Don’t look now, Netflix are at it again.
Earlier this week, reports dropped revealing the streaming giant & future corporate overlords were in talks to buy the latest entry in the Cloverfield series. The news brings to end months of speculation over the film’s release, which was recently pushed back for a third time to April 20.
The Film Formerly Known As God Particle was directed by Julius Onah, and features a diverse range of talents headlined by Gugu Mbatha-Raw, David Oyelowo, Elizabeth Debicki, Chris O’Dowd, Ziyi Zhang & Daniel Bruhl. It was originally slated for release in February 2017, hot on the heels of modest box office hit and critical darling 10 Cloverfield Lane.
Much of the hype around 10CL stemmed from its sudden arrival, with a trailer attached to 13 Hours just 2 months before its theatrical release. Indeed, both Cloverfield films so far have adopted enigmatic release strategies, leaning on viral marketing and the element of surprise – which made many of us believe the third film’s woes were all just Part Of The Plan™.
You can only delay a film so many times before people start to realize things aren’t so hunky dory (oh hey Gambit). The big giveaway was the lack of a teaser trailer on The Last Jedi – which shares the same producer in Cloverfield architect and all-round-cool-guy JJ Abrams, and would have afforded it a huge amount of publicity by bouncing off 2017’s biggest film.
The move isn’t shocking on Paramount’s part. The studio also recently sold the international rights to fellow mid-budget sci-fi pic Annihilation to Netflix. Alex Garland’s hotly anticipated follow-up to Ex Machina was also plagued by production issues, and the sale seemed like Paramount were trying to cut their losses, instead of spending heavily on marketing worldwide.
It’s a studio in flux, with recent exec changes, and very few bankable franchises on their slate. They’ve spent big and lost on flops like Monster Trucks, Zoolander 2 & Ben-Hur – making even Sony Pictures look more competent (who I should probably stop picking on, Jumanji was *huge*).
There’s simply less room for mid-budget risks in this blockbuster-driven age – and every time a Midnight Special/The Nice Guys flops, the situation only gets worse. Why should Paramount devote time to modest hits at best like 10CL, when they can concentrate their resources on winning big with their next Transformers (the latest of which notably also underperformed)?
Enter: Netflix. Last month, the streaming giant managed to rope in 11M+ viewers on Bright – an original genre pic, with a $90M budget and one real marketable star. Granted, they poured a lot of money into marketing on this one, but they achieved those figures without reviews on their side. It was proof that they can play with the big kids.
With so much content available, people are saving their increasingly pricey cinema trips for big event movies (Black Panther, Beauty & The Beast). Most won’t go out of their way to see the films playing second fiddle to those. But if they’re available to watch from the comfort of your sofa – if you don’t even need to put on pants to watch them – viewing figures ought to skyrocket. And isn’t that all any filmmaker wants – for their movies to be seen? Without pants, no less!
Yes and no. Netflix are incredibly secretive about their viewing figures (they refused to corroborate the 11M figure). As a result, it’s hard to gauge what’s a success any more. The lines haven’t just been blurred, they’ve been shrouded in secrecy. Will Alex Garland’s next ambitious project get the green light if he has no box office receipts to back it up? I suppose time will tell.
In the case of Cloverfield though, I can’t think of a more perfect medium. This franchise has always been about revolutionizing marketing/distribution – embracing streaming platforms feels like the next logical step. Netflix have a history of springing content on their users. Imagine waking up one day to find a Cloverfield movie on your laptop with no marketing, no spoilers, and no indication of what it’s about. It sounds like JJ Abrams’s wet dream.
Assuming it does go ahead, the long-term ramifications of this deal are tough to predict, but I do think we’ll see a lot less mid-budget original content via the traditional channels. Instead, it’ll be beamed straight into our homes – removing the spectacle (and further undercutting the flailing exhibition industry), but perhaps connecting more viewers with these films.
And what will happen to Paramount? This time last year they were celebrating their success on Arrival, which grossed $200M and amassed 8 Oscar nominations. That ‘original’ sci-fi film cost $50M to make – would it have been picked up and released by the same studio in 2018?
So many questions and I have no real answers! It’s where I’m hoping you’ll jump in – either in the comments or on Twitter. Worth noting: the main point of this article was actually to highlight how I predicted this whole Netflix/Cloverfield thing 3 weeks in advance – which I believe makes me the most intelligent person that ever lived?
Don’t answer that one.