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Jul 26 2017

Will "Bright"be a Netflix Blockbuster?And how do you even define that?

By Ben Miller

If you haven't heard already,Netflix will continue their quest for world domination with a tentpole feature film,Bright,in December.  Directed by David Ayer (End of Watch,Fury),the film stars Will Smith as a Los Angeles police officer who is teamed up with an orc cop (Joel Edgerton) to fight crime and try to make sense of whatever the hell is happening in thetrailer.  There are fairies,magic wands,elves,swords,Noomi Rapace,and all sorts of other fantastical elements involved.

Let's talk money.Brightcost $90 million for Netflix to pick up.  Half of that cost went in to the film to shoot,while the other half goes to the talent (mostly Smith,Ayer and screenwriter Max Landis).  These days,$90 million seems pretty reasonable for a fantasy film starring an A-List "Movie Star".Suicide Squad,the most recent Smith-Ayer fantasy foray,cost $175 million.[More...]

There are already plenty of pros in the films favor.  Ayer has a proven track record when it comes to police films (End of Watch,Training Day),Smith and Ayer havelavished praiseon the creative freedom afforded to them,and when is the last time we had an action-fantasy movie that was R-rated?  Have we ever had one?

On the side of cons,Smith has not exactly been lighting the world up lately.Suicide Squadmight have made money,but it was critically ravaged (25% on Rotten Tomatoes).  There are some interesting gray areas when it comes to black-cop-gets-to-be-racist angles that the trailer suggests.  While fantasy can be a crapshoot in film,Netflix's track record with feature films shouldn't make you optimistic.

So,the real question…what constitutes a success?Adam Sandler signed a huge multi-picture deal with Netflix that theyjust re-uppedon.  His films have been almost universally panned,but Netflix's users have watched Sandler's films for upwards ofhalf a trillion hours.  Netflix's other films have ranged from hyped,but arriving with a dud (War Machine),slow burn buzz but still underseen (Okja),quietly released and critically helped (Beasts of No Nation),all the way to quiet buzz and quieter release (The Discovery).

Let's play a game of hypotheticals.Brightis released to relative acclaim (let's say 78% on RT) and a wave of "Will Smith is Back!"think-pieces start popping up.  Netflix doesn't release their streaming numbers,so do we just have to assume that it was a success?  How will we know that Netflix has made good on their $90 million investment?  What backend deals do the filmmakers get when there are no grosses to be considered?

Let's go to the flipside.  Say the film sputters with critics (in the realms of 45% on RT) and instead we get a wave of "Movie Stars are a Thing of the Past!"think-pieces.  We still have the same questions.  Does it still make money?  Sandler's films apparently are doing just fine.  What would constitute a flop?

I'm going to use a metric I call eyes per week (EPW).  Using the most recent box office numbers and assuming an average $9.00 price per ticket (first quarter of 2017 was $8.84),we can assumeGirls Triphad an EPW of just about 3.37 million in its first week.Girls Triphad no IMAX or 3D screens to account for,so it was the easiest to measure.  Let's useGet Out as a barometer for an entire theatrical run.  Using the same assumptions,Get Outhad an EPW of just a hair under 1.3 million for its run.  So,on average,Get Outhad 1.3 million people see it,every week for 15 weeks.

Using the same metric,Brightneeds anywhere from 2-3 million eyes to see it in its first week to be a one-week success (put it on par with the $30 millionGirls Nightmanaged last weekend) and an average of one million per week for the next 15 weeks to be a success for its run (put it on par with the $175Get Output together).

But,once again,we don't know the numbers because Netflix doesn't release them.  Does it matter if we know?  Will Netflix's further investment in features reflect that success?  Or will they begin to divest based on that failure?  Time will tell,or it may not at all.

Brightpremieres on December 22.

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Reader Comments (7)

I'm of several minds about this.

On a critical level,not being able to qualify the film as a "success"or "failure"means that we can only engage with the film itself.There's a lot of value to that,especially since so many thinkpieces (ugh) tend to only pay superficial attention to the film when discussing said film.On the other hand,lacking that context does make it more difficult to discuss the impact,legacy (obviously not a present),and greater importance of the film.

Industrially,Netflix technically doesn't have to release any of its numbers,and there's basically nothing we can do about that.But it also makes it difficult to understand why the company chooses to finance the films it produces.The wide array of genres,filmmakers,and budgets of the films it does produce provides little clarity: we can't look for attempts to repeat,say,"Beasts of No Nation"'s success because the company has produced so little like it.

I guess what I'm getting at is that we may not be able to discuss Netflix's films the exact same way we discuss theatrically-released films (or even directed-to-video or VOD films).Until Netflix deigns to share their numbers,we're going to have to come up with altered definitions of "success"and "failure"for their films.

July 26,2017 | Unregistered CommenterJason H.

Can't wait to not watch this

July 26,2017 | Unregistered CommenterRyan

It must make some financial sense for Netflix,and it's not important for us to know.HBO
in a way is a similar model.Game of Thrones is a certified hit now but in its first season it seemed like investing $100 million on a fantasy show was exorbitant.Netflix's hope is the same as HBO that these big ticket items will generate new and continuing subscribers

July 27,2017 | Unregistered CommenterRaul

I just keep on wondering if Netflix has come to stay or if it will be considered a fad in the future.Americans seem to have made it an integral part of their lives.

July 27,2017 | Unregistered CommenterAd

The upside for them is that they're one-step closer to having an exclusive catalogue.I guess Netflix's hope is that other streaming services will eventually go belly-up and they can afford to raise prices.

July 27,2017 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

What happened to Rapace's career.

July 27,2017 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk


July 27,2017 | Unregistered Commenterjaragon

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