10 Best Semi-autobiographical Movies To Watch Before ‘The Fabelmans’

The great Steven Spielberg returns to the silver screen yet again in a more personal, heartfelt manner in his new film The Fabelmans. The Fabelmans is a semi-autobiographical film about a young boy who falls in love with film and film-making after his parents take him to see “The Greatest Show on Earth.”

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This film is obviously important to Spielberg since it’s his own origin story as one of the most acclaimed directors of the generation. Therefore, it’s important to recognize other semi-autobiographical films from directors like Susan Lacy, Kenneth Branagh, and Spielberg himself before The Fabelmans can be truly appreciated.


‘E.T.’ (1982)

E.T. is most definitely Spielberg’s most notable work, with the film going down in movie history. E.T. follows a young boy named Elliott who finds and helps a gentle, friendly alien escape from Earth and return to his home planet. The movie is unbelievably emotional and heartwarming as the two form an unlikely and loving friendship.

The concept was allegedly based on Spielberg’s imaginary friend as a child after his parents had divorced. Anyone looking to get a taste of Spielberg’s heartfelt and touching elements in his films should watch this classic.

‘Minari’ (2020)

Main cast side-by-side in Minari

Minari is not a Spielberg film, but includes themes similar to upbringing and autobiographical stories. The story, written and directed by Lee Isaac Chung, follows a small family of South Korean immigrants who are attempting to succeed and exist in the rural United States during the 1980s.

Minari is a critically acclaimed movie that earned Youn Yuh-jung an Oscar Award, making her the first Korean American to win an Oscar for acting. With Chung’s voice in the film, the semi-autobiographical themes of the film are extremely important regarding minorities. Telling heartfelt and personal stories is unbelievably important, and Minari does that beautifully.

‘Roma’ (2018)

'roma' 2018

Roma is a Mexican film written and directed by Alfonso Cuarón that is another semi-autobiographical take on his upbringing in Colonia Roma, a neighborhood in Mexico City. The film revolves around a woman named Cleo as she prepares for becoming a mother and simultaneously tries to support a family.

Roma is an honest and raw take on such pertinent real-life struggles. Anyone looking for a universally-acclaimed international film should definitely look into Roma and all that it has to offer.

‘Ready Player One’ (2018)

Wade (Tye Sheridan) looks at Samantha (Olivia Cooke) in Ready Player One

Ready Player One is one of Spielberg’s newest films and is a science fiction action film based on a novel of the same name. Set in 2045, much of humanity relies on OASIS, a virtual reality simulation, to escape the real world.

RELATED: With ‘Ready Player One,’ Steven Spielberg Attempted to Grapple With His Own Legacy

A teenager finds clues to a special contest that awards the winner full ownership over the software, and he and his friends set out to complete it before an enemy corporation beats them to it. Ready Player One is one of Spielberg’s more unique films, and a refreshing sci-fi film is much-needed. Because many of Spielberg’s movies have outlandish themes, it’s clear that in his childhood explored in The Fabelmans he desired an escape.

‘Spielberg’ (2017)

Image via 20th Century Studios

Spielberg is a documentary film directed by Susan Lacy and focuses on Spielberg’s life and success. The film is a collection of clips from his films, behind-the-scenes information, and interviews with a plethora of collaborators, friends, and family.

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Any aspiring filmmaker should check out this documentary. After all, Spielberg is among the best of the best. Knowing his true, factual background of Spielberg is going to be essential in understanding the fictional themes in The Fabelmans and where Spielberg may take artistic liberties.

‘Jaws’ (1975)

A man fighting with a great white shark

Jaws is a thriller film directed by Spielberg that is based on the novel by Peter Benchley. The film is a classic, and its influence in world culture is undeniable. The film follows a police chief who, along with help from marine biologists and shark hunters, hunts a man-eating great white shark that is violently attacking beach goers at a summer resort town.

RELATED: Every Steven Spielberg Movie Ranked from Worst to Best

Perhaps the most iconic part of the film is the brilliant score by John Williams. Any filmmaker should watch Jaws unless they’re terrified of sharks—that could be a problem. Spielberg even mentioned in interviews how he had nightmares from Jaws!

‘Almost Famous’ (2000)

almost famous
Image via Paramount

Almost Famous is a comedy-drama film (that is now a Broadway musical) that is not from the mind of Spielberg, but has themes of chasing stardom as youth. The film follows a teenage journalist for the Rolling Stone Magazine in the 1970s who tours with a rock band in order to get his first cover story published.

RELATED: ‘Almost Famous’ Musical Is Headed to the Broadway Stage This Fall

The film is actually semi-autobiographical, with director Cameron Crowe calling on his past as a teenage writer for Rolling Stone as inspiration. Almost Famous was a huge success, proving that real-life experiences (like those bound to be discussed in The Fabelmans) are so relatable to audiences worldwide.

‘Belfast’ (2021)

Judi Dench, Jude Hill, Lewis McAskie, Caitriona Balfe, and Jaime Dornan in Belfast
Image via TKBC

Belfast is a new coming-of-age drama film that is from the mind of Kenneth Branagh, and is considered one of his more personal films thus far. Belfast follows a young boy’s childhood in Belfast, Northern Ireland, at the beginning of “The Troubles” (a Northern Irish conflict) in 1969.

The film is said to be phenomenal and has received 7 Academy Award Nominations. Anyone looking for a historical and deeply personal film should consider watching Belfast. Noticing historical topics and relevancy is important to understand before watching The Fabelmans, since it is also a period piece.

‘Schindler’s List’ (1993)

Schindler's List

Schindler’s List is Spielberg’s epic historical drama based on the novel Schindler’s Ark. The film follows Oskar Schindler, a German industrialist who saved more than a thousand Polish-Jewish refugees from the horrors of the Holocaust by getting them to work in his factories.

The film is a classic and stars both Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes. Schindler’s List is considered to be one of Spielberg’s best films and should be watched by any fan of the great director. Since Spielberg comes from a Jewish family, it is clear there were many personal ties to a project as intense as this one.

‘Saving Private Ryan’ (1998)

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Saving Private Ryan, the cultural phenomenon epic war film, is one of Spielberg’s greatest films to date. The film is set during the Battle of Normandy in World War II and follows a US Captain named John H. Miller and his squad as they look for a paratrooper named James Francis Ryan.

Saving Private Ryan is known for its graphic portrayal of war, and has an all-star cast including Tom Hanks! Based on Spielberg’s past that will be discussed in The Fabelmans, war was a common topic throughout his childhood that later appears in many of his films.

NEXT: ‘The Fabelmans’ Cast on the Emotional Making of the Film

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