Mudbound captivated Sundance, marked the first time a woman received an Oscar nomination for cinematography, got Mary J. Blige two Oscar nominations for Best Supporting Actress and Best Song (somehow, the first time a performer had been nominated for both acting and music awards in the same year), and wowed critics. And pretty much the only place most people could see was Netflix. At the time, some bemoaned that the epic movie, dealing with two WWII vets returning to rural Mississippi after the war, would largely stay out of theaters. But that, apparently, didn’t stop people from watching it in droves.
Reed Hastings, discussing Netflix’s strategy during a TED talk, dropped a rare nugget of information about how successful the $12.5 million acquisition was:
Mudbound, which was Oscar-nominated, its a great, very intensive movie. We’ve had over 20 million hours of viewing on Mudbound, which is dramatically bigger than what it would’ve been in theaters or any other distribution.”
If you do the math, that works out to about 8.9 million total watches, although we assume some of them stopped and started, or didn’t watch the whole movie. And there’s not a whole lot of data to compare this particular number against because Netflix and all the other streaming providers play it close to the chest when it comes to their “ratings.” Still, that’s a not-insignificant chunk of viewers, out of Netflix’s 125 million, and Hastings has a point in the sense that, well, this is a period drama about race and PTSD set in rural Mississippi. That’s not going to bring in Marvel movie money, no matter how cleverly you promote it, and Netflix likely paid far less to make Mudbound stand out from the crowd.
That’s no small achievement in an era of peak TV where Netflix is spending billions a year on new stuff to stream. And it might raise a few questions for indie film producers going forward.