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22 Great Movies That Wouldn’t Have Been The Same Without Kathleen Kennedy

She may not seek public accolades for helping make so many of our favorite movies, but she damn well deserves them.
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By  · Published on June 12th, 2018

If ever there was a filmmaker who didn’t need defending it’s Kathleen Kennedy. Her incredible filmography more than speaks for itself, and from her first production credit on 1982’s Poltergeist to this year’s Solo: A Star Wars Story she’s been a driving force behind dozens of our favorite movies and even more of Hollywood’s biggest hits.

But 2018 being the dumpster fire that it is — still burning from last year — means some people have decided to act like assholes under the guise of fandom and attack the talents behind the new Star Wars films for childish reasons. Curiously, and by that I mean not at all curiously, these folks have aimed most of their ignorant ire at the films’ female talents including Kelly Marie Tran, Daisy Ridley, and Kennedy herself. To be clear, while these voices are loud they’re also few in number making it easy to ignore them.

We’re going one step beyond that, though, and taking the opportunity to praise Kennedy’s contributions to cinema and to our lives over the years. Below is a look at films that Kennedy shaped and nurtured into reality, and while they highlight many of our favorites it’s still just a small sampling of the films she’s produced. Seriously, look at her IMDB page if you need a reminder, and then keep reading as several of us here at FSR share our love for her productions.

Poltergeist (1982)

Whenever someone tries to make the argument that PG-rated horror is weak they should be immediately shut down with a one-two punch of The Legend of Hell House and Poltergeist. Both movies are focused on haunted houses, and both deliver the creepy, unsettling goods that remain effective decades later. Poltergeist is Kathleen Kennedy’s first official producing credit, and it began her association with Steven Spielberg (who co-produced and co-wrote the film) that continues to this day. Together with director Tobe Hooper they crafted a film that excels by portraying a strong, recognizable family and then building up a nightmare around them complete with physical terrors, emotional threats, and nervous laughter. Plus that damn clown. Sequels and a remake followed, but none of them live up to the perfect combination of scares, laughs, and relief. – Rob Hunter

Balto (1995)

I wasn’t raised on Star Wars but Kathleen Kennedy’s productions had a big impact on my childhood nonetheless. I remember watching Balto over and over as a kid. The story about a wolfdog who leads a team of huskies through the Alaskan wilderness to deliver badly needed medicine to the town of Nome is based on true events and makes for a heartwarming family film. It might be a bit simple, but lessons about the importance of inclusivity, selflessness, and teamwork are never bad ideals to teach to children. Balto is the movie that made me beg my parents incessantly to get a dog, and twelve years later when I visited New York for the first time, the Balto statue in Central Park was one of the tourist destinations I made sure I visited. As an adult, I can appreciate the bigger and more influential movies Kathleen Kennedy helped create and I’m grateful for them, but I still hold a soft spot in my heart for Balto and probably always will. – Anna Swanson

Tiny Toon Adventures: How I Spent My Summer Vacation (1992)

For years I thought this direct-to-video animated film, produced by Kennedy and Steven Spielberg, was a fever dream I once had, and with good reason. This movie (which the Glover brothers wrenched from obscurity by citing earlier this year as an inspiration for Atlanta‘s Robbin’ Season) is off-the-wall. Not quite All Dogs Go To Heaven-level, but still: it’s a Looney Tunes spin-off that features simultaneous parodies of Deliverance and National Lampoon’s Vacation, a sexy skunk character named Bimbette, an escaped-convict subplot, and the Tiny Toon versions of everyone from Arsenio Hall to Roseanne. Ultimately (and rather inexplicably) a very time-specific satire of Hollywood, How I Spent My Summer Vacation is clever, bold, and just plain bonkers. – Valerie Ettenhofer

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

Rogue One never felt solely like a Star Wars movie to me. Being mostly divorced from the royalty of the franchise, its themes have always seemed more universal. All the love to the Skywalker saga, but it’s nice to know that regular folks who are only tangentially linked to that family can bring hope to the galaxy. At their core, Star Wars movies are based on the strength and importance of relationships — the hope that is borne out of love and sacrifice. So of course the everyman deserves their chance to get involved and Rogue One is very much that kind of movie. The film is also a story about lost and restored faith and the legacy and power of belief. The characters in Rogue One are well-aware that they may not see the fruits of their labor when they go up against Imperial forces, but their actions signify the “spark” of the resistance that is the powerful throughline across the original and sequel trilogies. Rogue One is thus the perfect meeting point between nostalgia and the future of the franchise. – Sheryl Oh

