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Steven Spielberg: Warner Bros. Threw Directors ‘Under the Bus’ with HBO Max Releases

"Their movies were unceremoniously not given theatrical releases," Spielberg said. "They were paid off."

HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 06: Steven Spielberg attends AFI Fest 2022: Red Carpet Premiere Of "The Fabelmans" at TCL Chinese Theatre on November 06, 2022 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images for AFI)

Steven Spielberg

Getty Images for AFI

Steven Spielberg is still shocked by Warner Bros. releasing big budget films via HBO Max amid the pandemic.

The Academy Award winner slammed the day-and-date HBO Max releases in 2021, with acclaimed films like “In the Heights,” “Judas and the Black Messiah,” “Dune,” “King Richard,” and “The Matrix Resurrections” debuting on the streamer the same day as in theaters.

“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 told The New York Times. “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 continued, “I think older audiences were relieved that they didn’t have to step on sticky popcorn. 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. Those audiences, I believe, left the theater if the movie was good and said, ‘Aren’t you glad we went out tonight to see this picture?’ So, 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 said that if he made 2017 political thriller “The Post” post-pandemic, he might have considered partnering with AppleTV+ or Netflix for the film to reach “millions of people.” “

“We thought that was an important reflection for a lot of people to understand what was happening to our country,” Spielberg said of the historical drama surrounding the release of the Pentagon Papers during the Nixon administration. “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.”

The “Fabelmans” director noted that there is “no question” that “big sequels” and Marvel, DC, and Pixar films “still have a place in society,” especially as being theatrical draws among the likes of animated movies and horror films as a whole. “Hopefully comedies come back, because you can’t laugh as hard at home as you can in an audience,” Spielberg added. “I found it encouraging that ‘Elvis’ broke $100 million at the domestic box office. 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.”

But, according to the “Jaws” helmer, it’s up to directors to negotiate with studios to make sure their films launch in theaters, as well as streaming platforms.

“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,” Spielberg said. “It’s going to have to come from all of us — the WGA [the Writers Guild], the DGA [the Directors Guild] and eventually the Academy.”

He continued, “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. I don’t know anyone that would say, ‘No, I’d rather it be shown on an iPad or in a living room.'”

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