Walk into a room of film fans and mention Netflix Originals and you’re likely to be greeted with sighs and eye-rolls. Unlike its television content, Netflix’s Original films are not held in high repute. But Netflix Original films account for five of the top 10 films released since 2013.
Still, there’s no denying that in the privacy of their own homes, people are loving Netflix’s film content.
Verdict calculated an average percentage score for every film released in the last five years by Netflix, Amazon, and the top five movie studios: Universal, Sony, Paramount, Disney, 20th Century Fox, and Warner Bros. We found the average by looking at Rotten Tomatoes’ Tomatometer, Metacritic review scores, public scores on both, and IMDB score.
The final list of films has over 850 entries, dating from January 2013 until now. The top ten films are as follows:
Virunga (2014) – Netflix
Inside Out (2015) – Disney
Whiplash (2014) – Sony
Cuba and the Cameraman (2017) – Netflix
Coco (2017) – Disney
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) – Warner Bros.
13th (2016) – Netflix
Barbra: The Music … The Mem’ries … The Magic! (2017) – Netflix
Paddington 2 (2018) – Warner Bros
Layla M. (2016) – Netflix
Netflix not only created the most popular films of the past five years, but it appears on the list more times than any other studio.
The results are a major rebuke to film critics and festivals like Cannes (which banned Netflix from competing this year) who sneer at Netflix’s work.
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Still, Netflix’s success with critics and audiences alike is far from definitive. Arguably, the reasons for film festivals to shun Netflix are still evident, in spite of its success.
Most important to remember is that while Netflix films make up a lot of the top 10 in the list, they’re also a sizable chunk of the bottom 10.
A documentary powerhouse
It’s noteworthy that all of Netflix’s top films are, in fact, documentaries.
In the top 100 films of the past five years, there are 21 Netflix Originals. Of these 18 are documentaries (of the other three, one is a true Netflix Original, one is a recorded concert, and the other is a film Netflix distributed in Italy and Japan that was billed as a Netflix Original in those countries.)
Clearly Netflix is a powerhouse for documentary film making, but their narrative content simply isn’t competing with the major studios.
In contrast, Amazon Studios, the other streaming upstart has just seven films in the top 100. Still, of those, five are narrative films, and only two are documentaries.
Of course, none of this is to take away from the work of documentary filmmakers, but when most people think of films, they think of narrative film.
Viewing a documentary is a fundamentally different experience than watching a narrative film. It would be easier for film fans to argue that the two styles are totally incomparable.
While documentary filmmakers can no doubt applaud Netflix’s success at giving their craft recognition, its easy to see why narrative filmmakers would dismiss their efforts.
Netflix Originals lack a narrative
Compile a list of the top 10 narrative Netflix Originals (which it actually produced and didn’t just distribute) and it looks significantly less impressive:
37. Beasts of No Nation (2015)
158. Okja (2017)
169. Tramps (2017)
170. First They Killed My Father (2017)
173. I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore (2017)
182. The Meyerowitz Stories (New And Selected) (2017)
198. Gerald’s Game (2017)
206. First Match (2018)
208. Imperial Dreams (2017)
209. Our Souls At Night (2017)
A scattershot approach
The other thing worth noting is the sheer volume of films Netflix is pumping out.
At the time of writing, there are 202 films under the Netflix Originals brand. This includes 55 films which Netflix didn’t produce but does distribute in various countries around the world.
That is far more than any of the other studios, including the six ‘major’ studios who’ve been making films for decades.
The closest any of the other studios came was Sony who released 162 films between 2013 and now.
Even then, it’s not really comparable as Sony Pictures has 12 separate film divisions (including studios like Columbia Pictures and TriStar Productions) each with their own individual slate.
In comparison, Disney, whose films received the best scores from critics and audiences on average, released just 56 films since 2013. This includes films released by Disney-owned studios such as Marvel, LucasFilms, and Pixar.
Arguably, the reason Netflix has so many top films is because it simply releases more than any other studio. That’s the benefit of their direct-to-consumer model.
Still, as Disney’s averages prove, taking your time over a few great films wins more praise than rushing to release many.
Overall, Netflix still has plenty to be proud of. Its range of documentary content is second to none and is clearly proving popular with fans and critics alike. On the narrative side of things, Netflix still has some improvements to make.
Still, its results don’t prove it to be any fundamentally better or worse than the major studios.