Netflix’s new superheroes? Can it become the next Marvel? | Thomas Frank

On Friday the internet was turned upside down by the news that Netflix had splashed out $90m to acquire Will Smith’s half-formed sci-fi series Bright. Did I mention that this deal means the “Internet…

On Friday the internet was turned upside down by the news that Netflix had splashed out $90m to acquire Will Smith’s half-formed sci-fi series Bright. Did I mention that this deal means the “Internet of Fads” is now licensed to Netflix? At least they have the support of Dr Who, and it’s not that the current show is lame, but I still think Alex Fletcher’s plot line sucks.

This isn’t the first time Netflix has jumped on a fad, or tried to do so. For their eighth birthday last year, they commissioned a sequel to their 1996 horror A Series of Unfortunate Events, with Neil Patrick Harris playing Count Olaf, the man who sucks the life out of poor children.

Netflix is working on a superhero show that apes The Walking Dead. At the time the service refused to say if it was a relaunch of Marvel’s shows, or if they were preparing to adopt the name that movies fans reserve for movies that are grrrreat but are looking for more explosive action. “We wanted to find the next generation of comic book heroes, and we wanted to find the next big writer,” said their chief content officer Ted Sarandos.

Can the show – to be overseen by The Walking Dead showrunner Scott Gimple – be good enough to become a hit at the box office? If it is, Netflix could find itself on track to offer five superhero series within the next decade. If you think I’m just off my rocker – remember that Netflix is not totally outside of mainstream pop culture – here’s the closest comparison available. Think about it, superheroes who rule the world are fronted by people who feel like the three Zs: popular, expensive and young. Who says Netflix is only for millennials?

Netflix owns the rights to sell hit movies to everyone, even major players in the film industry

Part of the thinking behind this new superhero space is that there are not enough pure blockbusters on the big screen. Apart from the eternally influential Guardians of the Galaxy series, this past summer there wasn’t much to see.

What about the Marvel movies, or the Harry Potter spin-offs? Disney will be in charge of the Marvel universe from next year, so perhaps there will be two flicks to be had a year. It will be like a remakes of The Princess Bride (!) and The Wizard of Oz in one.

But Marvel, for all its mojo, will only write one or two at a time. They want the same success rate for their big movies as their smaller ones – one every two or three years, or fewer. By that standard, standalone superhero films which require 40 hours to make are a risk, and so it’s little wonder Netflix was excited about Smith.

His movies are huge, and his versatility suggests he can keep providing quality work across multiple genres. He can play as many different characters as Netflix need them to be, and might even be persuaded to try directors’ blockbusters that didn’t work when he was behind the camera.

Other Marvel faves like Chadwick Boseman and Melissa Benoist will feel more comfortable working on Netflix, which is to say the same as the BBC, which still covers them. Netflix owns the rights to sell their big hits to everyone – even major players in the film industry.

The latest Netflix experiments include Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, which not only cancelled its commercial rivals (guilty of ad-supported TV) but might even spark a trend in bingeing too. That would be good news for TV fans who can’t wait to see how much more weight the weeper could recover for the fourth time. However, this would also be bad news for all those who love a three-hour drama without a gratuitous salty fart moment. Netflix’s marketing strategy is pulling its own punches, by the way. I blame them.

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