In the last couple years Amazon Studios has quickly become one of the most dependable brands in the world of independent film. (Can a company worth hundreds of billions of dollars qualify as “independent”? I guess?) The list of outstanding movies they’ve funded or acquired (and then put into theaters instead of releasing them immediately on Amazon Prime) includes Manchester By the SeaThe Big SickThe Salesman, Chi-RaqThe Lost City of ZLove & FriendshipLast Flag Flying, and The Neon Demon. In just two years, they’ve put their name on a slate of movies that any established distributor would be proud of.

But things could change again just as quickly if a new report from Reuters is accurate. Quoting anonymous sources, they say Amazon is about to embark on a shift in their movie programming, away from the kinds of smaller, smarter films that have built their brand to the kinds of bigger, more mainstream fare that dominates in theaters:

The move reflects a new phase in the online retailer’s entertainment strategy. Initially, Amazon worked on high-brow movies that would win awards, put it on the map in Hollywood and help it attract top talent. Now, Amazon wants programming aimed at a far wider audience as it pursues its central business goal: Persuading more people to join its video streaming service and shopping club Prime.

Amazon has enough money to pursue both strategies, and the company declined to comment on Reuters’ report, so maybe they will. We should have a sense of what the studio is up to in the near-term in the next week or two, as the Sundance Film Festival gets underway. In recent years, Amazon has been a major player in Sundance bidding wars for high-profile projects like Manchester By the Sea. If the same isn’t true in 2018, that could be a bad omen for the studio’s future as a haven for indie films.

This is an incredibly depressing prospect. I understand that big movies that speak to big audiences potentially bring more customers to the service than little movies that speak to smaller audiences. But the old Hollywood studios have the market for big dumb movies pretty much glutted; we don’t need more schlock. We do need more character-driven stories. The studios’ commitment to size over substance left a space for ambitious streaming services to fill. Amazon Studios succeeded in that niche.

So far, Netflix’s attempts to break into the big Hollywood game have been mostly dire (or maybe you enjoyed The Ridiculous 6 and Bright). Like Amazon, they’ve done much better when they’ve tried to counter-program the major studios. But a creative success from an Academy Award winning Iranian filmmaker probably doesn’t translate to as many views as a crummy Brad Pitt movie (these streaming sites don’t release numbers on viewership, so we can only guess). And in the end, Amazon is a gigantic corporation just like the giant corporations that own Paramount, Fox, and Universal. They’re not in the business of making art. They’re in the business of making money.

Gallery - The Best Netflix Original Films and TV Series, Ranked:


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