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Steven Spielberg wants us back in the theater, says filmmakers were thrown "under the bus" by streamers

The Fabelmans director Steven Spielberg urges the industry to keep fighting for theatrical releases so audiences can keep getting the experience they deserve

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Steven Spielberg
Steven Spielberg
Photo: Michael Loccisano (Getty Images)

Take it from Steven Spielberg himself: there’s nothing that can replace the theatrical experience. In a new conversation with The New York Timeschief film critic A.O. Scott, Spielberg takes on the elephant in the industry: the way the moviegoing experience is fundamentally changing thanks to streaming and Hollywood’s franchise frenzy.

“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 explains. “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.”

Spielberg’s latest film The Fablemans is an autobiographical coming-of-age story, which warmly chronicles Spielberg stand-in Sammy Fableman’s love affair with cinema. His passion for filmmaking blossoms against the backdrop of his Jewish-American family’s suburban life post-World War II; Michelle Williams and Paul Dano star as his parents, Mitzi and Burt Fableman.

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The shift from the world in which Spielberg grew up to today’s industry is enormous, especially post-pandemic. But Spielberg remains hopeful that movies “are going to come back.”

“Certainly, 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,” Spielberg says. “And hopefully comedies come back, because you can’t laugh as hard at home as you can in an audience.”

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Spielberg says this fact really resonated with him during the Toronto International Film Festival screening of The Fablemans, which he says his wife urged him to attend.

“I was terrified, but the movie plays to a big audience of 2,000 people, and in the funny parts, it played like a big comedy,” Spielberg recalls.

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In Spielberg’s mind, directors in his position must “demand” that streaming services give their films a fair shot at a wide release—not just a four-theater awards circuit.

“When you’re first starting out, and a streaming service gives you a chance to direct your first movie, of course the streaming service is going to call the shot, but I don’t know anybody that wouldn’t like their movies to be shown on a big screen,” Spielberg says. “I don’t know anyone that would say, no, I’d rather it be shown on an iPad or in a living room.”