Netflix – a new kind of box office

There is no denying that cinema is changing, and the habits of cinema-goers are changing too. A lot of it has to do with the way studios have gained such a huge control of production and distribution, like never before.

Of course, Hollywood of the 1950s was certainly the most studio-controlled environment that the movie world has ever seen, with stars all having to be signed up with the studios in order to even be able to work, and production staff, writers and technicians also having to sign their allegiance, or face the prospect of a struggling career.

Today’s control is different — this time it is all about keeping the status quo. That is to say, the large studios rarely take risks in their movies these days, unless they already have at least 80% of their productions as either hit sequels, reboots or guaranteed “star” driven films that can easily absorb box office flops within the safety net of the other 20% of the smaller productions.

Many people within media circles have complained that American cinema has become a little stale, once again. (There was a period of time in the 1980s when many believed that the industry had become stale and the result then was an upsurge in small, independent movies gaining big notoriety and changing things for the better.)

Today, it is fair to say that the small, independent productions are most certainly surging forward once again, as a result of the overload of sequels and reboots, but not in the same way as in the ’80s. This time it is computer networking and software developments that have created this new surge, and the talented film-makers and technicians have found a way to gain the spotlight without the help of the big studios. Netflix is the industry leader with this new invasion of success, but it has not happened overnight — more about that later. With the company’s first Oscar nominations this year — “Mudbound” has received no less than four nominations — Netflix is certainly now being taken seriously by movie executives the world over… behold a new kind of box office.

Now into its 20th year, Netflix has become one of the most powerful forces in media today with both its streaming and production departments gaining more and more strength within the industry. With an estimated viewership/membership in excess of 117 million worldwide, one single screening can, theoretically, generate the equivalent numbers as any one of the biggest box office movies out today. Of course, the difference is that cinema box office is far more tangible in terms of instant returns, compared to Netflix’s monthly subscription, but nonetheless, huge numbers indeed.

In the early days, Netflix mostly operated as a DVD distribution company, the same as Blockbuster (now gone), and they prided themselves in being able to guarantee next-day delivery for all new movie releases on DVD.

As technology changed and computers were becoming faster and able to hold more data, movies became watchable directly through the PC and a revolution began. Netflix immediately monopolized on the digital-streaming market and soon led the way forward. Then came smart TVs, able to link directly to the internet, through a PC or smart phone, and now we are able to watch the movies, via the internet, streamed directly to our TVs, even in 4K resolution (something that the networks are simply not ready for). Netflix already has 4K streaming content — market leaders indeed.

Multi-award-winning political drama “House of Cards,” Netflix’s first in-house production, debuted on Feb. 1, 2013, and yet another revolution was to begin. The show’s popularity through the streaming service created viewing figures that, for the first time, rivaled the biggest shows that the major networks were making and, in certain instances, overtook them. Golden Globe and Emmy nominations and wins would follow, and the show has now become featured in many “all-time favorite TV show” lists.

Netflix began to make more shows, many gaining both high-viewing figures and much acclaim also, with yet more awards and nominations — shows such as “Orange is the New Black” (2013 to now), “Hemlock Grove” (2013-2015), “The Crown” (2016 to now) and the controversial “13 Reasons Why” (2017 to now) — but it is the multi-award-winning “Stranger Things” (2016 to now) that has created a phenomenon within streaming media with a huge fan base around the world and its own culturally driven sub genre following. All of the fans and followers are eagerly anticipating what will happen next in Season 3, due for release at the end of 2018.

Netflix has continued to branch out in all directions — specifically in TV drama, but also into comedy too, with such critically acclaimed shows as “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” (2015 to now), “Grace & Frankie” (2015 to now), “Master of None” (2015 to now) and a re-boot of a classic TV comedy, “Fuller House” (2016 to now).

But then came the next obvious step, movie distribution and co-production. In 2017 “Okja” was released and, under the distribution and marketing control of Netflix, became a hit as it was released both in theaters and, later, through the Netflix streaming service. Incidentally, it also was shown in competition at the Cannes Film Festival in 2017 and was greeted with booes from the audience when the Netflix logo appeared and technical hitches stifled the opening few minutes — however, the movie was eventually given a 10-minute standing ovation. at the end.

This year, several big-budget movies have been bought and will be distributed by Netflix — “The Cloverfield Paradox,” a continuation of J.J. Abrams’ “Cloverfield” franchise, was bought and shown on the streaming service, curiously bypassing a theatrical release altogether. The big budget sci-fi release “Annihilation” and the horror/sci-fi release “Extinction” are two movies acquired by Netflix for theatrical distribution this year, and there are many more to come in the near future.

Which brings me to Netflix’s most celebrated release to date — “Mudbound.” As noted earlier, this is the company’s first bonefide major award winner and critically acclaimed movie, with Golden Globe nominations, amongst many others, and of course, four Oscar nominations, the company’s very first ever for a drama. (It has had Oscar nominations in the past for documentary releases.)

There is no doubt, with all this in mind, that Netflix will continue to be at the very forefront of media entertainment, distribution and technological advances and, as I have noted in previous reviews, will continue to etch away at the big studios’ domination of international movie distribution. So it is now up to the studios to keep up. Netflix has found a way to deliver to the customer, in a way that more and more people are preferring — to see new productions at home, in comfort, with the newest audio/visual technology at their disposal… I wonder how many people feel that they get that at their local cinema these days, especially with the cost as it is?

I have to say, I love the cinema experience and I feel that it would be a sad day if cinemas were to close in favor of audiences staying at home instead. Whilst I understand that tickets are certainly not cheap anymore, and cinema food and drink is at an all -time high too, I hope that seeing a movie on the big screen in a social setting will continue to be a favorite public pastime, as it always has been.

But things certainly have to change and, as some industry professionals have said, the answer may be a streaming, virtual ticket purchase system that will enable people to buy a viewing of the movie, on the day of release, in their home. That way, everyone still gets their percentage, and the industry keeps going and may even be able to cut costs be eliminating the entire distribution system as it is today and replacing it with a one-click download at a reasonable price for the viewer… This would be a new kind of box office (as stated earlier) and Netflix would most certainly be right there at the front of the line!


Roy Morris is a freelance writer. He can be reached by email at