Netflix Turns Its Attention to Films It Hopes Everyone Wants to See

Towards the end of “Red Notice,” Netflix’s most flashy and expensive attempt to start a movie franchise to date, Ryan Reynolds descends into a cave to search for a bounty stolen by the Nazis. Decked out in khaki pants and a fedora, he whistles the theme of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” as he descends the stairs. Director Rawson Thurber calls it “a tip off the top of the best action-adventure movie of all time.”

That homage to the “Indiana Jones” movies also serves as something of a pointer to Netflix’s cinematic aspirations, which have evolved over the years as its subscriber base has grown to 214 million and the endurance of Netflix. filmmakers to their first broadcast model has declined. The company has shifted its priorities from being the place where big-name filmmakers bring in exciting projects that studios deem too risky. (Think Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma” or Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman”). Now, the company is targeting what old-school studios do best: films for all audiences, PG-13, which traditionally fill theaters, create a cultural moment, and often become lucrative. franchises.

In the next year, Netflix will release more than a handful of expensive and star-studded movies aimed at appealing to a wide audience, from filmmakers with a history of doing just that. Shawn Levy (“Night at the Museum”) is directing Mr. Reynolds in the time travel movie “The Adam Project.” Francis Lawrence, the director behind the “Hunger Games” franchise, will see his fantasy adventure debut “Slumberland” with Jason Momoa on the service next year. And Joe and Anthony Russo, the brother director of the team behind “The Avengers,” will present the spy thriller “The Gray Man,” starring Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans.

For Scott Stuber, Netflix’s global director of movies, this is the culmination of four years of work to convince Hollywood that the service’s subscriber base is worth more than any box office performance a movie can get.

“Here’s the thing about Netflix, which is kind of mind-boggling, more people are going to see ‘Red Notice’ than have seen all of my other movies in their entire theatrical release together,” said Thurber, the screenwriter and director. and producer of “Red Notice,” whose credits include “Skyscraper,” “Central Intelligence,” and “Dodgeball.” “That’s how big Netflix is. It is almost incalculably large. “

Netflix has declared “Red Notice,” a worldwide heist movie that also stars Dwayne Johnson and Gal Gadot, a huge success. The company said the film was viewed 148 million hours in its first weekend on the service, marking the longest opening weekend in Netflix history. But it received lukewarm reviews, with The New York Times calling it “an expensive use of star power, only the stars don’t have it” and The Los Angeles Times referred to it as a “weak copycat blockbuster.” .

And that echoes a point that has been made about the overall quality of Netflix movies.

“I think one of the fair criticisms has been that we do too much and not enough is great,” Stuber said in an interview, adding, “I think what we want to do is refine and make a little bit less better and bigger.”

Despite the criticism, Stuber is delighted with “Red Notice” and optimistic about his next list of films, which include a mix of prestigious images destined for the award stage such as Jane Campion’s “Power of the Dog” and “Don “by Adam McKay. ‘t Look Up, ”debuts from directors like Lin Manuel Miranda’s“ Tick, Tick… ​​Boom ”and Maggie Gyllenhaal’s“ The Lost Daughter, ”along with a more widespread audience like the R-rated thriller“ The Unforgivable. ” , starring Sandra Bullock.

Stuber, who was a senior film executive at Universal Pictures and a freelance producer who made movies like “Central Intelligence” and “Ted” before coming to Netflix, is satisfied that most of the resistance to Netflix’s decision to essentially leave The exclusive cinemas window has been bypassed. (The company puts some movies in theaters before their release, but rarely for more than three weeks.) And that has expanded the number of stars and filmmakers willing to work on movies that will largely avoid multiplexers.

“For us, it’s always been about accessing the material,” Stuber said, pointing to the moment Scorsese chose to bring “The Irishman” to Netflix as a turning point for the streaming service.

That move led others to take risks, not just on projects the studios aired, but also on big-budget movies, often rated Rs, that often populate theaters, like Charlize Theron in “Old Guard” and Chris. Hemsworth in “Extraction.” Now, the goal is to expand to more PG-13 movies.

“We’re finally getting access to that kind of material and to those filmmakers and artists, and I think we’re heading in that direction in a pretty exciting way,” Stuber said.

The main advantage that studies point to when compared to Netflix is ​​its ability to create a cultural moment when they open a big, boisterous blockbuster in theaters around the world. David Zaslav, the Discovery CEO who will soon lead the Warner Bros. Discovery merger, referenced that power during a recent talk at New York’s Paley Center.

“We can open a movie anywhere in the world,” he said.

That distinction may not matter as much anymore.

“All of Hollywood is hanging its hat on one thing: You can’t create a zeitgeist moment from a movie online,” said media analyst Richard Greenfield. “I would say that there are very few movies that even have a zeitgeist. And there are many things that create cultural moments that will never make it to theaters. “

Mr. Levy knows the power of movie theaters. He directed this year’s “Free Guy,” starring Mr. Reynolds, which made $ 331 million at the global box office despite the limitations of the pandemic and not being based on previously known property. He hopes there will be similar recognition for “The Adam Project,” the first film he is directing for Netflix. And that starts with marketing.

“I think they can be a little louder and more strategic in the way they tell the world that something is coming,” Levy, who is also a producer on Netflix’s “Stranger Things,” said in an interview. “I think there is growing awareness that filmmakers, actors and those of us who make films want our work to be seen, but we also want our work to be known. And I think we will see an evolution in the way Netflix markets and advertises its movies so that the creative community continues to do business with Netflix. “

The service has had success with the way it markets its television shows, with “Squid Game” causing a run on green jumpsuits for Halloween costumes and “Stranger Things” causing Eggo waffles to sell out. But his films have had a harder time entering the broader cultural conversation.

“I think it’s an enigma of the movie business that we all have in this changing entertainment landscape,” Stuber said. “How do we make films that are as culturally relevant as they were when we were kids?”

One way Netflix hopes to show that its movies are making an impact is its recent announcement that it will release a weekly list of the top 10 movies based on the number of hours they have been watched. Previously, the streaming company had been reluctant to release any kind of audience number, counting everything that was viewed for as little as two minutes as a “view.”

“When you have the number one movie, it’s a great feeling, but it also drives the conversation,” Thurber said. “And if Netflix can share its metrics in an authenticated and credible way, then people will understand how great Netflix is ​​and how many people actually watch.”

The other answer is to improve the quality of the material.

Mary Parent, Legendary Entertainment’s chief production officer and Stuber’s former partner at Universal, sold “Enola Holmes,” starring Millie Bobby Brown, to Netflix in April 2020. It became one of the service’s most-watched movies during the pandemic. . He is currently in production on the sequel and argues that criticism of the quality of Netflix movies is unfair.

“When you have 200 pieces of content a year, naturally there will be variety and quality is subjective,” he said. “The fact that something is not well reviewed does not mean that it is of poor quality or that it does not fulfill the promise of the premise. He activates ‘Red Notice’ because he wants to be entertained and see giant movie stars. “

Still, Stuber split its commercial movie team in two in July in an effort to increase production (this year Netflix will release 70 movies) and improve product quality. Stuber said he accused the groups of spending more time working closely with their filmmakers than in the past. The reason? He wants better movies.

“If you have the budget to make 14 movies and you only have 11 grand, let’s make 11,” he said. “That’s what we should be aiming for because you’re in a deeply competitive world right now and you want to make sure you’re delivering at a rate that people see greatness consistently rather than randomly.”

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