Add Steven Spielberg to the list of filmmakers who are concerned about the rise of Netflix. The Ready Player One director spoke about the “clear and present danger” the streaming platforms pose to filmgoers in a recent interview with ITV News, and why, he argues, a Netflix film should not qualify for the Academy Awards.
While Spielberg praised our golden age of television as the greatest it’s “ever been in the history of television,” he also called it a “challenge to cinema” in that it pulls people away from the movie theater.
“A lot of studios would rather just make branded tentpole, guaranteed box office hits from their inventory of branded, successful movies than take chances on smaller films,” he said in reference to world-building franchises like Marvel, DC, and Star Wars. “And those smaller films the studios used to make routinely are now going to Amazon, Hulu, and Netflix.”
This isn’t all that farfetched. The streaming platforms have been entering the cinematic arena by picking up the rights to indie films that typically go to distributors like Fox Searchlight (which released this year’s Best Picture winner The Shape of Water), Focus Features (which released Darkest Hour), and Sony Pictures Classics (which released Call Me By Your Name).
The Big Sick, one of 2017’s most talked about indie releases, was an Amazon release that partnered with Lionsgate for theatrical, while Netflix continued to go for Oscars gold with films like Mudbound, Strong Island, and Icarus.
“Few and few filmmakers are going to struggle to raise money or to go to compete in Sundance and possibly get one of the specialty labels to release their film theatrically, publicly, and more of them are going to let the SVOD business finance their films — maybe with the promise of a slight one-week theatrical window to qualify them for awards,” Spielberg predicted. “But in fact, once you commit to a television format, you’re a TV movie. The good show deserves an Emmy, but not an Oscar.”
According to the official Academy rules, narrative feature-length films are required to screen in Los Angeles county for seven consecutive days in order to be considered for Oscar nominations. Netflix, as a result, has been releasing some of its titles in limited theaters.
Spielberg reiterated, “I don’t believe films that are just given token qualifications in a couple of theaters for less than a week should qualify for the Academy Award nomination.”
Pablo Almodovar (Julieta) and Christopher Nolan (Dunkirk) previously spoke about Netflix: Almodovar dismissed Netflix films as viable candidates for the award at the Cannes Film Festival, while Nolan apologized for calling Netflix’s release strategy a “mindless policy of everything having to be simultaneously streamed and released.”
Streaming does have its defenders. Speaking to Vanity Fair, Duncan Jones said of his Netflix film Mute, “In order to make smaller original movies, it’s been an absolute godsend that the streaming sites have come to the rescue — whether it’s Netflix or Amazon or Apple. Now there is an avenue for original movies of a smaller budget to get made.”
“I have a 16-year-old and an 18-year-old and a 24-year-old at home. They go to the movies twice a week, and they watch Netflix,” Will Smith, star of Netflix’s Bright, had said. “There’s very little cross between going to the cinema and watching what they watch on Netflix.”