While TV is the strongest selling point for the streaming giant Netflix, it’s been gaining serious traction with its original films. Previously better known for its Adam Sandler deal, and with less critical legitimacy than its streeaming rivals at Amazon Studios, Netflix has worked hard these past few years and put in major effort to level the playing field with acquisitions of well-received indies on the festival circuit and mid-budget genre flicks with big stars. Now Netflix is in the auteur game thanks to an industry shaking deal with Martin Scorsese and the surprise acquisition of an unfinished Orson Welles movie. The documentary division is already a runaway success, helping to fill a gap left ignored by most of Hollywood, and the streaming service is reaping the benefits with Oscars, critical, and commercial adoration across the board.
Now, Netflix’s strategy has gone into overdrive, with more new films than ever and some receiving a more traditional release mold. They’re not quite on the level of Amazon – streaming is still the primary source for them, unlike Amazon’s indie studio style cinematic releases – but change is in the air and Netflix is keen to keep up and gain the old-school Hollywood respect that still eluded its grasp. Estimations from Decider put the budget for Netflix’s four major 2017 movie releases at a conservative $240m. That’s pretty thrifty in today’s film industry but also a sign of serious clout from a company that still shrouds its business strategies and ratings in secrecy. Those major purchases include an entry at Cannes, a satire starring one of Hollywood’s most famous men, a genre-bending cop fantasy drama, and an adaptation of a beloved anime.
However, there remain concerns over Netflix’s model, which many argue prizes quantity over quality, with that sheer volume of films drowning out smaller projects that could use the attention. David Ehlrich of IndieWire argued:
“Netflix doesn’t help movies find an audience any more than it helps audiences find a movie… The streaming service is a volatile sea of content that likes to measure itself in terms of dimension rather than depth; pull up the homepage, and the first thing you’ll see is text boasting about the sheer number of new shows that have been added to the site in the past week. It’s an all-you-can-eat buffet that stretches further than the eye can see, and most people are likely to lose their appetite before they discover the good stuff.”
That’s a problem the service still struggles with, and it remains to be seen how they can overcome that issue in the coming months, especially as their hunt for major awards will inevitably out them at odds with the traditional studio system. Whatever the case, the slate for 2017 looks incredible, with a variety of stories, ensembles, and directors that would put any studio to shame. We’ve compiled a list of what you can expect from Netflix in 2017.
While some films have confirmed release dates set in stone, others have been more tentatively labeled as 2017 projects. These dates are subject to change, so we will keep you updated as much as we can.
21. War Machine
While Brad Pitt’s clout as a bona fide movie star is undeniable, it’s in his role as a producer that his true power lies. His production company, Plan B Entertainment, had a major hand in bringing Oscar winners like Selma, The Big Short and Moonlight to the big screen, and this year they’ve got a full slate, including Okja, Adam McKay’s sure to be controversial Dick Cheney biopic, and the Pitt-starring black comedy War Machine, directed by Animal Kingdom’s David Michôd. Based on the book The Operators by Michael Hastings, the story is a thinly veiled satire of General Stanley McChrystal’s time in Afghanistan.
Pitt has some great comedic timing, as evidenced by his turn in Burn After Reading, although a film based on events as recent and raw as the war in Afghanistan may prove too much for some. Then again, the current political age is so bizarre and beyond satire that perhaps this is the right film for the right time.
Korean director Bong Joon-ho’s last film, Snowpiercer, was a critical smash that struggled with audiences, partly due to the terrible treatment it received from executive producer Harvey Weinstein, who demanded cuts to the film and then toyed with its release once the director refused (a similar fate befell James Gray’s The Immigrant, and as a result, neither film received a release in the UK outside of the festival circuit). A move to Netflix feels like a good fit for a director whose filmography is as varied as it is skilled. Okja seems to have more in common with Snowpiercer and The Host than films like Memories of Murder, with a fantastical mixture of creature feature and satire. The story follows a young girl called Mija, who must protect her best friend, a giant animal known as
The story follows a young girl called Mija, who must protect her best friend, a giant animal known as Okja, from a maniacal multi-national corporation. The film is said to carry a strong environmental theme, and the ensemble includes top names such as Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal, Steven Yeun (The Walking Dead), and Giancarlo Esposito (Breaking Bad). Okja also signals a major step forward for Netflix as a power player in the industry, as it will make its worldwide debut in competition at the Cannes Film Festival. While French distributors have complained that this (and Netflix’s other entry in competition, The Meyerowitz Stories) is unfair and disrupts the importance of the traditional cinematic release process, it could very well be the first step towards Netflix standing tall with the big name studios (this is one Netflix release that will indeed get a cinema run).
