/Answers: The Best Steven Spielberg Scenes

Every week in /Answers, we attempt to answer a new pop culture-related question. Tying in with the upcoming re-release of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, this week's edition asks "What is your favorite scene from a Steven Spielberg movie?"

Hoai-Tran Bui: The Flying Bicycle Scene from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

There's no scene that better captures Steven Spielberg's particular brand of childhood wonder than the flying bikes scene in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Spielberg has always been a master craftsman, but you can truly feel the affection he has for the coming-of-age drama — with a sci-fi twist, of course.

The scene is fairly straightforward: Elliott and his friends are being chased by police and government officials as they try to get E.T. back to his spaceship. After a brief flirtation with victory, they suddenly find themselves surrounded on all sides as their bikes hurtle toward two police cars blocking the road. A moment later, E.T. enacts his magic and all five kids are flying through the air, leading to the iconic image of the five of them against the setting sun (the one of Elliott against the moon is just as magical). Coupled with John Williams' sweeping score, the scene gains an air of euphoria, as the wiles of a couple kids beat back the Man once again. Watching it again, it has not become any cheesier or lost any of the wonder that it first instilled in me when I saw the film as a kid. Spielberg's capacity for imagination, and his understanding of the fanciful mindset of kids was encapsulated in this scene. And while Stranger Things offered a great homage, nothing beats the original.

Ben Pearson: The Three Trials in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Steven Spielberg's filmography is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to dramatic, thrilling, and moving scenes, but I have to choose one from my favorite Spielberg hero, Indiana Jones. Near the end of Last Crusade, the Nazis force Indy's hand by shooting his father (Sean Connery) near the final resting place of the holy grail, leaving Jones with no choice but to retrieve it – and quickly. There are so many great moments in this section of the movie alone, but I'll narrow my focus to the portion in which Indy conquers three trials in order to reach the grail room.

These moments showcase everything I love about the character all boiled down into just a few minutes. As Jones reads from his father's journal (further cementing the bond between them, as now their lives are fully in each other's hands), he must rely on his wits, his physicality, and the groundwork his father did in order to make it through the three challenges. Spielberg perfectly intercuts Connery's reactions with Indy's attempts (note the subtle dolly zoom at 3:48, highlighting the importance of faith) and though the two characters can't hear each other, there's a dialogue between them as Indy traverses these treacherous trials. Not only is each one exciting in its own way, but the scene is thematically rich as well: Indy is achieving his father's life-long dream, something Connery's Dr. Jones Sr. would have attempted himself had he not been the recipient of a Nazi bullet. This isn't just any old adventure for these characters, either: this is a payoff from all the way back in Indy's childhood, which gives the scene even more weight. A ticking clock, daring exploits, unexpected twists, and perfect execution: what more could you want from one of history's greatest directors?

Matt Donato: Omaha Beach in Saving Private Ryan

June 6th, 1944. Historically speaking, one day in a long war that cost too many good people their lives. For Steven Spielberg, it's the iconic D-Day opening to his WWII drama Saving Private Ryan.

Cue Tom Hanks and his platoon storming the Omaha Beach area of Normandy, France (under German control). Nothing but kids floating towards inevitable death packed into glorified armored bowls, "hardened soldiers" puking and praying the whole way. Even Hanks' hand quivers, knowing what dangers await. Then the transport boat's ramp is lowered and a blanket of gunfire covers one of the most infamous cinematic beginnings of all time.

You all know the sequence by heart. Allied soldiers must traverse a stretch of sandy devastation that's littered with German defensive fire. Gun nests rain bullets, artillery explosions leave massive craters, medics must decipher which living, mangled soldiers still have a shot at life and which are already dismembered corpses – war, in every sense, is hell. Spielberg's scene appropriately conveys such hell. From the nauseating gore effects to barbaric attitudes ("Don't shoot, let 'em burn!" shouts a commanding officer while Germans are ignited via flamethrower). From an unstoppable parade of death to the film's tinkering with sound both above and below water. It's an ungodly immersion no viewer can escape.

