Why Netflix movies aren't real movies
Is there a difference between a movie funded by a new-wave streaming service versus a traditional studio system?
In 2018 the most prestigious film festival in the world, Cannes Film Festival announced that it would no longer be inviting Netflix released films to compete in the Palme d'Or.
Yes you heard that right.
"The Netflix people loved the red carpet and would like to be present with other films. But they understand that the intransigence of their own model is now the opposite of ours."
- Thierry Fremaux, Head of Cannes Film Festival
We now have a clear line in the sand to separate an internet movie from a proper film.
Sounds a bit like school yard bullying. The popular older kids are dismissing the value of the younger kids.
I am a child of the 90’s. Even as a Gen X growing up in the age of technology, I can see how online culture has revolutionised the film landscape. I owned my first Nokia 3310 phone at age 15 (RIP Snake) and while I might be able to remember a time before “googling yourself” meant something, I would never wish a return to the simpler pre-internet days.
Yes, it’s true the movie landscape has completed changed. We live in a world where a feature film released in cinemas can be entirely shot with a smartphone. Tangerine directed by Sean Baker is one of the trailblazers of the smartphone feature revolution. It premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2015 to great reviews.
The world is changing (arguably it’s already well and truly changed so get over it) and film distributors and theatre houses are following suit. Adapt to survive! That’s the world in which Netflix was born and over the past decade has emerged a powerhouse in the film market.
Netflix is no longer a one-trick streaming service for binging re-runs of The Office (although for me sometimes it still is). Netflix is basically its very own film studio now, having successfully greenlit projects like Geralds Game (2017), Beasts of No Nation (2015) and Mudbound (2017) (which was nominated for an Academy Award for best cinematography).
Ok, so full disclosure, there are a fair share of Netflix original movies that haven’t taken my fancy too. Recent examples include Duncan Jones's Mute and David Ayer's Bright. The worst offenders being a whole series of terrible Adam Sandler movies with the most embarrassing being The Ridiculous 6. These B movies are cheap to produce and safe bets to get views. They’re part of the McDonalds business side of movie making. Fine. I get it. Cheap laughs are easy weekend viewing for many people just wanting to escape the daily grind.
However, Netflix has well proved to tip the other side of the scale just as often. Earlier this year, one of my most anticipated films (according to my “Top 10 Anticipated Movies of 2018” list) was Alexander Payne’s Annihilation. Now, this outlier wasn’t produced/financed in house as part of the ‘Netflix original’ slate. In fact, it wasn’t until very close to Annihilation’s release that I even discovered it was to have a Netflix only distribution in my city. Many cinephiles shook their heads in disgust that such a visual, and highly anticipated sci-fi was to miss its chance to shine on the big screen.
Not me. I enjoyed Annihilation on the couch in my pyjamas just as much as if I had seen it on the big screen!
Don’t get me wrong. I love the cinema going experience. I just also love my couch and my pyjamas. I’m happy to mix up my movie watching environment from time to time.
It’s likely the strategy of a Netflix release worked in Annihilation’s favour. The movie did actually open in the US across 2,012 screens and the box office numbers paint a grim picture for such an incredibly smart film. It’s very possible Paramount made the right move to water down Annihilation’s release across both a traditional release and a Netflix release.
Netflix is not the enemy of the traditional cinema model of finance, production and distribution. It’s more likely the upstart little sibling, sure. But don’t underestimate it. Shutting Netflix released films out of Cannes is a rash a decision and I can’t help but be wary at this close minded stance. Surely there will be an incredible film just around the corner that every bit deserves it’s chance for selection at Cannes – only now it won’t get that shot.
I’ll be waiting for the day when a Netflix original smartphone made film is selected for a top tier film festival. It might not be Cannes and it might not be this year but I guarantee it’s not far away.
Netflix has a lot to prove in the space of great cinema and only time will tell. I hope that Cannes reconsiders their criteria for film selection and base it on another measurement rather than stoking a fire between the schools new-media vs traditional cinema.
In the meantime, I’ll happily continue my $11.99 p/month Netflix subscription. Ha, who am I kidding, I’m piggybacking off my parents accounts as one of their shared users – even better!