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Netflix’s Last Great Delight, The gray mancost $200 million, a price to pay similar for which Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. An action spy thriller starring Ryan Gosling, Ana de Armas and Chris Evans, The gray man is realized by Joe and Anthony Russothe brothers behind some of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s most massive hits, including Avengers: Endgame. In other words, it was designed to succeed, and it succeeded. The film was almost immediately the service’s top film in 92 countries. It’s probably the kind of thing that Ted Sarandos dreams of.
Naturally, netflix wants more.
On Tuesday, less than a week after the film premiered on Netflix, the streamer announced that a sequel to The gray man was already in the works, as was a spin-off movie. These efforts, the company said, were part of what Netflix hoped would become “a major spy franchise” – a cinematic universe The Verge brazenly called “50 shades of gray men.”
Look, there’s never a good reason to complain about having more Ryan Gosling in your living room, but it’s ridiculous. The gray man that’s fine, but at best it’s the kind of movie you’re glad you downloaded onto your iPad before a six-hour flight. Plus, you’ve probably seen it before; there were just the words “Mission” “Impossible” or “Bourne” in the title. There can never be too many fun spy thrillers, but not all of them need to be part of a franchise. And if they do, could we please prioritize follow-up to The old guard and Atomic Blonde? Or at least make Charlize Theron and Gosling fight in a crossover event?
But, at the end of the day, it’s not really about the quality of the franchise, it’s about Netflix having a franchise at all. Now that the streamer is losing – or has lost – access to established cinematic universes like Marvel, DC, or Lucasfilm, they need more of themselves. Netflix is lose subscribers, and if it really wants to compete with Disney+ and HBO Max in the long run, it’s going to have to have the kind of properties those services have. “We want to have our own version of Star Wars or our own version of Harry Potter,” said Matthew Thunell, vice president of Netflix. told Reuters recently, “and we’re working really hard to build that.” Hence the cinematic universe of Brooding Gosling.
It’s not just Gos, of course. There is also a reality series inspired by squid gameand this series of Knives out movies that Rian Johnson does. game of thrones showrunners David Benioff and DB Weiss are said to be adapting The three-body problem, the first book in Liu Cixin’s science fiction trilogy. The list is lengthened increasingly. Will it all be bad to mediocre? No. Chances are some are pretty good. But building a franchise with a following of fans so dedicated they’ll keep paying $15 a month just to get access to it takes years. This is what my colleague Brian Barrett was talking about when he called Disney+ a “juggernaut” the day of its launch. Netflix might one day have that, but it also needs customers now if it hopes to be around long enough to build it.
Netflix isn’t the only one playing this game, of course. This strategy is also why Amazon is make a the Lord of the Rings To display. And there are hints of it in Apple TV+ adapting Isaac Asimov’s Foundation or have Steven Spielberg do it amazing stories. The difference is that video streaming isn’t Amazon’s or Apple’s only business. They would surely love to have their own cinematic universe, but they might not need it to stay afloat. Netflix does.