When Scott Stuber arrived at Netflix in 2017, some of its biggest films to date were the Idris Elba drama “Beasts of No Nation,” the Adam Sandler comedy “Sandy Wexler,” or the Will Smith fantasy action film “Bright.” Some were hits or got some awards buzz, and sure they had new films by Noah Baumbach and Angelina Jolie, but Netflix at that time was still getting booed at the Cannes Film Festival for releasing Bong Joon-Ho’s “Okja.”
Under Stuber’s watch, that all changed. Netflix would be the place where Martin Scorsese, Bradley Cooper, Alfonso Cuarón, Jane Campion, and more would want to make their passion projects. It was the place The Rock, the Russo Brothers, Zack Snyder, and Shawn Levy took their tentpoles to make some of the streamer’s biggest hits to date. He spent a fortune to get the rights to two “Knives Out” sequels. And it’s the place that this morning scored 18 Oscar nominations, the most of any individual studio.
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Stuber announced on the eve of those Oscar nominations he’d be leaving Netflix in March after seven years as Film Chairman. He’s leaving on his own terms knowing he accomplished everything and more he was brought in for.
“He was brought in to legitimize Netflix, make it a place where filmmakers will want to work, and he did that. He made it a place where filmmakers wanted to go,” one producer who spoke with IndieWire said glowingly of Stuber. “Nicest guy, no ego, doesn’t get rattled, and filmmakers wanted to work with him. He did everything he set out to do there.”
“I think the town likes Scott Stuber so much, he legitimized films for Netflix, and I think he can walk away knowing that,” a talent manager echoed. “And now he’s done.”
“I think he’s done a fantastic job. They’ve penetrated the marketplace in every way,” another producer said. “Who hasn’t worked there?”
With Stuber’s proven track record at Bluegrass Films and Universal, some of the sources IndieWire spoke with to this day were surprised an old school producer like Stuber stuck at Netflix for as long as he did. They’re less surprised he’s leaving, saying that there have been rumblings about him starting a new venture for some time.
Slowly but surely Netflix has made tweaks to the makeup of the film team. In 2022, one of Stuber’s first hires Tendo Nagenda exited as part of a larger restructuring of Stuber’s team. Then in March of 2023, documentary veteran Lisa Nishimura and indie film voice Ian Bricke were let go. And with Co-CEO Reed Hastings stepping down in January 2023, change is just “part of the natural evolution,” and that was true for how Stuber likely felt about things as well.
“It’s closing a chapter on one thing and starting another. I don’t think it’s anything more dramatic than that,” the manager said.
Expectations are that Stuber’s new venture will see him returning to his roots and working on movies that he can put into theaters and make a part of the cultural zeitgeist. Stuber was Netflix’s biggest champion for inching Netflix toward a theatrical presence, fighting to get “The Irishman” on a 45-day window or to get “Glass Onion” into theaters for a special one-week preview for the streamer’s widest release ever, a move that was good enough to net $15 million at the box office (and they still probably left money on the table).
But even with Ted Sarandos changing his tune on advertising, on live events, on sports, and on password sharing, the streamer still believes the best way for audiences to watch Netflix movies is on their own platform.
“I think he misses the Friday night jitters and Monday morning hits or blues. I don’t think he’s 100 percent, ‘I have to be in theaters and do what I want to do,’ but I do think that he wants that to be part of his business, and Netflix says this is not a thing,” the first producer said. “I think he got to a point where he wasn’t allowed to do that, he’s done everything he’s said he’s going to do, he’s done everything he said he’s going to do at Netflix, so how much longer does he wait?”
Stuber’s track record has been far from spotless. After originally having an output of as much as one movie a week on Netflix, the streamer has been prioritizing quality over quantity. Netflix may have spent $20 million on last year’s “Fair Play” or $17 million on “It’s What’s Inside” at this year’s Sundance — news that broke hours before Stuber announced he was leaving — but their spending has been less reckless as other competitors have entered the fray. Netflix has also always been the bridesmaid, never the bride, at the Oscars, despite eight Best Picture nominations. And though it’s hard to judge any Netflix movie as a “bomb” in the traditional sense, the streamer has some costly recent misses like “The School of Good and Evil,” “Heart of Gold,” or “Rebel Moon: Part One.”
The first producer believed some of the brunt that fell on Stuber was because though he oversaw the film team, several of his underlings all had green light power, leading to a lot of films that didn’t have the same quality. Streamlining the film team with Kira Goldberg and Ori Marmur overseeing tentpoles and Niija Kuykendall focusing on mid-sized features helped make the job more appealing, the producer believed.
So where does Stuber’s exit leave Netflix’s original film strategy? That’s less clear, and his exit could mean a lot or be less disruptive than you imagine. It’d be naive to think there were no changes in store on the film side, but Sarandos still knows what he wants to make and relies on its algorithms to drive strategy. Netflix also expects its content spend for 2024 to be at $17 billion, the same as 2022 and 2023 levels, at a time when just about every studio is scaling back costs.
Coming up on Netflix’s 2024 slate are films like “Beverly Hills Cop: Axel Foley” with Eddie Murphy, “The Electric State” from the Russo Brothers starring Millie Bobby Brown, “The Old Guard 2” with Charlize Theron, “The Piano Lesson” with Samuel L. Jackson and Denzel Washington, Richard Linklater’s “Hit Man,” and Jerry Seinfeld’s Pop-Tart movie “Unfrosted,” to name a few. Netflix also has a new “Chronicles of Narnia” film from Greta Gerwig still in development.
As for who can take Stuber’s job, sources suspect an outside hire will be the way to go, with names like Emma Watts, Toby Emmerich, or Dan Lin all currently free agents, but “Netflix always surprises you,” the manager said, and it’s not out of the question that Marmur gets a bigger role.
“All the names I’ve seen are really interesting. Ted probably has a sense of what he’s looking for and the executive and type of films they want to make. It’ll be someone who has done it at a high level or they believe can do it at a high level,” the second producer said. “There’s some who are looking and probably people not looking who might get phone calls.”
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