For a few wonderful hours, The Cloverfield Paradox was going to be one of the coolest movies of the year.
And then people watched it.
During the Super Bowl last night (Feb. 4), Netflix aired a surprise trailer for its latest film, The Cloverfield Paradox—the third entry in the mysterious Cloverfield sci-fi franchise. The oft-delayed film was believed to be a Paramount Pictures release, so it was to the shock of many that the film had at some point been passed off to Netflix, and that the streaming service was planning to release it immediately around the world right after the big game ended.
Such a release strategy was totally unheard of. Netflix was not only announcing that it, and not Paramount, would be releasing The Cloverfield Paradox, but it was also putting out the film with zero marketing behind it save for the one Super Bowl ad. The announcement took social media by storm, as movie fans and critics alike fevered in anticipation of this ultra-buzzy sci-fi film.
Yet this story does not have a happy ending. As promised, Netflix released The Cloverfield Paradox immediately after the game, and since then reviews have trickled in slowly. They’re unanimously bad.
The Hollywood Reporter called it “a trainwreck of a sci-fi flick.” The Guardian called it “an unholy mess.” One common theme in the reviews was that The Cloverfield Paradox felt very much like a banal made-for-TV movie. And while that might not be what Paramount envisioned for it, that’s ultimately what it became.
Don’t expect Netflix to care about any of that.
A recent conversation between executives at Paramount Pictures and Netflix probably went something like this:
Paramount: “Hey, so we made this Cloverfield movie that people were excited about but you see the thing is that—”
Netflix: “Yes. Give it to us.”
Paramount: “But I didn’t even tell you what—”
Netflix: “Give. We take.”
Paramount: “What I was going to say was, there’s a lot of great talent involved in this but our testing shows that critics probably won’t like it very much and we might have trouble selling tickets.”
Netflix: “We don’t care. Did you see Bright? Give us all your bad movies.”
Bright—Netflix’s sci-fi fantasy drama about a world in which humans and mythical creatures co-exist—has been used as a case study in how much Netflix doesn’t care about the critical consensus as long as the audience responds. Despite getting panned by critics, Bright became the streaming service’s most-watched original ever. Netflix brass argued that critics were thus out of touch with fans (which is often true, but it’s also not a critic’s job to be in touch with a film’s commercial appeal).
And so Paramount’s trash is Netflix’s treasure. Paramount clearly didn’t think The Cloverfield Paradox would make money for the studio, but Netflix, which is not similarly beholden to ticket sales, had no such concerns. The streaming service saw an opportunity to turn a Hollywood dud into the must-see entertainment event of 2018—a viral marketing campaign disguised as a bad two-hour movie.
Hollywood studios’ aversion to risk is quickly become a perfect match for Netflix’s gleeful immunity to it. Paramount dumped the international rights to another buzzy sci-fi film, Annihilation, onto Netflix last month (it will still be released in theaters in the US and China, perhaps a sign the studio isn’t quite as worried about it as The Cloverfield Paradox) in what could soon become a very popular release strategy. Make a movie you’re afraid won’t sell tickets? Netflix and its 120 million subscribers will be happy to have it.