The streaming juggernaut could continue to exercise an iron grip on subscribers, but at what cost?
Imagine not hearing about a new Netflix acquisition or project at least several times a week. That prospect is already impossible in 2017, but the company’s highly salient, ultra-aggressive campaigns for original content are about to go completely overboard. Deadline has reported that Netflix plans on releasing 80 original films in 2018. That’s a new movie every four and a half days.
Netflix’s content chief, Ted Sarandos, cited continued subscriber growth and higher net profits in this year’s third quarter as the prime reason for stepping up the company’s content creation mandate. Netflix has already had to raise its domestic subscription fees as recently as three weeks ago following several price increases in regions like Australia, Canada and the UK, clearly in a bid to support such an ambitious business plan. The company spent $6 billion on original content alone in 2017 and reportedly has $15.7 billion worth of original content deals lined up for the future. So despite recently losing backing from mega-corporations like Disney, Netflix is absolutely prepared to endure.
However, creating that much original content and making it consistently good will always be a challenge. We live in a post-Okja society now, wherein audiences and critics could concede that it’s actually possible to make a great Netflix movie. Gerald’s Game was fantastic too, although on a much smaller scale. Netflix comedy isn’t necessarily left out either. Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories has been getting consistent praise (a rare Adam Sandler/Netflix collab to do so). The recently-released slasher flick The Babysitter is a horror-comedy gem too.
That being said, the company has had a variety of duds this year too. Even if they weren’t complete failures, a generally lukewarm reception towards Netflix original films persists. War Machine was supposed to propel Netflix comedies to a whole new level but tanked spectacularly. The extremely ill-advised Death Note remake may have taken the ‘any press is good press’ approach to its marketing, but the general consensus was that it couldn’t wholly deliver on the premise it promised despite having such a promising director and starring Willem Dafoe. (Plus, it was plainly unnecessary.)
Regardless, Netflix has a game plan to feature as many kinds of projects as possible in 2018. These original films will evidently comprise Sundance darlings, “all the way up to something on a much bigger scale such as Bright at the end of this year or (Martin Scorsese’s) The Irishman, which is currently in production.” Bright will star Will Smith and The Irishman, Robert De Niro, so Netflix isn’t short on big-name actors participating in its productions. However, stars don’t necessarily equate quality. Other films led by prominent, good actors in Hollywood — iBoy with Maisie Williams, The Discovery with Rooney Mara and Jason Segel, To the Bone with Lily Collins — just failed to hold water this year in one way or another. Who even talks about those movies anymore?
As FSR’s Christopher Campbell wrote just last month, Netflix thrives on being passable. This new model of original content creation will most probably only facilitate that. Those 80 movies don’t need to be the best with the company’s subscriber count growing the way it is. Netflix is aware that the numbers would counteract the fact that nobody is going to watch every single one of those new films in 2018 (or maybe it’ll become a movie challenge of some kind). So, overall, this news is more trepidatious than intriguing or exciting.
Undoubtedly, Scorsese and De Niro wouldn’t suffer from the specific problem of a lukewarm response. The Irishman reunites so many ex-Scorsese stars that the hype alone would bolster the film’s success without much effort. Nevertheless, that film is slated to come out at the beginning of 2019, so there is still an entire year of original films to contend with beforehand. Sarandos would assure us that, “People will start seeing the potential for this big movie initiative,” after a film like The Irishman and even The Meyerowitz Stories. But not every one of the 80 new originals will be Scorsese team-ups. Not all of them would be a considerable Adam Sandler fluke (considering his filmography of late). Even if that potential Riz Ahmed Hamlet film makes into next year’s release schedule, and Netflix does more films in a similar vein (and they really should), it feels like the company is trying to stay ahead of the game only for the short-term. That much is obvious from the existing Netflix slate, and they need to stop biting off more than they can actually chew.