Steven Spielberg said in a new interview with The New York Times that streaming services like HBO Max have thrown filmmakers “under the bus” by “unceremoniously” dumping high-profile new releases on streaming and not in theaters. The Oscar winner refers to Warner Bros.’ the decision to release its entire 2021 movie slate both on HBO Max and in theaters on the same day. For Spielberg, such a decision changed the cinema habits of adults.
“The pandemic created an opportunity for streaming platforms to raise their subscriptions to record highs and also throw some of my best filmmaker friends under the bus when their movies unceremoniously didn’t get theatrical releases,” Spielberg said. “They were paid, and suddenly the movies were relegated to, in this case, HBO Max. The thing I’m talking about. And then everything started to change.”
“I think older audiences were relieved that they didn’t have to step on sticky popcorn,” Spielberg continued. “But I really believe that those same older audiences, once they got to the theater, the magic of being in a social situation with a bunch of strangers is a tonic… it’s up to the movies to be good enough to get all the audience to say it to each other when the lights come back up.
Spielberg cited Baz Luhrmann’s “Elvis” as a film that gave him hope for the future of adult-oriented films at the box office. The director said that “there’s no question that the big sequels and movies from Marvel and DC and Pixar and some of the animated movies and horror movies still have a place in society” given their box office returns. “Elvis,” with its $151 million domestic gross, proved that grown-up fare still has a fighting chance.
“I found it encouraging that ‘Elvis’ broke $100 million at the domestic box office,” Spielberg said. “A lot of older people went to see that movie, and it gave me hope that people are starting to come back to the movies as the pandemic becomes an endemic. I think movies are coming back. I really do.”
While the pandemic didn’t completely change Spielberg’s commitment to theatricality, he admitted to The Times that it has at least made him more open to considering the value of a potential move toward a streaming-only release.
“I made ‘The Post’ as a political statement about our time by reflecting the Nixon administration, and we thought it was an important reflection for a lot of people to understand what was happening to our country,” Spielberg said. “I don’t know if I had gotten that script post-pandemic, if I would have preferred to have made that movie for Apple or Netflix and gone out to millions of people. Because the movie had something to say to millions of people, and we would never get those millions of people into enough theaters to make that kind of difference. Things have changed enough to make me tell you that.”
Spielberg’s latest directorial effort, “The Fabelmans,” opens exclusively in select theaters on Nov. 11 before expanding nationwide on Nov. 23.