16. THE COLOR PURPLE (1985)
Release Date: December 20, 1985
Chronology: After making a name as the master of action and entertainment following Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Spielberg began a period of making serious dramas with The Color Purple, which he continued two years later with Empire of the Sun
Box Office: $98 million ($216 million, adjusted for inflation)
Oscars: 11 nominations (including Best Picture), but not a single win
Premise: Illustrating life for African-American women in the early 1900s in a gritty detail that hadn’t been depicted on film before, The Color Purple traces the life of Celie (Whoopi Goldberg) over three decades, as her resilience and will to survive is tested over and over again.
Over two hours?: Over two-and-a-half hours
John Williams Score?: No, The Color Purple is one of the rare times Spielberg worked with a different composer — in this case, Quincy Jones
Father Issues?: Celie is given away to the cruel Albert (Danny Glover) by her own father, and mistreated by Albert’s father
Special Appearances: Oprah Winfrey and Lawrence Fishburne
Fun Fact: The Color Purple holds the record for the most Oscar nominations without a single win. Also, despite 11 nominations (including Best Picture), Spielberg failed to earn a Best Director nomination.
Best Line: “I’m poor. I’m black. I might even be ugly. But dear God, I’m here! I’m here!”
Verdict: The Color Purple is a powerful movie at times, and was an excellent first attempt at proving Spielberg’s skills at serious drama, but he was still too uncomfortable with the genre in 1985; any scene of significant gravitas is undermined by poorly timed slapstick, unfortunate caricatures, and exaggerated dialogue. Still, the performances are fantastic, the movie looks terrific, and the film paved the way for many other, more nuanced and powerful movies about African-American history to come.
Rating: 4 stars / 5