What is the importance of an exclusive theatrical release?
It is obvious that the COVID-19 pandemic had a drastic effect on the box office that is still affecting theaters around the nation.
While some studios attempted to find solutions during the pandemic to release their major films to the world on streaming platforms and in theaters, many filmmakers like Denis Villeneuve and Christopher Nolan heavily criticized the decision, saying that these films are intended for and enhanced by the theater-going experience.
Now, Steven Spielberg joins the conversation regarding the state of movie-going. He says a pivotal moment in his latest film, The Fabelmans, revolves around the theatrical experience.
In an interview with the New York Times, Spielberg said 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 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.
The Oscar-winning filmmaker is referring to Warner Bros.’ infamous decision to release all of its 2021 film slate on HBO Max the same day it landed in theaters, which was an industry that was still finding its place in a post-COVID-19 pandemic world.
Spielberg believes that this changed moviegoing habits for adults for the worse.
“I think older audiences were relieved that they didn’t have to step on sticky popcorn,” Spielberg said. “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.”
One film that Spielberg believes was able to fulfill the director’s wishes for theatrical moviegoing and give him hope that the box office isn’t dead was Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis.
“[T]here’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,” he said, given their box office returns.
But he also said Elvis proved that original stories can make $151 million domestic gross.
“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,” Spielberg said. “I think movies are going to come back. I really do.”
Unfortunately, I don’t believe that Spielberg is looking at the benefit of day-to-date releases. People who were afraid to be in a public space with strangers who were more than likely not wearing a mask as they went to the latest release could feel comfortable as they wanted a new movie at home. This also benefits those who cannot leave their home for health reasons or cannot afford the expensive ticket to see a new release on opening weekend and can join the conversation about the latest film release.
I will always support going to theaters when you can to see big spectacles of cinema, but I also support serving movie lovers who cannot access their closest movie theaters.
As for Spielberg, he understands that streaming is important, but the theater will always be there place where a difference can be made when an audience watches a film since “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,” Spielberg said. “Things have changed enough to get me to say that to you.”
For his latest directorial feature, Spielberg’s semi-autobiographical story The Fabelmans will open exclusively in select theaters on Nov. 11 before expanding nationwide on Nov. 23.
Do you agree with Spielberg’s take on day-to-date releases? Let us know in the comments below!