Hitchcock vs. Spielberg: how the legendary directors stack up
Only an artist as great as Master of Suspense Alfred Hitchcock can get away with a line like “Self-plagiarism is style.” Hitchcock's famous words are in reference to his highly stylized and perennially influential brand of macabre cinema—the very brand that turned him into the filmmaking idol of a young Steven Spielberg. Despite only ever recognizing Spielberg as the “the boy who made the fish movie,” Hitchcock's influence would be enough to spark Spielberg into a flame of eventual eminence. Today, the two are recognized as some of the most significant filmmakers of all time—and rightfully so.
In order to compare and contrast Hitchcock and Spielberg from 24 different angles, Stacker has collected data and information from a wide array of source materials that include first films, audience favorites, shot lengths, box office numbers, career spans, genres, and cameos (among many other aspects of their careers). Ultimately, Hitchcock and Spielberg shine in every category assessed; but their work aligns and differs in various ways from average runtimes to creative droughts.
Almost a millennium of widely renowned filmmaking between the two makes for a range and depth of analysis as fascinating to collate as it is gratifying to consider. Crack open the treasure chest of nostalgia flooded with the likes of that fish movie “Jaws,” “North by Northwest,” “Jurassic Park,” “Vertigo,” Indiana Jones, and Norman Bates, with two filmmakers whose portfolios are as rich as they are recognizable. Hitchcock and Spielberg's unimpeachable stature in the medium and the wistful memories their films invoke will leave you thirsty for a classic. The hardest part will be deciding in which to indulge.
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Born in London on Aug. 13, 1899, Hitchcock preceded Spielberg (born Dec. 18, 1946, in Cincinnati, Ohio) by 47 years—a fact that distances the two more significantly than any aspect of their filmmaking legacies. Hitchcock and his two siblings were raised by stern British parents near Jack the Ripper's old stomping grounds on the East End.
Spielberg and his three sisters were raised by a concert pianist for a mother and electrical engineer for a father, whose ever-changing career in computers kept the Spielberg family on the move until they settled in Silicon Valley (pre-moniker).
Hitchcock enrolled in a few different educational programs before breaking into the world of film. Most notably, he attended the London County Council School of Marine Engineering and Navigation from 1913 to 1914 and studied drawing and design at the University of London in 1916 before going on to write title cards for silent films.
Spielberg was rejected from the USC School of Cinematic Arts and eventually settled on California State University at Long Beach. He dropped out when Universal Studios offered him a contract for $300 a week. In 2002, after over three decades of overwhelming success, Spielberg went back to finish his bachelor of arts at Cal State.
Hitchcock began his filmmaking career in 1920 with American studio Famous Players-Lasky. He wouldn't try his hand at directing for a couple more years. In 1976, he directed his final film, “Family Plot,” a Barbara Harris and Bruce Dern vehicle. He died in Los Angeles four years later.
Spielberg made films before he was ever paid to, but his professional career began after MCA/Universal executive Sidney Sheinberg saw his short film “Amblin'” (1968) and offered him a TV contract. Of course, Spielberg is still alive and going strong at 72 with three high-profile films slated for arrival between now and 2021.
From “Duel” (1971) to “Ready Player One” (2018), Spielberg has directed 35 feature films in 48 years. That averages out to 1.37 years, or 500 days, between each.
Hitchcock made 54 feature films in 52 years, from “The Pleasure Garden” (1925) to “Family Plot” (1976), resulting in 1.04 years, or 379 days, on average between each film. For your typical great director in the 21st century, those are furious rates of production. Spielberg is still relatively singular in how often he directs films. But in Hitchcock's time, that rate of filmmaking was typical. All-timers like John Ford, Akira Kurosawa, Howard Hawks, and Yasujiro Ozu cranked movies out just as, if not more, frequently.
Hitchcock's first film came after a mini-career's worth of holding other jobs on film sets, including that of production designer and assistant director. The comedy was called “Mrs. Peabody” or “Number 13,” depending on who you talk to. Unfortunately, the film was never finished due to lack of finances. He wouldn't complete his first feature until 1925 with “The Pleasure Garden,” and wouldn't gain notoriety until the release of his 1927 project, “The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog.”
