Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans true story is based on his own childhood and introduction to filmmaking in post-war America. Told through the eyes of the fictionalized Sammy Fabelman, representing a young Spielberg, the movie focuses primarily on how the filmmaker’s family circumstances, particularly his parents’ divorce, impacted his journey to the iconic director he became. Featuring an impressive cast including Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, and Seth Rogen, this is certainly Spielberg’s most personal and emotional movie yet. Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans ended up snagging a Golden Globe this year for the Best Motion Picture Drama category, and Best Director for Spielberg. Following it’s Globes success, Spielberg’s The Fabelmans is now up for 7 Oscars at the 95th Academy Awards.


Steven Spielberg, the Oscar-winning director of numerous blockbusters and classic dramas, is now telling The Fabelmans true story. Despite the changed names, The Fabelmans sticks much closer to reality than one might expect. When asked about his experience working with Spielberg, Seth Rogen said (via The Hollywood Reporter), “I saw him cry dozens of times throughout filming the movie, which was actually very beautiful and I think made everyone want to really honor what he was doing. You saw how much it meant to him and how truthful he was being.” The sincere details of Spielberg’s milieu — ranging from his encounters with antisemitic bullies to his mother’s purchase of a monkey — make The Fabelmans a must-watch for cinephiles and movie buffs alike.

Related: Every Steven Spielberg Movie Ranked From Worst To Best

The First Movie Steven Spielberg Ever Saw

The Greatest Show on earth

The opening scene of The Fabelmans true story features young Sammy (Mateo Zoryan) going to the theater with his parents (Michelle Williams and Paul Dano) to see Cecil B. DeMille’s 1952 circus drama The Greatest Show on Earth. After witnessing a massive train crash included in the movie, Sammy decides to film himself crashing a model train to recreate the experience. Sammy’s mother, Mitzi, later implies that getting to recreate the frightening images of the crash gave Sammy a feeling of control.

In a 2009 Golden Globes Speech — receiving the Cecil B. DeMille Award, no less — Steven Spielberg confirmed the majority of these details, noting that on that day, seeing The Greatest Show on Earth with his father, his “fate was probably sealed.” In fact, The Fabelmans true story is ripe with references to its director’s other favorite movies as well, including The Searchers, which Spielberg still watches often. However, some minor details were changed for the movie. In The Fabelmans, Sammy’s mother provides him with a camera with which to shoot the model train crash. Spielberg notes in his Golden Globes speech that he took his family’s 8mm camera “when no one was looking.”

What Happened Between Spielberg’s Parents & Did They Really Divorce?

Sammy's parents in The Fabelmans

Yes, Steven Spielberg’s parents really divorced, and yes, his mother did fall in love with his father’s best friend — represented by a character played by Seth Rogen in The Fabelmans true story. Furthermore, just as it happened in the movie, a young Spielberg discovered his mother’s relationship with his father’s friend while reviewing footage he had shot on a family camping trip. In an interview about The Fabelmans, he said (via New York Times), “That was one of the toughest things, I think, that I had to sit down and decide to expose because it was the most powerful secret my mom and I shared since my discovery when I was 16.”

The Fabelmans true story implies that these parental issues led Spielberg to temporarily put aside filmmaking, although he has quoted other reasons as well, including an early viewing of Lawrence of Arabia that impacted his confidence. Regardless, it’s clear that this event profoundly influenced a number of Spielberg’s other works, including Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Catch Me If You Can, and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, with its absent-dad element. As critic David Ehrlich astutely put it (via IndieWire), “Has any divorce had a more profound impact on the American imagination?”

Related: E.T.’s Original Script Was A Horror Movie: Why Spielberg Changed It

Was Spielberg really bullied in high school?

Looking through the camera in Th e Fablemans.

The Fabelmans true story features intense scenes of antisemitic bullying — moments confirmed to be real by Steven Spielberg, who noted that when he moved to California he was “smacked and kicked around” on multiple occasions. In the movie these attacks lead the teenage Sammy (Gabriel LaBelle) to grow angry over his family’s repeated moves to different states, lashing out at his parents over being the only Jewish people in their neighborhood. Sammy also briefly dates a Christian girl at the same high school, yet the truth behind these details is unclear, as Spielberg hasn’t mentioned it. Themes of Jewish identity and struggle are also evident in Spielberg’s war movies such as Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List, and Munich.

The Fabelmans offers Sammy a moment of redemption when he screens his Senior Skip Day film at the prom. At this moment, the filmmaker has complete control over the perspective of his classmates. Yet, Sammy portrays one of his attackers as a hero. Afterward, the bully confronts him with high emotions, embarrassed, asking why Sammy portrayed him like that after how he treated him. Sammy responds, “Maybe I did it to make the movie better?” The bully demands the exchange be kept a secret, and in a satisfying moment, Sammy jokes that he will, unless, of course, he makes a movie about it one day. To the audience, this simple moment of revenge comes across as being decades in the making.

