This February, Paramount surprised everybody by releasing the movie “The Cloverfield Paradox” directly through the global movie streaming service Netflix. The movie was initially set to be released in theaters but due to its overgrown budget — it soared to $40 million from the initial $5 million — seriously threatening its profitability, Paramount decided to sell the movie to Netflix for a rumored sum in excess of $50 million. The news hit the public in the form of a Super Bowl ad (not even the actors knew of these changes until the day of the Netflix premiere). With this move, the movie industry has seemingly evolved from its “direct to DVD” era to a new one where movies go from the studio directly to streaming services. And smartphones, it seems, have also evolved from devices perfect for social media and new slot games to pocket-sized theaters where premieres can be expected to show up out of the blue.
This Paramount-Netflix deal was not a singular event either. Netflix is bent on becoming a major creator of original content, planning to spend around $8 billion on its own movies and TV shows this year. But now it seems that it is also becoming a distribution channel for traditional movie studios, too. “Annihilation,” one of the year’s most anticipated science fiction films, has only hit the theaters in the US and Singapore. In the rest of the world, it is only being released through Netflix, after a deal struck by Paramount and the streaming giant. The movie is considered by most critics “too intellectual” for mainstream audiences so, despite its compelling sci-fi visuals and Natalie Portman’s star power, its international release will be done through digital streaming. The movie, made on a budget of around $50 million, has grossed $20 million in the US.
While some might think this is a bad thing for the movie industry as a whole, the only ones hurt by this shift will be the movie theaters. After all, “Annihilation’s” budget was likely more than covered by the movie’s box office revenues and the sum Netflix has paid for it. Through streaming, it reaches the audiences interested in movies of its kind, and won’t be plagued by “dismal” reviews by the masses that don’t appreciate this type of films, not to mention the small revenues. Or, as director Alex Garland put it, “One of the big pluses of Netflix is that it goes out to a lot of people and you don’t have that strange opening weekend thing where you’re wondering if anyone is going to turn up and then if they don’t, it vanishes from cinema screens in two weeks.” Because Netflix doesn’t rely on ticket sales as a metric — it only seeks to widen its content offering, and it certainly has the money to do so in this way.
Will “direct to DVD” disappear in the age of streaming? Will we see more “intellectual” and “complicated” movies go directly to Netflix and its many counterparts in the future? Let’s hope we will.