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” releasing high-profile new releases on streaming rather than in theaters. The Oscar winner refers to Warner Bros.’ decision to release its entire slate of 2021 movies both on HBO Max and in theaters on the same day. For Spielberg, such a decision changed the filmmaking habits of adults.
“The pandemic created an opportunity for streaming platforms to push their subscriptions to record levels and also throw some of my best filmmaker friends under the bus as their movies didn’t get theatrical releases,” Spielberg said. “They were paid and the movies 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 not to have to step on sticky popcorn,” Spielberg continued. “But I really think that those same older audiences, once they’ve walked into the theater, the magic of being in a social situation with a group of strangers is a tonic…it’s up to the movies to be good enough for the whole audience to say that some to the others when the lights come back on.
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 “there’s no question that the big Marvel and DC and Pixar sequels and movies 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, showed that 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 movie, and that gave me hope that people will start going back to the movies as the pandemic becomes endemic. I think movies are going to come back. I really do.”
While the pandemic hasn’t entirely changed Spielberg’s commitment to film, he admitted to The Times that it has at least made him more openly consider the value of a possible move toward a streaming-only release.
“I made ‘The Post’ as a political statement about our times by reflecting on 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 been given that script after the pandemic if I would have preferred to make that film for Apple or Netflix and go out to millions of people. Because the movie had something to say to millions of people, and we were never going to get those millions into enough theaters to make that kind of difference. Things have changed enough for me to tell you that.”
Spielberg’s latest directorial effort, “The Fabelmans,” opens exclusively in select theaters on Nov. 11 before expanding nationwide on Nov. 23.