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American films

Bird Box has record opening for a film on Netflix, but why? Is it Sandra Bullock, the theme or the memes?

  • Post-apocalyptic survival story has best ever opening week, says streaming platform, prompting scepticism in some quarters given reviews were lukewarm
  • Film does have a compelling story and a strong cast, including John Malkovich, Trevante Rhodes, Sarah Paulson and Danielle Macdonald
PUBLISHED : Monday, 31 December, 2018, 5:11pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 January, 2019, 8:26pm

So . . . Bird Box. If you’ve seen it, you’re aware of the multitudes that brief statement contains. If you haven’t, let us shed some light: Bird Box is the Netflix movie that has taken over social media via memes about its blindfolded characters who attempt to navigate a post-apocalyptic world where simply opening your eyes outdoors somehow drives you into a suicidal state.

It has earned comparisons to A Quiet Place, another recent thriller that features an unfortunately timed pregnancy and parents protecting two young children, but whose horror deals with sound instead of sight.

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It made someone refer to star Sandra Bullock as the “lady from Bird Box”, causing everyone who would instead refer to her as the lady from Speed (and, you know, everything else) to feel like a fossil.

Finally, it is the movie Netflix said on Friday had been watched by about 45 million accounts since its December 21 debut – the best first seven days for a film released on the platform.

This assertion attracted some disapproval from those familiar with Netflix’s general behaviour in reporting. The company rarely reveals viewership statistics for its content and is not independently monitored by a third party, such as Nielsen (though the measurement company has attempted to do so in the past). Nobody else can verify Netflix’s claims, nor do they know exactly what “watched” means in this context.

As Business Insider pointed out, it doesn’t necessarily mean all those accounts wound up finishing Bird Box.

A Netflix representative clarified on Saturday that the service only counted views that had surpassed 70 per cent of the total run time, including credits. Each account was only counted once.

It is worth wondering whether such statistics can influence the filmmaker’s career, given that they can’t be backed up. As Hollywood Reporter film editor Rebecca Keegan asked on Twitter, will this data help director Susanne Bier book future projects? Will traditional studios trust and value it?

In some cases, but certainly not all, a question about the film’s merit seems to underlie the scepticism: why was Bird Box, which received lukewarm reviews, the Netflix film to break such a record? We’ll leave the quality assessment up to you, but we do have some theories as to what may have attracted viewers.

First, the premise: It’s been a solid few years for horror films, and the idea of invisible creatures causing unpredictable behaviour seems promising.

Second, everyone loves to root for Bullock, who plays Malorie, a cynical pregnant woman who evolves into a fierce mother and must, among other things, navigate a turbulent river while blindfolded. The title comes from the box of birds she and her young children bring onto their boat. (The animals can sense when the evil creatures are close.)

Third, a hotchpotch of talented actors fill out the cast: John Malkovich, Sarah Paulson, Tom Hollander, Lil Rel Howery, BD Wong, Danielle Macdonald, Jacki Weaver and Trevante Rhodes.

Or maybe it was all the jokes and memes filling the internet – they are good publicity, after all.