Back in July 2020, Netflix announced that it was moving forward with the production of THE GRAY MAN based on the Matt Greaney novel of the same name.
The film is top-lined by Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans, with Ana de Armas, Regé-Jean Page, Jessica Henwick, Alfre Woodard, and Billy Bob Thornton rounding out the cast.
Joe & Anthony Russo, fresh off helming the AVENGERS: ENDGAME and AVENGERS: INFINITY WARS – two of the most successful films of all time – are on board to direct.
Talent like this isn’t cheap. With a production budget of $200M, GRAY is the most expensive film to date for the streamer. According to Joe Russo, “The intention is for it to be competitive with any theatrical, and the ability to do [so] with Gosling and Evans is a dream for us. The idea is to create a franchise and build out a whole universe, with Ryan at the center of it.”
Gosling plays “Court Gentry,” a freelance assassin in the “Gray Man” series. Greaney publishes a new book in the series about once every year, with the latest entry, SIERRA SIX, arriving next month. Bottom line, there is plenty of material should Gosling, Russo Brothers, and Netflix decide to build this out.
Given the cost, pedigree, and the potential to turn this into an enormous franchise, it’s odd to see that awareness for the film is only at 14%. Of the 66 films currently being tracked by The Quorum, it ranks 57th.
When we isolate just the tentpoles — large budget films that live outside the DC and Marvel universes — GRAY ranks 7th out of seven.
It’s important to note that Netflix doesn’t operate like a traditional studio.
First, GRAY is still undated even though filming wrapped over six months ago. If this were at a studio, it would have been assigned a release date over a year ago. A flag would have been planted on the schedule letting other studios know to stay away from the film.
Second, Netflix adopts shorter marketing windows. Again, if this was at a studio, a teaser trailer or a one-sheet might have been released. By comparison, Warner Bros. put out a teaser trailer for THE BATMAN in August of 2020, a full 19 months before its upcoming March release date. In October, Disney gave us a teaser poster for LIGHTYEAR, eight months before its June release.
But still nothing for GRAY.
Interestingly, Netflix has done at least one long-lead campaign in the past. In 2019, Netflix put out a teaser trailer for Martin Scorsese’s THE IRISHMAN nine months before the film’s release. That doesn’t happen anymore. The teaser for DON’T LOOK UP came out four months ahead of the movie, and that’s on the long side for the Netflix marketing machine.
Joe Russo may have said that the goal was to be competitive with a theatrical release. But, sadly, the marketing for the film is more in-line with how Netflix operates rather than a film studio.
Last June, Netflix started publishing global viewership data. They list the ten films and TV shows with the most “hours viewed” each week. What we don’t know is precisely how many people watched a program, what the numbers looked like in just the U.S. or what viewership looks like for films outside the top ten.
Still, it gives us some insights into performance. To date, The Quorum has tracked ten Netflix films that have premiered since they started publishing their data. We charted these films with hours viewed on the Y-axis and the awareness from The Quorum at the time of release on the X-axis.
Despite this being a very small sample, the results are compelling. There is a strong correlation between awareness and hours viewed. For example, the two films that generated over 200 million hours viewed — THE UNFORGIVABLE and DON’T LOOK UP — had the highest awareness scores.
As noted above, awareness for THE GRAY MAN is at 14%. The dashed red line represents 14% awareness. If GRAY were to open today, we’d be talking about viewership near or below 100 million, perhaps lower than 50 million.
Had this been a theatrical release, we’d be ringing the alarms. Code red. All hands on deck for a recovery. But given that Netflix shrinks the marketing window, the calculation is different. The chart below shows awareness over time for GRAY along with DON’T LOOK UP and THE HARDER THEY FALL.
LOOK may have reached 31% awareness by the time it was released, but it started at 9%. In that context, the numbers for GRAY don’t look so bad. The question is, with a project as large as GRAY, with the potential to launch an enormous franchise, why isn’t Netflix treating this one more like THE IRISHMAN and less like just another Netflix film?