Count Steven Spielberg among the cinematic luminaries who have a bone to pick with Netflix. In an interview with ITV News, the Oscar-winning filmmaker weighed in on the ongoing debate about films that premiere on the streaming platform—and whether they deserve to compete with films that get a proper theatrical release come awards season. Spielberg, a filmmaking giant since the 1970s, thinks that movies that go straight to streaming are “a clear and present danger to filmgoers,” and shouldn’t be permitted to compete for Academy Awards.
“Once you commit to a television format, you’re a TV movie,” he declared. A good show might “deserve an Emmy, but not an Oscar.”
Apparently, the director also doesn’t like Netflix’s Oscar strategy. When the streaming platform acquires or produces a viable prestige movie, Netflix will give the film a limited theatrical release in order to qualify it for various awards-season circles, especially the Academy—then makes it available for streaming, or has it debut on streaming the same day it premieres in theatres. Spielberg, who has won three Oscars and joined the Academy’s board of governors in 2016, doesn’t think that’s nearly enough.
“I don’t believe films that are just given token qualifications in a couple of theatres for less than a week should qualify for the Academy Award nomination,” he continued.
Of course, that hasn’t stopped Netflix from picking up nominations—or wins, though the service has yet to break out beyond the documentary categories. Just this year, the Dee Rees-directed drama Mudbound picked up several Oscar nominations, including best cinematography and best-supporting actress. The streaming platform also won a best-documentary Oscar this year for the Russian doping film Icarus, the company’s first win in that category.
Spielberg, however, isn’t alone in his opinion about the streaming giant’s strategy. In 2017, Christopher Nolan also shared his distaste for Netflix, particularly its preference for online releases over theatrical ones.
“Netflix has a bizarre aversion to supporting theatrical films,” Nolan told IndieWire. “They have this mindless policy of everything having to be simultaneously streamed and released, which is obviously an untenable model for theatrical presentation. So they’re not even getting in the game, and I think they’re missing a huge opportunity.”
This was also a major issue at last year’s Cannes Film Festival. In 2017, Netflix finally made its debut at the prestigious event with Bong Joon-ho’s Okja and Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories. But both films were met with the cold shoulder by French distributors, who didn’t understand why films without theatrical-release plans in France would be allowed to compete for the Palme d’Or. Jury president Pedro Almodóvar sided with those distributors, saying he likely wouldn’t reward a film that didn’t get released on the big screen. The festival then implemented a new rule saying that only films with a theatrical-release plan could compete from now on . . . a rule that seemed squarely aimed at Netflix.
However, while Netflix might never win the French over, it has already embedded itself quite neatly within Oscar circles. That is, unless Spielberg goes full-Dua Lipa, rallying his fellow Academy members and hitting the platform with some brand new rules.