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SYFY WIRE The Fabelmans

Film legend Steven Spielberg looks back on why he turned down 'Harry Potter'

The legendary director had a shot at one of the biggest franchises of all time, and said no.

By Matthew Jackson
Steven Spielberg

Acclaimed director Steven Spielberg has had a dream career by just about any standard you'd want to apply to his decades of directing movies. He's won the box office and the awards, sometimes at the same time, and his work has permeated the culture to such an extent that he's one of the few director who's become a household name even among people who aren't film buffs.

But Spielberg has other priorities too, and those priorities led him to turn down one of the biggest directing offers in his career. 

RELATED: Steven Spielberg doesn't think his directing career would be complete without The Fabelmans

In a recent Variety conversation with RRR director S.S. Rajamouli, Spielberg discussed his latest film, the Oscar-nominated The Fabelmans, and how it applies to his own life. The film is, now famously, a semi-autobiographical look at the building of a young filmmaker amid family strife and uncertainty, but it's also a meditation on the balance between art and family, how one feeds the other, and how sometimes being devoted to both can rip you in two. With that in mind, Spielberg discussed one particularly major instance of when his art and his family threatened to tear him in two, and why he chose family at that particular moment. 

“The personal meaning about [how the conflict between] art and family will tear you in half happened to me later, after I had already established myself as a filmmaker, as a working director,” Spielberg said. “Kate [Capshaw] and I started raising a family and we started having children. The choice I had to make was taking a job that would move me to another country for four or five months where I wouldn’t see my family every day…That was a ripping kind of experience.”

Spielberg, of course, never stopped making films, but he did have to become more selective about the projects he might agree to work on, and that meant saying no to, among other things, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

“There were several films I chose not to make,” Spielberg continued. “I chose to turn down the first Harry Potter to basically spend that next year and a half with my family, my young kids growing up. So I’d sacrificed a great franchise, which today looking back I’m very happy to have done, to be with my family.”

So, Chris Columbus took on directing duties on the first two Potter films, launching what would become one of the biggest movie franchises ever, and Spielberg stayed close to home. He never stopped making movies -- he directed A.I. around the same time Columbus was working on Potter, but was able to stay close to home for that shoot -- and he did become a bit more selective in terms of the kinds of jobs he was willing to take, all for the sake of his young children. 

And obviously, the decision didn't really hurt him. Today, Spielberg remains one of the most popular and successful directors of his era, able to pick his projects and scale up or down with his productions based on his creative desires at any given moment. Still, it would be interesting to see what a Spielberg-directed Potter looks like.

All eight Harry Potter films are streaming on Peacock.