Netflix isn’t an entertainment company, it’s a tech company that just happens to be in the movie business. So they do things a tech company would do, like categorize every movie and TV show imaginable into 76,897 micro-genres. Everything from “Dinosaur TV Documentaries” to “Visually Striking Romantic Dramas” and “Cerebral Con-Game Thrillers”. They build these categories by paying people to watch videos all day, who assign tags based on a 36-page guide. They use this meta data to power their recommendations, which drive 75% of its subscribers’ viewing choices, and was worth offering a $1 million prize for which the winning team delivered 10% better accuracy. If you like "Narcos" you might also enjoy "Sicario" and "End of Watch", because they've all been tagged as "Gritty", "Dark" and "Suspenseful”. Of course they’ll also recommend “Narcos: Mexico”, because that's one lesson that Hollywood didn’t need algorithms to learn: originality is overrated.
“Risk aversion has really paid off, and studios and production companies have noticed this” according to Hickey. All but 3 of the top 10 grossing films are sequels/franchises (and those 3 are all based on existing stories). Consumers are risk-averse — they have limited time for entertainment, so they choose the comfort of stories, actors, and brands they know. Studios are more than happy to match their risk aversion and give them more of the same: modern movies cost hundreds of millions of dollars to make. Of the top 100 box-office hits every year, only 38.5 percent aren't “an adaptation, sequel, spin-off, remake, or other such derivative work”. Don’t take following these common storytelling recipes and movie tropes as laziness: even as they complain about lack of originality, viewers vote for familiarity with their wallets. Even unoriginal films that earn low scores on movie review sites still manage to turn a profit. For example the “lifeless reboot” of Point Break in 2015 earned a profit of $28 million on a $105 million budget, despite an abysmal 11% score on Rotten Tomatoes. This trend is accelerated by the increasing importance of international markets, which can make up 80% of box office takings for franchises with broad appeal, like the Pirates of the Carribean, Fast & Furious, and Transformers.
The canonical example of the value of a good story template is the movie Die Hard, which spawned 4 official sequels, but also became a popular recipe for others to replicate. Get a good guy (or girl), preferably in law enforcement, to go up against a bad guy (or girl) in a contained area with a bomb, some hostages, and an impending deadline. Throw in some witty one-liners and you’ve got yourself a near guaranteed success. We've had Die Hard on a Plane (Passenger 57), Battleship (Under Siege), Train (Under Siege 2), Bus (Speed), Cruise Liner (Speed 2), Mountain (Cliffhanger), Prison (The Rock), school (Toy Soldiers), Mall (Point Blank) and a Skyscraper (Skyscraper). We even had two Die Hards set in the White House within 3 months of each other, White House Down and Olympus Has Fallen. The latter has already spawned two sequels: London Has Fallen and Angel Has Fallen. Of course Die Hard itself isn’t original template: you can trace its lineage back through Frankenstein to Prometheus (the one from Greek Mythology, not Ridley Scott’s prequel to Alien).
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