Nolte: Netflix Will Make Fewer Lousy, Super-Expensive ‘Auteur’ Movies

Ryan Gosling in The Gray Man (2022)
Netflix, Inc.

Netflix, the only streamer making a profit, will reportedly no longer make lousy, super-expensive blockbusters or lousy “auteur” movies.

Netflix’s new film chief, Dan Lin, started work on April 1. The news is that Netflix is “no longer only the home of expensive action flicks featuring big movie stars, like The Gray Man with Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans or Red Notice with Ryan Reynolds, Gal Gadot, and Dwayne Johnson,” the New York Times reported.

This also marks the end of paying top dollar to lure “auteur filmmakers like Martin Scorsese, Alfonso Cuarón and Bradley Cooper.” The previous Netflix pay structure was nuts. Name directors and stars earned huge salaries based on the back-end money they might have earned had the movie been a big hit in theaters:

  • Gal Gadot and Ryan Reynolds reportedly earned $20 million each for Red Notice.
  • Dwayne Johnson earned $50 million.
  • Will Smith earned $20 million for Bright.
  • Adam Sandler signed a four-movie deal worth $250 million.
  • Ryan Reynolds earned another $27 million for something called Six Underground.
  • Netflix paid $450 million for two Knives Out
  • Daniel Craig grabbed $100 million.
  • Mark Wahlberg earned $30 million for Spencer Confidential.
  • Netflix paid Jennifer Lawrence $25 million for Don’t Look Up. Leonardo DiCaprio was definitely paid more than that, maybe twice as much.

To pay that kind of money for what has turned out to be a big pile of forgettable TV movies (something I’ve covered before) is absurd. And those figures do not include the garbage pile of “auteur” movies Netflix has pissed away hundreds of millions on….

Beasts of No Nation, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon 2, The Meyerowitz Stories, Mudbound, The Pale Blue Eye, Mank, All Quiet on the Western Front (2023), Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio, BARDO (False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths), Blonde, The Irishman, Marriage Story, Roma, Maestro, The Power of the Dog, The Trial of the Chicago 7, The Two Popes, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, The Lost Daughter, Hillbilly Elegy, May December, The Killer…

Other than Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, not a single one of those titles has had any cultural staying power. They have all disappeared without a trace. I get that Netflix was willing to spend a couple of billion dollars on star salaries and auteur movies the studios didn’t want as a way to legitimize itself by being associated with big names. But was the juice worth the squeeze? It seems to me that the studios knew what they were doing, declining to produce those “passion projects.” As one commenter said, “Without Netflix, who will fund our favorite filmmakers’ worst film[s]?”

Three years ago, Netflix announced a new Netflix Original Movie every week. Does anyone remember even one of those titles?

Lin, the new sheriff looking out for Netflix’s 260 million subscribers, appears to understand that there’s a problem when a majority of the ten most popular movies on Netflix come from other studios, so this is how things will be handled going forward:

[Lin] wants his team to become more aggressive producers — developing their own material rather than waiting for projects from producers and agents to come to them, according to two people familiar with his thinking, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal communications. This approach, the thinking goes, should help them have more say over the quality of the films.

Netflix recently declined to bid on the rights to a short story that Millie Bobby Brown, a star of Netflix’s “Stranger Things” and the “Enola Holmes” films, was attached to, two people familiar with the matter said. It is also no longer moving forward with a film by Kathryn Bigelow based on David Koepp’s apocalyptic novel “Aurora”; the director left the project a few months ago.

My guess is — and this is only a guess — Netflix is looking at a project like Aurora and thinking the following: We can spend $150 million and a whole lot of time and energy producing Aurora, and it will earn 50 million views — or! — we can license it from a studio for about $20 million and earn 35 million views.

Plus, a movie like Aurora will undoubtedly have a longer shelf life after a theatrical run, as opposed to how almost all of these streaming movies drown in the undertow of streaming menus, never to be seen or heard from again.

Hell, with the glow that comes from a theatrical release, a movie like Aurora might even earn more views on a streaming service than if the streaming service itself produced it. Outlets like Netflix and Apple have produced so many crappy movies we expect them to be lousy. And this has nothing to do with being a TV movie. “HBO Movie” is the opposite of a pejorative.

These streaming services saw themselves as the New Movie Studios. They are not. Streaming or not, no matter how big our home screens get, TV is TV is TV, and will always be TV.   

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