Steven Spielberg’s new movie THE FABELMANS opened this weekend, with screenings in select locations in New York and Los Angeles. It is a largely autobiographical story of growing up while discovering a passion for movies and filmmaking. The movie is certain to be an awards contender, and would most likely have been a box-office success prior to the pandemic.
But the appetite among moviegoers for story-driven plots appears to be less certain. In fact, Spielberg’s 2021 remake of WEST SIDE STORY was praised by critics but flopped at the box office, leading some to question Spielberg’s ability to deliver the huge commercial hits he was famous for throughout his career.
In an extended interview with the New York Times film critic A.O. Scott, Spielberg speaks frankly about these dynamics. He is convinced that audiences will eventually return to cinemas to see smaller, high-quality films, but blames studios for releasing many of these titles on streaming in their attempt to boost subscribers.
Spielberg calls on established filmmakers to require studios to release their movies in theatres. However, it is still unknown whether small-scale dramas, even from iconic directors such as Spielberg, can draw a significant audience in theatres.
In the NY Times interview, Spielberg reflected on his 2017 movie THE POST, starring Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks. It was a classic Spielberg drama that grossed more than $180M in theatres worldwide. However, Spielberg wondered if nowadays it might reach a larger audience through Apple TV+ or Netflix. This is a fascinating, open reflection by a legendary filmmaker grappling with the tectonic shifts in the media landscape.