With the advent of original programming streaming entertainment directly to consumers sitting on their couches at home, horror has seen something of a renaissance thanks, in no small part, to Netflix original features such as THE BABYSITTER, 1922, and DEATH NOTE. Emerging as a worthy opponent to the tried and true Hollywood establishment, the least of what Netflix has accomplished has been to frighten the daylights out of studio executives threatened by the explosive rise of this unconventional competitor.
“It’s not a sea change, it’s a tsunami,” said Jeff Block, an analyst with Exhibitor Relations commenting on the impact Netflix has had on current market trends. With more and more turning to streaming over trips to the theater, studio bosses are scratching their heads and wondering how best to hedge their fortunes against this once harmless underdog.
From Emmy-nominated television serials like STRANGER THINGS to Oscar-nominated documentaries such as THE WHITE HELMETS, Netflix has proven the mettle of its resolve in the face of the adversity and animosity of Hollywood’s Big 6 distributors: Paramount Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Walt Disney Studios, Columbia Pictures, Universal Pictures, & Warner Bros. 2017 heralded a slew of horror hit-makers for Netflix, including the likes of GERALD’S GAME, which received rave reviews from critics and viewers alike upon the first week of its release. Last year also saw a rise in box office revenue for studios, thanks to films concerning the fear of untimely death and things that go ‘bump’ in the night.
However, a solid measure of the overall impact that horror has had on Hollywood and Netflix over the last year would be production output relative to other genres. In other words, for every X number of films produced in 2017, how many of those were of the dread-inducing persuasion? For output numbers, let’s take a look at the tables below:
Judging by these incredibly close ratios, it would appear as if neither Hollywood nor Netflix has pulled ahead in this bout. Much like the Furby lookalikes in GREMLINS, though, appearances can be deceiving. Just because neither appears to have churned out more gore doesn’t necessarily mean this settles the score. What about quality?
When it comes to horror, in particular, Netflix has been cutting a bloody path not only through Hollywood’s traditionalist model, but through the prototypical scathing reviews critics bestow upon new entries to the genre. Just take THE BABYSITTER for example, starring Samara Weaving and Bella Thorne. Praised by some critics as a new-age self-referential flick with loads of appeal for fans of the teen horror-comedy genre mash-up, it received a 75% fresh score on review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, surprising given its abundant use of gleefully gratuitous gore. In stark contrast, RINGS, released by Paramount Pictures, was almost universally panned for its threadbare thrills, lazy jumps scares, and, according to Peter Travers of Rolling Stone magazine, all around “demo-worthy awfulness in directing, writing, and acting.” Given that this may be an isolated comparison of disparate outliers, let’s take a look at a greater ribbon of data that quantifies the aggregated reviews of a random selection of Netflix and Hollywood releases over the past two years:
While, admittedly, this data is based on widespread opinion, when cumulated it quantifies something qualitative in nature. With an average Rotten Tomatoes score of 74% based on this random sampling, Netflix emerges the clear and present victor in this slash of the titans. With less bureaucratic red tape and a lack of emphasis on box office results in favor of customer subscriptions, has Netflix found a formula for giving greater creative freedom to writers, directors, and producers of horror than those in the Hollywood system? Without an earnings target to hit on each project, has Netflix afforded its hired talent greater flexibility to create without concern, or has Netflix simply re-written the rules of filmmaking entirely?
“You’re still competing for attention, but as a filmmaker, it eases my anxiety and makes me braver knowing my whole career doesn’t hinge on how many people I hypnotize into coming on the opening weekend,” said David Michod, director of the upcoming WAR MACHINE, on the creative advantages of shooting a project for Netflix rather than the studios.
Given the tidal wave of news on the issue coming out of IndieWire and Variety as of late, this does beg a question regarding where entertainment is headed. With eye-watering production budgets nearing the numbers of those amassed by theatrical releases, and estimated to have already exceeded those of HBO, are the bells tolling for exhibitors and their distributors? If you had to put cold hard cash on it, between the nightmares of Netflix and the horrors of Hollywood (topical pun intended), which would you bet on as the future head honcho of horror?