US Netflix’s catalogue of films shrinking

Number of top titles including ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ thought to be going down as company moves towards developing own content

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Netflix’s commitment to streaming popular movies appears to be on the wane after a study showed that its US service contained only 31 of the top 250 movies as voted by users of the Internet Movie Database (IMDb).

According to the Streaming Observer, the titles available include such well-known films as Pulp Fiction, Forrest Gump and Trainspotting, but not the top IMDb title The Shawshank Redemption, or indeed any of its top five. The report also suggests the number of these movies available to Netflix users is shrinking. A previous study by a Reddit user in 2014 came up with 49 titles. (Those that appear to have disappeared include The Graduate, Annie Hall and Fargo.)

It is likely that Netflix’s retreat from licensing back-catalogue films is part of its emphasis on developing its own content. Its success with box set-style releases of multipart series such as Orange Is the New Black and House of Cards has been well documented. The current presence in cinemas of more orthodox feature film-style offerings such as the Christopher Guest comedy Mascots and Ava DuVernay’s hard-hitting documentary 13th is an indication that it has a strategy of boosting its projects’ profiles with a short theatrical release alongside streaming.

Speaking to the Wall Street Journal, Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s chief content officer, explained the intent behind Netflix’s theatrical release strategy. “Putting it in a theatre might create a shorthand for people to understand that these are really big movies ... These are not ‘TV movies’,” he said.

David Wells, Netflix’s chief financial officer, was quoted by Variety stating that the company wants half of its content to be original productions over the next few years. “We’ve been on a multiyear transition and evolution toward more of our own content.”