Special Features

The Check-In: How Are You Feeling About Netflix’s Original Movies Now?

Thanks to Netflix, 2018 is the first time HBO hasn’t had the most Emmy nominations in nearly two decades. However, those nominations went almost exclusively to Netflix’s various TV shows, limited or otherwise. What about their original movies, though?

Earlier this year, I and so many others noted Netflix’s creeping straight-to-video reputation, that in the wake of schlocktastic films like The Cloverfield Paradox the company responsible for some of the best TV of the past decade is now also responsible for some of the most mediocre movies.

What’s happened since then?

Oh, nothing, really. Just the internet going crazy over Netflix rom-coms The Set-Up

And The Kissing Both:

The Kissing Booth, for those who don’t know, is a very basic, at-times sexist, Disney Original Movie-ish teen rom-com about two guys competing for a girl, which is entirely the kind of movie no one makes anymore. Its two primary stars also happen to be dating in real life and are now Instagram-famous. The script was adapted from a widely-read book a teenage author crowdsourced through the app Wattpad, which has 65 million users.

Point being: an underserved audience was just fed something they already knew they loved thanks to social media, and they are eating it up, critics be damned. That’s turned The Kissing Booth into one of the most popular films of anything going at the moment, if you go by IMDB data, and will likely lead to a sequel.

The Set-Up has also spurred talks of a sequel, but, by contrast, it’s actually insanely popular with audiences AND critics. The plot repurposes The Parent Trap for the workplace and sees Zoey Deutch and Glen Powell’s overworked millennials conspiring together to trick their bosses into falling in love in the hopes that a happier boss will mean a happier life. Wouldn’t you know it, Deutch and Powell might just fall for each other too along the way.

It’s…undeniably charming, which stands in stark contrast to some of Netflix’s other Originals. As The Guardian’s Jake Greenberg noted:

The streaming giant has thus far dedicated its greatest promotional efforts to a number of sci-fi originals, movies that critics have largely written off. From Duncan Jones’ Blade Runner-esque Mute to Will Smith’s Bright to franchise thriller The Cloverfield Paradox, Netflix has swung [big], and no one can really say if it has missed. But Hollywood still makes profitable sci-fi movies that demand to be seen in theaters, leaving no gap for Netflix to fill. The majority of these genre offerings have also suffered from negative reviews with the aforementioned three films all failing to receive more than 26% on Rotten Tomatoes (in comparison, Set It Up boasts an almost perfect 94% rating).

He left out Orbiter 9, The Titan, Anon, Tau, and Radius, but that’s okay. They’re all perfectly diverting but also perfectly forgettable (to be fair, I was more down on Orbiter 9 than most). The true exception in the bunch is Annihilation, a consensus pick for top-10 film of the year, and if you live outside the United States you probably watched Annihilation on Netflix since Paramount offloaded the film’s international rights to the streaming service. However, since Annihilation is both a Netflix Original and not a Netflix Original, depending on where you live, it also comes with a bit of an asterisk where it can’t quite be judged the way we can Bright or Mute.

Maybe this all means Netflix will pull back on its costly science fiction productions and lean more toward those projects which don’t duplicate what audiences can already get from Hollywood in movie theaters. Or maybe Netflix is perfectly content with the results. After all, they don’t really care if we actually watch any of their Originals; they just want us to want to watch them, maybe even talk about them online, and, most importantly, never even think about canceling our subscription. Part of that process means trying to be the streaming service that makes everything for everyone.

So, Netflix now has several versions of just about every genre or format imaginable, from political talk shows to entertaining reality shows to hard-hitting documentaries to indie dramas to breath-of-fresh-air rom-coms to Adam Sandler movies. Add to that Ted Sarandos’ ongoing courtship of international audiences and thus huge influx of foreign language-shows and movies and you get a fire hydrant approach to programming, unleashing a never ending, usually overwhelming stream of viewing options, some good, some terrible, most of them at least vaguely watchable.

However, as this movie’s Emmy nominations illustrate Netflix’s crown jewel continues to be its TV shows. The only Netflix Original Movie to receive a major nomination was…Black Mirror, an anthology series that continues to take full advantage of the loopholes in Emmy categories. Previously, the episode “San Junipero” was submitted as a movie and nominated. Now, so has the Star Trek parody episode “USS Callister.”

This is, admittedly, an imperfect measure especially since Netflix’s industry disruption has caused a wider argument over what should even be considered a movie or TV show anymore and what should qualify for what kind of award. However, nominations of any kind do at least give us some vague guide as to what’s worth watching and what’s not, which is always welcome considering Netflix’s tsunami of Originals.

Absent that, we go by word of mouth. I’ve been trying to advance that all year by reviewing more Netflix movies than ever before, and I’ve come out of it slightly disheartened but also newly conditioned to appreciate the variety of options.

So many times throughout the year there have been weekends where all Hollywood cared to offer in theaters was one or two blockbusters. Netflix, meanwhile, always seems to have something quirky to watch, like Jody Hill’s new Josh Brolin/Danny McBride comedy The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter. I now go in expecting something watchable, perfect background noise for folding laundry or a morning commute on a subway, but certainly nothing particularly profound. Sometimes I’m proven wrong and a Veronica, The Ritual, or Cargo sneaks up on me, which is why I’m a bigger fan of Netflix’s horror films than their sci-fi ones. Other times, though, I just move past the latest new movies entirely and look for the latest documentary (like Wild, Wild Country) or TV series (like Glow) because those are usually a lot better.

What about you? Where do you stand on Netflix’s Original Movies at this point?


  1. Can you explain more about Wattpad? How did the author of The Kissing Booth “crowdsource” her book?

    1. Here is a link to a Vulture explainer about Wattpad: http://www.vulture.com/2018/07/how-wattpad-is-rewriting-the-rules-of-hollywood.html Basically, it is a place writers can go to both get ideas for stories from prospective readers as well as free and friendly critique and analysis on any story they might have already written. The Missing Booth originated out of this environment when a 15-year-old girl submitted her story for critique. It was read 19 million times on the app. She now has a three-book deal with a major publisher.

  2. I treat NF Originals no differently than any other new content. I read the blurb to decide if the idea appeals to me and either watch it or not. So far, most of the originals have had no appeal to me and the few that I’ve watched I found to be only moderately enjoyable.

  3. I can’t think of too many of them that I liked much. Small handful of decent ones and I think most of those weren’t even actual originals, just stuff they bought from other countries.

    Maybe they’ll improve someday like they did with their TV shows. I can’t believe they’ve come as far as they have when I think about what their streaming service was like 10 years ago.

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