The Problem With Netflix’s Original Movies

Netflix is ​​in hot water from a lot of different angles, and it seems like most of their customers are finding reasons to cancel their subscriptions. Among the myriad complaints, some more valid than others, they’ve attracted, concerns about their recent original cinematic efforts have been extremely common and well-earned.

Netflix, like most streaming services, has transitioned from a service popular for its library of films and TV shows to a delivery system for its original content. Streamers are going the way of TV channels, with all the positives and negatives that would imply. Most of the big names are series, and the films marked with the brand are often not particularly well-received.


RELATED: The Gray Man Review

After a brief limited theatrical run, the Russo brothers’ action film The Gray Man dropped onto Netflix. The movie is fine. It’s well-acted and the action setpieces are solid, but the story is a patchwork of other better movies and the writing would struggle to pass muster in a Tasks sequel. It’s an adaptation of a novel that languished on the shelf for years before attaining its original form. Movies like this get made all the time, and it’d likely be forgotten by the end of the year. The marketing arm of the film, however, is based entirely on the most shallow elements of its presentation. The only thing most people knew about it going in is that Ryan Gosling, Chris Evans, and Ana de Armas starred and that the Russo brothers directed. The posters and the ads featured little about the narrative or source material and a ton about the stars. It’s not a vehicle to further the big names’ careers, it’s using their clout and goodwill to promote the film all on its own. And this is a pattern for Netflix’s movies.

There are a lot of movies that The Gray Man would remind the average viewer of, but, from a marketing perspective, it’s most reminiscent of Red Notice. It’s a generic action movie framing its entire worth as a product on the box office draw of its stars. That film brought in Ryan Reynolds (who has led a few of these efforts for Netflix), Gal Gadot, and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Another big actor famed for his role as a Marvel hero, another hugely powerful leading lady, and another beloved Hollywood mainstay. This one’s a generic snarky heist movie rather than the generic betrayed assassin movie, but it’s still rote by-the-numbers filmmaking. And just like The Gray Man, it sold itself entirely on the cast list. The trouble is, it worked.

In the 80s, action movies were assembled by picking a name off a small list of acceptable buff dudes and throwing darts at a board of locations, periods, and MacGuffins. For a while, the source material being adapted became the big draw, leading to the swarm of comic book action movies that didn’t really qualify as superhero movies. Today, we’re back to generic trash building groundswell and financial backing entirely off the names of the stars attached. Arguably, however, these marquee movies are even less creatively substantial than the old 80s blockbusters. Total Recall, Conan the Barbarian, The Terminator, Predator, True Lies, and many more great films of radically different genres came with Arnold attached. These films were made with the promise of his box-office draw, but they transcended his big dumb action movie label to create something special. The Netflix original movie model doesn’t have the ambition of someone like James Cameron or John McTiernan. They seem to actively resist the efforts of otherwise good directors to innovate.

The Gray Man was one of the most expensive streaming projects ever produced, but most of that cash was going towards the stars and the directors. It doesn’t have the VFX of a 200-million-dollar movie, but it definitely has the kind of talent that price tag buys. It’s impossible to know what kind of standards the bosses at Netflix have over the films, but the fact that there are so many perfect examples of this marquee movie problem suggests a pattern. from bright to The Adam Project, to six underground, to Spencer Confidential, and beyond. They’re all generic films with big stars, occasionally directed by talented figures, and little to nothing in the way of original ideas. Luckily, there is a force in the market that Netflix could take a few lessons from; its own streaming series.

Yes, everyone on Stranger Things is a star now, but the only big name on that series before it launched was Winona Ryder. Netflix series sell themselves on their content, and their ideas and they are far more popular than the best-selling film on the service. Is there any reality in which fans of Stranger Things keep their Netflix subscription when the show’s final season wraps to see Red Notice 2? Of course not. The real selling point for Netflix is ​​creative stories told by talented visionaries, but the only thing the service is interested in bringing to the big screen is blockbuster showcases for already massive celebrities. Hopefully, as Netflix suffers wound after wound, the company can see the error of its ways and make something worthwhile.

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