Bird Box breaks Netflix record for viewing figures, but critics aren't so convinced

Sandra Bullock movie has reportedly achieved the 'best first seven days ever for a Netflix film', but many are sceptical about what those figures actually mean

Roisin O'Connor
Sunday 30 December 2018 10:39 GMT
Bird Box trailer

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Louise Thomas

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Netflix’s new film Bird Box has prompted the streaming service to break its typical silence about viewing figures to claim that more than 45 million “accounts’ have watched it in its first week of release.

The figure apparently marks the “best first seven days ever for a Netflix film”, the company said in a tweet.

However, several critics and TV rivals have pointed out that the value of the data lacks context. Hollywood Reporter writer Rebecca Keegan asked how director Susanne Bier’s agent would use it as leverage for her next film, referring to how traditional studios would view it.

CNN commented: “It would be difficult, for example, to say what the activity of 45 million accounts equates to in traditional box office terms. It's also unclear — though presumable — that the number reflects accounts that have accessed the film globally. (Netflix is currently available in more than 190 countries.)

“Exactly how Netflix qualifies what counts as a viewing is another question. Does the figure account for those who accidentally play the film from an auto-play option? Does it log “viewers” who only watch a few seconds or the entire film?

“And is there any way to say what portion of that audience would make the effort of going to a theatre and buying a ticket to Bird Box? From the comfort of a Netflix household, the time and financial investments are far less.”

Over the past few years there has been scepticism around the transparency (or lack of) from streaming companies such as Netflix, Amazon and Hulu, given their lack of independent, third party sourcing such as the Nielsen ratings, which are the audience measurement systems for TV programming in the US that determine audience size.

CBS Entertainment president Kelly Kahl apparently referred to this when he tweeted how the numbers for Bird Box were “independently verified by ... uh, Netflix”.

Netflix may be pleased with the film’s performance, but critical reviews for the horror flick, which stars Sandra Bullock as a mother trying to lead her two children to safety as they are pursued by invisible, malevolent supernatural creatures, have been largely mixed.

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The Independent gave it two stars, with critic Geoffrey Macnab observing: “There have been countless other dystopian sci-fi dramas in which civilisation collapses and survivors try to hold their families together. Bird Box doesn’t take us anywhere we haven’t already been in these other movies.

“The plotting is sometimes very cumbersome. As the protagonists stumble through forests using fishing line to guide them, you begin to wish they would take off their blindfolds and simply look where they are going. The screenplay never really explains why the evil force (whatever it might be) causes some of those who stare at it to kill themselves while turning others into homicidal psychotics.”

The Guardian also gave the film two stars, criticising it for “clunky punchlines” and its slow-moving pace, along with a cast that feels “as curated as a box of doughnuts”.

“Heisserer’s script endeavours to give Bullock a rich psychological backstory — something to do with her reluctance to accept motherhood and the redemption she experiences in accepting that role — and the wonderfully self-reliant actress plays the arc earnestly enough,” Variety said. “But there’s no getting around that this is a monster movie without a monster.”

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