To celebrate the end of 2019, Netflix released a string of tweets that announced its “most popular” movies, TV shows, and documentaries of the year. This included not only Netflix originals like The Irishman, The Witcher, and Abducted In Plain Sight, but also studio productions that are streaming on the subscription service, like The Incredibles 2, Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, and Ralph Breaks The Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2. However, if you looked closely at the fine print on each tweet, you might notice something shocking about how Netflix is determining “popularity.”
Happy almost 2020! Here’s a look at the most popular series, films, and documentaries released on Netflix in the US this year. (thread) pic.twitter.com/fSHb39DbIT— Netflix US (@netflix) December 30, 2019
Here’s the fine print:
Titles released this month incorporate viewing predictions. Lists based on titles released on Netflix in 2019. Lists are ranked based on accounts that choose to watch two minutes or more of a title during its first 28 days on Netflix.
In layman’s terms, Netflix is predicting how many viewers their December releases would get, so The Witcher’s ranking isn’t all that reliable. The list only includes movies and TV series released on Netflix in 2019, which serves to deflect attention from a major criticism of Netflix’s library, its dispiriting lack of classic, older films. And lastly, to count a film as being watched by a subscriber, Netflix only requires an account to play the first TWO MINUTES of a given title. No need to watch to the credits! So, this left us wondering, what do the first two minutes of Netflix’s most popular 2019 movie releases look like?
Let’s break it down. Below, I share the logline provided for Netflix that might entice you to hit play, recount exactly what happens in the first two minutes once you hit play, then, offer a two-minute movie review of those two minutes, meaning I set a timer and stopped writing when it rang. Time’s up when it’s up.
10. Secret Obsession
Logline “She can’t remember anything, not even her own husband. But he’s here to take care of her —one way or the other.”
What Happened In The First Two Minutes: Rain pounds on a window on a dark night. Spooky music—violins and an organ—plays. A woman runs into a phone booth, she’s panicked and soaked. She dials 911, but the call does not connect. She turns to the sound of an approaching vehicle. A man pulls up, she runs. We do not see the man’s face. She hides in a bathroom stall and pulls her feet up onto the toilet.
Two-Minute Review: Funny enough, my husband reminded me that we tried to watch this movie about a forgetful wife when it first hit Netflix. According to Netflix, we got 19 minutes in before we quit it. We’d thought it was too trash even for a trash TV mood. But hey, we made it past the 2-minute mark, so we’re part of the viewership counted above.
9. Ralph Breaks The Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2
Logline “He’s the big man back in 16-bit land, but to save his best friend, this video game baddie’s going to have to go broadband.”
What Happened In The First Two Minutes: The first 57 seconds are just logos for Disney and Walt Disney Animation Studios. Then, there’s a slow push into Litwak’s Arcade. We can hear Wreck-It Ralph and Vanelloppe playing “Eye Spy” as the camera pushes into the surge protector outlet to find the pair snacking on a bench in the main concourse. They discuss Zangief’s body hair for signs of manscaping.
Two-Minute Review: That was cute. There’s no whiff of premise or plot yet, but it’s sure nice to be back in the whimsical world of Wreck-It Ralph. Oh. I’ve still got time on the clock…uh. Hmmm…..I’m with Vanellope - Zangief is def a manscaper, but there’s no shame in taking pride in your app—(time).
8. Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse
Logline “After being bitten by a radioactive spider, Brooklyn teen Miles Morales gets a crash course in web-slinging from his alternate dimension counterparts.”
What Happened In The First Two Minutes: Moody music plays over a glitching Columbia logo. The first minute is all logos for the various production companies involved. Enter Spider-Man (voiced by Chris Pine). There are references to Sony’s various live-action Spider-Man movies, a joke about a Christmas album, real-life merch like comic books and cereal. However, it doesn’t even get to the “so-so popsicle” joke before 2 minutes is up.
Two-Minute Review: This marvelous movie made our list of the best films of the decade. This two-minute window gives a sense of the verve of this unique spin on Spidey and his many forms, but it doesn’t even get so far as introducing a glimpse of the film’s true protagonist, Miles Morales. The Easter Eggs are fun, and Pine’s voice casting was inspired.
6. Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile
Logline “She loved him. She wanted to believe him. But the truth became too monstrous to ignore.”