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button accomplishes something rare: it makes you wish that David Fincher –whose films almost always involve violence and murder and seem designed to deliver adrenaline rushes like no other — would direct more love stories. The undoubtedly unique and sprawling tale of Benjamin Button’s life unfolds magically in the film and will fill any viewer with a genuine appreciation for the beauty of the human experience. It was producers Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall who purchased the rights to the F. Scott Fitzgerald short story on which the film is based and brought the project to Paramount, where Fincher was eventually brought on as director. And while yes, the film has an intimidating, nearly 3-hour run-time, once you reach the end you’ll remember Benjamin’s words: “I was just thinking how nothing lasts, and what a shame that is,” and know it was worth it. – Madison Brek

The Last Jedi: Star Wars Episode VIII (2017)

Hate on The Last Jedi all you want. Hate on it because it subverted your expectations. Hate on it because it “emasculated” Luke Skywalker. Hate on it because it actually developed characters and propelled them into new directions. Good film doesn’t just pander to its audience’s expectations, good film provides a comprehensive story centered around engaging characters and competent filmmaking. And The Last Jedi is a great film. Yes, Kathleen Kennedy and Rian Johnson changed some of what you love about Star Wars, but in doing so, they brought us some damn cool force powers, fresh and contemplative character development, and the best action in the series. Hate on The Last Jedi all you want, but it demonstrates exceptional filmmaking and authentic entertainment. — Pierce Singgih

Signs (2002)

Signs may in fact be the most refreshing alien invasion film of our time. Forget the fanboy gripes surrounding M. Night Shyamalan, and forget the bad taste Mel Gibson leaves in your mouth as a modern-day viewer — the fact is that there is so, so much to love about this movie. The most obvious way it stands apart is through the unique perspective we’re given during what should be the most cinematic and grandiose event in the film: the invasion itself. Clearly the aliens have been there from the start. However, the lead up to the inciting incident, the full-scale attack, is just perfect. We see the titular ‘signs’, get a glimpse of a few “scouts”, and even hear them communicating through baby monitors in that enthralling scene in the family’s driveway. So what’s next? Cinematic instincts tell us it’s time to go big, but Signs doesn’t take this tried and true route. Instead we are given a wonderfully contained story, sitting on eggshells in a remote farmhouse with this one, lone family during the film’s climax. We don’t see the effects of the alien attack on that dramatic, larger scale but instead get an intimate look at how it impacts those in the periphery of the destruction. This refreshing take on an alien invasion would not be nearly as effective if it weren’t for the characters we’ve gotten to know during the rising action and their relationships to one another. These characters become so interesting that the alien invasion exists almost in the background, or even feels as if it is occurring as a result of this small, broken family. Maybe the minds behind Signs even saw the invasion as a necessary event to mend their bumpy relationships. I’ll never forget that wonderful moment when child-me made the connection between Breslin’s water glasses and the aliens’ weakness. That, coupled with the dying wife’s prophetic last words, all culminates into those few minutes in the living room; right when you thought the worst was over and were quickly proven wrong. All the pieces clicked into place and you felt overall cheesily satisfied. It was definitely one of those magical film moments that made me fall in love with movies from a young age, and I still get goosebumps when Merrill picks up that baseball bat and swings awayKendall Cromartie

Gremlins (1984)

Joe Dante’s critter opus is one of the most entertaining movies ever made. It’s also one of the main reasons why millions of people look forward to Christmas every year. If you don’t watch Gremlins during the holiday season then you’re not celebrating the season correctly. Forget Jesus, Santa, and the Krampus — Kennedy’s contribution to Christmas is more important. But I’m not here to tell you how to live your life. I’m here to talk about how good this movie is. As far as creature features go, few are better than Gremlins, regardless of the size of the creatures in question. If you want to see tiny terrors get drunk and smoke cigarettes, this has everything you need. If you like adorable furry creatures, few are as heartwarming as Gizmo. Gremlins spawned an excellent sequel and a slew of imitators — some of which are a riot in their own right — but none captured the blend of horror, humor, and heart as impressively as the O.G. – Kieran Fisher

Twister (1996)

