With horror writ large into its premise, Netflix’ novel cinematic offering Bird Box has garnered controversy and commercial success in equal measure. The production team attracted a fair share of criticism for timing the release coinciding with Christmas festivities. But if the proof lies in the pudding, then these factors did not matter in the end, as Bird Box became one of the largest successes in the history of content streaming.
Reviewers elsewhere have compared Bird Box to A Quiet Place, another horror feature that introduced monsters that employed a form of echo-location device to target their victims. Whereas in Bird Box, it is the sense of vision that is deployed to achieve evil designs. While this central premise is a novel idea in cinema, most of the rest of the elements in the film were dismissed by critics as either ‘tried and tested, and hence, tired’ or as ‘too incoherent to make a cogent logic’. Unfavorable comparisons were also made with Will Smith starrer Bright, as well as the modest successes in the form of The Cloverfield Paradox, Extinction, etc. Critics also frowned upon Netflix’ audacity to tread a genre that is tightly linked to the cinematic/theatrical experience, namely the horror genre. Accounting for all these perceived deficiencies in terms of creativity and marketing logic, many showbiz commentators predicted a sub-par performance for the feature. Now that Bird Box is acclaimed a super hit, one can look at what were the catalysts for this success.
Firstly, the much criticized marketing extravaganza in the lead up to the release, is proving to be worth every penny in hindsight. The manner in which the lead crew and the production team hit the television promotion circuit has also paid off. The savvy social media marketing, in the form of curiosity-provoking memes, should be given due credit. While the marketing team initiated certain memes, the general audience later took it on their own to come up with witty memes related to the show. Some of these memes have gone viral, running into tens of thousands of shares or retweets – a phenomenon no marketing company could have bought with money.
The viewership figures released by Netflix bear testimony to how Bird Box ranks as high (if not actually surpassing) its other iconic productions like The Christmas Chronicles, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, etc. The viewership figures is projected to cross the 100 million mark if this trend will continue, although independent verification of these numbers is yet to be done.
If the success of a movie is measured by its infiltration into the common everyday lexicon, then Bird Box is an uncontested winner. Beyond its impressive viewership numbers, the film seems to have captured the public imagination. The mushrooming of fan clubs and merchandise and memorabilia surround the movie is another indication of hot it has seeped into public consciousness.
But not all of these are to be seen as innocuous. There are already reports of fans indulging in Bird Box Challenge, where people try to accomplish various everyday activities by blindfolding themselves. Needless to say, there have been reports of accidents and unintended outcomes of such misadventures, that it forced Netflix to make a public appeal that essentially said: ‘DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME’.
It is difficult to fathom that a project that is such a blockbuster had seen several false starts in recent years. Although the copyright to the original novel by Josh Malerman was bought by Universal in 2013, it passed several aborted attempts and a handful of production houses to finally settle with Netflix. And the rest of the story is all too well-known now to have legends spun around it.