Few moments in television are bigger than the Super Bowl. Even though this year’s ratings were a slight dip from last year, an estimated 103 million tuned in to watch the Eagles beat the Patriots. Networks tried to capitalize on this boost—NBC’s This Is Us Super Bowl special aired after the game. But the competition for viewers was higher this year. Netflix aired an ad for The Cloverfield Paradox during the Super Bowl—and then announced it would be available for streaming as soon as the game ended.
Reviews of the latest movie in the science fiction franchise have been trickling in over the last week, and the general consensus seems to be that the movie itself is far from a cinematic achievement. Whereas earlier movies in the franchise were able to be successful with surprising audiences, The Cloverfield Paradox is mostly just confusing. But if there is something exciting and shocking about The Cloverfield Paradox, it’s the way that Netflix released it—and the fact that they reportedly to buy the ad and then drop it without any warning.
Surprise releases have been in vogue for a few years now, and they’re seemingly as effective as they are difficult to pull off. The Internet has created streaming platforms for instant releases to occur, and simultaneously made it almost impossible for any secrets to be kept. While the music industry has seen artists do it time and time again after Beyonce’s self–titled album in 2013, it has never been tried for a blockbuster—it’s particularly hard to keep things under wrap in the film industry. Ava Duvernay, director of Selma and the upcoming A Wrinkle In Time, praised it for being “straight to the people” and called it a “game changer.” But is this really the future of film?
It has become clear that original content is an essential component of the popularity of streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon. In particular, Netflix crushes this game; they take in content that might not have found a home in other places—and it pays off, not only commercially, but also critically. Although Netflix’s serialized content, like Stranger Things, tends to get the most love, they have produced movies—like the Stephen King adaptation Gerard’s Game or the brutal war drama Beasts of No Nation—that have been received well.
But The Cloverfield Paradox is a miss that highlights the problem in this setup. Had The Cloverfield Paradox been released conventionally, it likely would have flopped. But because Netflix released it, the quality of the movie doesn’t matter. The draw is still the same, as is the boost to Netflix’s brand name, and it did exactly what Netflix intended—it helped them get in on the Hollywood market and continue to promote their brand exclusivity. The Cloverfield Paradox could be setting a dangerous precedent. Is Netflix doomed to be the dumping ground where Hollywood–rejected movies go to die?
The Cloverfield Paradox was a successful first experiment—but a company with lofting ambitions for so much of its content won’t have the success it desires if this experiment sets the pattern. In an industry where sustained publicity is so important to making a “good movie," it seems unlikely that Netflix and its competitors will be dropping again anytime soon.