While it may be doing damage to the classical theatrical experience, Netflix investing in mid-budget movies is unfortunately a net positive. As we’ve come to find in recent years, studios seem to mostly be making two kinds of movies: giant tentpole blockbusters, like “The Avengers” and the teeny tiny indie that they hope will be the next “Little Miss Sunshine.”
Why gamble on a movie that costs $50 or $65 million that may only end up grossing $98 million back? It makes much more sense to dump truckloads on something that will make billions or spend as little as possible on something that might turn out to the charming little hit of the season? It’s a reliable business model; I get it.
But mid budget movies are something we desperately need. It’s nice to see a few A-listers in a dramedy, courtroom drama or cop movie. Unfortunately, much like romantic comedies, they have become few and far between. Yes, you’ll see them from time to time when the right kind of money and star power come together: a movie like The Judge (an overlooked gem) doesn’t get made unless it has the undeniable box office gravity of Robert Downey Jr, and the 2010 remake of True Grit doesn’t get made unless it has the Coen Brothers directing with an all-star cast. The problem is, these used to be the movies that dominated most of the movie calendar and there would only be blockbusters in the summer and Christmastime; now we have movies like Deadpool and Black Panther, that come out in February and Logan come out in March. This year we’ll get a Venom movie in October. Even Avengers: Infinity War was changed to the last weekend in April for maxim box office receipts.
So where can a mid-budget movie thrive if no studio will pay for them? Netflix. For a few years now, Netflix has been testing the waters in terms of original movies. They’ve made some attempts at Oscar bait (Mudbound, Beasts of No Nation & First They Killed My Father) and they’ve even thrown their hand into blockbuster territory (Bright), but now they’re starting to realize where they can really thrive: mid-budget movies that studios are too scared to make. In 2018 they’ve already dropped, Mute, The Cloverfield Paradox, Game Over Man and When We First Met. All of those would have had a hard time finding a home at a major, theatrical studio.
So why is it unfortunate that Netflix is carrying the mid-budget torch when no one else will? It’s simple: all movies are meant to be seen in theaters. That’s it. There is no counter argument. You should see art in the medium it was created for. I have plenty of friends that tell me “I just saw (insert movie title here) and it thought it was shitty.” Oh really? Did you see it in theaters? “No.” Did you watch it on a phone/computer/TV/airplane? “Yes.” Then you did not see the movie, you watched it. Seeing a movie implies that you went to a movie theater to literally see that movie. I re-watched Interstellar a few weeks ago… but I didn’t see it.
Movies are meant to be seen in a theater. You cannot have distractions. I don’t care how fucking sick your home theater setup is, it is not as good as a movie theater. In a movie theater, you have no control over anything and that is how it should be. At home, you can talk to the person next to you, you can check your phone, you can get distracted by literally any outside visual stimulation. Film is a long-form version of visual art. If you break the tension with anything, then the moment is lost. I know lots of you may think that just seeing something in your room won’t distract you, but it will; it’s how the human brain works. We see things and then we think about them.
I have friends that have told me “I won’t see a movie in theaters unless it’s some Avatar-level of visual effects” (you know who you are). That is an awful way to see movies. All cinematic stories deserve to be seen without being interrupted, without being paused to take a crap, without your roommate coming in and loudly cooking in the kitchen.
That’s why Netflix is a necessary evil. I’m grateful that The Meyerowitz Stories is able to exist because of Netflix but I also wish I could have seen it in a theater. As time goes on this will only get worse. There is one simple cure to this: go to the movies. See things that look interesting to you; I love blockbusters too but if we aren’t careful, eventually a movie like “The Nice Guys” won’t even have the power to grant a theatrical release and eventually, we’ll all just end up going to the movies to see which new superhero is fighting which new supervillain.