Spielberg's catalog is filled with award-worth examples, but Saving Private Ryan's first twenty minutes remains a crowning achievement. Non-stop historical reflection with cinematic devastation on a massive, scorched-earth scale. WWII boiled down to one tragic, triumphant siege in to one of the greatest war movies ever made.

Peter Sciretta: The T-Rex Attack in Jurassic Park

This is a strange pick because Steven Spielberg, for me, tends to be more about the more magic and wonder of his adventure stories. But running through all of my favorite moments from Steven Spielberg-directed films, the one that came on top was the T-rex attack from the original Jurassic Park. I vividly remember watching this scene take place for the first time in the now torn down General Cinemas theater in Shoppers World in Framingham, Massachusetts. It was in the biggest and best theater, the one that was THX certified and has Dolby 5.1 surround sound. I remember the T-Rex's footsteps shaking the theater. The bass must have been turned up to 10.

The sequence is so masterfully shot as it traps our heroes in a Jeep after the power in the park has been shut down...and in the middle of a horrible storm...and then a T-rex breaks free. Experiencing this encounter from the protagonist's point of view was both thrilling and scary. I often imagine how this scene would have been filmed by other directors and I can't image it being constructed any better than it is.

Ethan Anderton: The Raiders of the Lost Ark Truck Chase

"Truck? What truck?" Leave it to the fucking Nazis to track down a priceless artifact from Biblical times that they believe will help secure their power over the world. Though it's been established that Indiana Jones probably didn't need to stop the Nazis from getting ahold of the Ark of the Covenant since it just melted their faces and blew up their bodies when they opened it, that doesn't make the pursuit that Dr. Henry Jones Jr. makes any less entertaining.

Specifically, the truck chase across the rocky desert in Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of the most brilliant executed action sequences of all time. This scene is incredible because it's done practically on-location with real vehicles, sets and stunts (with the exception of that one car that drives off the cliff), not to mention being accompanied by an all-time great score from John Williams. Furthermore, it features a hero who isn't unstoppable. Indiana Jones takes plenty of punches and finds himself on the wrong end of the truck.

Steven Spielberg knows how direct amazing action adventure sequences like, though it's been awhile since he's executed one so mesmerizing and thrilling. Perhaps we'll get to see him back at it with Ready Player One. Though considering the virtual setting of the movie, it won't be quite as impressive without all the practical effects.

Lindsey Romain: A Close Encounter in Close Encounters of the Third Kind

My earliest memories revolve around Spielberg. The backyard alight with lamplight while watching Jurassic Park on VHS. Leaving Reeses Pieces on the stairway landing for E.T., the way some kids leave cookies for Santa. But I was an adult before I saw Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which in time has become – if not my favorite Spielberg – one of my most treasured. It's everything that's quintessentially his own world and look, that middle class lived-in white America, particular and real in a way no modern big-budget studio film attempts to be. Close Encounters is the alchemy of that look with the fantastical, another Spielbergian trait, played up to great effect by one of Hollywood's best-ever everyman, Richard Dreyfuss.

My favorite scene is when Dreyfuss' Roy first experiences extraterrestrial phenomenon in his pickup truck, abandoned at the side of the road as the electricity around him goes haywire, before a spaceship creeps silently through the sky. It's simple, quiet; no words, only the noise of everyday items – papers in the dashboard, mailboxes, the car radio – swaying in the chaos. Spielberg's works well with no dialogue, playing up the twist of normalcy with easy, bone-chilling and awe-inspiring effect. This is not the most bombastic of scenes in Close Encounters – nowhere near as exhilarating as the final moment when Roy meets the aliens and goes aboard their ship – but it's the one that sticks with me most because it feels the most palpable.

Jacob Hall: Quint's Monologue in Jaws

Steven Spielberg can direct spectacle like no one else and his first major film, 1975's Jaws, is a definitive example of his crowd pleasing tendencies. Here's a movie that's terrifying and exciting and, often when you least expect it, hilarious. This is cinema built as an engine to entertain. Every scene feels carefully constructed to inspire a vivid reaction, whether it be chuckles or screams or anything in-between. This movie is a masterpiece for a reason.

