There is no doubt that Netflix changed the way we watch television.
The online streaming service has already established itself as a pioneer of the new era of non-linear TV viewing. Thanks to the production of its own high-quality, original content such as the acclaimed dramas House of Cards and Orange is the New Black, Netflix established the concept of the online streaming service as a media platform in its own right and revolutionised TV viewing in the process.
Now, it is attempting to do the same for movies, announcing last week the release dates for its first slew of films, all set variously for cinemas, online and Imax screens. The news should cause considerable worry to Hollywood studio moguls. With a whopping 31 nominations at last year’s Emmy Awards for its TV shows, Netflix has already proved it is more than capable of standing up to established TV producers. Its entry into the movie world may well be an opportunity to prove the same point at the Oscars.
As a welcome start, Netflix maintains its commitment to genuine, original content, with half of its original movies precisely that: new stories with no relationship to anything that has gone before. This is a stark contrast in an era of declining ticket sales and studios playing it worryingly safe, with a huge proportion of current theatre offerings consisting of sequels and reboots.
The first film to be released, on October 16, will be Cary Fukunaga’s (True Detective) Beasts of No Nation. Starring Idris Elba, the film follows the story of a child soldier torn from his family during a civil war in Africa. Based on the book of the same name by Nigerian author Uzodinma Iweala, the film will be released in select cinemas in the United States on the same day it appears on Netflix, allowing it to qualify for industry awards.
While the Netflix approach means that cinema attendance – which can be hard to predict for more cerebral and hard-hitting movies – is not the be-all and end-all for the overall success of a film, it’ll be interesting to see how the cinema/online model plays out.
Next up, on December 11, is The Ridiculous Six – the first of four comedies that Netflix has contracted Adam Sandler to appear in. The film caused some controversy when a number of Native American cast members walked off the set in protest at the racist portrayal of their characters. Vanilla Ice, who plays Mark Twain in the film, has leapt to its defence, telling TMZ: “It’s a comedy, I don’t think anybody had ill feelings or intent or anything. This movie isn’t Dancing [sic] With Wolves.”
In January 2016, the delayed Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon sequel will hit cinemas in China, Imax screens globally and, of course, the net.
Then, in March, Pee-Wee Herman returns to screens in Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday, produced by Judd Apatow.
So far, these are the four movies Netflix has announced, but there seems to be plenty more to come.
Perhaps most excitingly, Netflix has reportedly paid up to US$60 million (Dh220m) for the distribution rights to War Machine, a David Michôd-directed drama starring Brad Pitt as a US military general.
Netflix has 62m viewers in more than 50 countries, although it is available in the Middle East only to those with a US or European subscription.