It seems everywhere I go – from hanging out with friends to business school classes to watching TV – I hear people lauding Netflix original content. To fill in the uninformed on some basic background information, Netflix transitioned mainly to just streaming as its mail-based movie rental service became less popular. Since it was clear that streaming will be the premier way of consuming video media going forward, Netflix began to invest in its own productions of series and films. Its first original series (I am mainly focusing on the Drama genre here) was the acclaimed show House of Cards, released in February 2013, and it followed up that hit with the popular, but less critically acclaimed, shows Orange is the New Black and Narcos in 2013 and 2015 respectively, followed by the hit Stranger Things in 2016. Now I will preface my next paragraph by saying the majority of Netflix original series are generally solid. With the exception of the insensitive disaster 13 Reasons Why, most of these are incredibly popular with a general audience and most would agree are vastly superior to the offerings provided on network TV and cable.
However, Netflix original films are another story. Only a few have received the critical praise of their series, mainly just The Square, a documentary on the Arab Spring in Egypt released in 2014 (a great film and definitely worth a watch) and Virunga, a 2015 documentary on gorillas (also a great film). Most of their original films seem to be far more low-brow and with less effort put into them. For example, Adam Sandler received a 6-film contract with Netflix and produced ‘hits’ like The Cobbler (9% Rotten Tomatoes) and The Ridiculous 6 (0% Rotten Tomatoes !) for the service. Adam Sandler is a big name and his older films are massively popular, but with movies this bad it’s almost like they are tricking audiences into watching these on name-recognition alone.
The most shameless of these in my opinion is Cloverfield Paradox. Sporting a 19% Rotten Tomatoes ranking (and Rotten Tomatoes is the most forgiving critic aggregate site I’ve ever seen) this film was essentially a Science Fiction film that had already been made, and was given the Cloverfield name to draw more attention, with only about 3 lazy dubbed-in lines of dialogue to connect it to the “Cloverfield universe” of the 2008 monster movie. I believe Netflix just purchased this film and did not produce it, but while the whole concept of this re-purposing is already ethically dubious, Cloverfield Paradox was also released immediately after the Super Bowl last year on Netflix with a commercial during the game – an ingenious strategy to trick people into watching this film right after that sadly worked on me.
The most recent film to remind me of this was Bird Box, released holiday 2018, which was essentially a B-Movie horror (with scares that would frighten only maybe my grandma), to generally middling reviews. The most interesting thing about the film was the potential paid viral marketing scandal, in which people accused Netflix of creating bot Twitter accounts to promote the meme associated with the film.
I understand a lot of people may like these movies and that is perfectly fine. I am a big fan of Netflix and the idea of movies being released on streaming services, where you don’t have to pay a minimum of $25 at the theater just to watch it, is great and innovative. However, Netflix seems to be using the good-faith awarded to them based on their series from 3-4 years ago to sucker people into watching their low quality original films and are using ethically questionable ways of marketing these movies. What do you think? I personally think the almost universally positive reputation and brand perception of Netflix will quickly change as more low quality films flood the service as they would rather have their own films than pay other companies for the rights to stream their films.