But because we're so focused on Spielberg as a director of action, visual effects, and audacious fantasy, we sometimes lose sight of his ability to direct actors and sell character. While Spielberg is a master of cinematic shorthand when it comes to introducing his heroes (we know everything we need to know about Sheriff Brody with a minute or two of meeting him), he also knows when to hold back his cards. Spielberg can treat a character reveal with the same gravity that he treats a jump scare or an action beat.

That brings me to my favorite scene in Jaws and quite possibly the best scene in Spielberg's entire filmography. You know the one. Quint (Robert Shaw), the crude and abrasive shark hunter, bonds with Brody and Hooper during a quiet evening on board the Orca. Their quest to kill the Great White that's been terrorizing Amity has hit a lull. All they can do now is wait. And talk. And swap stories about their scars. What begins as a lighthearted conversation, one of the best scenes of male bonding ever put on film, takes a dark turn. Quint reveals that he was on board the U.S.S. Indianapolis, the Navy ship that shank shortly after delivering the atomic bombs that would be dropped on Japan to end World War II. He speaks of surviving in the middle of the ocean, watching as sharks picked off his fellow soldiers. This crass sailor reveals the trauma beneath his toughened exterior. He lets his guard down for just a moment, long enough for us to understand him and his fears and his obsessions.

Jaws is a frightening movie, still effective because the infamously unreliable shark animatronic kept on breaking down and forced Spielberg to rely on suspense instead of special effects, but the scariest moment comes not from the beast of the title. It comes from a man remembering the worst time of his life, the day that haunts his every moment. It's a spellbinding performance powered by brilliant writing. And Spielberg, one of cinema's most gifted storytellers, knows that he just needs to plant his camera and let it play out.

Vanessa Bogart: The Raptors in the Kitchen in Jurassic Park

From the moment the raptor's nose comes into view and that breath hits the kitchen window, every muscle in your body goes rigid. The whole scene takes place in one room, in real time, with two of the most successful hunters evolution has to offer, two scared and battered children, and about every reflective surface and noise making object you can imagine. I am of course talking about the kitchen scene in Jurassic Park.

I have probably seen Jurassic Park more times than I have seen any other movie in my life, and yet every time I see the raptor open that door, it feels like I am watching the scene for the first time. I know every line and every sequence of events by heart, but from the moment those raptors enter that kitchen until little Timmy (Joseph  Mazzello) and Lex (Ariana Richards) make it out, it is a blur. I know the pots get knocked down, I know the ladle falls, I know Lex tries to hide in the kitchen cubby, and I know Tim runs for the freezer. However, every time I hear the clank of that ladle on the floor, every time I see Lex struggle to get the door closed, and every time I see Tim unable to gain traction on the melting ice, I can't breathe. Not to mention, whether it was my first viewing or my thousandth viewing, whether watching it as a child or an adult, I still get faked out by the raptor running towards Lex's reflection. Every. Single. Time.

The fear of these giant, vicious creatures is already well into effect by the time the kitchen scene starts, but what transforms this scene different from just another escape into something that still inspires anxiety and tension decades later is its perfect execution. The score is understated in the quiet moments, letting the labored and terrified breathing of the children and the banging of all of the metal surfaces speak for themselves. The tapping of the raptors massive claws on the tile is amplified compared to the scurrying little legs of the film's most innocent would-be victims.

It is children against beasts, with no adult or weapon to save them. In concept alone, it is not difficult to make the scene one of the most intense moments of the film, and yet Spielberg, with the help of two very talented young actors, managed to make it iconic, not just in Jurassic Park, but in the entirety of his career.

