Netflix is planning to release 80 original films in 2018, Variety reports. Eighty! Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos outlined the network’s plans in an investors’ call discussing the company’s third-quarter results. “They range anywhere from the million-dollar Sundance hit, all the way up to something on a much larger scale,” Sarandos said. It would more than double its current rate of releasing Netflix Original films: This quarter, it released eight, not 20.
By way of reference, Fox released 16 movies in all of 2016; Sony, 22; Warner Bros., 23. Even looking at parent companies only gets that number up to 38 films under the entire Sony umbrella: ScreenGems, TriStar, Sony Pictures Classics, and plain old Sony/Columbia. Eighty is a lot of movies.
It’s not completely unprecedented for movie studios to produce and distribute more films than they do today, however. Paramount released, by my count, 116 films in 1920, and even in the sound era, studios managed workloads that would make modern-day moguls tremble. Take MGM in 1939, long marketed as Hollywood’s greatest year. The gorilla of the studio system at the height of its powers had a legendary run that year, producing and/or distributing classics like The Wizard of Oz; Goodbye, Mr. Chips; and Ninotchka (oh, and Gone With the Wind). But MGM only released 52 movies that year.
And even with only 52 films—and thus, more time to carefully usher each one through the production and marketing process than Netflix is going to have with an 80-film schedule—not every MGM release that year became a classic. Here’s the trailer from what sounds like a can’t-miss proposition from September of 1939: Lana Turner in her first starring role and a soundtrack from Artie Shaw, including “Nightmare,” which is enough of a needle drop that it still shows up in the movies:
Wow. Well, despite the cast and the soundtrack, that didn’t look like it turned out that well, to be perfectly honest. What about a western starring Frank Morgan, the Wizard of Oz himself?
Henry Goes Arizona was the final title, huh? They went with that. Well, what about adventure movies? Did they make any adventure movies?
Ho-lee shit. And three Andy Hardy movies too. Three. Like 5 percent of the studio’s output was Andy Hardy movies, at Hollywood’s greatest studio, in Hollywood’s greatest year.
All of which is to say that all the money and power in the world and an almost completely vertically integrated production pipeline couldn’t manage a 52-film schedule without making some duds. An 80-film schedule is going to be bonkers. More films getting made and distributed means more chances someone makes a masterpiece, but it also means more Dancing Co-Eds, no matter how much money Netflix throws at the problem. Which means people who like movies but also like watching Wile E. Coyote run off the cliff will be doubly blessed. With a slate that large, Netflix will probably produce some wonderful movies next year, but it’ll also inevitably have to mobilize its entire marketing muscle to try to sell things that look terrible. Apropos of nothing, have you seen the trailer for Bright, which the studio reportedly bet $90 million on?