Family Guy Was Wrong About Netflix

In its typical sardonic and tongue-in-cheek way, Family Guy mocked Netlfix during its 2017 episode “Saturated Fat Guy.” I won’t post a video since anything I can find is likely to be taken down, but if you’re familiar at all with Family Guy you can imagine what the joke is like. I’ll be examining the portion that says:

… If you love the golden year of movies: 2003, we might have some of what you’re looking for. Netflix streaming! Buffer for 20 minutes, then watch 35 minutes of a movie with Jason Statham.

This makes essentially three claims that I will examine:

  1. 2003 was not a very good year for movies.
  2. Netflix has a lot of 2003 movies.
  3. Jason Statham starred in a lot of movies around 2003 including ones you can find on Netflix. Implicitly, Jason Statham is in a lot of movies on Netflix, and you can extrapolate out that most of the stars on Netflix are on the A-/B-list or lower (apologies to Jason Statham).

Family Guy’s sarcastic snipe calls 2003 a “golden year” of movies. This would imply that 2003 was not a very good year for movies. At the very least it implies that 2003 was not a golden year … I think that would be tough to measure, and golden years of movies are very rare. I think there have been several golden ages of movies, and bad movies come out every year. At any rate, Family Guy is implying that most people probably wouldn’t want to watch any movies from 2003.

After looking into it, I was pretty surprised to find out that 2003 actually seemed like a pretty good year for movies. I used Google to look up movies from various years. Unfortunately, there is no easily available public API that I could use to find the information I needed in a simple way programmatically, so this article will be bereft of anything software development related. I had to use some brute force Googling to figure things out.

First off, the highest grossing films in 2003 according to Wikipedia:

There are a few obvious classics in here: the final Lord of the Rings, Finding Nemo, and Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (yes, that is the first one). The second and third Matrix movies are arguably classics. The Last Samurai had some controversy surrounding it, but it seems to me to be a movie that’s still talked about today. Bruce Almighty spawned a sequel, and I have to imagine the X-Men sequel was good for something… it got an 89% on Rotten Tomatoes, at least.

Other movies from 2003 according to IMDB include Underworld, Lost in Translation, Kill Bill, Big Fish, Mystic River, Oldboy (the original Korean cult classic), Love Actually, Bad Santa, Elf, Something’s Gotta Give, House of Sand and Fog, Matchstick Men, School of Rock, Open Range (a movie that I particularly like), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Italian Job, Monster, and How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.

Analyzing critical / audience reception of all these movies is a very difficult thing to do. There were mixed reviews all over the place, and I think that older movies tend to be reviewed more poorly. There are also a lot of different review sites that aggregate reviews in different ways, and critic vs. audience reception is often contradictory.

However, I will point out that all of these movies made money when comparing box office to budget. House of Sand and Fog and Matchstick Men might have lost money after marketing, but there were no real box office flops of all the movies I listed in 2003 which his actually pretty shocking. That’s not to say that there were no flops… as with every year there were a ton of movies in 2003, so I really couldn’t look at everything. I felt it appropriate to look towards the upper level of big blockbuster movies to get an idea of the performance for the year.

All this being said, it doesn’t prove that 2003 was a particularly good year for movies. I decided to also take a look at 2002 and 2004 for movies by comparison. 2002’s top 10 box office gross was 5.6 billion compared to 2003’s 5.8 billion. No big surprises there. 2004 actually crosses the 6 billion dollar mark, although the third LoTR movie from 2003 was the only movie in this group of 30 to cross 1 billion on its own.

IMDB movies for 2002 include 28 Days Later, Spider-Man, the second LoTR movie, The Ring, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Signs, Catch Me If You Can, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (the second Harry Potter movie), Lilo and Stitch, and 8 Mile. 2004’s list includes Crash, Million Dollar Baby, Kill Bill 2, Shrek 2, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Terminal, Sideways, Hotel Rwanda, Mean Girls, The Notebook, Harry Potter 3, Spider-Man 2, Saw, and Polar Express. These are just movies that I consider to be culturally significant / have heard about in recent years. It’s not an exhaustive list.

I found it also apt to make a comparison to 2016 (the year before the airing of the Family Guy episode). The top 10 2016 worldwide gross totaled 9.3 billion dollars. Adjusted for inflation according to AIER, 2003 would be about 7.5 billion, but there are a lot of factors that go into increase in box office gross year-over-year. Movies continue to become more and more popular worldwide. As an interesting side note, Disney had the top 5 grossing movies in 2016. In 2003, it only had #2 and #4.

2016 movies included Moonlight, Rogue One, 13th, Hidden Figures, The Jungle Book, Deadpool, Captain America: Civil War, La La Land, Dr. Strange, Star Trek Beyond, Zootopia, Moana, Fantastic Beasts, Finding Dory, and X-Men: Apocalypse. I actually found more movies from 2003 that I would consider significant than from 2016… but that’s just one person’s opinion.

Based on this analysis, I conclude that 2003 was not a particularly insignificant year for movies. In fact, there are a lot of 2003 movies that are still worth viewing today and that are still culturally significant in some way. The Room came out in 2003 after all.

There doesn’t seem to be any way to determine whether a movie has ever been on Netflix, and I only have access to Florida as a locale. This means that I can only check on what movies Netflix has in Florida as of January, 2019. There certainly could have been different movies on Netflix in 2017 when the Family Guy episode aired and this joke was likely written. Netflix also seems to rotate their movie list very frequently, so it would be better to analyze the movies that they have over a period of time rather than at any given instant. If anyone would like to do that, I’d be curious about the results.