What Happened In The First Two Minutes: After some brief production company credits, this quote appears: “Few people have the imagination for reality.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832). The first shot it of a barbed wire fence, then more shots establishing a high-security prison yard. Then a high angle shot looking down on a woman in a visitation room. Her back is to the camera, she is a dark silhouette lit only by the neon light that scratches through the glass partition onto her unseen face and a phone on its hook. Cut to: her face, downcast, smudged in shadow. She’s Liz Kendall (Lily Collins), young, pretty, and dressed in a conservative blouse buttoned to the top, but the color of dried blood. Enter Zac Efron as Ted Bundy. He’s chained, in a prison-issued orange jumpsuit, scruffy-faced, and locks eyes with her immediately. He seems excited; she seems unnerved. He sits down to talk, and music swells, “Do you believe in magic.” Cut to Seattle 1969, a hopping bar, the night they met. She laments being at a college bar, declaring, “No guy is going to want to go with a single mom who works as a secretary.”
Two-Minute Review: Ugh. I thought I’d never have cause to watch this wretched thing again. Director Joe Berlinger also made that cringe-inducing Netflix doc series Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, which treated Bundy’s victims as tragedy props and seemed in awe of his crimes and manipulations. But here we are. Frankly, I’m surprised how much Berlinger fit into two minutes. But don’t be fooled. Kendall’s “story” is a bait-and-switch, little more than a bookend so he can drool all over Bundy again.
5. Triple Frontier
Logline “Loyalties are tested when five former special forces operatives reunite to steal a drug lord’s fortune, unleashing a chain of unintended consequences.”
What Happened In The First Two Minutes: Over black, a stern woman’s voice talks about Captain William Miller, stating, “He’s been everywhere in the world you all want to go, and a bunch of places you don’t.” She is revealed in profile, a military officer who is addressing soldiers. Charlie Hunnam—no Garrett Hedlund? No? (Checks IMDB. Oh god they’re both in this?) Charlie Hunnam steps onto the small stage, wearing dark jeans and a darker shirt with rolled up sleeves. He scratches his chin as he speaks in serious voice talking about choking out a civilian in the cereal aisle. “Do you know why I was doing this? Because he hadn’t moved his car when I asked.” He begins talking about the toll that enacting violence takes on the human mind, body, and spirit and—that’s time.
Two-Minute Review: If it weren’t for the logline, I’d assume this movie was going to be about a renowned military man coping with PTSD in a civilian life that doesn’t understand all he’s seen and suffered. I literally have no idea how the logline connects with the this scene or how its big names—Ben Affleck, Oscar Isaac, Pedro Pascal—come into play. Triple Frontier is co-written and directed by J.C. Chandor, the helmer of Margin Call, All Is Lost and A Most Viol— (time).
4. The Irishman
Logline “Hit man Frank Sheeran looks back at the secrets he kept as a loyal member of the Buffalino crime family in this acclaimed film from Martin Scorsese.”
What Happened In The First Two Minutes: “In The Still of The Night” plays over a tracking shot down the hallway of a Catholic retirement home, where eldery folks do jigsaw puzzles, meander, and chat. Seated alone, is a well-dressed man in aviator sunglasses and a waistcoat, sitting in a wheelchair. It’s an aged Robert De Niro. In voiceover, he says, “When I was young, I thought house painters painted houses. What did I know?” He tells us he was a teamster, “a working stiff until I wasn’t no more.” Two minutes is up before he tells us how he “started painting houses” and before the very graphic illustration of what that means.
Two-Minute Review: The Irishman is 3 hours and 29 minutes long. Meaning to register as a watcher of it in Netflix’s determination, you only needed to watch less than 1% of its runtime. Two minutes of The Irishman is 0.0095 of the movie that’s being heralded by some as a modern epic. These two minutes do manage to introduce the titular protagonist, establish the mood of a wistful memoir and give a sense of the style of its unreliable narrator. But the violence in store quite literally just misses the mark.
3. The Incredibles 2
Logline “She’s fighting crime. He’s battling dirty diapers. For the Incredibles, a successful marriage requires a certain amount of flexibility.”
What Happened In The First Two Minutes: The Disney logo appears in the red and gold of The Incredibles logo as the theme song plays. A bright light brings the black frame to life. Agent Rick Dicker sits down at an interrogation table across from befuddled teen Tony Rydinger. He recounts running into his “cool, cute” classmate, Violet Parr, at the track meet. It’s a snippet of flashback from the end of The Incredibles, when Violet got asked out by her crush. Then Tony recounts how the Underminer surfaced in the parking lot. He scrambles under a car for safety, and sees from this partially obstructed view a family of superheroes strategizing how to take on this dangerous foe. “Should we be doing this,” says Elasigirl, “It is still illegal.”
