There was no major acquisition by Netflix that sent Hollywood into a frenzy quite like the news that the streaming service had gained the rights to The Irishman, the long-awaited reunion of director Martin Scorsese and actor Robert De Niro. Scorsese had been loyal to Paramount for many years but after his passion project Silence flopped at the box office, he looked elsewhere for the necessary support this gargantuan film would need. Rumors swirled that Netflix paid as much as $150 million for The Irishman, which will be released in 2019. That’s big budget funding for Netflix, and for them to throw that kind of money around for something that wasn’t a Summer blockbuster style project indicated seriousness.
Netflix has attracted stars in the past, but Martin Scorsese was far more than that: he is a legend and stalwart figure from the world of cinema who seemed like the last person who’d end up working with a streaming platform. Scorsese is an auteur whose work has influenced countless directors, and now he was signing onto the service whose previous biggest movie name was Adam Sandler? As Hollywood moves further into franchise fare and the mid-budget drama flounders, funding has become harder to acquire, even for major names. Unless you’re making a blockbuster or tiny budget indie, there’s little middle ground for your work. Netflix, by bringing Scorsese into the fold, threw down the gauntlet and positioned itself as the true ally of filmmakers.
Putting aside the reviews and some of the more meme-friendly moments from David Ayer’s gritty fantasy cop drama, Bright still signaled a shift for Netflix in terms of its output and approach to promotion. This was a big-budget film with an undisputed megastar in the lead role and a high-concept hook that would appeal to the key geek demographics. Netflix knew this wasn’t just a film they could stick on the front page and never say anything else about, as they’ve so often been accused of doing with their other original films. So, Will Smith and his fellow cast members were given a proper promotional tour, just like any other big-budget genre film. They attended San Diego Comic-Con, they appeared on multiple late-night talk-shows, and the company pumped a lot of money into television and online adverts that made the movie’s presence high with potential audiences.
According to Nielsen ratings, about 11 million American viewers streamed Bright within the first three days of its release, making it a legitimate hit by any standard. Netflix called it a victory for audiences, claiming that critics were disconnected from pop culture with mass appeal. Whatever the case, Bright was a step in the right direction for the platform and its attempt to muscle in on big-budget genre cinema.
The Cloverfield Paradox
Netflix has the ability to do something that the traditional studio system could never pull off: A surprise movie drop. It’s simply unfeasible for, say, Paramount to release a film in theaters with no publicity and expect people to care. The structure of the business doesn't support that and, even if they had the means to pull off the release itself, the lack of proper publicity build-up would leave the film dead in the way. Yet Netflix was able to go full Beyoncé with The Cloverfield Paradox.
With a major ad running during the Super Bowl that revealed audiences could immediately watch the movie after the biggest sporting event of the year, Netflix ensured all eyes were on its new movie. Even if you weren’t all that enthused about watching the film when it was announced, how could you resist the instant availability of it and that bomb of hype? The film itself didn’t set the world alight critically but its genius marketing gimmick demonstrated the unique aptitude Netflix had and the upper hand it gained over the old-school studio system.
The deal itself for the film was also another point in Netflix’s corner, as the service acquired both The Cloverfield Paradox and the international distribution rights to Annihilation from Paramount. It signaled the beginning of major inter-studio deals and business relationships that cemented Netflix’s burgeoning status in the industry. Netflix wasn’t the enemy now so much as someone to do mutually beneficial work with.