Netflix has made no secret about amping up its movie game. Between Roma and Ballad of Buster Scruggs, the streaming giant made clear efforts this year toward award-show territory, but they’re also pushing action films that would ordinarily be considered theater popcorn fare. That’s why they hired Michael Bay and Ryan Reynolds for the upcoming 6 Underground, due to arrive sometime in 2019, and in the case of the Sandra Bullock-starring Bird Box (due on 12/21), Netflix is clearly aiming for the same numbers as last December’s Bright, starring Will Smith and Joel Egerton, which scored 11 million streaming viewers in its first three days after release. Can Netflix score a repeat late-December hit? Let’s see how the two films stack up from a practical standpoint.
— Bright didn’t score even remotely well with movie critics and earned a dismal 25% aggregate score on Rotten Tomatoes. Indeed, the film was a would-be fantasy-cop joyride that lacked mirth, but audiences clicked anyway. The sheer novelty of a Will Smith action film on Netflix — which arrived without the hassle of dodging Christmas crowds at the theater (not to mention theater prices) — was probably too much to resist as a casual binge selection. In response to the film’s stunningly high viewership, Netflix pointed toward Bright as a signal that critics are “pretty disconnected” to audience desires.
— Does critical response have an effect upon predicting streaming movie success or failure? Clearly, enjoyable Netflix movies are rewarded, but so is straight-up trash. If we briefly switch genre perspectives from action to romantic comedy, the objectively bad Kissing Booth and quality fare like To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before (which already has a sequel in the works) both scored huge with teen audiences. At this stage of the streaming game, there’s not enough of a sample size for a full-on study about critical influence vs. word of mouth for Netflix movies, yet it’s safe to assume that people are less hesitant to stream a title that critics don’t like when it won’t cost them extra money. That is, watching these titles won’t cost people any more than their monthly Netflix subscription fee. That’s obviously something that points in Netflix’s favor.