The Culture Roundtable is a bi-weekly publication that brings in various experts and professional enthusiasts to talk about burning issues relating to the culture of movies, TV, streaming, fiction, music, pop culture, and more.
Five years ago, Netflix released its first original film, Beast of No Nation, to critical acclaim. That film, mired with a few controversies, was released simultaneously in theaters and on the soon-to-be streaming giant’s platform. AMC, Regal, Carmike and Cinemark – four of the largest theater chains in the U.S. – all boycotted the film and ultimately refused to play it in their cinemas because it violated the 90-day release window of exclusivity to theaters (that rule is currently in limbo as I write this).
In the years that follow, Netflix adroitly found its footing in the movie business with no care for theatrical releases except during award seasons. Without releasing any data bearing its losses, Netflix has been adept at churning out good movies and impressive numbers. But that’s not what made it stand out: Netflix created a mythology that they are a home for small art house films and/or movies that wouldn’t otherwise be made. And they have delivered. 2018’s Roma won the award for Best Foreign Language Film at the 91st Academy Awards.
In spite of being a household name and culture staple, the industry has been grumbling underneath because of the company’s lack of transparency or reliable streaming data to gauge its gains and losses. The change came when the streaming giant started doling out weekly top ten lists on its platform based on location. These lists highlight the most popular films in each user’s country, like Twitter does with hashtags.
But last month, Netflix finally released a list that unveils its biggest debuts since 2015. This list, on the other hand, highlights the Netflix films with the most views in their first four weeks of release. The ten most popular Netflix films of the five years that the company has been making its own films.
April release, Extraction, directed by Sam Hargrave and starring Chris Hemsworth, tops the list with 99 Million views.
So, what’s a view? According to Netflix, if a subscriber views a film for two minutes, it is counted as a view as that is, still according to Netflix, enough time to decide if you want to see a film or not. Take a look at the list:
- Extraction – 99 Million Views
- Bird Box – 89 Million Views
- Spenser Confidential – 85 Million Views
- 6 Underground – 83 Million Views
- Murder Mystery – 73 Million Views
- The Irishman – 64 Million Views
- Triple Frontier – 63 Million Views
- The Wrong Missy – 59 Million Views
- The Platform – 56 Million Views
- The Perfect Date – 48 Million Views
The Old Guard hadn’t reached its fourth week on the platform when this list was released. It settled at 72 Million views so it knocked The Perfect Date off this list.
I’ve invited film critics: Oge, Luke Hearfield and Zach’s Reviews to discuss the impact of this list on the industry, on viewing habits and the fate of small budget films at this point. But before we start, some points to note about this list:
- Most of these films are big budget overblown internet sensations.
- All 10 films were released in the last 3 years.
- Most of them were released in the past 12 months.
- Netflix started making its own films in 2015.
- Netflix has added 43.6 Million subscribers since January 2019.
- In total, Netflix has 195 Million subscribers.
- Firstly, what films were you expecting on this list that are missing?
OGE: Possibly “Beast of no nation” especially considering all the noise it seemed to be making. Or was that just good PR?
LUKE HEARFIELD: To be honest, the majority of the films I expected to make the Netflix Top 10 are here because audiences want high concept, expensive-looking, thrill rides or easy-viewing comedies. Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma is a notable absentee because of its awards success but given that it’s a slow-burn arthouse film, it’s not surprising. I would’ve maybe expected to see Annihilation, The Two Popes, Uncut Gems, The Lovebirds or Dumplin’ in the top 10 but I’m not too surprised with this lineup.
ZACH: I was certainly expecting Roma to be there. Its absence mildly surprises me.
2. Bearing in mind that most of these films have abysmal reviews and Hemsworth’s star power hasn’t really cashed out big at the box office, why do you think Extraction tops this list? Pandemic? Autoplays? Suggestions? Or more?
OGE: Possibly a combination of all of those factors. However, I don’t think star power at the theaters is equivalent to star power in front of your TV screen. It’s easier for a supposed B-list actor to shine on Netflix simply based on the recognition factor. Then when you add in other factors, plus the genre, it’s not hard to see how someone would be more willing to sit through a film they don’t particularly love on Netflix versus paying for it at the theatres.
LUKE HEARFIELD: I think it’s a combination of all the factors you mentioned. The Pandemic has made us thirsty for entertainment and much like the documentary Tiger King, Extraction had good word-of-mouth buzz on Social Media. I think people were drawn to it for its impressive one-take action sequences. It’s marketed as a non-stop action movie that doesn’t require a lot of your attention. Hemsworth is also a likeable enough star who appeals to both sexes – he’s got enough star power next to his name for people to check out his latest films.
ZACH: I only have to assume that Extraction’s leading place in this list comes from the boredom of at home viewers during the pandemic. Simply speaking, people wanted something mindless to watch and a Chris Hemsworth-led action thriller is just the thing that caught their eyes. I’m guilty of this myself.
3. What do you think of the ‘2 minutes count as a view’ logic for Netflix? Is it completely criminal or actually befitting?
OGE: I see the point in the reasoning in that if you sat through a certain amount, that indicates interest in the film but two minutes seems like such a brief time. Does that include opening credits? I think people still pay for and walk out of a movie in theaters, so it’s not far-fetched to include incomplete views in your count. However, I believe two minutes is too brief a time to show audience interest in the film and control for other factors like clicks by error.