19. To The Bone
This year’s Sundance Film Festival was a veritable hive of potential awards buzz. After the previous year’s major success Manchester by the Sea landed Oscar victory, studios were on the hunt this year for something to fill that gap. While Amazon Studios landed the major jackpot with a $12m acquisition of romantic-comedy The Big Sick, Netflix didn’t go home empty-handed, with one of its biggest purchases being To The Bone.
The directorial debut of Marti Noxon (UnREAL), the film is inspired by her own battle with anorexia and stars Lily Collins and Keanu Reeves. Sensing a potential hit in the making, with reviews strong across the board, Netflix put down $8m for exclusive rights. While the drama is not being billed as a teen film, Netflix has had incredible success with their recent series Thirteen Reasons Why, signaling a real desire from young audiences for more realistic entertainment, so To The Bone could fare well with that crowd.
18. Death Note
Expectations hang heavily around this American live-action remake of one of the most successful anime ever made, but the one that will have Netflix most apprehensive is the specter of Ghost in the Shell. Despite a stronger reception in Japan than North America, the big-budget adaptation flopped in the states. While Paramount didn’t outright say the whitewashing was the cause, the studio did acknowledge that negative reviews and bad buzz surrounding “casting” negatively impacted the box office take.
While many have argued that Death Note is not an explicitly Japanese story, but one that could be adapted to any number of cultures, the castings of Nat Wolff (Paper Towns) and Lakeith Stanfield (Get Out) in the roles of Light and L don’t seem as egregious as Johansson in Ghost in the Shell. Even so, representation is important and it’s hard to overlook the sheer dearth of opportunities for Asian actors in major projects, especially when they were the original stars of the adapted properties. While the whitewashing complaints from Netflix’s Iron Fist were by no means the series’ biggest issue, the casting controversy is no doubt still fresh in the streaming giant’s mind.
Potential controversy aside, there’s some enthusiastic talent behind this take on Death Note, including director Adam Wingard (The Guest), who has promised that this version of the ultimate story of good and evil will up the ante on violence, sex, and swearing, a noted contrast from the anime. The Death Note anime remains one of Netflix’s most popular shows, so the audience is there for this, but it still has to prove itself first.
17. A Futile and Stupid Gesture
Without the National Lampoon, the world of comedy would be a very different place today. The humor magazine, formed in the 70s as a spin-off from the Harvard Lampoon, spawned some of the industry’s most iconic stars, including Bill Murray, Chevy Chase, John Belushi, and a slew of writers on properties like SNL, The Simpsons, and Ghostbusters.
Based on the book by journalist Josh Karp, the film will follow magazine co-founders Douglas Kenney (played by Will Forte) and Henry Beard (Domhnall Gleeson) as they push boundaries and mingle with the future of comedy, including the founding members of SNL, among others. The casting itself features a genius array of modern comedy talents, including Thomas Lennon, Seth Green, Matt Lucas, and in what may be the most gloriously meta-casting choice of the year, Community‘s Joel McHale as Chevy Chase.
A cop drama with orcs? It seems like a risky bet but it’s one Netflix have put $90m, with $3m of that going towards screenwriter Max Landis (Chronicle). Director David Ayer‘s last film, Suicide Squad, may not have been the best demonstration of his filmmaking abilities, but it made a whole lot of money and gave him the freedom to take on projects like this. The
The plot, described as “a contemporary cop thriller, but with fantastical elements”, bears a striking resemblance to Ayer’s own police drama End of Watch, albeit with more fantasy creatures. Will Smith is as big a star as ever, but the past few years of roles have been somewhat lacking his trademark charm, with few opportunities to show audiences exactly why they love him so much. Perhaps Bright will be a chance to get back to his Men in Black days. Netflix has also not ruled out giving this one a theatrical release, perhaps hoping to cash in on that fan goodwill for Smith.
This is one original Netflix film with very little buzz behind it but the premise is highly intriguing – a teenager’s journey of survival on a mostly-abandoned Earth, working desperately to find a cure for the poisoned world before the last shuttle off-planet leaves her behind. IO will star Anthony Mackie (Captain America: Civil War) and Danny Huston.
