The most recent acquisition by Netflix may not seem like that big a deal at first glance but it’s another sign of the service's increasing might in Hollywood as well as further cementing its place in the Hollywood ecosystem. Mowgli, Andy Serkis’s darker take on Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, had been a long time in the making and had seen its release date delayed more than once as Warner Bros. feared it losing in a competition with Disney’s own big-budget live-action Jungle Book remake. Concerns were that the film would be too niche, too dark for kids, or simply unable to keep up with the juggernaut of Disney.
Netflix announced it had acquired distribution rights to Mowgli, which had been set for a release this October, but will now screen it some time in 2019. This was a major power move for the platform, combining an ability to work well with traditional studios and a growing awareness of the need to appeal to the key family demographics. Netflix didn’t just buy a new movie to add to its roster: it got one that was three mere months away from a theatrical release and made audiences more enthused than ever for the final product. Of all the recent announcements and acquisitions, it may be Mowgli that signals the loudest how Netflix can legitimately compete with the major studios.
The Other Side of the World
Between 1970 and 1976, legendary director Orson Welles shot an experimental satire called The Other Side of the World. The film, which starred directors John Huston and Peter Bogdanovich, was a mockumentary about the death of the old studio system and its directors in the shadow of New Hollywood's bright young auteurs. Budget problems, legal difficulties and industry tensions meant Welles never finished making it, and for close to twenty years, fans and film-makers have tried to complete the project. For a while, it seemed as though the movie would be left to the margins of history as an unfinished dream, yet Netflix proved its unlikely savior.
In 2016, it was announced that Netflix would help to complete the film, have total distributions rights, and also fund a companion documentary. The Other Side of the World is set to have its world premiere at this year's Venice Film Festival, where Netflix will also screen two films in competition (The Ballad of Buster Scruggs by the Coen Brothers and Alfonso Cuarón's Roma).
The Other Side of the World is a film that’s tough to justify from a purely commercial standpoint. It’s unlikely that the average subscriber will be eagerly awaiting an Orson Welles film that’s been close to 50 years in the making. This was a film that struggled to get crowdfunding support, let alone industry money. Yet it’s also hard to deny this film’s intense prestige. That’s what makes it such a game changer for Netflix: This is a highly commercial enterprise investing money and clout into a project that exists solely for critical appreciation. A project like this opens the door for Netflix to do what the major powers of Hollywood won’t these days: Elevate and preserve classic film for the masses.