Netflix unveiled its full slate of 2023 releases on Wednesday. It’s a line-up featuring new movies from the likes of David Fincher, Bradley Cooper, Gal Gadot and Zack Snyder, along with sequels to “Murder Mystery” and “Extraction.”
Kira Goldberg and Ori Marmur, who together run Netflix’s original studio film group, have played a major role in shaping that roster. The duo are tasked with producing the streaming service’s big-budget and four-quadrant films — think “The Gray Man” or “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Story,” to highlight two of their more recent efforts. They spoke with Variety about what constitutes a success for a company that doesn’t rely on box office results, the challenges they are facing at a time when every media company has launched their own Netflix challenger, and why the company’s stock troubles hasn’t ushered in a new era of cost cutting.
How do you approach designing a slate?
Ori Marmur: We want a robust slate representing a mix of genres. Our two core strategies that we’re going for are making “must watch” global films that our members are talking about, as well as creating the best creative home for our filmmakers to work in so they’ll continue coming back.
When it comes to scheduling the films, are you hoping to program one broad, all-audience movie a month?
Kira Goldberg: There’s an organic sequence to how films come together in terms of what’s ready, when. But we try to do what the traditional studios do and have that anchor, big event movie every quarter. And then we try to give our members new films every week or so. We try to program to different tastes.
At one point you were releasing a new movie every week. Are you going to keep up that rhythm?
Goldberg: The volume ends up being close to that. We don’t make films to hit a certain number of movies, but we are definitely coming close to that.
The knock on Netflix has been that the company has been more focused on delivering quantity than quality. What do you think about that criticism?
Marmur: Our aspiration is for every film we make to be great. Nobody is setting out to make a less than good or mediocre film. And the truth is we feel like the bar is actually higher at home because there are so many other things that can potentially distract somebody, as opposed to a movie theater where you’ve bought the ticket, you’ve committed the time and whether you love or hate the film, you’re there for the next two hours. We’re really trying to lean into making the kind of films that are going to get your attention and make you want to hang in and watch the entire film from beginning to end.
How do you measure success? Are you looking on someone to watch a film from beginning to end or are you just hoping to make content that gets someone to sample different films for a few minutes each?
Goldberg: We are always looking for people to love our films, and I don’t think people love something that they don’t finish.
What genres are working for Netflix? Are there types of movies that aren’t resonating with your viewers?
Marmur: When we look at our competitors’ slates, they’re leaning into reboots and remakes. They’re doing things that have worked in the past. Our studio group has only been around for five years. We don’t have a deep bench of IP to lean on. Our films are original and we’re making films in every genre, including genres that you don’t see in the multiplexes like thrillers and rom-coms. We’re not just making superhero movies or action or animation. We make some of those films too. But one of the things that we’re excited about is we’re making the first installment in film franchises, not the fourteenth.
But you are making sequels?
Goldberg: We have two sequels this year coming in two different genres — “Murder Mystery 2” and “Extraction 2.” Both are delivering on characters that the audience loved and expanding those storylines. “Murder Mystery” takes you to places that you haven’t been before in the last installment, and “Extraction” has even bigger and more challenging action sequences and a great story.
Will there be a “Murder Mystery 3” or an “Extraction 3”? Is there potential for those franchises to keep going?
Goldberg: Absolutely. Hopefully we’ll find even bigger and better stories to tell.
You mentioned that you are making movies that other major studios won’t. Why will certain genres work on streaming when they don’t work theatrically?
Goldberg: Just because studios couldn’t find a place for these movies theatrically didn’t mean that audiences stopped loving them. They were finding that interest fulfilled by TV for a long time. But we see a lot of love for romantic comedies and we have one coming soon called “Your Place or Mine” with Ashton Kutcher and Reese Witherspoon.
I’d like to drill down into a few films that are on Netflix’s slate. How would you describe David Fincher’s “The Killer”?
Marmur: It’s vintage Fincher, just from the title alone it’s right in the lane that you want to see him in. I don’t want to give too much away. I don’t want David to come in and kill me.
What interested you in making “Heart of Stone,” an upcoming spy thriller with Gal Gadot?
Marmur: One of the things that got us really excited was the idea of doing a film in a genre that’s often dominated by men. It’s “Mission: Impossible.” It’s Bourne. Those movies always have men at the center of them. This has two strong women in Gal Gadot and Alia Bhatt who are in the middle of things. Along with Jamie Dornan they form a central trio.
You are working with Zack Snyder on the two-film “Rebel Moon.” What gave you the confidence to make two movies back-to-back?
Marmur: Zack came in with so much passion. This is a film that he’s had in mind for decades. As you know, he’s spent so much time working on other people’s IP at other studios. We worked with him on “Army of the Dead” and we did things that others couldn’t do. We made a film and then a prequel and launched a live experience. With “Rebel Moon” he wanted to push the envelope again. When we saw how big the world he created was, we thought it would be better served as two pieces versus one film. It’s the kind of story that can continue to grow. He thinks of it as his take on making something like “Star Wars.”
Bradley Cooper’s “Maestro,” a drama about composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein, seems like it’s in a very different key. What can people expect from that film?
Goldberg: Bradley has immersed himself in the world of Leonard Bernstein. The film comes from his desire to make a film about marriage. There’s a complicated relationship at the center of this movie between these two people [Bernstein and his wife Felicia Montealegre], who are so deeply connected and help each other realize their full potential. It’s incredibly emotional. It’s incredibly artistic.
You signed a development deal with Steven Spielberg’s Amblin. You recently announced that “Carry On,” a thriller with Taron Egerton, will be the first film in that pact. Are there other projects on the horizon?
Goldberg: We love the team over there. We have some films that are early in the development process. It’s too soon to speak about them, but we’re excited to hopefully get a couple more in shape to announce soon.
Marmur: It’s exciting to be working with them, especially when so many filmmakers reference Amblin films as inspirations. We want to make movies that have that tone or feel. Our aspiration is to make great, big Amblin films with Amblin.
“Glass Onion” seemed to resonate with viewers. When will the next film in the series come out?
Marmur: [Writer and director] Rian Johnson is already working on the third one, but there’s no set time table. We’d love to have it sooner rather than later given the response to the last one.
When “The Gray Man” debuted last summer, there was a lot of discussion about how this was the first part of a major franchise. Where are you in terms of making sequels or spinoffs?
Goldberg: We’re talking to AGBO [the company behind the film] and the Russo brothers. We have not set a timeline.
Marmur: The Russos are currently working on a film for us right now called “The Electric State,” so that’s where their attention has been.
Netflix’s stock has dropped dramatically, and the company has signaled that it will become more focused on profitability. Has that impacted the resources at your disposal? Is the company pushing you to economize?
Goldberg: I like to think that we’re always responsible financially, but the truth is we are given the resources we need to allow filmmakers to realize their visions.
Marmur: We work somewhere that’s always reminding us we’re part of an innovative company, and in order to continue innovating you have to take shots and swings. That’s what we’re doing.
When you started making movies, there weren’t as many companies with streaming services. Now there’s Apple TV+ and Prime Video and Disney+ and Paramount+ and HBO Max. How has the increased competition changed your jobs?
Goldberg: We like to think that the increased competition keeps pushing us to be the best, and we welcome it.
Marmur: It’s the iron sharpens iron mentality.