|Steven Spielberg. Photo courtesy of Reuters
HOLLYWOOD -- Steven Spielberg, named head of the Cannes Film Festival jury Wednesday, is a Hollywood legend and one of modern cinema's most influential filmmakers -- even if his awards glory has faded of late.
The 66-year-old was named to the prestigious post days after his second disappointing awards season in two years, with his top-tipped drama "Lincoln" going home with only two Oscars out of 12 nominations last weekend.
So it will come as a welcome honor to be selected to help choose this year's Palme d'Or at the world's top film festival, to be held on the French Rivieria May 15-26.
Spielberg has directed more than 50 films in his five-decade career, including pop culture touchstones such as "Jaws," "E.T.," "Indiana Jones" and "Jurassic Park."
His movies -- a canny mix of big-budget, effects-laden blockbusters and intensely personal projects -- have raked in over $4 billion at the box office, according to Boxofficemojo.
However, he won his last Oscar for best director 14 years ago for "Saving Private Ryan," and despite repeated nominations, he has fallen short of his earlier award-winning success.
Born in the eastern US state of Ohio in December 1946 and raised in Arizona, Spielberg is the oldest of four children born to a Jewish engineer and a musician mother.
By the age of 12, he had made his first movie, an eight-minute Western called "The Last Gun," which the future mogul financed with proceeds from a tree-planting business.
Two years later, he had made two more films, a war movie and another in which he spliced World War II newsreel footage of planes together with film he had taken at his local airport -- his first special effects.
After leaving school, Spielberg went to university near Los Angeles but dropped out and began hanging around Hollywood's Universal Studios, where he became a tour guide.
After sneaking onto sets, he was spotted by a screenwriter who taught cinematic techniques, and when he was 22, Universal gave him a seven-year contract making television shows after his short film, "Amblin,'" won a prize.
He made the classic TV suspense movie "Duel" in 1971, the story of a traveling salesman being pursued by a psychopath in a truck, which was so well received that it was released in theaters.
His career took off and he became a household name in 1975 with his second big-screen movie, the risky shark thriller "Jaws," which entered into pop culture lore and launched the tradition of the summer blockbuster.
A string of mega-successes followed: "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" (1977); "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (1981), with Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones; "Poltergeist" and "E.T." in 1982; and the dinosaur epic "Jurassic Park" (1993).
He began producing movies with "E.T." but came into his own in the field after he produced the 1985 blockbuster "Back to the Future," soon becoming one of Hollywood's richest and most powerful movie moguls.
His estimated net worth is $3.2 billion, according to Forbes magazine.
But alongside his action-packed blockbusters, Spielberg has also made several movies that were close to his heart, including "Schindler's List"; "The Color Purple" (1985), with Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey; "Amistad" (1997), about the slave trade; and 2005's "Munich."
Spielberg secured his first best director Oscar for "Schindler's List," based on a true story about a German businessman who protected Jews during the Holocaust.
After some less successful projects, Spielberg co-founded the DreamWorks SKG studio in 1994 along with former Disney president Jeffrey Katzenberg and music producer David Geffen, a move that reversed his fortunes with a string of hits.
His 2011 comic book adaptation "Tintin" won an Oscar nomination for its music.
He followed that with "War Horse" -- which was nominated for six Oscars but won zero -- and then "Lincoln," which lost to Ben Affleck's "Argo" for best film and Ang Lee for best director at the 85th Academy Awards last Sunday.
His upcoming projects include teaming up with Ford again on "Indiana Jones 5," said already to be in the works, according to the IMDb industry website.
Spielberg is married to actress Kate Capshaw, with whom he has five children, and he also has another child with his first wife, Amy Irving.
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