Who doesn’t enjoy a late-night Netflix session to catch up on “Stranger Things,” re-watch “Friends” for the 20th time, or catch some feels with “Moana?”
But, have you ever watched a Netflix original movie?
The first-ever Netflix feature film was released Dec. 12, 2013 — a documentary titled “The Short Game” about 7- and 8-year-old golfers. You have probably never heard of it.
Netflix has since produced and released over 200 feature films only available on its online platform. These include dramas (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny” and “Beasts of No Nation” were the first two, both released in 2016), comedies, short and feature-length documentaries (“The Square,” “Icarus”), and even specials (“A Very Murray Christmas” starring Bill Murray).
The upcoming original film list provided by Netflix for the remainder of 2018 and beyond is both long and ambitious.
According to fellow TSL film columnist Ben Hafetz PZ ’20, Netflix films range from “indie films [that] are by far their best content” to “prestige films, or awards bait” and “traditional blockbuster films [that] are genuinely awful.”
Netflix and other non-network-produced TV series have become a staple at TV-based award shows, most recently with Aziz Ansari (“Master of None”) taking home the Golden Globe this past January and Claire Foy (“The Crown”) winning the same award in 2017.
The plighted “House of Cards” and gripping “Orange Is the New Black” have also been big winners of Emmy Awards in the past. Other online production houses like Amazon and Hulu have similarly received high praise (“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” and “The Handmaid’s Tale,” respectively, this year at The Golden Globes and Emmys).
A debate continues on whether Netflix-produced films should even be considered “real movies” and therefore judged by the Academy (Oscars) as well as Hollywood Foreign Press (Golden Globes).
Are they TV movies or feature films? Are the cast members eligible for the biggest acting categories open to feature films, or only to less prestigious TV movie awards?
Despite this, drama films like “Mudbound” (2017, starring Mary J. Blige and Carey Mulligan) earned an Oscar nomination for Best Film, Idris Elba earned a Screen Actors Guild award for “Beasts of No Nation,” and “The Square” became the first Netflix-produced film to be nominated for an Oscar in Best Documentary Feature.
Though their comedies and dramas are (at times) noteworthy, the film genre that Netflix has explored most and executed best is arguably documentary. “The Square,” released prior to any of Netflix’s fictional films, depicted the Arab Spring movement centering on the “Egyptian Crisis.” The 18-day “Egyptian Revolution” against President Hosni Mubarak and his regime began at Tahrir Square Jan. 25, 2011, following similar uprisings in Tunisia beginning in December 2010 and subsequently in February 2011 in Libya.
During the revolution, an estimated 846 people died and nearly 6,500 were injured during the two-week period, with more casualties in the weeks and months that ensued.
The film tells the story from the ground, following a group of young protesters and political revolutionaries starting in early 2011, though it has been criticized for only depicting the “young, semi-cosmopolitan, and vaguely leftist” activist sphere, a description which does apply to the majority of Tahrir protesters at the time. “The Square” gained a 100 percent ‘certified fresh’ rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the Oscars nomination, and three Emmy’s at the 66th Awards.
“13th,” directed by Ava Duvernay (“Selma”) expertly defines America’s prison industrial complex and school-to-prison pipeline. It condemns what is known as the New Jim Crow laws, while challenging ideas about the “intersections of race, justice, and mass incarceration in the United States.” It led to Duvernay’s second leading Oscar nomination following Best Director for “Selma.”
Biographical films on Tig Notaro (“Tig”) and Lady Gaga (“Gaga: Five Foot Two”) have been somewhat successful, while “Amanda Knox” (2016) captivated those who remembered the real-life murder-mystery and reeled in those who didn’t know about it. Even just this year, Netflix-distributed “Icarus,” which depicts large-scale Russian athlete doping schemes, won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.
Netflix original films have largely relied on social media, especially Facebook, for advertising. Their gross rating point, reach, and most importantly, quality will certainly continue to improve. In its efforts to become not just a streaming service with some original content, but a mass content producer, Netflix has and will butt heads with Disney as it did just last August (which led to the latter pulling its distribution deal with Netflix in favor of beginning its own streaming site).
I have no doubt that Netflix shows and films will keep coming, and the awards and accolades will follow as Netflix continues to develop its independent programming.