Veteran directors warned students in US about difficulty of getting projects into cinemas, and suggested studio cautiousness could lead to hiked ticket prices

Steven Spielberg and George Lucas have predicted a Hollywood "implosion" that could change the shape of the film industry forever and lead to dramatically hiked ticket prices for blockbuster films.

Speaking at the opening of a new media centre at the University of Southern California, the two Hollywood titans painted a picture of a future in which the failure of half a dozen $250m movies in quick succession caused a seismic shift in studio dynamics, leading to audiences being asked to pay $25 (£15) a ticket for films such as Iron Man 3 but just $7 (£4.50) for movies such as Spielberg's own Lincoln.

Spielberg told students at USC they were vying to enter the film industry at a time when even established film-makers were struggling to get their projects into cinemas, and revealed that the Oscar-winning Lincoln came "this close" to being premiered on the US pay-TV network HBO. He said that many talented young directors were now considered "too fringey" for a cinematic release. "That's the big danger, and there's eventually going to be an implosion – or a big meltdown," Spielberg said. "There's going to be an implosion where three or four or maybe even a half-dozen megabudget movies are going to go crashing into the ground, and that's going to change the paradigm."

"I think eventually the Lincolns will go away and they're going to be on television," Lucas added. "As mine almost was," Spielberg interjected. "This close – ask HBO – this close."

"The pathway to get into theatres is really getting smaller and smaller," said Star Wars creator Lucas, pointing out that his own passion project, the war drama Red Tails, barely scraped into cinemas last year. "We're talking Lincoln and Red Tails – we barely got them into theatres," he said. "You're talking about Steven Spielberg and George Lucas can't get their movie into a theatre!"

The warning from the two elder Hollywood statesmen echoes comments in recent times from the Oscar-winning film-maker Steven Soderbergh, who has said that he does not expect to work in the cinema again. Soderbergh's latest project, the Liberace biopic Behind the Candelabra, screened on HBO in the US. He will next oversee the 10-episode period TV drama The Knick, starring Britain's Clive Owen, for HBO sister channel Cinemax.

"The worst development in film-making – particularly in the last five years – is how badly directors are treated," Soderbergh told New York magazine in January. "It's become absolutely horrible the way the people with the money decide they can fart in the kitchen, to put it bluntly. It's not just studios – it's who is financing a film. I guess I don't understand the assumption that the director is presumptively wrong about what the audience wants or needs when they are the first audience, in a way. And probably got into making movies because of being in that audience."

© Guardian News and Media 2013