Netflix Enters the Big Leagues with $50 Million Monster Movie

If the last decade has taught us anything, it’s not to underestimated Netflix, the online instant streaming service that almost singlehandedly destroyed the brick-and-mortar movie rental industry, changed the way audiences consumed motion pictures altogether, and eventually started producing award-winning TV shows like House of Cards and Orange is the New Black.

At this point, the company seems capable of doing just about anything it sets its mind to, which is why we should all start paying close attention to their feature film department. After a modest early offering of low-budget independent dramas (Beasts of No Nation), Adam Sandler Comedies (The Ridiculous Six) and what sounds an awful lot like a generic straight-to-video action sequel (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The Green Legend), Netflix has decided to spend serious money on the upcoming Okja, a monster movie from acclaimed filmmaker Bong Joon-ho (Snowpiercer).

Deadline reports that Netflix will team up with Brad Pitt’s production company, Plan B, to produce the $50 million dollar film. Bong Joon-ho also says that Netflix is giving him “complete creative freedom” on the project, a request that usually isn’t granted to filmmakers on big budget projects.

Granted, $50 million might not seem like a lot compared to larger summer blockbusters out there (some of which cost $200 million or more), but it’s not a low-budget production by any stretch of the imagination. These days $50 million is a great deal of money for any studio to spend on a motion picture without a built in fan base, so giving the director creative control over that investment is either an enormous vote of confidence in Bong Joon-ho, an enormous gamble, or (more likely) both.

 Variety reports that Okja is about a monster, but Bong Joon-ho doesn’t describe it like a horror movie. “It is a bulky animal, but with a mild and kind spirit. The film is about a warm friendship between a country girl and a brute with stories. […] To me, the crazy world surrounding Okja and the girl looks more like a monster. I want to depict the two characters’ bizarre journey and adventure across the tough world in an original fashion.”

Okja will co-star Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler), Tilda Swinton (Snowpiercer), Paul Dano (There Will Be Blood), Bill Nighy (Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End) and Kelly MacDonald (Boardwalk Empire). The film is expected to being shooting next year and premiere in 2017.

Will Netflix’s investment pay off? American theater chains aren’t happy with the instant streaming service’s attempts to horn in on their business, but plans to release Okja in the increasingly lucrative Asian markets might make any stateside protests moot. If Okja is a success, the whole paradigm could shift once again, and Netflix could once again emerge victorious.

Photo: The Weinstein Company

William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and watch him on the weekly YouTube series Most Craved and What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.