I can’t think of anything worse than being chased by a tornado (apart from Star Wars fans who spend most of their time online harassing filmmakers anyway), but when it comes to onscreen natural disasters I’m all in. The more unrealistic, the better. Twister is a great popcorn movie that ignores physics in favor of thrills and 90’s spectacle as we follow storm chasers amid some pretty dangerous tornado activity. While never under any illusions that it’s anything other than a big, dumb disaster movie, the tornado scenes are genuinely thrilling and the performances keep the implausible events somewhat grounded and deserving of our emotional investment. Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt play it straight, even though cows are flying around them. Why hasn’t Syfy made a movie called Cownado yet? – Kieran Fisher

An American Tail (1986)

Don Bluth’s first feature-length film after his very public departure from Disney was The Secret of Nimh, which distributing company MGM/UA deigned to treat like a piece of poop on a stick. They sandbagged it with a nearly non-existent promotional campaign and blindsided financiers with a limited release, causing most of them to back away from animation all together. To make matters worse, Nimh was going up against E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial that summer. Great. Thank god for Jerry Goldsmith. Not long after Don Bluth Productions filed for bankruptcy, Goldsmith (the composer of Nimh), introduced Bluth to Spielberg, who had an intense interest in traditional animation and promised to keep an eye out for a project that he and Bluth could work on together. And with Spielberg came Kathleen Kennedy. She’d been joined at the hip with Spielberg since E.T. (her first producing credit). While not for want of requisite sap and schmaltz, American Tail remains one of cinema’s best articulations of an immigrant experience. It doesn’t pull punches, and it doesn’t shy away from all the heartache and romanticism that goes along with uprooting a life. Apart from a shared belief that kids are capable of wrestling with difficult shit, to me, the Bluth/Spielberg (+Kennedy) partnership was affixed with an understanding that there is a vibrant truth to the notion that home is a feeling, not a place. With no cats. – Meg Shields

The Land Before Time (1988)

Having relocated his studio and shrugged off contract issues, Don Bluth embarked on his second feature with Spielberg/Kennedy’s Amblin Entertainment: 1988’s The Land Before Time. Given that the 80s were a decade of ~ saucy traditional animation drama ~ it should come as no surprise that there were tensions between the studio, financiers, and distributor (Bluth wanted to make things dark, Spielberg didn’t). It is a testament then, that Land Before Time was as much as a success as it was, both in the pocketbooks of parents, and in the hearts of children. Fact: kids love dinosaurs. Another fact: kids love well-rounded characters and plots with stakes. – Meg Shields

A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)

What would a Stanley Kubrick sci fi story about a robotic boy and the end of humanity look like in the hands of warm and fuzzy Steven Spielberg? Kathleen Kennedy helped give us the answer. A.I. Artificial Intelligence began its life as one of Kubrick’s famous undeveloped projects until the titan director handed the project over the Spielberg in the mid-nineties. After Kubrick’s death, Spielberg and Kennedy fast-tracked the project into production under their banner, Amblin Entertainment, and the result is an eclectic and moving film and a stoic yet sentimental fairytale that showcases the best qualities of two very different directors. – Purcell Liddy

Persepolis (2007)

If you’re easily upset by stories about strong women of color, then maybe Persepolis isn’t for you. (By which I mean, of course, that this is required viewing for you more than anyone). Based on Marjane Satrapi’s graphic autobiography of the same name, Persepolis is at once a relatable coming-of-age story and a highly specific history of the Iranian Revolution. It’s vitally personal and will leave you coursing with indignation but also keenly aware of what it means to grow up. Persepolis is not about the triumph of the human spirit, and it’s not about girl power. It’s the facts of a life in an insane time and place, told in mesmerizingly beautiful black and white animation. It should be required viewing (and reading) for everyone. – Liz Baessler

Innerspace (1987)

Joe Dante was the perfect addition to the Amblin brand as he understood the outsider’s point of view. Even his early Roger Corman expeditions swam deep down still waters, fishing emotion from B-movie absurdity. With Steven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy, and Frank Marshall, Dante mastered the mass audience’s desire for lonely kid drama in Gremlins. Normies don’t have a chance against rapidly multiplying demons of industry. Weirdos are the ones who will win out in the end. After a quick dalliance with Paramount Pictures for Explorers, Dante returned to Amblin for his silliest and most bizarre action-comedy to date. Innerspace rips into your memory of Fantastic Voyage and elevates the body horror for grand guffaws. Dennis Quaid’s Tuck Pendleton is a washed-out, wannabe astronaut whose last ditch at heroism involves experimental miniaturization and a capsule designed to navigate the inner space of a rabbit. After terrorists attempt to steal the technology, Pendleton is accidentally injected into the body of grocery boy Martin Short. Hijinks ensue. Innerspace is one of those gotta-see-it-to-believe-it movies. Most would read the screenplay and toss it in the “Nice Try” pile. Amblin saw comedy gold where others saw subpar sci-fi. Connecting Dante’s Looney Tune sensibilities with Quaid and Short’s buddy cop banter propelled the adventure to essential 80s entertainment. Whatever joys are found in Leigh Whannell’s recent Upgrade could first be found within Innerspace. – Brad Gullickson

Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)

Three years after their first collaboration on 1985’s Back to the Future, Kennedy reteamed with Robert Zemeckis for Who Framed Roger Rabbit, a zippy noir that riffed on classic studio cartoons and broke technological barriers. The influence of Roger Rabbit on Hollywood blockbuster culture cannot be overstated: Films from The Lego Movie to Ready Player One have borrowed its irreverent tone and frenetic cross-pollination of iconic characters. The film’s producers, including Kennedy and Steven Spielberg, were tasked with attaining the rights to these characters; by hook or by crook, they succeeded, even managing to get Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse into the same frame. – John DiLillo

Schindler’s List (1993)

There are few films that highlight compassion in the face of tragedy like Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List. As just one of her collaborations with Spielberg, Kennedy helped develop the film with him. Even though she wasn’t able to be a huge part of the entire production because she wanted to focus on being a mother, Kennedy was there in the beginning stages of yet another extraordinary movie. She alone didn’t make Schindler’s List great, it’s obvious by looking at her long list of award-winning films that she brings something great to every film she’s involved in. Perhaps those disappointed in recent projects she’s been a part of could look to this film for a refresher on how small the problems we tend to dwell on are in the context of larger evils. – Emily Kubincanek

Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990)

There is literally no other film quite like Gremlins 2: The New Batch. One long homage to the 1941 film Hellzapoppin’, a Joe Dante favorite based on a hit Broadway show featuring vaudeville legends Olsen and Johnson and a fourth wall breaking turn by Shemp Howard (which Gremlins 2 would allude to with Hulk Hogan’s cornball cameo), the film’s madcap pace and metafictional humor is evident in The New Batch. Despite the overwhelming success of Dante’s Gremlins in 1984, it would be six years before Stripe and friends would be back, this time trying to conquer Manhattan. And rather than try to rehash familiar tropes that worked in the first film, Dante shattered the mold. Retaining the essence of Chris Columbus’ creatures, he pushed them to the nth degree, each gremlin not just having its own personality but distinct power. Bat gremlin! Brainy gremlin! Vegetable gremlin! Electricity gremlin! If Daniel Clamps’ “smart building” had it, it’s a sure bet that one of the gremlins did as well. Even if you strip away the loaded cameos (Christopher Lee!), the musical numbers (“If I can make it there, I’ll make it – anywhere!”), Dick Miller, the gorgeous NYC skyline, and how damn cute Gizmo is dancing along to Fats Domino: the film is just an undeniable, baffling joy. While a sketch on Key and Peele led to a resurgence in the public’s affection for the film, many believe Gremlins 2 to be a lark, a parody that pales in comparison to the original film. In actuality, it’s the perfect synthesis of personal aesthetic with the cartoonish, nostalgic excess of the 1980s. – Jacob Trussell

Congo (1995)

Let’s face it: how can anything follow up the earth-shattering success of Jurassic Park? It’s almost impossible to match the cinematic highs that Steven Spielberg and Michael Crichton’s film achieved. But when you have a mega-hit like JP, it makes sense to strike while that iron is hot and find the next great Michael Crichton film. But the problem once again is: there’s nothing quite like Jurassic Park. Which is why Congo was such a resounding failure at the box office. When audiences come to see the “next film from the author of Jurassic Park”, you expect the thrills and chills of the T-Rex chase or the stalking Raptors scene, not an adventure movie inspired by Lost World literary characters like Allan Quatermain and early 90s environmentalism. They also really didn’t expect a “talking” monkey. And while a perfect storm of languid pacing, dodgy CGI, and a general feeling of “This isn’t like Jurassic Park” made the film an infamous flop, there’s still far more good to take away from this film than bad. Jerry Goldsmith’s score is evocative of the golden age adventure films that Crichton was inspired by. Pulitzer, Tony, and Academy Award-winning writer John Patrick Shanley writes broad, fun, pulpy characters that are like blank canvas’ for the actors to paint on. Ernie Hudson is so charming as Munro Kelly (a role intended for Sean Connery) that it breaks your heart he was never given the opportunity to be the Hollywood action hero he deserved to be. Laura Linney shows in an early role how much of a powerhouse she can be, even with hokey material, while Tim Curry does what Curry does best: a broad character that is as eccentric as he is entertaining. The prize at the bottom of the cereal box though are the cameos: from Joe Don Baker and Bruce Campbell, to Joey Pantoliano, John Hawkes, James Karen, Delroy Lindo, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, and the connecting thread to the Jurassic Park universe, Jimmy Buffett. The mutated gorillas are no match for the genetically modified velociraptors, but by divorcing Congo from Jurassic Park, you’re left with one hell of an entertaining slice of 90’s nostalgia. – Jacob Trussell