14. First They Killed My Father
Besides beiOscar-winninginning actress, UN Ambassador, and one of the most photographed women alive, Angelina Jolie has been quietly establishing herself as one of the most intriguing directors around. In an industry where opportunities can be few and far between for some women, and the mid-budget movie has struggled to stay alive amidst shared universes and blockbusters, Jolie is a rare creator who has the financial and creative freedom to do whatever the hell she wants. Her debut, In the Land of Blood and Honey, was a love story to the backdrop of the Bosnian war; Unbroken was an ambitious historical drama based on the life of an Olympian turned POW; and By The Sea, arguably better known for its central pairing, is a melodramatic throwback to the stylings of Fellini and Antonioni. First They Killed My Father is another biographical historical drama, this time rooted in the experiences of a young girl during the Khmer Rouge rule of Cambodia.
13. The Meyerowitz Stories
While Adam Sandler‘s exclusive Netflix deal hasn’t yielded much in the way of critical appraisal, the streaming service claims that the actor’s work is some of the most streamed content it has, so it makes sense to keep him on the books. Even with that deal, it was a surprise to many critics when Sandler’s latest film, directed by indie favourite Noah Baumbach, made its way to Netflix. Sandler has some experience with more respected film-makers, including Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch Drunk Love, which features the best performance of his career, and Tom McCarthy’s The Cobbler (that one worked out less well).
The Meyerowitz Stories will place Sandler alongside Ben Stiller, who has formed a fascinating collaboration with Baumbach in films like Greenberg and While We’re Young. The pair will play siblings, along with Emma Thompson, who must band together to look after their ageing father, played by Dustin Hoffman. This is Netflix’s second film in competition this year at Cannes.
One of Netflix’s biggest advantages over its competition is its willingness to spend whatever it takes to get the job done. Just look at its illustrious selection of original TV shows, where a $100m budget has become the norm. Now, as Netflix attempts to play the major movie game alongside the Oscar winning teams at Amazon and similar indies like Annapurna and A24, it’s gone into full throttle.
Mudbound, the latest film by Dee Rees, opened at this year’s Sundance Film Festival with rapturous reviews, and the bidding war for distribution rights led to Netflix paying a staggering $12.5m for them – the top price of the festival. Rees’s ambitious post-World War 2 drama centres on a feud between two families in rural Mississippi, and stars Carey Mulligan (An Education), Garrett Hedlund (Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk) and musician Mary J. Blige. One of the supposed stipulations for Netflix’s acquisition of the film was that they needed to mount an extensive awards campaign for Oscar season, with particular focus on Rees for Best Director. A nomination for her world make her the first woman of colour to be nominated in the category, and the 5th woman overall. It’s clear that Netflix is hoping to make a big splash in the upcoming Oscar season, although it remains to be seen how that will happen if it wishes to stick to a primarily streaming focused strategy.
Duncan Jones’s ambitious sci-fi debut, Moon, garnered him rave reviews and a Bafta award. His most recent epic, Warcraft, received a muted reception in North America but made serious bank in China, where it became one of the highest grossing films of all time in the country.
Perhaps craving the smaller scale of his previous efforts, Jones has returned to his roots with Mute, a Blade Runner inspired sci-fi noir, starring Alexander Skarsgård (Big Little Lies), Paul Rudd (Ant-Man) and Justin Theroux (The Leftovers). Skarsgård will play a mute bartender searching for his missing girlfriend in futuristic Berlin. Jones has called the film a spiritual sequel to Moon, and that film’s star Sam Rockwell will indeed appear in a small cameo (which presents many fascinating opportunities if you’re familiar with the plot of Moon and that character’s fate).
10. Our Souls at Night
Based on the posthumously published final novel of writer Kent Haruf, Our Souls at Night sees Netflix taking a more adult route with its original dramas. Starring Oscar winning legends Jane Fonda (Grace and Frankie) and Robert Redford (The Discovery), neither a stranger to Netflix, the film will follow two elderly neighbours who ruminate on their lives, families and friendship.
The films of the Wayans Brothers and their regular collaborator Michael Tiddes (A Haunted House, Fifty Shades of Black) may not be the stuff of critical dreams but they certainly keep audiences returning to the cinema. This time round, the story is not a parody but a remake of a Swedish comedy, Naken. That film wasn’t very well received either – one critic said it was too awful to even warrant being “so bad it’s good”. While the lion’s share of publicity for the film came from its stars walking the red carpet at Cannes totally naked (they were then arrested). Marlon Wayans may not go to those lengths to promote the film – in which he plays a groom forced to relive the morning of his wedding over and over, all while without clothes – but the chances are he’d be up for it.
