Netflix looks to the movies it hopes everyone wants to see


Towards the end of “Red Notice,” Netflix’s flashiest and most expensive attempt to start a movie franchise yet, Ryan Reynolds descends into a cave to search for a bounty stolen by the Nazis. Dressed in khakis and felt, he whistles the “Raiders of the Lost Ark” theme as he descends the stairs. Director Rawson Thurber calls it “a hat tip to the greatest action-adventure film of all time.”

This tribute to the “Indiana Jones” films also serves as an indicator of Netflix’s cinematic aspirations, which have evolved over the years as its subscriber base grew to 214 million and filmmakers’ resistance to its first streaming model. decreased. The company has shifted its priorities to being the place where big name filmmakers bring in exciting projects that studios find too risky. (Think Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma” or Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman.”) Now the company is going straight for what old-fashioned studios do best: the PG-13, general-audience films that traditionally pack movie theaters, create a cultural moment and often turn into lucrative franchises.

Next year, Netflix will release more than a handful of expensive, star-studded movies intended to appeal to large audiences, from filmmakers with a habit of doing so. Shawn Levy (“Night at the Museum”) directs Mr. Reynolds in the time travel film “The Adam Project”. Francis Lawrence, director of “The Hunger Games” franchise, will see his fantasy adventure “Slumberland” with Jason Momoa’s debut on the service next year. And Joe and Anthony Russo, the director brothers of “The Avengers”, will unveil the spy thriller “The Gray Man” starring Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans.

For Scott Stuber, Netflix’s global director of films, this is the culmination of four years of working to convince Hollywood that the service’s subscriber base is worth more than any box office return than a film can collect.

“Here’s the thing about Netflix, which is pretty mind-blowing, more people are going to watch ‘Red Notice’ than they’ve seen all of my other movies in all of their theatrical releases combined,” Mr. Thurber, the writer, director and producer of “Red Notice” whose credits include “Skyscraper”, “Central Intelligence” and “Dodgeball”. “This is how big Netflix is. It is almost incalculably large.

Netflix has declared “Red Notice,” a globetrotting heist film that also stars Dwayne Johnson and Gal Gadot, a smash hit. Using a new metric for streaming content, the company said the film was viewed 148 million hours in its first weekend on the service, the biggest opening weekend in history. from Netflix. But it received mixed reviews, with the New York Times calling it “an expensive branding of star power – only stars don’t have it in them” and the Los Angeles Times calling it a “soft imitation blockbuster” .

And that echoes a point that was made about the overall quality of Netflix movies.

“I think one of the fair criticisms has been that we do too much and not enough is good,” Mr Stuber said in an interview, adding: “I think what we want to do is is to refine and make a little less better and bigger. “

Despite the reviews, Mr. Stuber is thrilled with “Red Notice” and is optimistic about its upcoming movie list, which includes a mix of high-profile images destined for the awards show, such as “Power of the Dog By Jane Campion and “Don” by Adam McKay. ‘t Look Up ”, debuts by directors like“ Tick, Tick… ​​Boom ”by Lin Manuel Miranda and“ The Lost Daughter ”by Maggie Gyllenhaal, as well as more mainstream dishes like R-rated thriller“ The Unforgivable ” , with Sandra Bullock.

Mr Stuber, who was a senior executive at Universal Pictures and an independent producer directing films like “Central Intelligence” and “Ted” before coming to Netflix, is convinced that most resistance to Netflix’s decision to essentially give up the window cinematic exclusive has been canceled. (The company puts some films in theaters before their release, but rarely more than three weeks or so.) And that has expanded the number of stars and filmmakers willing to work on films that will largely bypass multiplexes.

“For us, it has always been about access to the material,” said Mr Stuber, highlighting the moment when Mr Scorsese chose to bring “The Irishman” to Netflix as a turning point for the streaming service.

The move has led others to take their chances, not only on projects the studios have passed on, but on big-budget, often R-rated films that frequently populate theaters, like Charlize Theron in ” Old Guard “and Chris Hemsworth in” Extraction. ” Now the goal is to expand to more PG-13 films.

“We finally have access to this kind of material and these filmmakers and artists, and I think we’re heading in that direction in a pretty exciting way,” Mr. Stuber said.

The main advantage that studios highlight when comparing themselves to Netflix is ​​their ability to create a cultural moment when they open a big, noisy blockbuster in theaters around the world. David Zaslav, the CEO of Discovery who will soon lead the Warner Bros. merger. Discovery, referred to this power during a recent lecture at the Paley Center in New York City.

“We can open a movie anywhere in the world,” he said.

This distinction may no longer be so important.

“All of Hollywood is down to one thing: you can’t create a fashionable moment from an online movie,” said media analyst Richard Greenfield. “I would say that there are very few films that even look trendy. And there are a lot of things that create cultural moments that will never hit theaters. “

Mr. Levy knows the power of cinemas. He directed this year’s “Free Guy”, starring Mr. Reynolds, which grossed $ 331 million at the global box office despite the constraints of the pandemic and not being based on a previously known property. He hopes there will be similar recognition for “The Adam Project”, the first film he made for Netflix. And it starts with marketing.

“I think they can be a bit stronger and more strategic in the way they tell the world that something is coming,” Mr. Levy, who is also a producer of “Stranger Things” on Netflix, said in an interview. “I think more and more there is a realization that filmmakers, actors and those of us who make films want our work to be seen, but we also want our work to be known. And I think we’re going to see an evolution in the way Netflix markets and promotes its films so that the creative community continues to do business with Netflix. “

The service has been successful with the way it markets its TV shows, with “Squid Game” causing a race on green suits for Halloween costumes and “Stranger Things” causing the sale of Eggo waffles. But his films have had a harder time entering the larger cultural conversation.

“I think it’s a business conundrum that we all encounter in this evolving entertainment landscape,” Mr. Stuber said. “How do you make films as culturally relevant as they were when we were kids?” “

One way Netflix hopes to demonstrate that its movies are having an impact is its recent announcement that it will release a weekly top 10 list based on hours viewed. The streaming company had previously been reluctant to release any sort of audience number to the public, and it counted anything that was watched for as little as two minutes as a “view.”

“When you have Movie # 1, it’s a great feeling, but it also sparks conversation,” Mr. Thurber said. “And if Netflix is ​​able to share its metrics in an authenticated and credible way, then people will understand how big Netflix is ​​and how many people are actually watching.”

The other answer is to improve the quality of the material.

Mary Parent, production manager at Legendary Entertainment and Mr. Stuber’s former partner at Universal, sold “Enola Holmes,” along with Millie Bobby Brown, to Netflix in April 2020. It became one of the service’s most-viewed movies. during the pandemic. She is currently in production on the sequel and maintains that the reviews of the quality of Netflix movies are unfair.

“When you have 200 pieces of content per year, there will naturally be variety and the quality is subjective,” she said. “Just because something isn’t rated well doesn’t mean it’s shoddy or doesn’t deliver on the promise of the premise. You turn on “Red Notice” because you want to be entertained and see giant movie stars. “

Still, Mr. Stuber split his commercial film team in half in July in an effort to both increase production (this year Netflix will release 70 films) and improve product quality. Mr Stuber said he accused the groups of spending more time working closely with their filmmakers than they had in the past. The reason? He wants better movies.

“If you have the budget to make 14 films and you only have 11 great ones, let’s do 11,” he said. “That’s what we need to be aiming for because you’re really in a deeply competitive world now and you want to make sure you’re delivering at a pace that people see greatness consistently instead of being haphazard. “