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.
— Does Bird Box have enough star power to carry an action film? The movie stars Sandra Bullock, John Malkovich, and Sarah Paulson. Their combined star power arguably comes close to that of Will Smith, but there’s no guarantee that people will be riled up by the film’s premise. It’s yet another post-apocalyptic survival story, as if we don’t have enough of those already. And there’s the added issue of people possibly thinking that Bird Box is a knock-off to John Krasinski’s recent smash-hit, A Quiet Place. That is to say, Krasinski’s film involved monsters who preyed through their sense of sound, and with Bird Box, people must stay blindfolded while outdoors, or they’ll see a mysterious force that causes people to succumbing into suicidal and-or murderous insanity.
— Those comparisons to A Quiet Place are unfair but could also reel in some curious eyeballs. However, Bird Box is based upon Josh Malerman’s 2014 bestselling novel, and the film is an adrenaline-fueled adaptation, especially in the third act, when Bullock is careening through rapids without the benefit of sight. In addition, the opening act evokes Stephen King’s Cell with all hell breaking loose, and perhaps a maternal audience might also be cued-in to Bullock shielding two children from harm at various points within the film. This would likely be a crowd-pleaser in theaters, and Rotten Tomatoes critics so far think it’s better than Bright by handing it a 64% fresh-ish rating.
Indeed, there’s a good chance that Bird Box could score major streaming numbers — possibly equal to Bright, which was a juggernaut by streaming standards — for all these reasons in addition to luring in people who’ve read Malerman’s book. Here’s the film’s synopsis:
“When a mysterious force decimates the world’s population, only one thing is certain: if you see it, you take your life. Facing the unknown, Malorie finds love, hope and a new beginning only for it to unravel. Now she must flee with her two children down a treacherous river to the one place left that may offer sanctuary. But to survive, they’ll have to undertake the perilous two-day journey blindfolded.”
Bird Box will hit Netflix on Dec. 21. Happy streaming!