2018 has been, to say the least, an interesting year for Netflix Originals. While the streaming service has always been somewhat all over the map with the original content it is putting out, this year has particularly been full of a wide assortment of films, ranging immensely in terms of genre and demographic, from long-awaited sequels to fluffy romantic comedies to lackluster teen dramedies. But the year will be closing out on a high note, having acquired the rights to beloved festival titles Roma (dir. Alfonso Cuarón) and The Kindergarten Teacher (dir. Sara Colangelo).
The fall season appears to be the time that Netflix waits for to release their already positively-received films (such as with last year’s Okja and Mudbound), likely to attempt a breakthrough in awards season. But for the prior part of the year, Netflix seems as if attempting to cover all other possible territories with their film releases. Is it an attempt to expand their viewership as much as possible, or is it perhaps to cater to their strongest demographic groups and keep them engaged?
Early in the year, Netflix released the third film in the Cloverfield franchise, The Cloverfield Paradox. The film had somewhat of a surprise release the night of the Superbowl, Netflix announcing it in an advertisement during the game. Despite much audience anticipation for a third film in the franchise, it received a fairly negative response from critics and audiences. It is probably considered the most unsuccessful of the films in the franchise, which was not a great start to the year for Netflix, but it did prove a successful outreach to Cloverfield lovers and sci-fi fans alike.
However, Netflix also had some successes this year among audiences, particularly with their rom-coms: Set it Up with Zoey Deutch, Glen Powell, and Lucy Liu was a fan favorite. This film proved that the typical romantic comedy formula can still be successful if done right, and turned out to be the kind of comfort movie that people desired when scrolling through Netflix on a Friday night. Another romantic hit was the YA adaptation To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, a teen flick praised for its Asian-American representation. In addition to this, it was also a rom-com that used the tropes well, and while it had a happy ending, avoided being overtly predictable.
Some of their teen-targeted films, however, have not fared quite so well, being too cliché-ridden for most audiences’ tastes. One of these is another YA adaptation, The Kissing Booth, which follows a typical high school love-triangle plot, and Sierra Burgess is a Loser, which might be slightly more outside the box, but still falls into too many of the traps of its genre. Many of its other films were poorly received, including horror thrillers like The Open House and cheesy dramas like Irreplaceable You and Mute.
But the final quarter of the year seems to be when Netflix turns things around and pulls out some of its most special titles. One of these is the much-anticipated Roma, Alfonso Cuarón’s black-and-white drama about a woman who works as a live-in housekeeper in Mexico City. The film was the recipient of the Golden Lion at this year’s Venice Film Festival, is the festival’s top prize, and was the second runner-up for the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival. The film has just recently been announced as Mexico’s official selection for Best Foreign Language Film to compete at the Academy Awards, and is in talks of being one of the year’s biggest contenders in the broader awards circuit, and not necessarily just for international awards. This is no surprise considering Alfonso Cuarón’s considering the general adoration of him in the industry and his success with previous films. But Roma in itself is such a unique, real film about family and working-class life, and the readily available access that audiences will have to it on Netflix will give everyone a chance to see and connect with this special film.
Another strong title acquired by Netflix will be The Kindergarten Teacher, a hidden gem of this year’s festival circuit starring Maggie Gyllenhaal. The film had a strong opening at Sundance where it won Sara Colangelo won the U.S. Dramatic Prize for Directing and was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize. The film follows a young teacher who becomes fascinated with one of her kindergarten students’ natural ability to write poetry, which quickly develops into a hunger and obsession of lost passion. This is a film that will likely fly under the radar come time for awards season, but Gyllenhaal’s performance and Colangelo’s directing make it easily one of the most notable films of the year.
While Netflix may have had an inconsistent year with its content, but the end-of-year content makes it worth the wait. It will be interesting to see how audiences react to these films once released, but if their receptions at festivals are any indication, they are bound to be successes.