Suddenly, Netflix feels like a place where studios can dump films doomed to underperform in cinemas. It’s bad timing that the big Netflix film released prior to The Cloverfield Paradox was Bright, another massive failure with critics. With two Netflix blunders in a row, the tired argument that Netflix is killing cinema has unfortunately been reignited.
We’ve been here before: from Beasts of No Nation being snubbed at the Oscars to Okja being booed at Cannes simply because a Netflix logo appeared on screen for a few seconds, Netflix has always been treated with double standards. Only now do its critics possibly have a point. The Cloverfield Paradox and Bright are success stories that have absolutely no right to be. Bright was so popular that a sequel is being made, and while we are yet to see the figures for Paradox, Paramount sold the film to Netflix for $50 million, after Paramount’s chairman felt that it would not be profitable with a traditional theatrical release. As a result, with a budget of $45 million, Paramount made an instant profit and saved themselves from marketing and distribution costs for what seemed to be a certified box office bomb.
However, despite the studio’s fears, Paradox seems to be the talk of the town. While one could argue that this is due to it being a Cloverfield sequel and its unique Super Bowl marketing, there’s a more troubling reason; when a Netflix film has big stars, a budget or anything remotely “cinematic”, it suddenly becomes an event movie that not only everyone has to see, but more importantly, everyone can see. The streaming service makes the viewing experience so easily available that even with a film as bad as Bright, users will be able to watch it regardless. There’s little loss in doing so, after all, and in turn the film is able to remain relevant. This means that Netflix will always be keen to pick up any “big” movies, regardless of quality.
Let’s not forget that Netflix routinely picks up independent films from Sundance, South by Southwest and small festivals that would otherwise fall into obscurity, and have also produced spectacular originals themselves. So, while the precedent that Paradox has set for studios is worrying, ultimately the good that Netflix does for film far outweighs their few missteps. Although let’s be a little bit more wary of the upcoming Annihilation that looked so promising…