Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) has validated the quality of its original programming through Emmy wins and documentary Oscar nominations, but now it's going for the big prize. At least four movies will debut on Netflix through the next three quarters, hoping to put the dot-com darling on the map as a viable platform for feature films.
Netflix updated release information on Tuesday for four movies that will stream on Netflix as first-run flicks. The first film was supposed to be the sequel to the award-winning wire fu classic that dazzled audiences 15 years ago. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The Green Legend was originally slated to hit Netflix -- as well as theaters in China and more than 800 IMAX (NYSE:IMAX) screens -- this summer. It didn't happen, and the release has been pushed out to the first quarter of next year.
That means that Beasts of No Nation -- a movie about a child soldier in an African civil war with True Detective director Cary Fukunaga at the helm -- will nab the distinction of being then first original release with its worldwide premiere on Oct. 16.
Netflix is also trying to get the movie to screen at traditional multiplexes, but that's going to be a hard sell when it comes to distribution. How many exhibitors are going to want to devote screen space to a movie that is freely and legally available online? If it generates rave reviews it's possible that a strong buzz could push it into indie cinemas, but it's not realistic to expect much more than that.
The next release will be The Ridiculous Six, the Western comedy that marks the first of Adam Sandler's multi-film deal with Netflix. It will be available through Netflix starting on Dec. 11. There are a couple of ominous signs here. The first is that A Million Ways to Die in the West also tried to lampoon classic Westerns last year, and it bombed at the box office with just $43 million in domestic ticket sales. The second ominous sign is that the movie generated bad publicity during production earlier this year with several Native Americans walking off the set. They claimed that the movie was disparaging to Native Americans.
Notoriety isn't always a bad thing. The movie also has a strong cast with many of Sandler's regulars in the flick. The key here will be the quality of the movie since Sandler's more recent projects have been iffy, but at least the movie will come with a wave of publicity.
Finally we have Paul Reubens reprising his role as Pee-wee Herman in Pee-wee's Big Holiday. This will hit Netflix come March. That's an odd time to put out a holiday-themed movie, but Judd Apatow has a hand in this so it's hard to dismiss right away.
There's a lot riding on Netflix's push into full-length features. It may not be as lucrative as having a hit series. A hot movie can be knocked out by a subscriber in less than two hours, but a hot show along the lines of House of Cards or Orange is the New Black can take weeks if not months of binge viewing to get through all of the seasons.
It's also more than likely that a TV show will be cheaper to produce than a full-blown movie in terms of cost per hour of content.
However, there's a lot riding on this push. If it succeeds it will once again make it that much harder for rival services to compete. None of them have the global subscriber audience north of 60 million that Netflix does to justify lavish movie budgets.
Multiplex operators won't be happy. There's a reason why it was just IMAX that hopped on the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon sequel. However, giving movie studios a shot at a new platform -- one that doesn't require tens of millions of dollars to be earmarked for marketing costs -- could be a positive catalyst for Hollywood to start taking chances again. Netflix can reinvent the game of streaming, again.