Critics truly hated Netflix’s The Cloverfield Paradox. IndieWire called it a “insufferably boring” and “an unmitigated disaster.” The Guardian said it was “an unholy mess.”
Just 18% of critics on Rotten Tomatoes gave it a positive review—and none of them were among the site’s top critics. Contrary to other Netflix movies like Bright where fans vehemently disagreed with reviewers, audiences didn’t even care for it. Many were lukewarm—with half on Rotten Tomatoes saying they enjoyed it.
But they still tuned in. Five million people watched during an average minute in the first seven days the show was available, audience-measurement firm Nielsen found. Three million people watched on average in the first three days of the Sunday night release. By comparison, Bright, which cost Netflix more to produce and had a larger rollout, averaged 11 million viewers a minute in its first three days, which started on a Friday night.
Netflix had pretty much no marketing for The Cloverfield Paradox other than a Super Bowl commercial, in which it announced the movie’s existence on Netflix and that it would hit the service immediately after the game ended. The price of a 30-second ad in this year’s game was estimated at $5 million—that’s about $1 per viewer for a movie that otherwise could have been a total waste of time and money. The platform itself has been pushing the film heavily to its users—it’s the first thing some people see when they sign onto the service.
With subscription services like Netflix, there’s little downside in pressing play on a title you know nothing about. Worse comes to worse, you stop it midway through. The cost is baked into the platform, unlike with theatrical releases where audiences have real decisions to make on what is worth their hard-earned dollars.
Had Paramount, the studio that made the movie along with J.J. Abrams’s Bad Robot Productions, released it in theaters as planned, it could have been a trainwreck. Netflix reportedly acquired the project from the studio for $50 million. And its reward, in spite of the negative critical consensus, was lots of buzz and attention to establish it as a home for movies—even if they’re not all winners.