There’s a new game in town, and frankly, it’s not even that new. Netflix, the streaming giant, has been taking a big bite out of conventional film distribution ever since it burst onto the scene with Beasts of No Nation in 2015. That film, starring Idris Elba as a brutal African warlord and directed by True Detective’s Cary Fukunaga, garnered praise from critics, audiences, and industry guilds alike. Elba himself picked up the Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Supporting Actor and was considered a favorite to at least score a nomination at the Academy Awards.
Netflix’s History in Original Film
The film ultimately garnered no nominations. While that year’s ceremony was drowned in the #OscarsSoWhite controversy — and Elba’s snub was likely related to that as well — what seemed to get lost in the conversation was that Hollywood did not like streaming.
The film industry is just that: an industry. It’s a business. Studios make or distribute movies, theaters exhibit movies, and profits are shared among these two parties and any number of other executives, financiers, actors, and so on. Netflix cuts out the middle man, by producing its own original content and delivering it straight to the viewer at home. Sounds great, right? Well, it is. Unless you’re one of those parties that benefit from being in the middle.
Netflix’s Future Plans for Original Films
Since then, Netflix has made a number of high-profile acquisitions that have turned Hollywood on its ear. The recently released War Machine, starring Brad Pitt and directed by Animal Kingdom’s David Michod, has opened to tepid reviews, but that’s almost beside the point. A high-profile release starring arguably the biggest movie star in the world… is essentially going straight-to-video. And next year, Netflix will be home to The Irishman, the long-gestating gangster film directed by Martin Scorsese, which will reunite him with Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci, and finally, team him up with Al Pacino.
The sum for that acquisition? A whopping $150 million.
Scorsese himself is a passionate advocate of not only film — both the medium and actual celluloid itself — but the theatrical experience. Not that it matters, as Netflix does the obligatory week-long theatrical bow in New York and Los Angeles to qualify for awards, but apparently Scorsese is a big enough name that people are now upset about the impact Netflix is having on the traditional distribution model. If huge movies like this are going to streaming, what’s happening in theaters?
The State of Cinema
Steven Spielberg and George Lucas predicted this years ago, stating that multiplexes were fast becoming the home of only big-budget epics. Budgets have ballooned in recent years, with figures like $250 million becoming almost commonplace. When movies like Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice need $800 million to break even, there’s a problem.
Normally, art house theaters would be the refuge. But as ticket prices go up, not to mention the costs of concessions and gas, VOD and streaming become more and more palatable to the average consumer. And that’s where Netflix, along with Amazon Prime, Hulu, and other services, step in to fill a gap that the industry, despite all their money and resources were unable (or unwilling) to recognize.
The Bottom Line
So no, Netflix is not destroying the film industry. If anything, it’s helping, by driving up the quality of content while putting studios on notice that they need to step their game up and provide better content. And this isn’t just the studios’ fault; they’re businesses, and they respond to what sells. It’s on audiences to take a chance on original big-budget content once in a while. Genuinely good movies like Edge of Tomorrow will slip through the cracks in favor of more Pirates and superheroes (not that we don’t love our superhero movies…).
This is all akin to the hissy fit cab companies threw when Uber came onto the scene and started taking their customers. In retrospect, we can now see that Uber’s business model is hemorrhaging money and might not be sustainable, but it was exactly the wake-up call that the industry needed.
So let’s not blame Netflix for providing a service — and goods, frankly — that we all enjoy. Let’s encourage it, and hope that others will soon follow suit. Entertainment is everywhere these days; enticing us to the theater shouldn’t be assumed, it should be earned.