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Steven Spielberg is one of the greatest living film directors, and that's not a controversial statement. He has made some of the most well regarded, and most popular, films in the history of the medium. He has inspired countless filmmakers to follow in his footsteps. James Gunn, director of the Guardians of the Galaxy films, fully admits to being one of those inspired by the work of Spielberg, which is why he says he literally cried when he learned that the director of Jaws was a fan of his work.
There's been a story going around the internet, like they do, which purports to be a list of Steven Spielberg's 20 favorite films. And on that list, the only superhero movie to be found is James Gunn's Guardians of the Galaxy. While the authenticity of the list is suspect at best, and James Gunn knows this, Spielberg has gone on record to say he's a fan of the film. Furthermore, he called it his favorite in the genre. When asked about the list, Gunn shared his reaction to learning that the man who inspired him was a fan of his work.
It was back in 2016 when Steven Spielberg revealed his love for Guardians of the Galaxy. While he also called out Richard Donner's Superman, Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight and Jon Favreau's Iron Man as movies he liked, he brought special attention to the first Guardians as a movie that he felt was unique within the genre. In his words,
I really like Richard Donner's Superman, Nolan's Dark Knight and the first Iron Man movie, but the superhero movie that most impressed me is one that does not take itself too seriously: Guardians of the Galaxy. When it ended, I left the cinema with the feeling that I had just experienced something new, free of cynicism and without concern for being gritty when necessary.
Guardians of the Galaxy certainly felt very different when it came out in 2014. While the Marvel Cinematic Universe wasn't necessarily all that gritty or cynical, it was taking itself more seriously. The previous film in the franchise had been Captain America: The Winter Soldier, certainly the most cynical and gritty film to date. And then along came Chris Pratt dancing to '70s pop music while on an alien planet. It completely changed things up and felt very different.
The sequel continued on that path, being a quite emotional journey for all its characters that we haven't seen in most of the rest of the MCU. For the record, Fred Raskin, who James Gunn says he was editing with when he heard Steven Spielberg's comments, edited both Guardians films. So the pair were apparently working on the sequel when Gunn had his moment.
Crying a little bit is a perfectly reasonable reaction under the circumstances from my POV. James Gunn says that Steven Spielberg's films were a big part of the reason he wanted to make movies in the first place. To know that you had succeeded in doing that, and to a degree that it impressed the guy who inspired you, is a big deal.
Both of the Guardians of the Galaxy movies are excellent films and that certainly has fans excited for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, which is set to start filming this year.