The Netflix news comes by way of Reuters.
“We want to have our version of Star Wars or our version of Harry Potter, and we’re working very hard to build that,” said Matthew Thunell, the Netflix vice president credited with finding Stranger Things. “But those are not built overnight.”
Of course, they’re not. However, streamers have to stop burying their films in the algorithm for this to happen. Holding review embargoes until launch is also a problem. It provides films with no advance reviews, which also means no press attention. A few years ago, I saw people discussing Set It Up on Twitter and so I immediately requested a press screener for review. Press can a studio’s best friend or their worst enemy. But when Netflix holds an embargo until launch, it almost always means, hey, we know this film isn’t good. Disney can get away with this for their Star Wars series because they know that fans will watch regardless. Plus, as a fan first, I want to go into a Star Wars movie or series knowing very little and wanting to be surprised. Studios cannot do this in cases where they are trying to establish an IP.
It’s wishful thinking but they already have no shortage of franchises already on hand. They already have rom-com trilogies like The Kissing Booth, The Princess Switch, and To All The Boys. Beyond this, there are franchise starters in movies like Enola Holmes, The Old Guard and The Gray Man. However, those films are not four-quadrant movies, which can pose a problem. Meanwhile, they acquired the two Knives Out sequels. But again, it will likely appeal to older audiences. What they need is to draw from books and comic books. These are proven IP and come with an established fan base.
Here’s the thing: the ingredients to put these films together came about at the right place at the right time. You cannot just recreate it overnight. Netflix is already supporting Dave Chappelle’s transphobia so if they’re looking for their own Harry Potter, they already have a hateful bigot in-house. There are plenty of young adult books out and hopefully they do not have transphobic authors like J.K. Rowling. It’s a matter of finding something that will appeal to all viewers and get people talking. Not helping the fact is their drop in subscribers. Their quarterly report comes out today and we’re expecting a loss of 2 million subscribers. Part of this goes back to their support of Chappelle whether executives want to admit it or not.
The other thing is that movies need to draw out the conversation longer than opening weekend. This is something that Netflix is struggling with. Releasing films in theaters is great and all but it poses a major problem when studios hold the review embargo until one week into the theatrical release. Persuasion is just the latest Netflix film to fall victim to this policy. Speaking of the conversation, you have to go back to the comments made by Wonder Woman filmmaker Patty Jenkins.
All of the films that streaming services are putting out, I’m sorry, they look like fake movies to me. I don’t hear about them, I don’t read about them. It’s not working as a model for establishing legendary greatness.
The filmmaker certainly has a point even though Netflix movies are not fake movies. What they are lacking overall is a drawn-out conversation. It is a major problem when films only have five reviews on Rotten Tomatoes after day one. Films like Star Wars were able to become franchise juggernauts because of the word-of-mouth during their theatrical release. Short theatrical releases do not help. That’s a key difference between theatrical and streaming releases.
Look at how many licensed titles are reverting back to the distributing studios because of launching their own streaming service. It’s a factor in Netflix losing subscribers, too. The streamer can no longer depend on studio fare because those are going directly to Disney+, Peacock, HBO Max, Paramount+, and Starz. With 20th Century Studios now under the Disney Umbrella, Sony is the only studio in the Big Five to not have their own service.
If Netflix wants to be Disney, they have to think like Disney. Read The Big Picture by Ben Fritz. Start focusing on quality over quantity. When Bob Iger was CEO, Disney released an average of ten films per year after he started looking at what worked and what didn’t. Sadly, Touchstone died because the mid-budget dramas were not turning a profit. Moreover, audiences are not returning to movie theaters in strong numbers but streaming services require a healthy box office in order to be successful. Netflix wants to have a movie of the week and it’s not working out so well. Streaming movies typically get buried in the algorithm if they can’t find a way into the Netflix top ten. When this happens, they can kiss their franchise hopes goodbye.