Netflix will release more movies in 2018 than most major film studios combined

It’s only the beginning.
It’s only the beginning.
Image: Netflix/Scott Garfield
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Netflix has released at least 34 original movies so far in 2017. It plans to release 80 next year, according to chief content officer Ted Sarandos.

That’s more titles than most movie studios release in a year. Disney—which also owns Pixar, Marvel Studios, and Lucasfilm—released 13 movies in the US in 2016; Time Warner’s Warner Bros., New Line, Fine Line, Warner Independent, and Picturehouse studios released a combined 23 films; and Sony, which released the most, put out 38 movies throughout its studio portfolio last year, according to Box Office Mojo data—less than half of what Netflix is proposing. (Box Office Mojo tracks theatrical releases.)

In fact, Netflix is releasing more films that all those major studios—combined.

It’s true output at major US movie studios has slowed since the so-called “golden age of Hollywood.” In the 1920s through to the 1940s, before the rise of TV, it wasn’t uncommon for a studio’s feature release slate to tally in the fifties or even the hundreds, as Slate pointed out. But with so much competition from TV and streaming, and rising ticket prices, US studios today rely on fewer, bigger releases. Countries like India far outpace the US in terms of feature-film production, though the US still leads in box-office size.

Netflix is padding its already massive content budget to support the ambitious movie-release schedule it has planned. It expects to spend between $7-8 billion on content overall next year, up from $6 billion in 2017, Netflix’s chief financial officer David Wells said on yesterday’s earnings call.

The Netflix movies coming in 2018 will range from $1 million Sundance buys, Sarandos said on the call, to the kind of large-scale productions that would typically get box-office runs. And Netflix has more coming; Martin Scorsese’s next mobster film, The Irishman, is lined up for 2019.

The company is closing out 2017 with its biggest film ever, setting the stage for the aggressive film push to follow. David Ayer’s Bright, a sci-fi thriller starring Will Smith, reportedly cost about $90 million to acquire, including a $45 million production budget. This year, the streaming service also released a movie with Brad Pitt, War Machine, and two films that competed at the Cannes Film Festival, Okja and The Meyerowitz Stories.

Sarandos said some of Netflix recent releases showed box-office potential. “There are three different films released this quarter, that if viewing was buying a movie ticket, would be of sizable successes in Death Note, Naked, and To the Bone,” he said.

But those movies didn’t play in theaters. Therein lies the difference between Netflix and other studios. Its release schedule isn’t tied to the fickle theatrical market, which gives it more room to experiment. And while Netflix does spend a sizable amount on marketing—$991 million overall in 2016—its films don’t have the same big-budget rollout plans as many major theatrical releases.