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Home » Netflix ‘Conan’ Series Shows Streaming Studios Repeating Hollywood’s Most Costly Mistake

Netflix ‘Conan’ Series Shows Streaming Studios Repeating Hollywood’s Most Costly Mistake

Original (or new-to-you), innovative, star-driven and adult-skewing TV shows that allowed streaming to gain a foothold over theatrical movies could become an endangered species thanks to the artificial lure of recycled IP.

We got word yesterday that Netflix NFLX will be producing an episodic series based upon Robert E. Howard’s pulp adventure series Conan the Barbarian. Pathfinder Media will produce alongside Netflix, with aspirations for a multimedia franchise. They don’t just want a live-action TV show, but also live-action movies and and animated shows with differing demographic targets. That’s obviously a dangerous idea to float about before the initial offering debuts for general audiences, as Hollywood is filled with non-existent multimedia franchises that died after one rejected movie (The Dark Tower). It’s another sign that, on this tenth anniversary of The Social Network (whose pre-Avengers success brought hope to a Hollywood overdosing on unwanted franchises), TV is making the same IP for IP’s sake error that doomed the movies.

A Conan show probably has better odds than a Conan movie, because we’ve been down that path before. Millennium produced a $110 million, R-rated Conan the Barbarian movie back in 2011, one directed by Marcus Nipsel (who had just made the very Conan-ish Pathfinder with Karl Urban) and starring Jason Momoa. Yes, before he was Khal Drogo in HBO’s Game of Thrones and before he was Arthur Curry in DC Films’ Aquaman, 32-year-old Momoa popped up on the grid as Conan. The movie is a Conan movie, for better or worse (filled with creative violence and the kind of big-budget scale we took for granted in 2011), but nobody cared. The film earned just $63 million worldwide for Lionsgate and friends, and the unquestionably charismatic Momoa found fortune and glory elsewhere.

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The film co-starred Rachel Nichols, giving her two movies as the love interest in an origin story reboot which opened with the protagonist being born at the very moment a parent died. Conan the Barbarian bombed theatrically for much the same reason that Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit did so in 2014. First, they ran headfirst into crowdpleasing MCU movies that played in the same genre sandbox. Second, they were brands/IPs whose prior successes were rooted less in brand interest and more in star power. Conan couldn’t compete with the PG-13 and more crowdpleasing Thor ($449 million on a $175 million budget) and Chris Pine’s Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit ($135.5 million on a $60 million budget) paled in comparison to Captain America: The Winter Soldier ($714 million in 2014).

The success of the previous four Jack Ryan movies were rooted in both the popularity of the specific sources (The Hunt For Red October was on the toilet tank lid of every dad’s bathroom in America) and the appeal of Sean Connery, fresh off The Untouchables, in a big starring role. Cue a $130 million domestic and $200.5 million worldwide on a $30 million budget in 1990. The successes of Patriot Games ($178 million on a $45 million budget in 1992) and Clear and Present Danger ($215 million on a $60 million budget in 1994) were partially rooted as them being big-n-splashy summer action movies and being Harrison Ford star vehicles representing his first big action movies outside of the Star Wars and Indiana Jones trilogies.

Ben Affleck’s The Sum of All Fears grossed $194 million on a $68 million budget in 2002, but it was ironically overshadowed by Matt Damon’s The Bourne Identity. The first in a new franchise of Robert Ludlum adaptations (the other spy/action author beloved by dads everywhere at the time) earned $214 million on a $60 million budget that same summer. By the time Chris Pine took the role in a generic reboot/origin story flick helmed by Kenneth Branagh, a film that was shockingly similar in plot and structure to James Cameron’s True Lies, the film couldn’t compete with the mega-budget (and artistically superior) comic book superhero variation of the genre. Moreover, 2010’s Chris Pine was no 1990’s Harrison Ford in terms of “butts in the seats” movie stardom.

Likewise, to the extent that John Milius and Oliver Stone’s Conan the Barbarian was a hit in 1982 ($79 million on a $20 million budget), it was partially due to the general lack of big-budget (and R-rated, natch) sword-and-sorcery pictures of that scale at the time. And to the extent that Arnold Schwarzenegger was a one-of-a-kind “new” movie star, it was the most idealized casting this side of Patrick Stewart as Professor X in X-Men. It wasn’t just the Conan brand. Heck, Conan the Destroyer, a more crowd-pleasing and PG-rated (but still pretty bloody) sequel with Arnold back in the saddle, bombed in 1984. It earned just $31 million on an $18 million budget. So even in a far more forgiving theatrical marketplace, Arnold as Conan only worked once.

That the property is still being rebooted is a sign about how Hollywood views success. In 2011, Conan the Barbarian got crushed by The Help ($169 million domestic, the biggest-grossing non-action/non-war summertime drama ever), a film that recently popped up on Netflix to strong viewership numbers. Yet in the eyes of Hollywood, making yet another Conan movie or TV show is considered a more viable commercial than, even in “no box office no problem” realm of streaming, making more movies like Emma Stone and Viola Davis’ The Help. Even Robert Rodriguez’ Spy Kids: All the Time in the World earned $85.5 million worldwide on a $27 million budget during that same month. But conventional wisdom states that Conan the Barbarian is the viable multimedia IP.

To the extent Conan is coming back because of the success of Netflix’s The Witcher, there’s the danger of reacting to a “new” success by trying to revive and old property (don’t react to Inception by remaking Total Recall). The success of Amazon’s AMZN Jack Ryan episodic (two seasons and counting), starring John Krasinski as Tom Clancy’s “analysist turned action hero” marquee character, shows that at least some properties that fail in the theatrical marketplace can still score when audiences can sample the goods from their couch. Ditto, relatively speaking, ABC Family’s The Shadow Hunters, which took a box office bomb (The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones) and made a cult fantasy TV show out of it. Not so much High Fidelity, Treadstone, The Purge, Limitless and/or The Exorcist.

Hollywood went down this “IP for IP’s” path before, often mistaking online and social media huzzahs for general audience interest for unwanted sequels (Zoolander, No. 2.) and overly expensive continuations of cult movies (Blade Runner 2049). Meanwhile, streaming and TV saw an opening as Hollywood overdosed on franchises and potential cinematic universes. TV and streaming offered old-school, star-driven and adult-skewing programming that didn’t have to appeal to everyone. The theatrical audience had been conditioned to view “just a movie” offerings as not theater-worthy, forcing studios to rely on franchises of which fewer and fewer had theatrical-worthy allure. But now, with streaming platforms seeing the allure of free media coverage with the newest Gilmore Girls reboot or the newest Love Simon spin-off, Netflix and the like are flirting with the same mistake.

We may see a surge of older brands whose theatrical reboots already tanked making a go of it in the streaming platforms. With IP now as valuable for streaming platforms like Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon as they are/were for theatrical features, the very kind of original (or new-to-you), provocative, star-driven and adult-skewing TV shows that allowed television (streaming, cable and network) to arguably usurp theatrical moviegoing as the prime entertainment destination may become every bit as endangered on the tube as they are in theaters. Without making an automatic quality judgement (Cobra Kai and The Babysitters Club were both great), the streamers should remember that Game of Thrones, The Witcher, Away and The Boys are arguably more valuable than another Conan, High Fidelity, Jack Ryan or Lord of the Rings.

Source: Forbes – Business

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