Netflix's Will Smith-starring movie Bright was one of the most critically disliked movies of last year, but it still did numbers. Nielsen estimated that 11 million viewers watched the fantasy cop film on its opening weekend, and although Netflix didn't confirm that total, Bright did do well enough for the streaming service to move forward with a sequel. Bright has also been successful enough for Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings to start talking spicy.
Hastings was on a Monday earnings call to discuss the revenue growth that Netflix experienced over last year's fourth quarter. Bright came up and he decided to take a shot at its critics. “The critics are pretty disconnected from the mass appeal,” said Hastings, according to The Wrap, “considering we’re moving internationally at this point, and most of those critical reviews are English language and just U.S.”
Sarandos concurred and got more specific with his jabs. “Every internal measurement says it’s one of our most-watched pieces of original content — meaning TV show or film — that we’ve ever had," Sarandos said, according to Entertainment Weekly. "If you look at the [audience-generated] reviews on Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb, you see positive experiences with that film. Critics are an important part of the artistic process but they’re pretty disconnected from the commercial prospects of a film. The way we look at it is [that] people are watching this movie and loving it and that is the measure of success. If critics get behind it or don’t, that’s a select group of social media influencers talking to a select audience.”
The comments seem to conflate fact with hubris, though. For one, it's been known for years that critical consensus doesn't necessarily correlate with commercial appeal; Blade Runner 2049 popped up on many year-end lists but underperformed in the box office. Also, the widespread panning didn't take aim at Bright's commercial appeal. Critics specifically took issue with its dumb, one-dimensional allegory for race relations, loud but weak action scenes, and the excessive plot holes. And I'm sure those reviewers realize people do like bad things.
Still, Netflix will cook on. Bright is set to be the world's first blockbuster streaming franchise.