The only 2003 movies currently on Netflix from the ones that I listed are Kill Bill and Bruce Almighty. There is a Texas Chainsaw Massacre on there, but I’m actually not sure if it’s the one from 2003. Other 2003 movies I found were Cold Mountain, Daddy Day Care, Mona Lisa Smile, Tears of the Sun, 2 Fast 2 Furious, Malibu’s Most Wanted, and Gothika. It’s hard to say whether this is a substantial selection of movies. There are likely more movies from 2003 that had smaller budgets, and my search was not exhaustive, but Netflix also has hundreds of movies or more. In support of Family Guy’s joke, most of these movies didn’t do very well critically, and a few lost money. None of the top 10 grossing made it to Netflix.

This may not be quite a fair comparison if Family Guy was saying you can expect to find mostly 12-year-old movies on Netflix, so I decided to look for 2005 movies as well. 2005 movies I found were V for Vendetta, Serenity, Are We There Yet, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Monster In Law, and XXX: State of the Union. I know that The 40-Year Old Virgin was on it at one point as well. It seems like there might be more big 2003 movies on Netflix than 2005 movies which is interesting considering the joke.

I also decided to look at 2018 movies. If there were a lot of 2018 movies on Netflix, that would indicate that it includes a lot of modern movies in its library as well rather than just older movies. 2018 movies on Netflix (not including Netflix-produced movies) include Solo: A Star Wars Story, Avengers: Infinity War, Black Panther, Night School, and Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle. Curiously there is another movie called Solo produced by Netflix and unrelated to Star Wars. Netflix produced a ton of movies in 2018 too, but I didn’t think it was quite fair to count them on this list.

It’s also early into 2019, so looking at 2017 may make more sense. From those we have: Thor: Ragnarok, Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Beauty and the Beast, Wind River, Coco, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, Hostiles, and Dismissed. Netflix produced quite a few movies in 2017 as well, though not nearly as many as in 2018. That’s 10 movies I found from 2003 and 10 that I found from 2017.

Overall it doesn’t seem like Netflix strongly favors 2003. More analysis would be needed of other years to see the distribution of movies by age, and this analysis would have to be done over time. There are no easily available open APIs to do any of this, so for the most part, I think we’ll have to remain in the dark. I also think it’s fair to expect that Netflix would have a bigger selection of older movies since they would be easier and cheaper to acquire.

All that being said, I can conclude that as of 2019, Netflix does not heavily favor movies from 2003 or movies from 12 years ago specifically. It seems to have a fairly even distribution of movies over the years including a decent selection of modern, popular movies. However, it does seem that Netflix generally does not include top grossing or well-received movies from particular years, so the quality of its older movie selection could be a fair subject of a joke.

Jason Statham starred in one movie in 2003, The Italian Job, for which he got fourth billing and which is not on Netflix.

Jason Statham’s most well-known movie is probably The Transporter from 2002. It’s not on Netflix. It’s the only movie he starred in in 2002. He starred in two movies in 2001 and was fourth billed for one and something like tenth billed for the other. He starred in two movies in 2004, but was an extra in one. He was a star in Cellular which is on Netflix.

Jason Statham seems to be in four movies on Netflix right now: Killer Elite (2011), Death Race (2008), Cellular (2004), and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998). It’s almost impossible to tell how popular this makes him compared to other stars on Netflix, and he may be in more movies on Netflix, but those seem to be the biggest results. Other stars that came to my mind that are in at least four movies (though likely more) include Jennifer Lopez, Ryan Gosling, Ryan Reynolds, Chris Pratt, Chris Hemsworth, Julia Roberts, Julia Stiles, Matt Damon, Brad Pitt, and Chris Evans (who also starred in Cellular).

Googling “top actors” includes people who all yield results on Netflix, many at least four times: Will Smith, Tom Hanks, Jack Nicholson, Samuel L. Jackson, and many more. Anne Hathaway, Ellen Page, Jennifer Lawrence, Scarlett Johansson, and Amy Adams all yield results too, though seemingly fewer.

Suffice to say, Netflix doesn’t seem to favor Jason Statham in any particular way, and there’s only one movie around 2003 that he stars in that’s even on Netflix.

This joke is also from a little over two years ago, so it may have been more relevant back then. I think that Netflix has been steadily improving over the years in both the amount and quality of the content that it has to offer. It’s impossible for me to analyze what Netflix was like in 2017 at this time, but something tells me it wasn’t mostly bad movies from 2003. Family Guy has never been above a cheap laugh at any person or organization’s expense. I’ll repeat, though, that the movies from 2003 and 2005 that Netflix does have are not the cream of the crop.

Jokes are capricious and chimerical beasts. There’s something about the joke that sounds true… 2003 was a pretty long time ago, and unless you’re a movie buff, it’s unlikely you could immediately rattle off 2003 classics off the top of your head. Particularly if you like Family Guy, your instinctive reaction might be to smirk and think “yeah… Netflix isn’t that great” without thinking any further. That being said, Netflix has had a reputation for having low quality movies in general. I think there are a lot of sensible reasons for this … lower quality movies are cheaper to stream. Netflix has also always been more focused on television than movies at least in the past.

Netflix doesn’t seem to have many classics, and while it does have quite a few popular modern movies, most of the older movies it seems to have were not especially successful. In this aspect of the joke, I think that Family Guy is right. If there’s a moral to this story, I think it’s that you can’t take jokes purely at face value or expect them to be honest representations of the real world outright.

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