Why Netflix continues to be the thorn in cinema’s side.

Beasts of No Nation Netflix
Beasts of No Nation Netflix
Beasts of No Nation, one of the first original films produced and distributed by Netflix

Paul Klein

Netflix is ruining cinema! The screams of the overpaid, generally greedy corporate fat cats that run the movie industry yell. Obviously, they’re wrong. Netflix has gone from the go-to shit movie site of choice for casual hookups, to the premiere streaming service in the world. Not only does it store some of the best (read: worst) horror movies of note, but makes its own films and TV shows for our viewing enjoyment, and the industry of film, more so than any other is still refusing to get with the times.

Is this entirely the fault of production companies? No, it’s also down to cinema chains – but we won’t name and shame. Put simply, cinemas are killing their own business by charging some eleven pounds per ticket – then adding on booking fees for online sales or another pound or two per big new release. Think of it like this: for a ticket to a film you have to pay £11, an additional £2 because it’s new, and another £1 because you booked them online to secure decent seats. That’s £14 for one ticket, now not everyone likes to go alone so you take a girlfriend or boyfriend or friend or whoever – before you know it you’re at £30. It’s a Marvel or DC or big blockbuster so naturally, it’s long, you need some popcorn and a drink, that’s another £10, maybe with some sweets or a bottle of water.

Already, you’ve paid nearly £50 between you to see a movie you’re not even guaranteed you’ll like, or that won’t be interrupted by annoying teenagers or kids running around. Fifty-pounds, when you could pay a tiny £7.99 a month (or £9.99 if you’re feeling flush), with an unlimited number of shows and films to peruse. Go to a supermarket of choice, stock up on snacks – or you can stay in bed, and if nature takes a turn for the biblical, pause the TV and allow relations of the imitate kind to take over – is it any wonder Netflix is gaining ground?

Cinemas have screwed themselves. If you’re a branch with fewer than say – eight screens – the market saturation is so that you only get films that are guaranteed to make money for the cinema chain. I.E. why would you put a film like Last Flag Flying in cinemas, where perhaps two screenings will pull forty-five viewers tops when a film like Downsizing will pull that in one screening. It’s a flooded market with no place to survive.

Annihilation Review
Annihilation, starring Natalie Portman, released on Netflix in March.

That said, cinemas are only given so much to go on, with movie companies only bankrolling two types of films: blockbusters and awards movies. Take the now infamous Harvey Weinstein, the man backed and distributed about one half of all British films, and he didn’t do it because they make money, on the contrary, he did it because they win awards: The King’s Speech, The Imitation Game et al, he backed them and distributed them because they’re award winners. This might appear cynical, but look at the slate for upcoming films getting a big release; we’re in the heart of awards season, there are no two ways about it, every film is either a ‘prestige’ picture or a big tentpole film. There are no risks being taken without financial gain, and that means directors and writers (and actors) are being forced to compromise.

We are no longer in the golden age of Hollywood nor are we in the heydey of the auteur filmmakers. The 70s’, when the director was king, when a director was allowed to spend billions of dollars on horror films with heart, or action films with political underpinnings, are gone – thanks, partially to the rise of cheaper films and Heaven’s Gate.

But, look at how many stories have broken about films being compromised, arguments on set and regrets about not making the film they wanted. Matthew Vaughn luckily found a way around it by self-financing his movies and then finding someone to distribute them, but not every director can do that. That’s why Netflix has given rise to better-made films. With the ability to watch literally whenever, with huge budgets and no fears over box office returns or opening weekends, Netflix has made movie makers comfortable to make their own films.

The Cloverfield Paradox Review
The Cloverfield Paradox was released exclusively on Netflix immediately after Super Bowl LII

Having come off the stress and compromise of Suicide Squad, Netflix gave David Ayer the chance to make the movie he wanted to with Bright, is it perfect? No, it’s flawed but it’s his movie. Unlike the re-edited cluster of Suicide Squad, a problem that also followed Justice League in a bid to make that sweet sweet coin. Marvel are similarly having issues, forcing high calibre directors like Patty Jenkins and Edgar Wright to vacate their films because it doesn’t fit their mould. Kathleen Kennedy take note, don’t piss off your directors when trying to build the Star Wars franchise, it’s going to cause problems.

A film like Gerald’s Game would have died in cinemas, but thanks to netflix it can thrive, and found a core audience that loved the psycho-thriller. Would cinema goers have enjoyed it? Maybe not, but at home, where it might just be you and your partner… in the dark… in the rain… in a house that creeks? Well… the fear perpetuates itself, doesn’t it?

Alex Garland may well have lamented that his film Annihilation was made for a cinema screen, but considering most TVs nowadays are 4K super 50 inch screens and sound systems are cheap as anything, your home can be your cinema. Will Annihilation look any worse on your TV? No, it’ll look just as good if it’s a well-made film.

Bright Will Smith Joel Egerton
Netflix Supernatural Buddy Cop Drama Bright was released exclusively on Netflix in 2017

When you have a director of Martin Scorsese stature turning to Netflix to fund his film because he can’t get funding in the cinema business you know something is wrong. Scorsese is a man who has built a career on popular films that rake in awards and when he asks to make a crime drama film with Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Al Pacino and Leonardo DiCaprio and the studios say no? You know that the industry is in trouble.

It’s simple, the only thing threatening cinema is cinema. TV didn’t kill it, DVD didn’t kill it and streaming won’t kill it. People want to enjoy the big screen experience, but if you’re only showing Star Wars, every hour on the hour and most of your locals have already seen it once or maybe twice then you’re in trouble: they might fancy a drama for a change. Cater to the people, and the money will follow.

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