Netflix once again proves there’s plenty of gold to be found mining nostalgia, as they’ve just cut a deal to reboot the classic, 1970s, private-eye flick Shaft (1971). What makes this particular deal interesting is that Netflix is partnering with New Line Cinema to split development costs (the film is budgeted at $30 million), in exchange for international rights plus debuting the film on its non-US streaming services just 2 weeks after its initial domestic theatrical release.
Why is this significant? Urban-themed films like Shaft or the recent ethnic comedy Girls Trip tend to do most of their business domestically — up to 75% of their box office revenues. These days, studios tend to favor films with strong international potential, consequently a film like Shaft would either warrant a minuscule budget or simply not get funded at all.
The Netflix-New Line move signals further erosion in the indie, small, and mid-budget domestic market; it’s getting harder and harder for films with limited or weak international revenues to secure screen space, as blockbusters are absorbing more and more screens every year. On the upside, however, Netflix is making the most of this opportunity — this is precisely the kind of film that makes sense on the streaming service: a niche audience and instant cultural recognition that leverages nostalgia. Shaft can effectively thrive for weeks and months without ever burning through much (if any) marketing cash.
But enough on the business side, let’s talk about the movie and why we should be excited. Shaft is one of a handful of American films that’s forever entrenched in modern pop culture, the theme music alone is still iconic even today. In 2000 John Singleton remade Shaft, starring Samuel L. Jackson, Vanessa Williams, and Christian Bale (perfectly cast as a soulless, white-collar villain). The film made a very modest $107 million (on a $46 million budget); it didn’t exactly set the world on fire, nor did it make anyone forget about the original.
This latest reboot, directed by Tim Story (Ride Along) with a script by Kenya Barris (Black-ish), is something of a family reunion — and a hopeful Netflix film franchise too. Not only is the original Shaft, Richard Roundtree, reprising his role, but so is Sam Jackson, as Shaft’s nephew, and series newcomer, Jesse T. Usher, as Jackson’s on-screen son. Usher plays an FBI cyber-expert who’s estranged from his father, but is forced to work together on a new case.
Whether this latest version of Shaft launches a series of made-for-Netflix movies remains to be seen. However, this deal sets an interesting precedent, maybe even represents a turning point for indie and small films. It’s the kind of deal I expect we’ll see more of going forward, as the smarter Hollywood studios want to keep one foot in the streaming market while the major studios brawl over market dominance; eventually, the weaker streaming business models will be purged, absorbed, or merged. This is a good thing in the long run, and for now it’s giving cool films like Shaft a chance for success that it wouldn’t otherwise have enjoyed.
How do you feel about a reboot of the Shaft reboot starring Sam Jackson? Let us know in the comments down below!
Production of the Netflix-New Line Shaft reboot begins in December 2017.
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