Netflix has released dozens of original movies this year, and they don't look to be slowing down going into 2019, with nineteen movies already on the docket and more expected to be announced. Yet aside from the occasional big-budget, high-profile release - like Duncan Jones' dreary, smart-alecky Mute or the middling sci-fi The Cloverfield Paradox - people don't seem to be aware of these movies or the fact that they are or were coming out.
Take for example How It Ends: another film with a seemingly decent budget that has been unceremoniously dumped on Netflix. Though it was briefly given pride of place as a banner when subscribers logged into their Netflix accounts, the lack of marketing for the film outside of the website is surprising, and begs the question of how many people are even are of its existence. More importantly, is anyone actually watching Netflix's original movies?
- This Page: Why is Netflix Making So Many Movies, and Is Anyone Watching Them?
- Page 2: Netflix Originals Aren't Bad - They're Just Badly Promoted
Netflix Is Very Secretive About Viewership Numbers
No one knows exactly how well Netflix's original movies do unless they decide to tell us - which they rarely do. The renowned third-party US ratings system Nielsen has claimed to have found a way to record Netflix's viewing figures, much like they do every broadcaster in the States. How exactly they've managed to do this remains a secret (although it allegedly revolves around audio recognition software).
Netflix probably weren't too hurt that Nielsen reported they racked up 11 million viewers in the U.S. alone in the first three days of Bright's release. Yet they had previously denied the accuracy of Nielsen's numbers, stating that “The data that Nielsen is reporting is not accurate, not even close, and does not reflect the viewing of these shows on Netflix.” This makes additional reports coming out of Nielsen claiming that The Cloverfield Paradox attracted less than half of the amount of Bright's viewers harder to buy into, as industry spectators now don't know who to believe.
The conflicting statements lead the rest of the industry to throw their hands up in defeat, effectively allowing Netflix to continue to remain evasive about their actual viewing figures. As it stands, there really is no bottom line on whether anyone is watching their original movies. With their original series it's somewhat easier to tell, as they'll continue on for multiple seasons (and this wouldn't make good business sense to happen in a vacuum of viewership), but with one-and-done original movies there's virtually no telling (to anyone but Ted Sarandos and Netflix) if anyone is paying attention.
Netflix's Best Original Movies
Netflix has had a fair few high profile original movies, including Oscar-winning documentary short The White Helmets, which provided a timely look at the everyday civilian heroes responsible for dragging bomb victims from beneath the rubble in Aleppo, Syria. Cary Fukunaga's Beasts of No Nation, a stark look at child soldiers in an unnamed African country, was nominated for a Golden Globe and a BAFTA, in addition to winning the prestigious Marcello Mastroianni Award at the Venice International Film Festival. Idris Elba also also won a Screen Actor's Guild award for his role as the battalion's brutal commandant.
Okja, the latest film from The Host and Snowpiercer director Bong Joon-ho, was nominated for the Palme d'Or at Cannes. While the mediation on man's cruelty and exploitation of animals was initially met with a mixture of boos and applause from its Cannes audience - most notably when the Netflix logo showed up on-screen - the film received a four-minute standing ovation once it finished.
Dee Rees' Mudbound earned rave reviews (96% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes) for its moody depiction of race relations in post-World War 2 Mississippi. Following two veterans - one white, one black - as they return to the hostile terrain and people of their homeland but find a kinship with one another, the film earned four Oscar nominations by the time the Academy Awards rolled around. Best Supporting Actress and Best Original Song for Mary J. Blige, along with Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Cinematography. Two years after Beasts of No Nation was completely shut out of the Academy Awards, Mudbound turned up to fully announce Netflix as a movie-making force to be reckoned with - and one that is here to stay.
Why Netflix Is Making So Many Originals
Netflix wants to get to the point where 50% of the service's content is original, so they don't have to rely on deals with other studios and networks. After all, when they achieve rights to stream IP that doesn't belong to them, it's only for a finite amount of time before said property is yanked away - for example, when Disney pulled content from Netflix for their own streaming service. Considering some IP is so costly to begin with, it makes sense that Netflix would want to try making their own cost-effective originals more appealing to viewers rather than, say, Star Trek: Discovery, which costs Netflix $6 million per episode to stream internationally, according to the LA Times.
This has led to an exponential increase in their original output, as they went from 10 movies in 2015 (eight of which were documentaries) to 60+ movies in 2018. It's easy to pinpoint this glut of original content as a cause of some mediocrity; the old-fashioned quality-over-quantity, throwing things at the wall until something sticks. The Netflix mentality may even be that if you drown people in content, the really good original movies will stand out all the more.