It’s the age old problem: you scroll through the listings of your local cinema looking for something to watch on a day off, and all you can find are two kid’s movies, that big superhero franchise you already saw twice, some arty drama film and a comedy, one of which will star Dwayne Johnson because the man just never rests.
What’s a fool to do? Go onto Netflix and see what they got going on, and it’s the same problem, hundreds of fine created content, but nothing that really grabs you, until Netflix drops one of their trademark binge series, perhaps another Marvel series, or some other series. But more and more it appears that Netflix isn’t just stockpiling the movies we all love, and dropping hit shows like you or I drop massive dumps (and we at No Majesty do drop massive dumps, read our reviews), but they’re also making intriguing Documentaries and now even more alarmingly they make great movies.
In the world of TV, the likes of Sky, HBO and even the BBC are running around trying to catch up with online streaming services like Amazon and Netflix. Sky now offers the chance to view an entire series in one go. But the world of film seems ever elusive and problematic. You see, streaming a series and watching it on your platform of choice are similar ideas, and so when it comes to awards season Netflix and Amazon get a tasty share of the pie along with the likes of HBO, with online shows like House of Cards, Transparent, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Stranger Things cleaning up as good as any Sherlock or Downton Abbey.
As for films, well, we all remember the outrage when a clearly deserving Abraham Attah and Idris Elba were denied nominations for the sublime Beasts of No Nation at the oscars, because of their bizarre reasons and hoops films have to jump through to get nominations. For some reason the idea of a film that doesn’t get a theatrical distribution is considered lesser to the ones that do. However, there is something about smaller films that calls for the intimacy of home viewing, much like horror films, while bigger films need a bigger screen. Take the recent spate of awards movies: films like Moonlight or Fences have a better chance of being viewed in large numbers if available for viewing in the home; they’re never meant to be big money makers, they’re art. But a film like La La Land needs the big loud surround sound cinema screen.
Now, Amazon has rather cleverly gone around this, becoming the first streaming service with an Oscar nomination for Best Picture with this year’s Manchester by the Sea, but again, that is a film that works better enjoyed in the home. So why the stigmatism? Put simply, it’s elitism. Back in the day, if things were released straight to video or DVD they were considered bad, cheap or unimportant films and the stigmatism has remained, but these days that lack of quality rule simply isn’t true. One of the biggest gems of the last few years was Snowpiercer, a film that wasn’t even released in the UK but was a great sci-fi thriller with political undertones.
In fact, UK cinema viewing figures have taken a sharp dip in recent times; in 2016 the viewing figures in January were 14,029,310, while in its peak month of June it was only 10,707,878. As it is, the two biggest months for cinema intake were October and February in which they passed the 15 million mark, why? Well, school’s half term, and releases that caught the publics interest. Deadpool was a cash cow, and so was Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. But both were big films.
However, take the intake in January — generally considered the height of awards season releases in the UK — in 2016 against 2015 where it was 15 million, a number it managed to maintain in February and then return to in April, July, October, November and surpass in December. The rate at which people are going is directly proportional to what’s on offer, but the saturation of films to see is also a problem. The big blockbusters are what the studios depend on to keep afloat, and a colossal flop can very well sink a studio (ask the folk at United Artists), but that means they should only put the big films in cinemas. A big awards film deserves big screen treatment, for a war film, a musical, or another kind of blockbuster, but a small intimate drama or a turn the lights off shock fest should be kept to home viewing.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has done well in its multiple platform endeavors, offering online content, Netflix series, network TV and movies all for the comic hungry fan to feast on, and feast we invariably do, but smaller more complex and interesting films might not find an audience if they don’t have A-listers or don’t fit into the correct boxes for wide appeal. In fact, as cinema attendance goes down, Netflix memberships go up.
Thus far Netflix has proven its worth in film making terms with the previously mentioned Beasts of No Nation, as well as Barack Obama-based movie Barry (a very fine film), and the award worthy Talulah that should have seen Ellen Page and Allison Janney showered with awards. And, actually, Amazon has also hoovered up with its films including Manchester by the Sea as well as awards favourites Love & Friendship, The Salesman, I Am Not Your Negro, The Handmaiden and even out there thriller The Neon Demon.
But the problem is that Amazon is still finding it necessary to pump these out into cinemas with co-distribution deals to make them seem legitimate. Many of Amazon’s films look to be intriguing enterprises including Terry Gilliam’s labour of love The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, a remake of Suspiria and a movie adaptation of Emily the Strange, but every time they put one out in the cinema it just shows that it’s the box office that all the money men look at.
As for Netflix, its documentaries have attracted much attention, like Amanda Knox and 13th as well as the miscarriage of justice epic Making a Murderer, but their films tend to premier on their service, and never see the light of a cinema, so are they lesser? Of course they aren’t. This year alone will test that as Netflix release The Discovery; a sci-fi thriller starring Jason Segal, Rooney Mara and Robert flipping Redford, its high concept involving the existence of an afterlife. This is sure to have stoners scratching their heads and others enjoying the strangeness. Even more so than that, Netflix has bank-rolled the new movie by Suicide Squad director David Ayer’s, fantasy cop-thriller mash up Bright. The story is a sort of version of Alien Nation with Will Smith as a human and Joel Egerton as an Orc, both cops on the patrol, with racial undertones. Naomi Rapace and Kenneth Choi also star, and it’s written by hot-shot Max Landis.
These are not films that get made to be thrown in a bin, these are legitimate motion pictures. Bright would not look out of place in a cinema with it’s a-list cast and its high concept, but Netflix is making its name stronger by getting proper talent to back it. It’s a testament to it’s power that the likes of David Fincher and Kevin Spacey were quick to throw their hat into the Netflix ring originally, and others are now following suit.
With all this information at the world’s disposal, it’s not about putting more movies in screens, it’s about putting the right movies in screens. Does a third Ring movie need cinema release? No, it really doesn’t, but does a film as potent and special as Arrival? Yes, it needs the big bright screen experience. That’s what cinemas and movie makers should be boosting, an experience. Leave the fluff and the art for people to consume in their own time. If you really want bottoms on seats, give them a reason. Heroes, villains, a good musical, a big action film, or something that takes them to the depths of Middle Earth or a galaxy far far away. The power for these are in the producer’s hands, but until the academy admits that films made for online viewers are legitimate, we’ll be flicking through the pages waiting for that awards movie to show up.
Paul Klein is a Film Studies Graduate from London, former writer at The Metropolist.