Spielberg Castigates Streamers, But Things They Might Have Helped The Post

Steven Spielberg hopes you’ll see his new film The Fabelmans in a theater, with a big audience. He believes the cinematic experience is essential, and isn’t happy with the way streaming services seized on the pandemic to raise prices and “throw some of my best filmmaker friends under the bus.” At the same time, he thinks his film The Post might have been better served by a streaming release than the theatrical one it received in 2017.

Those are a few of the thoughts he shared about the shifting sands of film distribution in a new interview with The New York Times tied to The Fabelmans, which is inspired by his own formative years.

“The pandemic created an opportunity for streaming platforms to raise their subscriptions to record-breaking levels and also throw some of my best filmmaker friends under the bus as their movies were unceremoniously not given theatrical releases. They were paid off and the films were suddenly relegated to, in this case, HBO Max. The case I’m talking about. And then everything started to change,” he told The Times.

Warner Bros. was widely criticized by filmmakers including Christopher Nolan when it decided, amidst pandemic lockdowns, to release all 17 films on its 2021 slate on HBO Max, which dramatically cut into their theatrical bounty. Spielberg’s 2021 film West Side Story did receive a theatrical release, but proved to be a major box-office disappointment. Theatrical box office bounced back at the end of 2021 with the smashing success of Spider-Man: No Way Home, and continued this year with the staggering box office for Top Gun: Maverick.

This week welcomes Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, and, in New York and Los Angeles, The Fabelmans. Spielberg’s film goes wide November 23.

Spielberg, 75, added that older audiences might be especially prone to watching movies at home instead of venturing out to theaters, but that those who do will find that “the magic of being in a social situation with a bunch of strangers is a tonic.” He was also encouraged that Baz Luhrman’s Elvis fared well with a theatrical release — and believes comic-book movies, animated films, horror films and hopefully comedies remain viable as theatrical releases. Beyond that, he believes filmmakers need to fight to preserve the theatrical experience.

“I think there has to be a concerted effort on the part of movie directors to demand that the streaming services footing the bill for most of these films give their movies a chance to be exhibited theatrically and not just in four theaters to qualify for awards,” he said, noting that the Writers Guild of America, Directors Guild of American and Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will all need to do their parts.

He added that executives like himself and others at Amblin Partners will need to make hard decisions about whether to stream, or insist on theatrical releases for their films. But he isn’t dead-set on the latter. He told the Times that The Post, which is about The Washington Post‘s 1971 fight to publish the Pentagon Papers, might have reached a wider audience via streaming.

“I don’t know if I had been given that script post-pandemic whether I would have preferred to have made that film for Apple or Netflix and gone out to millions of people,” he said. “Because the film had something to say to millions of people, and we were never going to get those millions of people into enough theaters to make that kind of difference.”

The Fabelemans, directed by Steven Spielberg, is in theaters  in New York and Los Angeles on Friday and opens wide November 23.

Main image: Paul Dano, Mateo Zoryon Francis-DeFord and Michelle Williams watch a movie in The Fabelmans, directed by Steven Spielberg.