Brad Pitt making Netflix a big player in the movie game
Brad Pitt stars in War Machine. (Francois Duhamel/Netflix)
From homicidal, power-hungry politicians to waffle-loving telekinetic tweens, Netflix has cemented itself as the destination for awesome original TV shows that can’t be found anywhere else.
But for all the accolades that series like House of Cards and Stranger Things have garnered, the streaming service’s original movie offerings have been… well, underwhelming might be putting it generously.
Netflix’s failure to crack the feature film code after having redefined the television landscape is a curious conundrum. And even as Netflix tries to get their movie engine purring with the likes of Brad Pitt’s War Machine, releasing Friday, May 26, the company also finds itself embroiled in a debate about whether movies can truly be “cinema” – say it with your nose held high and a derisive sniff – if they’ve never had a cinematic release.
At the legendary Cannes Film Festival, running until May 28, the presence of Netflix has rustled more than a few jimmies. While two Netflix films are in contention for the coveted Palme d’Or grand prize – Snowpiercer director Bong Joon-ho’s Okja, starring Tilda Swinton, and The Meyerowitz Stories, starring Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller and Emma Thompson – the festival has already decreed that from now on, films can’t be in contention unless they’ve actually had a theatrical release.
“I personally cannot conceive of not only the Palme d’Or, but any other prize, being given to a film and then being unable to see this film on a large screen,” Cannes jurist Pedro Almodovar (Talk to Her) said in a statement addressing his discomfort with Netflix being part of the storied film fest. But fellow Cannes jurist Will Smith (who appears in Netflix’s Bright later this year) disagrees: “Netflix has been nothing but an absolute benefit,” he said. His kids – aged 16, 18 and 24 – “watch films they otherwise wouldn’t have seen. They get to see movies that aren’t on a screen within 8,000 miles of them.”
I have to say, I’m on the Fresh Prince’s side with this one. Just as technology has changed the way we work, play and communicate, it’s changed the way we experience film. The big-screen, shared-experience ideal just doesn’t always make a lot of sense in an era where movie tickets cost three arms and five legs, and the whole thing can be ruined by one ignorant tool playing on his phone. If I have a 65-inch screen and 5.1 surround sound at home, is that not enough to get a cinematic experience from a movie? Does the dark room full of strangers still have a place in the 21st century?
And really, should Netflix even be concerned about its reception at Cannes if its films are, you know, not exactly that great in the first place? The streaming service even seems slightly ashamed of its movie offerings: while original series like Master of None, Dear White People, Girlboss and so on are blasted at subscribers front and centre the moment they log on, finding Netflix-exclusive movies take some digging around. Aside from 2015’s Idris Elba-starring Beasts of No Nation or the awful Adam Sandler vehicle The Ridiculous 6, some might be hard pressed to name one of Netflix’s two dozen or so original movies.
Brad Pitt’s War Machine, which Netflix is distributing but didn’t directly produce, might change that. Maybe. Or maybe it’ll be Okja – director Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer and The Host are both wild rides, and Bong has spoken glowingly about the creative freedom offered by working with Netflix. Or maybe The Meyerowitz Stories will be a bona fide hit, although we’ve been burned so many times on Adam Sandler-starring Netflix properties that it might be hard to take it seriously.
Or hey, why not combine the best of both Netflix worlds – a two-hour, big-budget Stranger Things feature film. That’s something we’d travel to the Upside Down to see.