As has been argued on this site before, Netflix is the best streaming service going. The massive selection, terrific app, offline mode, and various other features simply make it the most powerful and appealing option in an increasingly crowded category of entertainment platforms.
Given this superiority, as well as the fact that it was effectively first to market among the major players, it’s no wonder Netflix has become the wildly popular juggernaut it is today. It’s an incredible success story, and one that at this point shows clear potential to disrupt film and television as we know them. Where Netflix has had some degree of trouble, however, is on the studio side of things, where it’s developing its own content.
That doesn’t mean there haven’t been successes. In fact, Netflix is known for them. Programs like House Of Cards and Stranger Things are Netflix originals, as are Marvel series like Daredevil, Luke Cage, and Jessica Jones (even though these have lately fallen somewhat out of favor. There have also been popular original comedy series like the animated Big Mouth or Friends From College, to say nothing of recorded specials by major comedians. For each one of these hits, however, there seems to be a dozen or more flops. This, essentially, is Netflix’s gamble. The service has gained something of a reputation for throwing money at a range of projects with the hopes that one or two at a time will pan out.
This has worked well for original TV shows, but films, until 2018, were a different story. From forgettable indies to big-money flops starring the likes of Adam Sandler and Will Smith, Netflix just had trouble really making an impact with an original film. And in fact, even 2018 brought its share of flops in this category, despite some involvement from well-known actors. However, this was also the year that Netflix found some success on the film front. Bird Box, despite a lukewarm critical reception, was something of a sensation, and the Coen brothers’ The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs earned a great deal of critical acclaim.
The real revelation, however, may prove to be Roma, a black-and-white, Spanish-language film by the brilliant director Alfonso Cuaron that earned an almost universally positive reception from critics. It’s a difficult film for which to measure success, because a limited cinematic release held back its box office numbers (Wikipedia lists only a $3.3 million gross on a $15 million budget), and a black-and-white drama isn’t the typical draw on the Netflix homepage. However, Roma has become something of an award season sensation anyway. At this stage, the odds for the upcoming Oscars indicate that Roma is the favorite for Best Picture, which is widely viewed as the biggest honor in the cinematic world, for a film.
Whether or not it can win remains to be seen. Roma has not done particularly well at the lesser award shows, and there’s stiff competition – from Green Book, Bohemian Rhapsody, and possibly dark horse candidates like Black Panther or The Favourite. However, if it does win it will mark the crossing of a new frontier for Netflix. It won’t necessarily be the first major triumph from a streaming service at the award shows, given that Amazon has actually had remarkable success producing and distributing films already. But a Best Picture win will still put Netflix on top of the world of film in a way it hasn’t come close to before.