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 is referring to Warner Bros.’ decision to release all of its 2021 film slate both on HBO Max and in theaters on the same day. For Spielberg, such a decision changed moviegoing habits for adults.
“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,” Spielberg said. “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.”
“I think older audiences were relieved that they didn’t have to step on sticky popcorn,” Spielberg continued. “But I really believe those same older audiences, once they got into 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 audiences to say that to each other when the lights come back up.
Spielberg cited Baz Luhrmann’s “Elvis” as one movie that gave him hope for the future of adult-skewing movies at the box office. The director said “there’s no question that the big sequels and movies from Marvel and DC and Pixar and some of the animated movies and horror films still have a place in society” given their box office returns. “Elvis,” with its $151 million domestic gross, proved adult 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 film, and that gave me hope that people were starting to come back to the movies as the pandemic becomes an endemic. I think movies are going to come back. I really do.”
While the pandemic did not fully change Spielberg’s commitment to theatrical, he did admit to The Times that it has at least gotten him to more openly consider the value of a potential move towards a streaming-only release.
“I made ‘The Post’ as a political statement about our times by reflecting the Nixon administration, and we thought that 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 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. 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. Things have changed enough to get me to say that to you.”
Spielberg’s latest directorial effort, “The Fabelmans,” opens exclusively in select movie theaters on Nov. 11 before expanding nationwide on Nov. 23.