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2016: The Year Netflix Embraced Horror!

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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.

Schwinners and Losers: The cast of Netflix's

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!



  • Jailton Rocha

    “Stranger Things” and “Hush” are very good. But “I Am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House” is very, very, very, very, very bad. Just awful. It’s one hour and half of your life looking to nothing, because nothing happens in this movie… Why Netflix put money on this?

  • Matt Graupman

    I can agree that Netflix has done a decent job with their original content and distribution deals (“Hush” in particular is spectacular), but their library of horror titles is a slap in the face to any horror fan. For every great film (“Honeymoon,” “The Pact,” “Preservation,” etc.) there are at least a dozen no-budget, direct-to-video turds. Sure, there are a lot of bad horror movies out there but Netflix seems to specialize in acquiring a specific brand of poorly-acted, sub-par genre fare while allowing the good stuff to come and go in a flash. Of course, part of this is economic (crappy movies are less expensive to acquire) and part of it is genre-specific (horror fans seem to watch anything scary, good or bad). Also, I can’t stand how they have the awful sequels in a franchise without streaming the original films. That said, I do hope this year signals a turnaround for horror on Netflix.

  • Josh Blitzenbrox Myers

    Funny. In October (the month that horror fans tend to binge like frat boys on st pattys day) there was nothing worthwhile that was horror related on Netflix. Zero. Nada. Kinda felt like a huge middle finger to fans in my opinion

  • nicholasmwalker

    can’t disagree more with this article. there have been a few good horror releases this year… read that “FEW”, and netflix’s horror selection is bad. really bad. again it has some good selections but as a percentage i would say there are about 5% good horror films to 95% bad ones. stranger things was great though… got to give them that

  • Troy Clavell

    He makes good points but also fails to mention that Nflix’s horror selection overall is currently the worst it has been in years. Lots of the films it used to have moved to Hulu, Amazon, etc.

    • Evan3

      All true. But the original content is promising. Plus, just get on their DVD plan and you have a virtually limitless library.

      • Christopher Webster

        So easy to forget they still do that. And yeah, I was writing more about their exclusive acquisitions and original programming than their overall catalog. 2016 was the first year they devoted serious dollars to horror.

        • Evan3

          I wish it would be promoted more often. Streaming still isn’t as high quality as physical media and I personally get more of a kick from holding something in my mitts. But in general, there are so many films that will likely never be digitized and we miss out on special features. I am always worried that eventually, Netflix will kick the DVD service to the curb. This holiday, definitely consider buying it. It really expands the selections (hell, I’m about to get Attack Girls Swim Team vs. The Undead… how else would I find this?!).

      • Troy Clavell

        I really should get back the DVD portion of Netflix (my family has had NF since ’05… I still use my dads account BTW). Cuz I am getting really tired of missing out on shit not streaming on The Basic Three (NF, Hulu, Amazon).

  • Evan3

    Black Mirror alone makes Netflix a champion in my book. I can’t wait to start streaming Penny Dreadful.

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