Netflix Conquers the Film Industry

Natalie Whalen, Staff Writer

As time has progressed, more and more people use TVs just to play Netflix’s original programming on a big screen, particularly “Orange is the New Black” and “House of Cards.” So, it was just a matter of time before the red envelope pushed into the circulation and production of original films. However, Netflix’s cinematic ambitions went further than anyone could have imagined. Riding on the critical success of Cary Fukunaga’s “Beasts of No Nation,” Netflix has hurtled full-speed-ahead into the film industry, snatching up indies at Sundance and financing original content left and right. However, with these high-risk decisions to finance films like the $75 million spent on Brad Pitt’s upcoming “War Machine,” we are led to wonder: What kind of future will Netflix and similar streaming mediums like Amazon have in the film industry?

“Beasts” was a roaring critical success for Netflix, reaping wins and nominations at the Independent Spirit Awards, Golden Globes and SAG Awards. However, due to its limited theatrical release, the film made less than $84,000, despite its three million online views. While this dismal figure accords with Netflix’s limited distribution strategy, it certainly is harmful for actors and talent who normally earn a percentage of box office earnings. Furthermore, some have argued that lack of Oscar nominations for “Beasts” may be due to Netflix’s low circulation capabilities.

On the other hand, it is arguable that the service’s desire to act as a film studio has opened doors for films that may not have received funding otherwise, like Pitt’s “War Machine,” whose high budget and commercial uncertainty deterred
traditional studios from signing on. Adam Sandler also recently signed onto a four-film distribution contract with Netflix; while many of his recent films have proven to be box-office flops, they still remain popular with Netflix’s streaming audience, according to the service’s self-released viewing report.

Brad Pitt’s production company Plan B also recently signed on with Netflix to co-produce Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-Ho’s newest film “Okja,” starring Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal and Paul Dano. Bong was enthusiastic about this partnership, calling it a “fantastic opportunity,” as he required a much larger budget for “Okja” than his previous film, the hit “Snowpiercer.” Ultimately, Netflix’s investment is giving Joon-Ho more freedom to create the film he envisioned.

So where is Netflix headed? As they continue to further their involvement in the film industry, it’s clear that they aren’t going to back away. But whether this is a good or bad move for the streaming service is still unclear. Despite their large budget for original content, Netflix and other services cannot snatch up every single film on the market. Because of this, theaters are still a necessary and enjoyable aspect of the film-viewing experience for many. It also seems that awards like the Oscars will remain partial to those with a traditional theatrical release, although this may change in the future. Regardless, Netflix’s entry into the film production industry may be a triumph for films that may not have otherwise received attention from traditional studios rather than some doomsday scenario for traditional studios and theaters.

Email Natalie Whalen at [email protected].