More than four hundred and thirty (430). According to Wikipedia, that is how many original films Netflix — by far the world’s most popular streaming service and a pioneer in the home entertainment market — has released from October 15th, 2015 (Beasts of No Nation) to today, October 12th, 2021 (Bright: Samurai Soul). It would take some time to verify this, but 430 is most probably quite a bit higher than the number of movies the Hollywood Five — Walt Disney Studios, Warner Media, NBC Universal, Sony Pictures and Viacom — have produced in the same timeframe combined.
Now here is the number of Netflix original films that have scored 90% or more on Metacritic: five (5). Roma, The Irishman, Marriage Story, Uncut Gems and I Called Him Morgan are the only Netflix-produced movies that are widely considered to be modern classics. And yes: I Called Him Morgan is actually a documentary film (don’t ask this journalist’s opinion about Uncut Gems or The Irishman either).
In any case, 5 out of 430 is not a good showing. So… why is that? Why does Netflix seem unable to make more movies that are not, well, mediocre at best?
Yours truly has been wondering the same thing while looking at what remains of Netflix’s film slate for the year. You’ve got your big actioners (like Army of Thieves or Red Notice), you’ve got your thrillers (like Hypnotic or Night Teeth), you’ve got your star-studded blockbusters (like Don’t Look Up or The Power of the Dog), you’ve even got your cinephile productions (like The Hand of God or Fever Dream), but not one of them seems important enough to leave a mark on 2021. It used to be that Netflix was a beginner in the film-making business, a tech company learning the ropes of producing movies at a steady pace. That’s clearly not the case anymore. It’s not a matter of available budget either, as the company is spending more money than ever on its films.
So, what gives?
The answer lies in what is not mentioned rather than in what is: for cherrypicking those eight movies and a few more, one has to go through over three dozen films, all released on Netflix during the current Q4 (arguably the most important 12 weeks of the year). There are, in other words, a lot more movies not worth mentioning in the company’s slate than true highlights, let alone movies that could go toe-to-toe with Q4 Hollywood heavyweights of the same timeframe. Netflix is producing films targeting volume, period. It’s not just quantity over quality, it’s just quantity with some quality thrown in almost by accident. The reasoning seems to be this: “Let’s produce an awful lot of films. If any of them turn out to be great, good. If not, oh well”. Hence a library that’s filled with, well, fillers.
The sad thing is this: it’s an approach that seems to be working. Of the top ten most-watched Netflix original films in the company’s history so far, only one (The Irishman) has also scored over 90% on Metacritic. All the rest are “good” (like Extraction or The Old Guard), “just OK” (like Enola Holmes or Spencer Confidential), “barely watchable” (like Bird Box or 6 Underground), even “really bad” (like Project Power or Murder Mystery). But Netflix keeps churning out dozens upon dozens of films that are mediocre at best, unwatchable at worst because the company knows that they will probably be watched anyway, promoted as they are left and right in the service’s user interface. What most people perceive as “quality” in modern films does not matter to Netflix nearly as much as “library depth”. It’s that simple.
To answer this story’s original question, then: it’s not that Netflix cannot make good flicks. It’s that it does not care enough to make sure it makes them. To some people this might not mean anything: they can be as selective as they like, ignoring the dross and choosing what’s worth watching in Netflix’s library, whether it is Netflix-produced or not. To people that truly care for the art of film, though, hundreds of millions of consumers getting used to watching trash — just because it’s just three button presses/clicks/taps away and, hey, they are already paying for it, right? — is nothing less than depressing. Making conscious choices about what kind of entertainment people spend their free time on is more important than they may realize — and an audience that demands quality films used to be a driving force for the movie industry as a whole. It would be a shame to lose that for $9.99 a month.