LUKE HEARFIELD: I think it’s cheating. 2 minutes might count as a listen to a song on Spotify but I don’t think it’s long enough to be quantified as a full “view” for a Movie. In my opinion, a view should be quantified for at least a third of whatever the medium’s runtime is.
ZACH: Criminal. It comes from a capitalistic standpoint of Netflix just trying to get clicks on their underwhelming original films.
“…the economics of the theatrical business are so brutal; they don’t reward creative risk taking.” _ Brent Lang, Rebecca Rubin and Matt Donnelly. (Variety)
4. Personal Questions: Let’s use the above quote as a backdrop. People have always gravitated towards big budget splashy action thrillers as evident in box office returns.
a) Do you agree with me that that situation is replicating itself on the streaming service judging by this list?
OGE: Absolutely. It’s inescapable. It’s similar to the Nollywood fascination with The Wedding Party films. People like simple and immediate gratification type films. They appeal to a wider audience. People who like romances, like them too. People who like cult films, like them too. People who like foreign films only, like them too. Economically speaking, it’s more bang for the buck, and the phenomenon will continue to manifest itself despite the platform we evolve into.
LUKE HEARFIELD: To an extent I do agree because several of the Top 10 on Netflix match the criteria and they were all released within the last few years. It’s a safe investment for Netflix as they will see returns for low-risk investment of a formulaic action thriller.
ZACH: It is most definitely being replicated on the streaming service. As Netflix is taking the approach of getting common moviegoers’ attention by putting out bottom-of-the-barrel originals time and time again and starting to use the film industry’s tactic of making abhorrent entertainment with only some outliers every once and awhile, which is starting to become more infrequent.
b) Netflix’s tacit promise to art films is not evident here and has not been in previously released internal stats. I’m of the opinion that Netflix is luring these filmmakers in for clout, along with their fans as subscribers. On a scale of 1-10, how crazy am I?
OGE: Ha! I can’t judge your craziness but I don’t think it’s a luring mechanism. Put it this way: My Netflix home screen is vastly different from that of the rest of my family and probably from yours as well. If your taste is in tune with a certain genre, Netflix will feed you more of those.
LUKE HEARFIELD: Hmmmm, I can see where you’re coming from but I think Netflix have a smart business model. They give big name auteurs full control of their own projects and in return they do gain clout for letting the filmmaker make the project they envisioned. Plus, they then having those bragging rights and exclusivity on their platform. Just because the arty films aren’t all cracking the Top 10 like Scorsese’s The Irishman, doesn’t diminish their value. They are investing in a lot of smaller art films but the demand isn’t as great as say a disposable action thriller or a cheap Adam Sandler comedy. I would say you’re not crazy at all, just aware of the changing paradigm.
ZACH: I don’t disagree with you.
c) What’s the hope for small budget dramas at this point?
OGE: There is hope yet. There is an audience for everyone. If anything, smart advertising might just play a bigger factor in the future.
LUKE HEARFIELD: There’s still an audience for the small budget drama, we just need investors to take more risks on them.
ZACH: I only have to assume that as the years go by, they will start to become less frequent in favor of big budget moneymakers that bring in millions of viewers.
5. Lastly, as a critic, what film shouldn’t be on this list?
OGE: It’s hard to say because box office lists hardly ever mirror critical acclaim lists. If I had to pick (and considering that I haven’t seen all of those movies), it would be 6 Underground. I’ve tried getting past 10 minutes on that movie numerous times but the silliness astounds me.
LUKE HEARFIELD: It’s tough to say because we’re bringing our own personal tastes into a discussion which is about quantified data. What I may personally dislike could be beloved by others (even majority). I can only speak for the films that I have personally seen in the Netflix Top 10 but I wasn’t a fan of ‘The Wrong Missy’ or ‘6 Underground.’ I didn’t enjoy them as films but that’s just me. It doesn’t make them bad films if their intended audience enjoyed them and tuned in to watch them. They’ve earned their spot in the Netflix Top 10 because they’re doing something right. I wouldn’t encourage people to watch them but it doesn’t mean people shouldn’t or that the films shouldn’t be in the Top 10 on Netflix. Numbers don’t lie.
ZACH: Murder Mystery. Borderline ridiculous.
Ooookay, we are done. Thank you, yes You. I know you enjoyed yourself reading this. It’s Bi-weekly, my friend. Sign up to my newsletter so I can personally remind you when the next edition drops. Heck, I’ll send the whole thing to you. Click this LINK and register your mail for free.
Oge is the founder of Nollywood REinvented – a review-aggregation website that delivers clear and easy to follow reviews on a majority of the recently and afore released African movies.
Check it out here: https://www.nollywoodreinvented.com/
Luke Hearfield is a U.K. vlogger – He talks movies, TV and popcorn culture on YouTube. Check out his amazing YouTube channel here:https://t.co/cWegRy2ZlS?amp=1
Zach is an Independent Film Critic and Reviewer. You can read his works here:https://t.co/ztXm5Skrc1?amp=1
Send your suggestions and requests to firstname.lastname@example.org and don’t forget to leave a comment. Thanks for being here.