It would be an understatement of epic proportions to say that 2020 hasn’t exactly been a great year, but with most people spending a lot more time at home than they’ve been used to, Netflix and other streaming services have been among the very few beneficiaries.
Viewership figures for all of the major platforms have gone through the roof since March, and in a coincidental and entirely welcome development, the last six months have brought a string of high-profile Netflix originals that have been warmly received by critics and subscribers alike.
The market leaders are often very secretive about their viewership data unless the titles in question tend to be major hits. When Netflix finally revealed the list of their top 10 most-watched original movies earlier this year, you couldn’t help but notice that three of them, Spenser Confidential, Extraction and The Wrong Missy, were only released between the 6th of March and the 13th of May.
Admittedly, The Wrong Missy is a David Spade comedy, so critical acclaim was never going to be an option, especially when you consider the inexplicable popularity of his frequent collaborator Adam Sandler’s output, but the other two went a long way to proving that the Netflix model is ideal for mid-budget genre films.
Spenser Confidential is the kind of forgettable action comedy that Mark Wahlberg can churn out in his sleep, and often does, but despite lukewarm reviews it racked up a huge 85 million streams in the first four weeks it was available.
Chris Hemsworth’s violent actioner Extraction went one better and became the most popular Netflix original ever after 99 million subscribers watched the Aussie actor punch, kick, shoot and stab his way through dozens of faceless henchmen. The setup and execution is as generic as it gets on paper, but first-time director Sam Hargrave elevates the material with some expertly-choreographed mayhem that more than merits the John Wick comparisons.
It wasn’t long after Netflix unveiled their most-watched original movies that they had to update the rankings when The Old Guard arrived in July, with the comic book adaptation reportedly drawing in 72 million viewers. The comic book adaptation was also enthusiastically received by fans and critics, and looks poised to launch the in-house superhero franchise you can guarantee the executives had been desperate to find.
It isn’t just the movies drawing in the biggest numbers that have made 2020 a banner year for Netflix so far. Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods positioned itself as an early awards season contender. The ensemble drama saw the filmmaker back on incendiary form in a Vietnam parable that only proved to be more relevant than ever given the societal circumstances that surrounded its debut in June.
Last month’s Project Power saw Netflix head back into superhero territory in a blockbuster that didn’t maximise the potential of the central conceit, but nonetheless delivered the sort of Friday night entertainment that people had been missing from their lives. The sequel-baiting ending also virtually guarantees that further adventures are in store.
They even lured Charlie Kaufman back from his extended hiatus and handed him full creative autonomy, which resulted in I’m Thinking of Ending Things being exactly as polarizing as you would expect from such a unique and singular voice as Kaufman’s.
The summer months might now be over, but Netflix are also looking to adopt an industry standard and release a series of awards-baiting prestige dramas at the same time of the year that multiplexes would normally be flooded by them.
Star-studded psychological thriller The Devil All the Time arrives next week and, based on the trailers, it looks to be an intriguing and unsettling slow-burner. Literary adaptation Enola Holmes lands the following week and sees Stranger Things breakout Millie Bobby Brown take her first-ever leading role in a movie, one that’s already being labelled as a franchise-starter.
Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago 7 drops in October, and with three of his last four movies landing an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay, there’s going to be plenty of meaty dialogue for stars Sacha Baron Cohen, Eddie Redmayne, Mark Rylance, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Michael Keaton to sink their teeth into, especially given the prescient true-life story.
David Fincher also returns with his first new feature in six years, and Mank is an incredibly personal project for the Fight Club director after his late father Jack wrote the script for the biopic of Citizen Kane scribe Herman J. Mankiewicz. Any new Fincher movie is always an event, and Mank promises to be no different.
Throw in Ben Wheatley’s Rebecca, Ron Howard’s Hillbilly Elegy and Chadwick Boseman’s final role in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and Netflix could be set to dominate the awards show circuit early next year.
Sure, their algorithm that precision-engineers their movies to appeal to the widest possible audience while causing the smallest amount of potential offence has yielded duds like The Last Thing He Wanted, The Last Days of American Crime and Coffee & Kareem, but there’s no studio in the industry that can boast a 100% track record of success throughout an entire calendar year.
A lot of people can’t wait for 2020 to be over, but Netflix will be looking back at it fondly as the year that they finally cracked the formula for creating original movies that offer up a veritable buffet across almost every genre to keep their subscribers occupied, while also keeping the critics at bay.
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