One factor is Netflix, argues writer-producer Ed Decter (There’s Something About Mary). The streamer has signed big names, including Adam Sandler, whom it booked in 2014 for a four-film deal reportedly worth $30 million to $40 million, adding four titles in 2017. His first effort for Netflix, 2015’s The Ridiculous 6, got zero percent on Rotten Tomatoes, and 2016’s The Do-Over hardly fared better, with 5 percent. Still, viewers spent more than 500 million hours watching his movies, according to Netflix (whose numbers are not verified by Nielsen).
The streamer is delivering a steady diet of comedies — specials, classic series and even Eddie Murphy’s comeback Dolemite Is My Name, out this fall — that have trained its audience to think small screen instead of big when looking for laughs. It has also joined other streamers in making the sort of highbrow or cutting-edge comedy that was formerly the domain of indie film (think Netflix’s series Russian Doll or Amazon’s Marvelous Mrs. Maisel). “That’s filling the hole,” says Decter.
But Netflix has also been helped by the majors’ retreat. The studios have backed away from comedies, just as they have mid-budget dramas, perceiving both as far harder to sell than tentpoles. And Disney’s dominance in theaters has made it harder for even high-profile comedies to find a franchise-free opening weekend. “[Companies like] Disney would rather spend $100 million to [market] a $200 million-plus film like Avengers and make $2 billion-plus,” says Decter — as opposed to making a lower-budget film with limited upside.
That has affected talent.