As one of the many people that enjoyed the explosion that the Netflix original Stranger Things was a few weeks ago, I think it’s really valuable to look at how this streaming service is shaping the media landscape. Stranger Things is an eight-episode series that debuted July 15th exclusively on Netflix. The show follows three middle schoolers trying to save their lost friend. The show’s creators, brothers Matt and Ross Duffer, have stated the show was turned down by major networks between 15 to 20 times. To me, the success of this show follows a very clear trend in Netflix releases; that is to say, they’re all really good.
We are living in a renaissance of good television. Right now you could easily be watching 20 of the best shows and still be missing some absolute stand outs. It’s impossible to be watching all of the best TV. Netflix seems to be the king of this. Just a few days ago thousands of people were complaining about Netflix going down after the release of *another* well-received show: Luke Cage. I feel like all I ever hear is another show I need to binge watch; it’s gotten to the point that I no longer attempt to keep a list of them all. There’s too damn many. This is distinctly different from what we are seeing in the movie industry.
Just last weekend I managed to see my favorite movie of the year for the second time; The Nice Guys starring Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling. I went to see this originally because the writer and director was Shane Black, the writer of another favorite of mine; Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Nice Guys blew me away, I could write pages and pages about what I like. The best way for me to sum it up is this is what audiences and critics are constantly saying they want movies to be like. This was smart, well-acted, and above all, original. To my surprise the film didn’t do exceptionally well financially, grossing just 7 million over budget. So why is this film barely able to make money while Stranger Things is the hit of the summer?
I compare these two both for their freshness but even more so for their obsession with eras. The Nice Guys is so distinctly ’70s it is oozing with authenticity. The fonts, wardrobes, language, topics, music, everything comes together to put you in this time period perfectly. Stranger Things accomplishes this as well with the ’80s, but in my opinion to its detriment. This came to be my only complaint with the entire series, the creators not only worshiped the time period but the pieces from that time period. The Duffer Brothers clearly loved the ’80s, and they capture the feel of that time perfectly. They also wanted to pay homage to media from that time. Unfortunately, it often feels as though the show slips from paying tribute into ripping off these influences, primarily E.T. and Steven Kings stories. Moments that otherwise would hit great for audiences that hadn’t seen or read this works fall flat, very much in the same way Star Wars: The Force Awakens feels like an Episode 4 remake.
Regardless, both pieces really impressed me, and it’s sad to watch one reach a massive audience while the latter receives little recognition. I don’t know anyone who prefers the generic TV shows we see vomited out over and over to the incredibly original shows that are doing so well. Yet in the film, it seems to be the exact opposite. Moviegoers would rather see something they know they will enjoy instead of taking a chance on a film they know nothing about. I’ve absolutely done this too, don’t get me wrong. I’ve reached the point where I commonly go into the TV show’s pilot with no information, and more and more I am being rewarded. But with films, we need lots of information. Most likely the last time you saw a movie in theaters, you knew the director, the lead actors, the title, and the basic plot which you had spoon fed to you in the multiple trailers a studio will release. When is the last time you went into a viewing blind? The Nice Guys was a movie I knew just one thing about and as a result, I was rewarded.
The reason for this is pretty obvious. Movies are expensive and require more time and energy to see while a TV show is as accessible as any form of art. The pervasiveness of streaming services is staggering. If you are reading this and you aren’t subscribed to Netflix, Hulu, HBO GO, or Amazon Prime I think it’s safe to say you are in the minority. Watching a new show on these services has little risk as you are already paying for the service and you can always stop watching. With a movie, those cost more than a month of Netflix and take far more effort. As a result, audiences continue to complain about how generic movies can be. Despite this, action movies with no plot continue to be produced because they continue to make money.
Personally, I’m not sure this will ever be fixed. The only realistic solution comes from a conscious decision made by you: the viewer. You need to decide if you want original movies to thrive the way we do TV shows. Unfortunately, this requires lots of faith and the occasional loss. By taking risks on films you may have dismissed, you are likely to be disappointed. But as someone who seeks out the more unique and challenging films, I promise you’ll be rewarded.