Did the Netflix $100 Million Gamble on “Bright” Pay Off?


Will Smith in a budding cop franchise.


The streaming provider is beginning to play like a big-league movie studio.


Worst of the Year!” — “Terrible!” — “Profoundly awful” — “A piece of blockbuster trash”.  


Given movie reviewers are prone to hysterics at times it was not immediately shocking to see this torrent of bile. But when a wide array fall into agreement of badness I take notice. These are the kind of reviews that get my radar to ping, since an assured disaster is something I just cannot resist. Except there were a number of challenges with these critical hyperbolic responses.


First, it was not a theatrical release getting them in a lather, but a NetFlix original film. Second was that “Bright”, starring Will Smith and Joel Edgerton, was a movie I was looking forward to seeing. It was a unique hybrid of fantasy and buddy-cop plotting that looked rather original. Yet in the days before the December 22 debut critics lashed out, with many declaring it among the worst movies of the year. (Allow me to put that to rest; I saw “The Emoji Movie”, “Geostorm”, “Monster Trucks”, The Snowman”, and a slew of others FAR worse.)


This was a jarring result, given that NetFlix had commissioned the title and the streaming provider spent huge on the project. The script — concerning an LA cop partnered with an orc to investigate underworld supernatural activity — sold for nearly $4 million in a bidding contest between studios, and in the end the company dropped over $90 million on its production. That is essentially the budget of a summer tent pole release. It appeared for a time that NetFlix may have a bomb on its hands — although that is relative, since there is not a direct revenue stream tied to individual movies or programs on its platform. It looked possible the company could have spent huge on an expensive embarrassment.



As it turned out they didn’t have to worry. The gulf between critics and fans is frequently wide enough to require airfare to traverse — and in the case of “Bright” a passport was even needed. More than becoming the most viewed show on Netflix, it was an explosive smash. “Bright” ranked as the #1 viewed program on NetFlix in one hundred ninety countries. Here in the U.S. it was measured that the film was streamed eleven million times, in just the first three days. That number is assuredly higher, as the Nielsen ratings company only tracks viewership on conventional televisions. There are untold millions more who watched on alternate devices.


While this kind of financial risk seems at odds with the provider’s business model (how do they monetize this lone title exactly?) one thing going forward will be for NetFlix to provide more of its own content of this nature. The Disney acquisition of 21st Century Fox is primarily being made to set up its own competitive streaming outlet. NetFlix will be facing a dual-edged wand (as it were) in that it will have new competition, and losing much streamable titles and shows from the Disney-Fox libraries.


In the wake of this monumental reaction from viewers Netflix has announced what has been suspected: there will be a sequel to “Bright”. Certainly there was a pause to see the reaction; there would be little reason to begin a spend on an expensive follow-up if fans had failed to hit PLAY in sufficient numbers. Smith and Edgerton are tabbed to return, and director David Ayers will take over writing duties for the second installment.



While the pricing may be called into question it has to be seen as an applause line that the provider can draw attention with original titles. Producing content that draws eyes — and subscribers — will be vital for the service provider in the coming years.


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