One bemusing bit of trivia out of yesterday’s weekly Netflix ratings updates was the continued strength of The Unforgivable. The under-the-radar remake of a 2009 British miniseries (titled Unforgiven) debuted on Netflix on December 10 and nabbed 85 million hours in the first weekend. It has, since then earned a total of 186.9 million hours, becoming Netflix’s ninth-most watched movie ever.
Yes, it’s noteworthy that Netflix has scored two of its ten biggest original English-language films in just the last six weeks, with Don’t Look Up (111 million hours in the first three days) likely to join The Unforgivable and Red Notice. Also, this gives Sandra Bullock two films in the top-ten, alongside the 2018 sleeper smash Birdbox, making her Netflix’s biggest movie star.
Bird Box (a post-apocalyptic drama whereby Earth has been decimated by beings that can compel you to kill yourself if you look at them) is currently the second-most watched Netflix original with 282 million hours in the first 28 days. The Unforgivable (a grim and morose drama about a woman coping with the world after serving a 20-year prison sentence) sits between Army of the Dead (186.5 million) and Enola Holmes (which Legendary sold to Netflix due to Covid – 189 million) and will surely end up between 6 Underground (207 million) and Extraction (231 million) by that 28-day mark.
Give or take where Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence’s Don’t Look Up ends up, Bullock will have two movies in Netflix’s top seven. The only thing Bird Box and The Unforgivable have in common is Sandra Bullock, who reasserted herself as a butts-in-seats theatrical draw right before audiences stopped showing up for star vehicles and studio programmers.
Beyond just her 90’s and early-2000’s hits (While You Were Sleeping, Hope Floats, Miss Congeniality etc.) her own opening weekend record six times almost in a row between 2007 and 2015. She opened Premonition ($17 million in 2007), The Proposal ($33 million in 2009), The Blind Side ($34 million in 2009), The Heat ($39 million in 2013), Gravity ($55 million in 2013) and Minions ($115 million in 2015) almost back-to-back, with All About Steve in 2009 and the Oscar-nominated Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close in 2011 breaking up the hot streak.
Like Will Smith in his 2002-2008 heyday, Bullock pulled big-and-leggy grosses from a rom-com ($315 million worldwide), an action comedy ($230 million), an inspirational true-life sports drama ($306 million), a sci-fi spectacular ($724 million where she was the only character onscreen for most of the movie), a grim marital strife melodrama ($84 million) and an animated prequel ($1.16 billion).
Nobody showed up for the frighteningly prescient Our Brand is Crisis ($8.6 million) in late 2015, but they did in summer 2018 for the star-studded Ocean’s 8 (a $40 million debut and a $297 million worldwide gross on a $70 million budget. And now, her first two Netflix movies (which had little commercial value beyond her presence) are two of the biggest Netflix originals ever.
Bird Box broke out in non-Covid times (with a subscriber base of 146.5 million versus 216 million today) amid a flourishing year-end theatrical marketplace. Audiences showed up, relatively speaking, to the likes of Second Act, The Mule, Bumblebee, Mary Poppins Returns and Aquaman and still made the choice to watch the survival story and saturate Twitter with Bird Box memes.
Even with a decent ensemble (Sarah Paulson, BD Wong and John Malkovich among others), Bullock is the only “name” in the cast. The Unforgivable is the kind of unglamorous and real-world drama that movie stars tend to make to step outside of their comfort zone and show off their thespian skills. The only reason it didn’t vanish is because of its face-on-the-poster star.
That Sandra Bullock remains a face-on-the-poster draw is beyond obvious, as her long-running “everybody likes her” popularity with audiences of all ages has gone unchallenged since Speed in summer 1994. Yes, that her stardom often comes as a surprise is partially because most of her biggest hits were (often quite good) rom-coms and “chick flicks” as opposed to action movies or prestige melodramas.
It again shows how Netflix has swiped the audience for “just a movie” star vehicles from theatrical distributors. The passive notion of Netflix subscribers sitting on the couch and sampling a grimdark crime drama like The Unforgivable at the click of a button shows how not requiring a car or a movie ticket can turn theatrical risks into streaming hits.
Unlike Red Notice, Don’t Look Up, or even Extraction or Hubie’s Halloween, Bullock’s two films were both neither sold as big-deal event films, multi-star ensemble pieces or cast-to-type star vehicles. When folks think Bullock, they don’t generally think post-apocalyptic thrillers or action-lite dramas post-prison life. Yet both films, of, uh, varying quality (I think The Unforgivable is fine until it turns into a perils-of-Pauline thriller in the final reel) shattered Netflix viewer milestones almost entirely because she was in them.
She is arguably Netflix’s biggest movie star, just as she was among Hollywood’s biggest stars just before the entertainment universe changed in 2015/2016. Can that current streaming-specific popularity still port over to butts-in-seats bankability? Paramount’s The Lost City is a “rip-off, don’t remake” riff on Romancing the Stone, will test exactly that.
Opening March 25, 2022, it stars Bullock as a romance novelist who gets caught up in an adventure alongside Channing Tatum as her cover model. The star-driven, high-concept original would be a surefire hit in a non-streaming world. The big question is whether the even 15% of the global audience pushing play on the latest Bullock Netflix flick will be willing to drive to a theater and buy a ticket to her theatrical vehicle too.
If Bullock can power this “cast to type” Hollywood star vehicle toward theatrical profitability, then she may join Leonardo DiCaprio (again) as one of the last real movie stars in Hollywood. Otherwise, I’m sure it’ll do huge streaming figures (relatively speaking) on Paramount+.