2016 has been a banner year for horror fans, both in theaters and on television. Looking back however, it’s also the year that Netflix embraced our favorite genre in a few very interesting and important ways for the marketplace. And, it should be noted, to great success.
There have always been horror movies on Netflix and there always will be. But 2016 saw the streaming service’s first aggressive move to acquire titles for exclusive distribution on their platform. No doubt spurred by new competition from Amazon and Shudder moving into the space and nabbing some high profile films like The Neon Demon and Rob Zombie’s 31 respectively, Netflix made their own moves to ensure they were not left in the dust.
The first film they pounced on was Mike Flanagan’s Hush (review), which was released on Netflix in April of this year. Netflix acquired Hush before it had premiered publicly, announcing the April release date the week of the film’s world premier at SXSW.
To any producers and filmmakers watching this could only have signaled a change in how Netflix played into the distribution market. In the past, Netflix only negotiated licenses with traditional horror distributors like Lionsgate or IFC, rarely, if ever, dealing directly with production companies.
Buying Hush was like an open invitation, and new distribution deals with upstart production houses like XYZ have emerged in 2016, resulting in the exclusive release of the sci-fi thriller ARQ, Chris Sparling’s latest horror outing, Mercy (pictured below), with even more horror titles on the way.
Following a similar pattern, Netflix announced, just prior to Halloween, that it would distribute Osgood Perkins’s I Am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House following that film’s premier at the Toronto International Film Festival. Had they acquired it prior to the screening? Likely.
2016 was also the year that Netflix took a chance on two young brothers and a project that had reportedly been turned down by every studio – a little show called “Stranger Things”.
I doubt Netflix could have predicted that “Stranger Things” would become the it-show of summer 2016. Released at the end of August and crammed elegantly with Easter eggs and 80’s nostalgia, it quickly became a cultural touch point, spawning more memes and fan theories than any other show in recent memory.
The “Stranger Things” soundtrack has even gone on to crash the billboard charts at No. 24 upon its debut, beat out only by Suicide Squad‘s OST.
On April 6, 2016, Netflix also announced they had bought the rights to adapt the Manga, Death Note, from Warner Bros. who had lost their nerve with the project. Adam Wingard (The Guest, Blair Witch) came attached, along with a $50 million budget, and on June 30, 2016, production on the film officially began in British Columbia, Canada.
I think with the Death Note deal particularly, Netflix sent a strong message to genre creators in 2016: “If our algorithms tell us there’s an appetite for a project, we won’t stick a creator in development hell, but get filmmakers making films.”
2016 is also the year that Netflix introduced the world to Charlier Brooker’s “Black Mirror”, the UK anthology series that explores the dark side of how media and technology shape our lives and cause us considerable hardship.
Prior to Netflix acquiring the rights to the show’s first two seasons, “Black Mirror” was virtually unavailable outside of the UK where it was produced. Proving once again that Netflix has taste, they moved on the show’s word of mouth, announcing that they would produce and premier a 3rd season of the show with Brooker at the helm and a host of new directors including 10 Cloverfield Lane‘s Dan Trachtenberg and Joe Wright among others.
And lastly, how can we forget Nic Mathieu’s Spectral, Legendary’s big budget, supernatural/sci-fi actioner about a special-ops team dispatched to fight supernatural beings. Yet another big horror acquisition nabbed by the service in 2016 and released world-wide the same, December 9.
Looking back on 2016, it seems clear that Netflix has made a considerable effort to not only produce prestige Emmy bait like “House of Cards” or “Orange is the New Black”, but be a destination for genre fans looking for high quality content as well. No surprise that horror has emerged as the way in for them.
Out of the park hits like “Stranger Things” should only bolster programming and acquisitions over the coming years and, I don’t know about you, but 2016 made me feel like every dollar I pay for Netflix is worth it.
Bring on 2017!