There’s always room for good old fashioned action at Netflix, even as the service attempts a more prestige angle with its content. If the popularity of the Fast and Furious franchise has shown us nothing else, it’s that everyone loves a car chase. With Frank Grillo (Captain America: Civil War) starring and Joe Carnahan (The Grey) producing, this one could be great fun. Grillo plays a getaway driver caught in the midst of a bank robbery gone wrong and a race against the clock to find out who set him up, with only his teenage daughter by his side.
7. 6 Balloons
Abbi Jacobson (Broad City) and Dave Franco (Now You See Me) have found great success as comedic actors, so, as is tradition, it’s only natural that they would want to prove their chops in more serious fare. 6 Balloons will follow a family in crisis as a woman’s heroin addicted brother relapses. It’s heavy subject matter for any actor, much less two better known for stoner comedies, but there’s been a lot of mileage wrung out of the “comedy actor goes dramatic” dichotomy – see Jim Carrey in The Truman Show, Steve Carell in Foxcatcher, and Robin Williams in One Hour Photo.
6. Casting JonBenet
The public hunger for true crime doesn’t seem to be running out of steam anytime soon, and it’s something Netflix has greatly benefited from, thanks to the success of its docu-series Making a Murderer. Casting JonBenet brings Netflix into much more stylised territory, as one of the most infamous murders of the 90s is explored through the lens of a reality-blurring casting call for a movie of the case and subsequent public outcry. The JonBenet Ramsey case is one that’s still painfully raw in the minds of many, and recent coverage of the case, including accusations
The JonBenet Ramsey case is one that’s still painfully raw in the minds of many, and recent coverage of the case, including accusations leveled at JonBenet’s brother, will be difficult for the film to avoid. However, as noted by many of the positive reviews for the documentary, director Kitty Green’s approach is more focused on the public reactions to the case – here vocalised through the various people auditioning to play roles in the recreations – and the myth spun out of the unsolved murder that lingers in the public consciousness to this day.
5. Get Me Roger Stone
Roger Stone is arguably the most influential man in modern American politics you haven’t heard of. The longtime supporter of Donald Trump first made waves as the youngest person called before the Watergate grand jury, and proudly calls himself a “dirty trickster”. Get Me Roger Stone will track his rise, fall, and unlikely climb back to the top off the back of his friend turned President. The film just had its premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival. There’s been no word on what Stone himself thought of it.
Laerte Coutinho is a renowned Brazilian writer and cartoonist who came out as transgender several years ago. The documentary of her life, Laerte-se, is Netflix’s first original documentary in Portuguese, and will follow her on her journey to discover the feminine world. Not much is known about this documentary for now, so keep an eye out for future news.
3. Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower
Described by Netflix’s VP of documentaries as “a filmmaking triumph”, Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower was another major acquisition for the streaming service at this year’s Sundance Festival. The story centers on Joshua Wong, a teenage activist in Hong Kong, who became a rallying pro-democracy voice for students to protest the Chinese Community Party. While the original premiere date was listed as May 26th, that date is not on Netflix’s website, but a 2017 release remains likely. Executives have been keen to stress the importance of their partnership with the film and their ability to allow the film to reach the widest audience possible.
2. Strong Island
Yance Ford’s critically acclaimed documentary on the murder of his brother was yet another Sundance acquisition for Netflix. The story of Ford’s family and how their lives were affected by the shadow of race in America was described by the Guardian as “one of the finest documentaries of 2017 already” upon its premiere. Strong Island is a story of depressing relevance that mixes storytelling with investigation. Look out for this to be one of the highlights of the documentary calendar.
1. Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press
2016 was certainly a strange year, but even amidst the seemingly ceaseless madness, the trial between wrestler Hulk Hogan and internet media empire Gawker Media was especially bizarre, pitting two unlikely rivals against one another in a battle for privacy rights against freedom of the press. After Hogan’s unexpected win, it was revealed that Peter Thiel, Silicon Valley billionaire with an endless grudge against Gawker, had essentially funded the entire court case to appease himself. Nobody Speak – yet another successful Sundance purchase for Netflix – examines the inequalities of justice and free press in an age where being the richest person in the room is all that matters.
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What Netflix original film are you the most excited for? Let us know in the comments!