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In January 2023, Greg Peters was named co-CEO of Netflix.

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Netflix’s release strategies are dangerous to auteur cinema

18 year-old Anatolii Mishustin explores the dangers of a never-ending stream of content

Wes Anderson, David Fincher, Todd Haynes, Noah Baumbach, Martin Scorsese, and Arian Johnson – what do all of these directors have in common?

Apart from being celebrated cinema auteurs, they all have made movies specifically for the media streaming giant Netflix. Many more directors over the years have started to partner up with Netflix to produce more personally relevant films – pictures that wouldn’t receive as much budget with big corporate studios. Films such as Mank (David Fincher) and Marriage Story (Noah Baumbach) are two clear examples of this.

Yet, it’s a known fact that Netflix pursues greater recognition in the awards sector; each year, it produces more and more films with big names attached to them to ‘win prestige’. But such guerrilla tactics may have the negative effect on the medium of cinema in general, devaluating films in the eyes of the public.

And so with the 2023 award season coming towards a close, I’m left with a question whether Netflix release tactics could pose a danger to auteur cinema.

Many directors expressed their love for Netflix’s production. David Fincher in his interview with Le Monde said that “Netflix has never quibbled with this type of choice,” unlike big studios he’s worked for and that the service has “adopted an industry standard that made sense to filmmakers. Netflix has by far the best ‘quality control’ in all of Hollywood.”

Fincher believes that Netflix is the future of the cinema since theatres are slowly but surely dying. And he’s not to blame, as the COVID-19 pandemic created the perfect environment for home entertainment to thrive.

Despite all of this, it seems not everything is as great as it seems. For Fincher’s own thriller The Killer, though Netflix maybe didn’t quibble at Fincher’s request, they forgot to invest in marketing.

Since the film’s announcement of a Netflix release and first frames featured in Netflix’s annual video of planned releases for the coming year – there was virtually no promotional information released after the initial trailer.

Keeping in mind that the film came out in November and also features an A-list leading actor, this shows how films and their ability to stand out can be stunted by the streaming platform.

Moreover, films on Netflix are always swept away in the never-ending stream of new content.

A standard theatrical release window is four weeks long. The Killer, for example, further illustrates this. Fincher immediately topped Netflix’s chart, with almost 30mn household views in the first week. His film held the top position for the second week, suffering less than a 20% decline in views. By week four, it ranked seventh in the chart, (3.6 million views) and by week five it was out of the top ten.

Films however seem to almost always gain more traction when shown in cinemas. One of the last films Fincher released traditionally was Gone Girl in 2014, which in terms of the industry is a different era altogether.

In 2023, he released John Wick: Chapter 4, a film comparable to such in terms of attractiveness and class. Both of them have a star-studded cast and a premise of a highly stylised revenge-action film about an assassin. John Wick: Chapter 4 performed well in box offices grossing over $400mn worldwide on a $100mn budget, and was widely accepted by both critics & viewers.

Although it is difficult to assess how The Killer would have performed in cinemas, a likely conclusion is that it would have made a bigger splash in the industry.

A favourite phrase Netflix assigns films is a ‘limited theatre release’ which are a prevalent issue to movies released on the streaming giant.

Due to the Academy’s guidelines, a film must run for at least seven consecutive days with at least one cinema screening between 6–10 pm in one of the six qualifying U.S. metro areas. So Netflix always accompanies its originals with a ‘limited theatrical release’ so they are eligible for Oscars and other awards. This loophole means there’s always a high chance a Netflix produced film will not be running near you.

In all honesty, such a tactic has been pretty beneficial for the media giant. Netflix has produced films that have been reappearing in major categories consistently since 2019. And due to the likes of pictures such as ROMA, The Power Of The Dog, and Marriage Story it has taken home a few Oscars.

That is the crux of the argument for Netflix’s venture into auteur filmmaking being driven by critical acclaim and money, not for the artistic sake of the medium.

However, despite the streaming giant’s intentions, films such as Marriage Story and ROMA still gather an audience even four years after its release.

According to Netflix’s own data chart in 2023, Marriage Story was viewed for 6,100,000 hours which is shocking for a marriage drama released four years ago. ROMA’s 800,000 hours means that there is some adoration and longevity to the art Netflix creates – even if it was not intended for such.

In conclusion, we are still left at the crossroads. On the one hand, we have Netflix supporting artists financially and creatively for all of their ideas. Yet, this does not seem to further the medium of cinema, instead commodifying such for recognition via award nominations, resulting in many films having short theatre runs and lacking in cultural significance.

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Anatolii Mishustin

Film critic

Kyiv, Ukraine | Amsterdam, Netherlands

Hailing from Ukraine, Anatolii was born in 2006 and now resides in Amsterdam while getting his diploma. Moving to the Netherlands was a decision first and foremost motivated by the ongoing war in Ukraine.

Anatolii keeps his hand on the pulse of modern media and underground culture, that’s what grows his interests and ambitions each day. He joined Harbingers’ Magazine in 2023 to challenge himself in this area to explore cultural journalism, and quickly established himself as the lead film critic for the magazine.

His work also secured him an invitation to the first edition of the Harbinger Fellow programme with the Oxford School for the Future of Journalism.

In his free time, he enjoys basketball, watching films, and playing video games.

Anatolii speaks Ukrainian, Russian, English, and is learning Dutch.

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Megan Lee

Culture Section Editor

Hong Kong | United Kingdom

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