard Attenborough and his work on Gandhi (1982). And considering the Attenborough flick won six other awards on top of those, it was clear the type of film preferred by the Academy.
Just a few short years after winning his first Academy Award in the category at hand, Spielberg picked up his second victory for Best Director thanks to Saving Private Ryan (1998). One of the most acclaimed war films of all time, it starred Tom Hanks with Matt Damon in the titular, supporting role. This was Spielberg's first of five collaborations with Tom Hanks, and it’s arguably still their best work.
Other nominees in contention were Terrence Malick for The Thin Red Line (1998), coincidentally another movie that falls into the war genre, along with a psychological satirical comedy called The Truman Show (1998), which was directed by Peter Weir and famously starring Jim Carrey. Those are two relevant titles even in hindsight by two accomplished directors, but nonetheless, Spielberg once again reigned supreme.
In the longest gap of acclaim in his career, it wasn’t until more than a decade after E.T. that Spielberg would receive another nomination for Best Director. But it was well worth the wait, as Schindler’s List (1993) granted him his first win in the category.
And his competition was fairly stiff that year — as has proven to be a common trend for the entire list. Other nominees from this twelve-month span included Jane Campion for The Piano (1993) and Jim Sheridan for his work on In the Name of the Father (1993), which starred Daniel Day-Lewis. However, despite those big-name filmmakers releasing some of the most successful movies of their respective careers, Spielberg still came out on top.