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Netflix's Adam Sandler Movies Could Be Big Wins Or Silent Flops


It's tough to imagine that Hollywood's movie machine could forever be changed by this guy, but it could happen.


ADAM SANDLER: (As Billy Madison) Shampoo is better, I go on first and clean the hair. Conditioner is better - I leave the hair silky and smooth.

Oh, really fool? Really?

SIEGEL: That's right, Netflix has announced a deal to make four movies with comedian Adam Sandler, exclusively for its streaming video service. Netflix is also coming to a theater near you and here to talk about what this means for the movie business is NPR TV critic Eric Deggans. Hi, Eric.


SIEGEL: Help me understand this - Adam Sandler is considered a faded star in the movies. It's been a while since he was the only lead a blockbuster film. Why does it matter that he's making movies with Netflix?

DEGGANS: Netflix says Sandler's films have grossed more than $3 billion, globally. And even though critics say that his last film, "Blended" only made about $48 million in the United States and made a $126 million worldwide. So Netflix has access to viewership data for subscribers and in its press release for this deal, it says that he's popular with them, too. And finally, I think people are forgetting that he's made some great serious movies like "Spanglish" and "Funny People" and "Punch Drunk Love." And if Netflix can be seen as a haven for talented stars to avoid the pressures of big movie openings and box office tallies, well, who knows what they might come up with?

SIEGEL: Well, Netflix also announced this week that it was making a sequel to the foreign-language action film "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," which is a breakout Chinese film. That would be shown in IMAX theaters the same time that it's on the streaming service. Does that mean that Netflix is trying to compete directly with movie theaters?

DEGGANS: Well, it certainly seems they're moving more aggressively in that direction. Now, for years we've seen Netflix more as a competitor for premium cable TV channels, like HBO and Showtime and they definitely are, but theaters are more vulnerable to competition from a service that can offer blockbuster movies streamed directly into your home. And movie studios insist on weeks or months between the release of a movie in theaters and the release of that same film in Blu-ray or on streaming services. So if you really like the new "Guardians Of The Galaxy" movie and you want to see it again right away, you gotta go to a theater. But there are already some independent movies that have been released on services like iTunes in theaters at the same time.

So what happens if Netflix is able to create this demand among audiences for films to debut on streaming video and in theaters at the same time? That's an interesting question.

SIEGEL: So it seems a lot of media companies might fear competition from Netflix. Is that fear there for a real reason or is it overstated?

DEGGANS: Well, you might want to ask a company like Blockbuster. (Laughter). You know, once upon a time, this company...

SIEGEL: If only I could.

DEGGANS: ...Yeah, exactly. Once upon a time, this company had stores across the country renting videos and DVDs to people who didn't want to buy them. But Netflix comes along with a service that allows people to get those DVDs mailed to their home and keep them as long as they want without racking up these high rental fees. And as more homes get access to broadband services you saw streaming video become more of an option and all of a sudden this idea of trudging over to a store to pick up movies becomes really outdated.

So Netflix's moves in movies could cater to that same on-demand attitude that people now have about TV, where they expect exactly the TV show they want, when they want, where they want. And that's something that so far, movie studios and theaters have trouble providing without Netflix or Amazon.

SIEGEL: On the other hand, critics have noted that Netflix essentially made a deal for a declining movie star and a gimmicky action movie, both of which were a lot more popular quite a few years ago. Does that really add up to a challenge to the movie system?

DEGGANS: So far, Netflix has succeeded by betting on talent that was looking for new challenges or might be undervalued by Hollywood. So the service also cut a deal to produce a talk show with Chelsea Handler after her talk show on E ended with some declining ratings so in some ways, this Sandler deal kind of feels like an attempt to create a more populist original content for Netflix.

Now, they offer these talents and producers way more creative freedom and less pressure for success because the service almost never tells you how many people watch individual programs. So even if they made four really stinky Adam Sandler films that nobody watches, the public may never know just how badly they bombed. Sounds like a win-win to me.

SIEGEL: OK Eric, thanks a lot.

DEGGANS: Thanks for having me.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Eric Deggans on Netflix's latest deals to take on the movie industry. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.