As it happens, the news about Netflix doing a sequel to “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and doing a break-through same-day streaming/movie theater release is far from the only bombshell Netflix is lobbing this month. The “Tiger” project alone has already ruffled movie industry feathers — major chains have instantly decided to blackball the film, preventing it from being screened on their theaters. Doing a streaming video sequel to a property that grossed more than $200 million globally in its theatrical run was already a major provocation to traditional movie industry, but now Netflix has another curve ball.
It has inked an unprecedented four-film package deal with Adam Sandler, arguably the biggest comedy star of late 1990s.
Back in 1995-2000, Sandler had an amazing run of massive blockbusters, from “Billy Madison” and “Happy Gilmore” to “Wedding Singer” and “The Waterboy.” These movies essentially defined 1990s summer comedies and had a big impact on popular culture, reviving Drew Barrymore’s career, among other things.
Sandler’s career has skidded recently, with misfires like “Jack & Jill” and “Grown Ups 2,” but he still retains the mantel of one of the genuine Hollywood movie icons. Doing a large package deal like this with a streaming video company is a major turning point in the entertainment industry.
It’s hard to not see this move as Netflix deliberately signaling its intent to tread on movie industry turf. The four-series deal with Marvel focusing on characters in the Daredevil universe was another sign of the rapid expansion of Netflix’s ambitions. The DreamWorks animation package deal was another.
Major animation licenses, super hero properties, historical dramas like Marco Polo, a sci-fi epic from Wachowski brothers, a huge sequel to an action fantasy adventure, a package deal with a major comedy talent of recent past… suddenly Netflix is looking a lot like a major movie studio.
In particular, these moves carry an eerie echo of the Disney/Buena Vista playbook from 1980s and 1990s. Back then, Disney found box office gold by signing aging comedy stars like Bette Midler; then they moved into fantasy/sci-fi genre with flicks like “Splash” and “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids,” which eventually led into a deep dive to superhero and sci-fi megafranchises with Marvel and Star Wars acquisitions.
The new Netflix content strategy seems a lot like compressing Disney’s strategic evolution from a few decades into a few years. And it could change how the entertainment industry operates.