Caroline’s Look: What the “Netflix Bubble” is and Why it Matters

Caroline Look, Editor-In-Chief

On Nov. 10, Netflix announced an upcoming movie called “Strangers” that is set to star Maya Hawke and Camila Mendes and be directed by Jennifer Kaytin Robinson. At first glance, this news seems pretty benign. 

To me, however, it cemented an issue I’ve had with Netflix for a while: they seemingly refuse to cast new actors and hire new directors, only relying on those who they have worked with in the past. I call this practice the “Netflix Bubble,” and I think that this emerging problem in Hollywood needs to burst. 

Although from a famous family, Hawke made a name for herself when she played Robin Buckley in “Stranger Things” season three.

Mendes is best known for portraying Veronica Lodge in “Riverdale,” but those with a Netflix subscription would also recognize her as Katie Franklin in “Dangerous Lies.”

Robinson’s career was propelled when she directed, wrote, and produced the 2019 Netflix film, “Someone Great.”

All of these women have had their careers significantly advanced because of a project they did with Netflix. On paper, I do not have a problem with this. I love seeing women do well in the entertainment industry because I myself want to be a woman in the entertainment industry. 

However, because of my career ambitions, this bubble causes me to worry that I or others may have a harder time landing a job with the second most popular streaming service. 

Another example of the bubble was when I was watching the new Netflix holiday movie, “Holidate” with my parents. The main character’s brother was played by Jake Manley, an actor who I know from his role as the lead in Netflix’s “The Order.”

I understand that this trend probably isn’t new and most likely has a lot to do with contracts and money. From a consumer’s point of view, however, that doesn’t make it any less noticeable or any more okay.

I feel like Netflix wants us to be like the pointing Leonardo DiCaprio meme. When we see an actor that’s familiar to us, we immediately feel more comforted. That’s how I felt while watching “Holidate.” Manley’s performance in “The Order” was pretty good, so I was excited about watching him in something else. I also loudly proclaimed, “Hey, I know him!” which is always an exciting feeling.

I feel like this practice also causes us to like the movie more. Back to my “Holidate” example, I felt more inclined to enjoy the movie because Manley was in it. 

Actors all in the “Netflix Bubble” who have been in multiple Netflix projects. Photos courtesy of IMDB. (Caroline Look)

The hiring of well-known stars also makes the movie or tv show more marketable. It reminds me of those animated movies whose main selling point is a near-full famous cast or at the least, famous people playing the lead roles: “Sing,” “Onward,” “Inside Out,” and “The Emoji Movie,” to name a few. 

I’m not saying that a celebrity is incapable of giving a good performance as their character in an animated movie. Amy Poehler as Joy in “Inside Out” and John Mulaney as Peter Porker/Spider-Ham in “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” will forever be iconic. It just saddens me to think about somebody whose job and passion is solely voice acting not getting hired because their name may not have enough star power as the celebrity who auditioned–the same goes for actors.

To reiterate, I don’t think Hawke and Mendes will give a poor performance nor do I think Robinson will do a poor job directing. In fact, from what I have seen of theirs, I am excited to watch the movie. 

With “Strangers,” Hawke and/or Mendes will likely be on the thumbnail on Netflix, meaning that a casual fan will subconsciously think, “Hey, I know them from ‘Stranger Things’ or ‘Riverdale,’ and I liked them in those. I may like this movie too.”

Studios recognize star power. They are well aware of the fact that these celebrities have immense and intense fan bases that come out in droves to support them. 

Their fanbases, their marketable name and talent are the main reasons they get the job. 

Like I said before, I don’t think there is anything wrong with this practice on the surface. I understand that actors and directors need projects as it’s their job. 

But, as someone whose dream job is as a screenwriter, it concerns me. I worry that I won’t be able to get my chance because jobs will be taken by writers Netflix has already worked with and trusts. 

The only real solution I can think of to this problem is supporting indie directors and actors by watching indie films. However, this won’t really send a message to Netflix because most indie films don’t get put on there. Support indie filmmakers in any way you can. Follow indie actors and directors on social media. Comment their names so streaming services can see them. Buy their movies. 

At the end of the day, is the “Netflix Bubble” the biggest deal ever? No, not at all. Yet, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be aware of its presence. 

I don’t know about you, but I fear a day when I hop on Netflix and I only see the same 20 or so actors, just tag-teaming each other between projects. I yearn for something different.

I want to see different kinds of people, not just thin, cisgender, straight, white, able-bodied actors. I want to view the artistic perspective of a new director. I want to listen to the score of a new composer. I want to fall in love with a story from a new scriptwriter–and hopefully, one day, that scriptwriter is me.