Netflix Triumphs

Netflix seems unstoppable now. The streaming platform, which began life primarily as a mail-movie-rental service, has gone from loaning out other people’s films and TV to crafting their own. Netflix has plans to create 700 original movies and TV series to its service in 2018 alone. While purists will always cherish the theatrical experience, Netflix has put a serious dent in movie going.

As The Big Picture tells it, since Hollywood was resistant to license many of its titles to Netflix, Netflix decided to create their own content. People creating their own content instead of relying on the content of others is nothing new, but Netflix approached this in a different way. The author of The Big Picture writes: “Rather than rely on focus groups, subjective comparisons to similar content, and executives’ gut feelings, Netflix used data.”

With the early Netflix original hit House of Cards, for instance, “Netflix could easily see that Kevin Spacey movies had long done well on the service, and many subscribers had watched the director David Fincher’s The Social Network…from start to finish. Finally, the company knew that the British political drama House of Cards was also surprisingly popular among its American subscribers.”

When all was said and done, Netflix knew their House of Cards was a hit “not measured by viewership numbers” but “by the way everyone was talking about it.”

steve jobs movie

Why Studios Stopped Making Mid-Budget Dramas

There was a time when Hollywood thought making mid-budget, adult-driven dramas was good business. Now, such films are considered risky. If you need a recent example of this, look no further than Paramount’s Annihilation, an adult drama that received rave-reviews but underperformed at the box office. Audiences may say they want more adult movies, but when adult movies arrive, no one turns out to watch them.

The biopic Steve Jobs gets some prime attention here. Amy Pascal fought for years to get the film made, confident that the subject matter and the cast and director (originally Christian Bale, Scarlett Johansson and David Fincher) would be enough to win audiences, critics and awards. Yet ultimately, when the film finally hit theaters – with Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet and Danny Boyle swapped in for Bale, Johansson and Fincher – Steve Jobs bombed.

Meanwhile, the latest superhero flick, no matter how dreadful the reviews, will always attract someone. So if you want to know why mid-budget dramas have vanished, the answer is simple: audiences avoid them, which in turn inspires Hollywood to stop churning them out. As The Big Picture states:

“The biggest change over the years is just how poorly mid-budget dramas now perform when they aren’t hits. In the past, if a major studio put its resources behind a movie, it was virtually certain to gross at least $15 million. But now, with big franchise films sucking up the oxygen in multiplexes and with most of the cultural buzz about interesting dramas centered on television, a new dramatic movie could come and go unnoticed, as if it never existed.”

disney logo

The House of Mouse

“Disney approaches movies much like Apple approaches consumer products,” writes Ben Fritz, and that is perhaps the most succinct summation of Disney’s success possible. The chapter in The Big Picture dealing with Disney chronicles how the classic Hollywood studio jumped head-first into the 21st century and embraced brands.

“Disney isn’t in the movie business,” Fritz writes. “It’s in the Disney brands business. Movies are meant to serve those brands. Not the other way around.”

Pirates of the Caribbean and Alice in Wonderland are the two films cited by The Big Picture as changing everything for Disney. Disney wasn’t sure Gore Verbinski’s first Pirates film would be a hit, and when they saw dailies featuring Johnny Depp’s out-there Jack Sparrow, they felt even more nervous. But the film was a smash hit. Ditto Alice in Wonderland, which received poor reviews but took in massive bank.

These results encouraged Disney to make both more live-action films based on recognizable brand names like Pirates, and also dip into their animation vault to recreate the animated films in live-action like Alice.

Per The Big Picture, Disney’s secret to success has meant “slashing the number of movies made per year by two thirds” and “largely abandoning any type of film that costs less than $100 million” or “is based on an original idea, or appeals to any group smaller than all the moviegoers around the globe.” The author sums it up bluntly:

“Disney doesn’t make dramas for adults. It doesn’t make thrillers. It doesn’t make romantic comedies. It doesn’t make bawdy comedies. It doesn’t make horror movies. It doesn’t make star vehicles. It doesn’t adapt novels. It doesn’t buy original scripts. It doesn’t buy anything at film festivals. It doesn’t make anything political or controversial. It doesn’t make anything with an R-rating. It doesn’t give award-winning directors…wide latitude to pursue their visions.”

This will no doubt sound bleak and depressing to some film fanatics, but the counterpoint to the woe is this: if you’ve been happy with what Disney has been churning out in the last few years, perhaps this approach isn’t such a bad idea?

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