Steven Spielberg‘s company Amblin Partners has signed a deal with Netflix that will see it produce at least two movies each year for the streaming giant, and already, Film Twitter is resurfacing Spielberg‘s past comments intimating that movies released day-and-date in theaters and at home — which was Netflix‘s entire model at one point — don’t deserve Oscars because they are, by definition, TV movies.
However, those getting sidetracked by that conversation are, frankly, missing the point here. Spielberg wasn’t trying to bar Netflix from winning Oscars, he was just being a good advocate for the theatrical experience. Trust me, Spielberg wanted Netflix to win Oscars for Amblin‘s courtroom drama The Trial of the Chicago 7, though that was an admittedly unique situation because Paramount‘s hands were tied due to the pandemic and the widespread closure of movie theaters that left the timely film without any alternative to a streaming release besides a year-long delay. The courtroom drama did earn six Oscar nominations, though it went home empty-handed. I have a feeling that going forward, if Amblin makes a movie with awards aspirations, it will be released in theaters by Universal, where the company will maintain offices as well as its theatrical deal.
But honestly, who cares what Spielberg may or may not have said in the past about Netflix? That’s Film Twitter‘s specialty, posting screenshots of stupid stuff people said once upon a time as if no one is allowed to change their mind, and if they do, they should be humiliated for their initial opinion. Spielberg has always been one of cinema’s greatest defenders, and he took a few shots at the new kid on the block who he saw as a threat to movie theaters. Big deal. Spielberg has since come around on Netflix, especially with the pandemic affecting the theatrical landscape, so this deal makes sense from a practical perspective. Not only is this is a PR coup for Netflix, but the streamer will be a fine place for Amblin to experiment, though I don’t expect any masterpieces to come out of this partnership.
As I said, big Amblin movies like 1917 will continue to be released in theaters under the company’s deal with Universal, but there are plenty of smaller Amblin projects that clearly belong on Netflix, given the cost of the average marketing campaign for a theatrical release. Upcoming movies like Distant starring Anthony Ramos and Naomi Scott, Jo Koy‘s Easter Sunday, and the Sigourney Weaver–Kevin Kline film The Good House all scream “streaming” to me. None of those seem like good theatrical bets.
Meanwhile, Amblin‘s recent track record isn’t what it once was back in the ’80s, when the company released E.T., Gremlins, and The Goonies. Sure, there are modest hits like The House With a Clock In Its Walls every now and then, but there’s a tendency to equate Amblin with Spielberg-level quality despite the fact that the company’s recent productions include The Girl on the Train, Ghost in the Shell, Captive State and Come Play, not to mention true trainwrecks like Cats, Men in Black International and, let’s face it, the wildly successful Transformers franchise.
Amblin‘s upcoming projects include The Last Voyage of the Demeter, which has been kicking around town for years, and the Tom Hanks sci-fi movie Finch, which recently moved from Universal to Apple TV+ — something that doesn’t exactly signal a sign of confidence to me. Don’t get me wrong, Spielberg is a great get for Netflix, but this isn’t some kind of industry paradigm shift. Netflix is just a backup plan for the Amblin movies that Universal either doesn’t want to produce or doesn’t want to release.
Variety reports that Netflix is expected to finance some of the Amblin projects that debut on its service, and that Spielberg may even direct some of them, though I personally find that unlikely. The director’s next film, which explores his own childhood growing up in Arizona, is expected to be released by Universal, which also released Amblin‘s recent Best Picture winner Green Book. Variety adds that the Netflix films won’t have to fit a particular budget or genre and that the streamer will decide which Amblin films will receive some type of theatrical release on a case-by-case basis. One project that both companies have high hopes for is Bradley Cooper’s Leonard Bernstein film Maestro, which is currently in pre-production.
“At Amblin, storytelling will forever be at the center of everything we do, and from the minute Ted [Sarandos] and I started discussing a partnership, it was abundantly clear that we had an amazing opportunity to tell new stories together and reach audiences in new ways,” Spielberg said in a statement.
“By deepening our ties with Netflix via this new film partnership, we are building on what has for many years been an incredibly successful working relationship in both television and film,” added Amblin CEO Jeff Small. “The global platform they’ve built — with more than 200 million members — speaks for itself, and we’re extremely grateful to have the opportunity to work closely with Scott and his amazing team to deliver Amblin’s iconic brand of storytelling to the Netflix audience.”
“Steven is a creative visionary and leader and, like so many others around the world, my growing up was shaped by his memorable characters and stories that have been enduring, inspiring and awakening,” said Sarandos. “We cannot wait to get to work with the Amblin team and we are honored and thrilled to be part of this chapter of Steven’s cinematic history.”
“Amblin and Steven Spielberg are synonymous with incredible entertainment. Their passion and artistry combine to make films that both captivate and challenge audiences. We look forward to working with Steven, Jeff and the entire Amblin family on a new slate of films that will delight generations for years to come, added Netflix‘s Scott Stuber.
Up next for Amblin is the Matt Damon drama Stillwater from Spotlight director Tom McCarthy as well as Colin Trevorrow‘s blockbuster Jurassic World: Dominion. The latter will stomp into theaters on June 10, 2022, while Stillwater will premiere at the Cannes Film Festival next month before hitting theaters on July 30 courtesy of Universal‘s Focus Features label. Amblin also has Spielberg‘s new adaptation of West Side Story coming out later this year.