Chris Evangelista: The Robot Spider Scene in Minority Report

In making Minority Report, Steven Spielberg assembled a team of experts for a "think-tank" to come up with a realistic interpretation of the future and its technologies, rather than just an overtly sci-fi one. "I wanted all the toys to come true someday," Spielberg told Roger Ebert. "The Internet is watching us now. If they want to, they can see what sites you visit. In the future, television will be watching us, and customizing itself to what it knows about us. The thrilling thing is, that will make us feel we're part of the medium. The scary thing us, we'll lose our right to privacy."

Invasion of privacy plays a big part in Minority Report, a film about the government spying on and policing people's very thoughts and fantasies. One brilliant sequence that shows the loss of privacy of this future society occurs halfway through the film: John Anderton (Tom Cruise) is hiding out from the police, having undergone an eye transplantation to better hide his identity. The cops show up the search the squalid apartment building Anderton is hiding out in, and rather than explore each floor personally, the police deploy spider-like robots that move from room to room, scanning the eyes of the inhabitants. It's a nightmarish scenario that Spielberg, as is his wont, makes wildly entertaining thanks to the techniques he employs to convey the scene. As the spiders move from apartment to apartment, sliding under door cracks, Spielberg and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski glide overhead, showing cut-out sections of ceiling and skylights to peer into the lives of the residents.

And all that scientific research was apparently prescient. As The Guardian reported, "The US military is developing 'insect robot', with the help of British Aerospace. They actually have eight legs (so, really, arachnid robots) and will be able to reconnoitre dangerous areas where you don't want to send a human, such as potentially occupied houses."

Jack Giroux: "Give Us a Kiss" From Jaws

Steven Spielberg can direct such moving scenes by saying so little. Countless examples come to mind of the director eliciting powerful emotions without any big fireworks, expressions of wonderment, or inspiring music. Jamie saluting the Japanese pilots in Empire of the Sun is a great example of that, but I think this very simple scene with Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) is maybe the best example.

It's the kind of father-son scene Spielberg has continued to knock out of the park throughout his career. Even with modest or large-scale spectacle, there's almost always an intimacy to the director's work similar to what we see in this scene between Brody and his family. With such tangible emotions, Spielberg makes you feel like you're a guest at the table, and partly because he allows it to breathe and unfold naturally in longer shots.

When I watch it now, I can't help but think today another filmmaker might cut this part out, but it's so pivotal. Without a scene like this, we maybe wouldn't care as much as when Brody goes shark hunting. It makes the sheriff so real and empathetic through a simple, intimate, and yes, absolutely adorable moment at home. It's one of my favorite Spielberg scenes because it highlights how much he cares about his characters and how he'll take the time to make sure the audiences care, too.

Love has always been a strong component of Spielberg's work. Love can lead to a lot of heartache and pain in his movies, but it can also provide beautiful moments such as this one. When it comes to the love between parents and their children, Spielberg has always worn his heart on his sleeve. Even in a movie about a killer shark, Spielberg doesn't ever shy away from true emotions in a piece of spectacle.

Christopher Stipp: The Rope Bridge in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

Since I didn't want to be a downer about a favorite Spielberg scene (Schindler's List is the man at his best) I thought I would share one that I've never grown tiring of watching whenever I happen to catch Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom on television. I literally stop what I'm doing just to bask in the fun that is the rope bridge scene. I think the movie's tone vacillates wildly, but the mix between comedic moments and intense action is a welcome one. Nowhere is this best illustrated than when we get to the end and our heroes find themselves on that rickety bridge. I have never found out how they managed to film this moment (the A.V. Club actually has some insight into that from a couple of years ago if you're interested) nor do I want to. For me, this scene on the bridge is just wildly intense and I'd like to keep it that way.

When I watch this scene, there's always a sense of wondering just how the hell Indy will survive this. There is no logical way to get out of this jam and like a brilliant writer who has put himself in a corner and needs to write themselves out of it, the moment presents itself. I love it, absolutely love it, when Indy sighs and says "Oh, shit..." It's the perfect response for a hero who has nothing left. The last words out of Indy's mouth, and the intensity with which he delivers them, just make this, and everything that comes after, a pure delight.