During last year’s Super Bowl, Netflix released the first footage for Stranger Things’ second season. It was exciting—the bar where I was watching the game roared in approval as the signature synth blared to announce a Halloween 2017 release—and unexpected. Halloween couldn’t come soon enough.
Fast-forward to this year, when Netflix once again conjured hype out of thin air by confirming it’d acquired the new Cloverfield movie, The Cloverfield Paradox, from Paramount with an ominous teaser. And not only that, the company announced it was releasing the movie immediately after the Super Bowl.
What a genuinely shocking series of events, even for a movie franchise that’s made unique, viral marketing an intrinsic part of its DNA. Unfortunately, The Cloverfield Paradox is a bad film. It feels like a sanitized version of the hard-R, sci-fi cult classic Event Horizon, as both deal with the hellish consequences of opening a portal to another dimension—but only one features Sam Neill gouging his eyes out. The reviews speak for themselves: A measly 12 percent “rotten” score on Rotten Tomatoes so far.
But honestly? That hardly matters. The release of The Cloverfield Paradox—and the means by which Netflix got the movie from Paramount—is an ambitious win-win for streamer and studio that could set a new precedent for how to reposition a movie as an event in and of itself.
First, let’s get to Paramount. The studio’s had a rough go of late, flopping on several blockbusters last year, including Monster Trucks and the Baywatch reboot—not to mention one of the most polarizing movies in recent memory, Mother! Paramount head Jim Gianopulos had reportedly felt The Cloverfield Paradox and its $40 million-plus budget was another box office risk (considering its negative reception, he was certainly on the money). But offloading it to Netflix allowed the studio to recoup some of the losses for what could’ve been another financial flop; granted, we don’t know how much Netflix paid for the film and how much that offset the movie’s $40 million budget. Paramount has a similar deal with Netflix in place for Annihilation, Alex Garland’s sci-fi film that arrives stateside on February 23. The movie will only be released theatrically in the U.S., Canada, and China, with Paramount selling the international rights to Netflix for an undisclosed fee. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the film was screened to a muted reception, and billed as “too intellectual” for the general public.
Instead of studios releasing movies that are expected to bomb and bracing for the worst—which has been par for the course for decades—Netflix has opened up another potential avenue for studios like Paramount to unload something unfavorable. Likewise, most people who watch The Cloverfield Paradox, and come away thinking it’s a bad movie, won’t associate it with Paramount, but the streamer they were watching the movie on. With a fourth Cloverfield film on the way around Halloween—this time, no joke, it’s going to be a World War II thriller—Paramount can still keep that movie if it expects it’ll be as good as the first two Cloverfield movies, which both had favorable reviews and made considerable money off of meager budgets. If not, the studio can always give Netflix a ring again.
Meanwhile, Netflix just gave The Cloverfield Paradox the most immediate movie marketing imaginable. Within hours of the first Cloverfield Paradox footage being unveiled, you could watch the movie on Netflix—a post-event event in its own right. Compared to the arduous promotional process of other movies—we had more than a year between the first teaser for Star Wars: The Force Awakens and its actual release—this was a breath of fresh air that other studios should take note of. (It’s also much easier to get people to watch a less-than-mediocre movie subsisting solely on hype from the comfort of their homes than it is to get them to go pay for it at a theater.)
The Super Bowl was the perfect platform for this gambit; the most-watched television event of the year guarantees maximum exposure. And for Netflix, that’s probably all that matters; Ted Sarandos probably isn’t spending too much time on Rotten Tomatoes. Rather, Netflix will likely determine the success of The Cloverfield Paradox’s surprise release by comparing its viewership to that of This Is Us. The NBC series had been hyping the crap out of its post–Super Bowl episode, in which beloved patriarch Jack Pearson (Milo Ventimiglia) dies from smoke inhalation after a house fire caused by a malfunctioning Crock-Pot (Crock-Pot, for what it’s worth, is totally innocent and doesn’t deserve your slander). While Netflix certainly appreciates favorable reviews for its original content, that’s not the endgame; it’s about how many people are watching certain shows and films, and about its ever-growing subscriber base. Netflix doesn’t release its viewership data unless it feels it can brag about it—the company was all too happy to pronounce that Bright, another atrocious movie in its catalog, was watched by a whopping 11 million people in three days—but if The Cloverfield Paradox numbers stack up to This Is Us’s most anticipated episode to date, you can expect Netflix will let us know about it.
With Netflix planning 80 original movies just this year, it feels like most of its content can get lost in the shuffle through sheer volume. Not every movie would deserve—or should deserve—The Cloverfield Paradox treatment. But imagine if the streamer used the Oscars or the NBA Finals to tease another movie to immediately watch post-event. Drunk off hype, we’d all rush to do it, and once we hit play, Netflix has won the battle. Netflix isn’t just changing how people consume television and film—it’s changing the conventions of movie marketing to suit its own needs, and finding willing partners in the form of traditional studios who are all too happy with this new way to save their bottom lines.
Perhaps next time, Netflix will pull this trick with—gasp!—a good movie. But again, that’s not really the point.