The Roald Dahl Universe will now belong to Netflix

Gene Wilder plays Willy Wonka, one of Roald Dahl’s most famous characters.
Gene Wilder plays Willy Wonka, one of Roald Dahl’s most famous characters.
Image: Paramount Pictures
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Netflix unveiled its latest acquisition in a shiny gold candy wrapper on Sept. 22 when it announced it has purchased the rights to British-Norwegian author Roald Dahl’s catalog.

What the Netflix-Dahl deal involves

The deal—which is the streaming giant’s most significant content acquisition to date—means the company will now be able to pursue adaptations of Dahl classics such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Witches, and James and the Giant Peach. Dahl’s books have sold more than 250 million copies worldwide—this is as close to a sure thing as it gets.

Netflix did not disclose how much it paid for Dahl’s works, but a previous licensing agreement with the author was worth a reported $1 billion. Dahl’s estate said some proceeds from the sale would be used to set up a charitable trust focused on children’s health, anti-hate, and anti-racism. The company apologized last year for antisemitic comments previously made by the children’s author, who died in 1990.

Netflix is stepping up its expenditure on content as it seeks to remain competitive against rivals Amazon Prime and Disney+.

Planned projects include Matilda and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

The acquisition expands upon a previous licensing agreement the streaming company struck in 2018 to produce a number of animated series based on the author’s works. Netflix has been working on The Twits and a show based on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

While none of these Dahl-inspired projects are complete yet, the company said in its Sept. 22 statement that Oscar-winning filmmaker Taika Waititi is hard at work on the Charlie series, and that it is collaborating with Sony and Working Title on an adaptation of Matilda The Musical.

A number of Dahl’s books have previously been made into movies and there are two currently in production, including Netflix’s Matilda adaptation and an origin tale of young Willy Wonka starring Timothée Chalamet, which is being made by Warner Brothers. With this deal Netflix will become the “underlying” rights holder for such projects, according to The Financial Times, although book publishers will hold onto the rights they’ve acquired.

Netflix envisions a “unique universe” for viewers

In its announcement, Netflix and the Roald Dahl Story Company outlined a vision that expands well beyond films and television. With the deal, they hope to create a “unique universe” that will extend to publishing, gaming, live theater, and more.

A Netflix spokesperson told Quartz in May that it’s looking into “interactive entertainment” including video games as part of a push to offer a wider variety of programming. With the Dahl acquisition one can easily imagine Netflix profiting from a whole host of products and merchandise inspired by the author’s works.

The appeal of Dahl’s stories to young audiences may be a driver for Netflix as well. While the streaming company still counts more subscribers than its main competitors, Disney Plus has grown rapidly in its first two years, and 44% of its viewership is under the age of 17. Netflix acquired the rights to the children’s fantasy series Redwall in February, and hasn’t been shy about seeking to best its competitor in family animation offerings.