Two-Minute Review: Incredibles 2 dives right back into the fray by picking up right where the first film left off. If you wondered what happened when these reluctant supers suited up for the first time off of Syndrome’s island, this sequel is happy to answer that. But not in the first two minutes. So, let’s not talk about that. Um. The redesign of Tony is good. He looks cuter and less generic, though I do wonder what kind of teen boy dresses in dress slacks and a navy turtleneck for a track meet. Like is he sophisticated for his age? A poser? Or a striving for Don Draper casual?
2. 6 Underground
Logline “After faking his death, a tech billionaire recruits a team of international operatives for a bold and bloody mission to take down a brutal dictator.
What Happened In The First Two Minutes: Logos. Bright skies. Planes on the ground. Ryan Reynold’s recognizable voice states in narration, “What if I told you, I know what happens when you die? You become a ghost trapped in a shadow land, a world of whispers, invisible, except to other ghosts. Orphaned. Unable to return to those you loved.” Hands arrange photos of actual orphans. You can tell because the wall behind the kids says “Lucky B Orphanage.” There’s more voiceover, close-ups of CIA documents about Operation: Black Light. Cut to Reynolds in a high-flying plane wearing a Red Bull helmet. I guess he’s a sponsored ghost. He’s talking about the freedom of being a “ghost,” and how you can “haunt the living…for what they’ve done.” A close-up of a burnt up newspaper surrounded by spent bullet shells warns of a murderous dictator. More flying. Time.
Two-Minute Review: So, this is interesting. Netflix pushed this as a MICHAEL BAY movie. But Bay’s name is not in the first two minutes of the movie. No one’s is. 6 Underground begins with a cold open. It’s main selling point from the perusing Netflix crowd would be Ryan Reynolds, who is no slouch thanks to the historic success of the R-rated action-comedy Deadpool. Bay doesn’t even have his production company banner (Platinum Dunes) on the opening logos. And there’s no explosions or low-angle booty shots of busty, thin models. How are we even supposed to know this is a Michael Bay movie out the gate? Maybe the fetishistic shots of airplanes and the comical product placement; that’s pretty on-brand Bay.
1. Murder Mystery
Logline “On a long-awaited trip to Europe, a New York City cop and his hairdresser wife scramble to solve a baffling murder aboard a billionaire’s yacht.”
What Happened In The First Two Minutes: The first 30-some seconds are all vanity cards for production companies, then comes an establishing shot of New York City. On the streets, a mustachioed Adam Sandler wears a baggy white-button down that’s not buttoned all the way to the top as a giddy NYPD officer with a bushier mustache walks and bullshits with him. Sandler has once more failed his detective exam. “I know all the answers, I just freeze under pressure,” he says before asking his colleague to lie to his wife about his latest failure. His cop buddy says, “I will cover up dead bodies for you,” but he won’t lie to the wife. Sandler gets a text from the wife he plans to lie to, she needs Claritin. Cut to a posh salon, where Jennifer Aniston (Sandler’s onscreen wife) is doing hair while her client watches The Bachelor on a big, mounted TV. She laments her husband is not romantic anymore.
Two-Minute Review: Ugh. So. I proposed this list, knowing full well what was on it. And in this way forced myself to watch the Adam Sandler whodunit I felt confident I had escaped. Look, I used enjoyed Sandler in the days of his comedy cassettes and Happy Gilmore. But I’ve sat through Blended, Pixels, and more Sandler atrocities than I can even remember. The thrill is GONE. I’ve been happily ducking ALL of his Netflix offerings. But with TK gone, I guess someone has to do the dirty work. This two-minute bit is a dismal start, falling into the tired comedy tropes of a wife who just DOESN’T UNDERSTAND the pressures of her husband’s important job, and a wife who spends her time on a less important job yet demanding more of her clearly stressed husband. Hard pass on watching more of this Sandler Schtick. Call me when the wife gets to be the cop or he at least has to fully button a damn dress shirt.
For full, thoughtful reviews of these feature-length films, please click their titles.
Header Image Source: Netflix