Universal bought the distribution rights to Ben Young's Extinction - the sci-fi thriller starring Michael Peña and Lizzy Caplan - almost a year ago to the day. In the Hounds of Love director's strange-sounding movie, the planet is invaded by an alien force, and a father (Peña) is forced to fight for his family's survival. Eric Heisserer (Arrival) co-wrote the screenplay for Extinction, which was originally set to be released by the studio last month.
Well, Extinction strangely disappeared from the schedule in November, and now Netflix has bought the rights to put the movie out on their streaming platform. What's most fascinating about this story is the trend that's starting to form within Netflix's distribution plan, who seem to have added "bailing studios out more than Bush did the banks" to their 2018 strategy. The most recent example of this is Cloverfield Paradox, which was snatched up and dropped via a surprise release on the world's head last weekend following the Super Bowl (to fairly terrible reviews).
This move follows the streaming service's purchase of Annihilation's worldwide release rights, after a dispute between the studio and producers over the quality of the movie (Universal apparently believes it's too obtuse and heady, while the producers are proud of Alex Garland's cerebral sci-fi picture). To be fair, Annihilation is getting rave early reviews from critics, so this isn't necessarily just a sign of "Netflix buys up the junkers on each lot", but is instead filling out their slate with the properties other entertainment factories in the industry no longer want. It's a rather shrewd move on the subscription platform's part, which some (like our own James Emanuel Shapiro) raise their eyebrows at, saying:
"One point I’d love to impress upon readers is that the problems presented by the studio theatrical model are actually opportunities for Netflix. Dwindling theatrical attendance, lack of non-franchise content, lack of mid-range budget films for adults, movies from diverse voices and cultures, and most importantly, movies that play great to audiences but not to critics are all problems that Netflix can flip to empower where Netflix is and where they want to go.
So, when studios lean on Netflix to bail them out of what they see as a bad movie, they make Netflix stronger in the present and future. Netflix is trying to become a full-fledged studio with high concept films featuring internationally known talent. The faster they can have that type of content, the faster they establish themselves as leaders in an industry that is at a crossroads if theatrical trends of downwards attendance continue. The more consumer behavior shifts to watching content (both TV and film) on streaming platforms vs. the theater, the faster the studios diminish the theatrical model they rely on."
Again, it's tough to say if Extinction completely fits with James' "bad movie" theory, yet it's certainly still considered "undesirable" by Universal for reasons not fully revealed. On one hand, Young's a talented filmmaker (as anyone who saw Hounds of Love can attest to), so seeing his movie actually find a home with a built-in audience is undeniably positive. On the other, it's all part of this power play Netflix is making that's going to continue as distribution evolves over time. In the near future, it's not hard to imagine we'll consume content based almost entirely on audience interaction, quality of the finished product not so much damned, but a distant second concern as a movie's success is measured in coveted (mostly secret) subscription data, instead of tangible box office dollars.