What happens to cinemas when Netflix gets original movies right?

Luke Stevenson is one of the hosts of The Popcorn Muncher Podcast. He is only serious about Bee Movie.

Will Smith in Bright and Alexander Skarsgård in Mute
Will Smith in Bright and Alexander Skarsgård in Mute

Netflix’s first forays into big-budget movies haven’t exactly been illustrious. Bright and Mute – the streaming service’s two biggest original projects to date – are admirable almost solely in their ability to unite critics in general animosity towards their incompetence.

The ingredients were there. David Ayer and Duncan Jones are both exciting filmmakers burned by the big studio experience, turning their hand to a medium that, directors often say, gives them almost exclusive freedom over the movies they make. Unfortunately, the products in these cases aren’t very good, suggesting there might be a benefit to the studio experience that we don’t always appreciate. It’s easy to see these big-budget failures as a symbol that Netflix will never get movies right. Its decision to purchase the rights to The Cloverfield Paradox also felt a little misguided in the wake of the ambitious entry to the Cloverfield franchise generating less than positive reviews.

However, its easy to forget that success takes time. Netflix is now known for TV series hits like Stranger Things, 13 Reasons Why, Making a Murderer, The Crown and Master of None. Its first series, though, was Hemlock Grove and it spent $90m on Marco Polo, which is a show I don’t think anyone I have ever met has watched. Netflix didn’t get television right to begin with, but eventually it did and has changed the medium across traditional broadcasters due to its success. Would Sky Atlantic’s biggest original series Britannia have dropped in one go on demand if it wasn’t for Netflix’s success?

Craig Roberts and Paul Rudd in Netflix film The Fundamentals of Caring
Craig Roberts and Paul Rudd in Netflix film The Fundamentals of Caring

The evidence is there to suggest that Netflix will eventually get original movies right. In many respects, it has already managed it when it comes to smaller movies. The Babysitter, Mudbound, Gerald’s Game and The Fundamentals of Caring are all excellent movies that showcase different genres, independent filmmakers and give talented actors new vehicles to express themselves.

It’s also reasonable to assume these films will attract more viewers on Netflix’s platform than they would in cinemas. If big-budget is the corner of the market that Netflix wants to crack, we can probably assume it will get there, even though it could be argued that its platform is perhaps better used to promote smaller films and filmmakers.

Crucially though, it just needs to make one of its big-budget movies good to change the game. Hollywood’s disappointing box office last year wasn’t symbolic of people being turned off cinema in record numbers – it was a reflection of the fact that the movies weren’t very good. Quality is the first thing cinemagoers consider and the headlines generated by the success of Wonder Woman and, more recently, Black Panther, rightly reflect the power of representation in packing auditoriums. In that context, it’s often easy to forget the fact that those movies are good, and audiences respond to that.

Chadwick Boseman as Wakandan ruler T'Challa in Black Panther
Chadwick Boseman as Wakandan ruler T’Challa in Black Panther

Producers in the past could take for granted the fact the big-budget movies would always get seen precisely because of the budget. Audiences prioritise quality now, which is why cinemas should fear the prospect of Netflix finally turning the tables and getting big originals right. Meanwhile, cinemas themselves have been a driving force in turning frequent cinemagoers into casual ones, and casual ones into the sort of people who will wait for movies to appear on streaming platforms.

The modern cinema experience is horrible. Tickets are now more expensive than they ever have been, leading to some London cinemas charging more than £15 for a 2D ticket to a big releases. In a bid to charge you more, cinemas are installing new screens with bigger chairs, hoping that is enough to convince you to pay an extra couple of quid on top of your ticket.

My local cinema just re-opened, offering tickets at the same low prices as before, but only for 2D movies that aren’t on one of its special new screens. The range of showing times this applies to is negligible. You can still get a cheap ticket, if you’re prepared to view the new blockbuster release at either two o’clock in the afternoon on a weekday or half past nine at night, meaning you don’t arrive home until well after midnight.

Odeon is the biggest cinema chain in the UK
Odeon is the biggest cinema chain in the UK

Cinemas are also one of the only leisure activities where you willingly give up your ability to enjoy it to those around you. More expensive tickets and snacks haven’t led to more ushers, so you can sit down to watch your only movie of the month, armed with a £15 ticket and a tenner’s worth of snacks, only for a gang of teenagers on their phones to sit two rows ahead and destroy the experience.

The current golden era of television, easy access to HD and 4K TVs and the relatively cheap cost of buying snacks from a supermarket has, in the past decade, reasonably confirmed cinemas as possibly the worst way to consume a movie. The picture quality, comfy sofas, cheaper snacks and luxury of peace and quiet are already available to us in our homes.

With that in mind, when Netflix and other streaming services get their big releases right, there will be no reason to go to a cinema, and the drop in receipts we saw in 2017 won’t just be a one-off. It will be the start of a long-term decline.

What do you think about the issue of Netflix vs. The Multiplex? Does the increasing success of the streaming service mean the end for the cinema experience? Let me know in the comments section.

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