On Wednesday, American filmmaker Steven Spielberg accepted TIME’s first-ever TIME100 Impact Award in the U.S., a distinction that acknowledges a global pioneer pushing the boundaries to move their industries forward.

Spielberg joked while receiving the accolade from TIME, which in its first issue 100 years ago reviewed the 1922 silent drama Down to the Sea in Ships. “Wow, a [movie about a] big fish eating a boat,” said Spielberg, whose 1975 film Jaws gave him his big break. “I wish I would have thought of that,” he said as the crowd erupted in laughter.

Spielberg has since become one of the most influential and celebrated figures of cinema—his directorial filmography includes Jurassic Park, Saving Private Ryan, and most recently The Fabelmans, a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age film.

Two actors who reflect Spielberg’s impact on the film industry presented the award. Drew Barrymore and Ke Huy Quan, who were each included on the 2023 TIME100 list of most influential people, both began their careers as child actors in Spielberg films. They first met each other on the set of the 1984 blockbuster Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, in which Quan starred. “We haven’t seen each other in almost 40-years!” said Quan, alongside Barrymore at Lincoln Center’s Appel Room stage.

Quan, who recently won an Oscar for his role in last year’s Best Picture Everything Everywhere All At Once, credits Spielberg for his fervor for the entertainment profession. Some 40 years ago, my story in film began with a fateful meeting with a man whom I will always forever credit for helping me discover my passion for acting,” said Quan. “Steven introduced me to this world where his imagination lived and invited me in. He showed me how much fun we can have when we let creativity be our guide.”

Spielberg cast Barrymore more than four decades ago in her first breakout role in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. She has since won three Golden Globes and now hosts her own talk show The Drew Barrymore Show. “I can trace my entire life back to a choice made by one person,” Barrymore said of the director. “He not only changed my life, but I am so happy to be here to honor him tonight to thank him for changing all of our lives,” she added. “Every person on the planet has a story, and Steven has made us all feel so connected, not only in the movie theaters but in life itself. ”

As Spielberg took to the stage to accept his award, he was met with a standing ovation and resounding applause from the hundreds of TIME100 Gala attendees in the theater. He used his speech to return his gratitude back to Barrymore and Quan.

“I have never been more proud in my working career than being able to find in 1981 six-year-old Drew Barrymore and in early 1983 eleven-year-old Ke. I was so lucky to find them both, and they have not changed in all those years.”

Spielberg concluded by reflecting on TIME’s legacy: “I’ve read it since I learned how to read two-to-three syllable words. Lucky me, I get to say thank you tonight.”

The TIME100 special airs Sunday at 7/6c on ABC and streams on Hulu and Disney+.

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Write to Mariah Espada at mariah.espada@time.com.

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