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

I have an interesting history with E.T., and Kathleen Kennedy does as well. Kennedy was rising in the ranks as an assistant to one Steven Spielberg and got her first credit as producer on the iconic feature. What resulted was a friendship/partnership that has spanned the last four decades. For me, E.T. was long a blind spot in my history of Spielberg films. I didn’t grow up with the film and always thought the alien protagonist was a little creepy. It certainly didn’t help that there were huge supporters of the film in my family or friends. E.T. just sort of existed, but never really was a must watch. I think the time that change was during one of its numerous home media releases. There was fervor, or re-interest if you will, on the title and its praises as a landmark film were being sung far and wide. The best children stories are ones that scare children a little. At least that’s what I’ve learned from following the films and stories from Roald Dahl. E.T. fits that criteria perfectly. On the surface, there is a story of a boy connecting with an alien. Explore deeper and you find a broken family, the heavy hand of the government, and the compassion of children being a fundamental element to our humanity on Earth. Audiences might still point to a number of Spielberg films that he left his signature stamp on that they prefer, but few show Spielberg at the peak of his ability and an iconic story that still rings true to this day. – Max Covill

Arachnophobia (1990)

I’ve always been a sucker for “animal attack” movies, from the goofy and gory (Grizzly) to the gross and sleazy (Slugs), and through it all one of my favorites in the subgenre has remained Arachnophobia. It’s an Amblin production, and like almost every genre feature from Spielberg and Kennedy it’s a near-perfect blend of thrills, humor, and personality. Spiders are inherently creepy, and the film does a great job capitalizing on that truth with some tense and icky sequences leading up to an over the top finale involving a frighteningly large and very angry tarantula. It’s a fun creature feature that’s suitable for the whole family provided they can handle the creepy crawly terror of it all. – Rob Hunter

Munich (2005)

When you think of 21st century Spielberg, what movies come to mind? Lincoln, for Daniel Day-Lewis’ Oscar-winning performance? Perhaps Catch Me If You Can, for its infectious energy? Or even the recent Ready Player One, for it dizzying blend of pop culture icons? However, there is one Spielberg film from this era which appears in far too few conversations. That is 2005’s Munich, produced by Kathleen Kennedy. It was well received upon release, with Roger Ebert calling it “an act of courage and conscience” in his glowing review, but it did not do so well with audiences. In fact, it’s Spielberg’s lowest grossing film of the 21st century, making only $130.4 million at the box office. On top of that, the film didn’t win a single Academy Award, despite its five nominations. Don’t let any of that put you off though, as the film is absolutely fantastic. Focusing on Israel’s retaliation for the Munich massacre of 1972, which saw the PLO take hostage and eventually kill members of Israel’s Olympic team, the film is a tense thriller and one of the most complex works in Spielberg’s filmography. The aforementioned massacre opens the film, a nail-biting sequence that perfectly sets the tone for the rest of the film. The camerawork, which expertly demonstrates the geography of each scene and keeps the viewer on edge, is one of the most praised elements of the film, but perhaps the true star of the show is the masterful sound design by Ben Burtt. Burtt adds excruciating tension to a particular sequence involving the planting of a bomb in a telephone. Whether it’s your first time or one of many re-watches, Munich is definitely deserving of another look and remains one of the finest films on the super-producer’s impressive resume. – Hayden Cornmell

Jurassic Park (1993)

Kathleen Kennedy served as one of the two primary producers on a perfect movie. In this house, we respect Jurassic Park as one of, if not the single greatest movie of all-time. No film is a singular effort. It takes a great storyteller, a great manager, superb logistics and operations, and someone watching over all of it to ensure that the director is left to fulfill their creative vision. If you ask Steven Spielberg whether or not Jurassic Park  — a perfect movie — would have been the same without Kathy Kennedy, well, we already know the answer to that in our hearts, don’t we? – Neil Miller

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Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.