Did Steven Spielberg’s Mom Really Have A Monkey?

Sam and his mother in The Fabelmans watching film

After moving to California, Mitzi Fabelman, who is performed by Michelle Williams in a portrayal marked by her free-spiritedness, brings home a monkey because she “needed a laugh.” Spielberg’s mother really did purchase a monkey, although it was when the family was living in Phoenix. Despite its truthfulness, PETA and other animal rights groups have expressed concerns over a real monkey being used in The Fabelmans.

How Sammy’s Early Movies Compare To Spielberg’s Real Childhood

Steven Spielberg The Fabelmans Story Details

Steven Spielberg’s first movie was his 8mm film of the model train crash. The Fabelmans true story features other short films that he created in real life, including a Western and a war film entitled The Last Gunfight. As depicted in The Fabelmans​​​​​​, Spielberg got a lot of experience working on projects through his involvement in Boy Scouts that were influenced by many of his favorite films. Spielberg could also often be found on weekends at his local movie theater.

Related: Why John Wayne Bluntly Rejected A Role Offered By Spielberg

Did Steven Spielberg Really Meet John Ford?

Steven Spielberg Fablemans and David Lynch

Steven Spielberg really did meet John Ford, seen at the end of The Fabelmans true story with a brilliant David Lynch cameo. Ford directed many iconic films, including The Searchers, How Green Was My Valley, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Vance — a movie that The Fabelmans references a few times. Recalling the meeting as a foundational moment in his early career, Spielberg noted that Ford pointed him toward paintings in his office and said that he should learn about why the location of the horizon onscreen looks appealing or boring.

How Accurate Was The Fabelmans To Spielberg’s Family and Early Life Overall?

The progression of the Fabelman family from New Jersey to Arizona to California follows an accurate timeline of the Spielbergs. Even the altered details have only been reworked to benefit the plot structure of the movie. The Fabelmans true story maintains an incredible level of accuracy. This is no surprise being that the movie is essentially Steven Spielberg’s autobiography, but the result is a touching and honest project that audiences should be watching closely.

Accurate Or Not, The Fablemans Story Found Golden Globes Success

Sammy in The Fabelmans looking at film

The Golden Globes winner The Fabelmans true story must have hit home for a majority of audience members, as Spielberg’s latest film went up against some major heavy-hitters from 2022. The nominees for Best Motion Picture Drama this year included huge successes like Avatar: The Way of Water, Elvis, Tár, and Top Gun: Maverick. Top Gun: Maverick broke box office records, making it the biggest movie of 2022, and Avatar 2 has been hot on its heels. In the end though, The Fabelmans won out against these blockbuster titans.

Like The Fabelmans, Elvis was also based on a true story, and the Baz Luhrmann-directed feature received high marks. Tár got exceptionally good reviews and boasts a solid Rotten Tomatoes score. That being said, The Fabelmans beat out the competition and received a Golden Globe for its efforts. Beating out films like Avatar 2 is no easy feat, and Spielberg’s personal story had to hit all the right notes to make this win. The stirring drama more than deserved a Golden Globe, and to vanquish contenders like Top Gun: Maverick means it’s a truly special film and worthy celebration of one cinema’s greatest living directors.

RELATED: Where To Watch The Fabelmans

Spielberg’s Autobiographical Story Earned 7 Oscar Nominations

The Fabelmans nominated at the Oscars 2023 directed by Steven Spielberg

The Fabelmans true story has only added to the acclaim the movie has received, including being nominated for 7 Academy Awards. Historically, movies about making movies have done well with the Academy, for obvious reasons — as the world’s authority on cinematic achievement, it’s expected they have a love of filmmaking. However, The Fabelmans is not just great for being a glimpse at how one of the world’s greatest directors found his love of the craft. It is an intensely personal project from Spielberg, and his passion shines through in every aspect of The Fabelmans.

Though Spielberg has not often written movies, the Oscar-nominated script for The Fabelmans (penned alongside Tony Kushner) is filled with childhood memories, coming-of-age struggles, and the director’s unique experience. It’s an intense re-examination of the impactful people in his life, one that makes for a fascinating story outside the filmmaking ambitions of on-screen persona Sammy, played by Gabriel Labelle.

The Oscar-nominated performances from Michelle Williams and Judd Hirsch in The Fabelmans feel as though Spielberg has resurrected figures from his past to revisit key moments in his development, and it makes for authentic, moving cinema. All these true aspects from Spielberg’s life helped to create a brilliant movie, and the fact that the young boy in this story grew up to be nominated for Best Director and Best Picture for his own story is a perfect postscript ending. All in all, it’s unsurprising that The Fabelmans has been nominated for 7 Oscars, regardless of how much it dramatizes the truth.

Next: Spielberg Tried & Failed To Make A James Bond Movie 3 Times

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