Cloverfield, Annihilation and how Netflix is radically changing the movie business
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Cloverfield, Annihilation and how Netflix is radically changing the movie business

Netflix dropped a bombshell during the Super Bowl on Monday. Its aftershocks could reverberate far and wide.

While the Crocodile Dundee ad-that-wasn't captured the imagination of potential moviegoers in the US (and elsewhere) on Monday, another commercial aired during the Super Bowl broadcast pointed to an even bigger story: the way, and the speed at which, Netflix is changing the movie business.

The streaming giant aired a spot for The Cloverfield Paradox, the third movie in a franchise that began with Cloverfield in 2008 and continued with 2016's 10 Cloverfield Lane.

It was the first ad anyone had seen for the movie, which became available for streaming immediately after the football. But what made the spot especially significant was that until that moment, the film had been slated for a cinema release in April.

The sudden change was a result, in part, of financial troubles at Paramount, and a (relatively) new studio boss attempting to clear his books of problematic product.

John Ortiz, David Oyelowo and Gugu Mbatha-Raw in The Cloverfield Paradox.

John Ortiz, David Oyelowo and Gugu Mbatha-Raw in The Cloverfield Paradox.

Photo: Scott Garfield / Netflix
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Testing for the space thriller – which had not been conceived as part of the Cloverfield universe and was originally titled The God Particle – suggested it would not be a hit. With a budget that had blown out from $US5 million to around $US40 million, Paramount boss Jim Gianopulos judged it too expensive to release (marketing and distribution would likely add another $10-$20 million to its costs). When Netflix made an offer for the film in January, he was only too happy to hand it over.

That followed a similar decision in December 2017 to shift the release strategy for Annihilation, the eagerly anticipated sci-fi film from novelist-turned director Alex Garland (writer of The Beach and director of Ex-Machina).

Originally set for a February cinema release in Australia, the effects-heavy $US55 million film, starring Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Oscar Isaac, will now be streamed here on Netflix from March (it will still get a brief theatrical run in the US). Again the studio was nervous about its box office potential since testing suggested it might be "too intellectual" to score with a mass audience (judge for yourself from the trailer below).

In recent years, Netflix has come to be seen by some as a potential saviour of low-budget independent filmmaking. At the Sundance Film Festival last January, it snapped up 10 movies (the Australian thriller Berlin Syndrome among them). But this year it bought none, a sign that it has, perhaps, decided there is more value in snapping up bigger-budget fare with bigger names.

Netflix has promised to spend between $US7 billion and $US8 billion on content this year, and movies will account for a significant portion of that. The Will Smith-Joel Edgerton thriller Bright, released in December, reportedly cost $US90 million. Martin Scorsese's forthcoming gangster movie The Irishman, with an all-star cast headed by Robert de Niro and Al Pacino, is budgeted at $US100 million.

The company has a long-term target of 50 per cent original content on its platform (with the rest being licensed from other studios and distributors).

That strategy has become even more important with the imminent launch by Disney of a dedicated SVOD platform of its own, chock full of Pixar animation, Star Wars titles and Marvel movies and TV series.

Netflix claimed to have almost 111 million paid memberships worldwide (just over half of them in the US), and total revenue of $US11.69 billion, for a profit of $US559 million at the end of 2017. Since it began mailing out DVDs direct to customers in 1998, Netflix has had a profound impact on the shape of the movie business. It may just be about to change the way it looks again.

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Karl Quinn

Karl has been a journalist at Fairfax Media since 1999, in a variety of writing and editing roles. Karl writes about popular culture with a particular focus on film and television.

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