Little Spielberg was as passionate about filmmaking as the Spielberg audiences know now. As a child, he filmed family vacations with an 8mm camera, eventually graduating to his first narrative project “Escape to Nowhere” (1962), a medium-length war movie. His first full-length feature, “Firelight” (1964), was a $400 sci-fi picture that had one local theatrical screening per his parents' financial support. 1974 saw the release of his first nationally distributed theatrical film “The Sugarland Express,” which would pale in comparison to 1975's industry-busting “Jaws.”
IMDb credits Spielberg with 58 directorial gigs overall. Thirty-one of those are theatrically distributed feature fiction films; 10 are for multiple episodes of TV or segments of a mini-series; eight are shorts, both fiction and nonfiction; three are TV movies; and three are feature films slated for release in the near future. One is a video game, another a segment of “Twilight Zone: The Movie,” and another his anomalistic “Firelight,” which doesn't neatly fit into the other categories.
Hitchcock is credited for 70 directorial projects, including 54 theatrically distributed feature films. The other 16 are comprised of eight shorts, five TV shows, one nonfiction TV movie, one unfinished feature, and one credit for “some sketches” in “Elstree Calling” (1930).
The auteur theory holds that the director is the ultimate creative force, or artist, of the film. Auteurs are uncommon these days. Your average studio movie is the product of directors, screenwriters, and producers alike sharing the weight of final decisions. But Hitchcock was a perfectionist, the classic epitome of an auteur—perhaps an over-aggressive version of one, like Stanley Kubrick—running sets like a totalitarian regime and deflecting all creative debate. He was only technically credited as producer for one feature film, “Lord Camber's Ladies,” a forgotten Benn W. Levy picture, but he was as much a producer as he was a director. He did, however, get official producer/executive producer credits on a few TV series.
Spielberg, on the other hand, is almost as recognized for his production credits as he is for his director credits. He's produced nearly all of his own films along with celebrated greats like “Poltergeist” (1982), “Letters from Iwo Jima” (2006), and “Super 8” (2011). Overall, he has 173 production credits to his name, most of which are executive producer credits that mean he supported the film financially under the banner of his two production companies, Amblin Entertainment and DreamWorks Pictures.
Spielberg started off writing his own screenplays, but shifted early in his career to picking out screenplays from writers he trusted or recruiting writers he could creatively supervise for a story he wanted to tell. A bulk of his writing credits are for the groundbreaking “Medal of Honor” video game series, which he created in 1999. However, of the 22 writing credits to his name, only four of them are penned screenplays, the last being “A.I. Artificial Intelligence” (2001)—the writing of which was born out of a commitment he'd made to Kubrick long before he died. The others are mostly comprised of creator, developer, or story by credits.
Hitchcock worked in a similar vein. He wrote much more at the beginning of his career—primarily adaptations—and racked up more screenwriting credits than Spielberg, but left the pen in the dust once he took off as a director-producer. His last full screenwriting credit was of the adaptation for 1931's “East of Shanghai.”
Hitchcock was well-known for his cameos in his own films. He made 39 in total, only one standing out as a cameo in a live TV series called “Lux Video Theatre,” but he never acted in a film outside of his cameos.
Spielberg's 15 acting credits coagulate into a trail of instances of Spielberg having cameo fun with his high-profile friends. He played an office clerk in “The Blues Brothers” (1980), an alien in “Men in Black” (1997), and has shown up as himself more often than not. He and director pal Cameron Crowe decided to exchange cameos in their back-to-back Tom Cruise features. Spielberg was a guest at a party in “Vanilla Sky” (2001) and Crowe was a man on a train in “Minority Report” (2002).
Both directors have stuck to their director-producer roles quite tightly, but they did have their moments out of the spotlight. Hitchcock designed titles for 12 silent films from 1920 to 1922, served as art director on nine films from 1922–1925, and assistant directed on five films from 1923 to 1925.
Spielberg's other credits are, like his acting credits, much more frivolous. He played the clarinet in the famous “Jaws” (1975) theme and was an uncredited second unit director for “The Haunting” (1999), “Arachnophobia” (1990), Amblin' Entertainment's “The Goonies” (1985), and best buddy George Lucas's “Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith” (2005).