For the most devoted defenders of the theatrical experience, it will probably make no damn sense. It compels them though. Rian Johnson’s Knives Out 2 and Knives Out 3 are headed to a Netflix account near you thanks to a landmark deal that makes streaming history, and gives Netflix its first major film franchise.
News of the development was broken late Wednesday by Deadline, who reported the streaming service is closing a deal with Johnson and his producing partner Ram Bergman to release two Knives Out sequels. Each will see Daniel Craig return as Benoit Blanc, the Last of the Gentleman Sleuths.
Considering the first Knives Out was the sleeper hit of the holiday season in 2019—back when movie theaters could have holiday seasons—this is obviously a surprise. After all, the first film grossed $311 million for Lionsgate on a relatively modest $40 million budget. Why would Lionsgate not want to double down on that deal? Well, it turns out Johnson retained the rights to Benoit Blanc and his adventures, licensing out the original film to MRC and, by extension, Lionsgate as distributor for a single-picture deal. This allowed Johnson and his partner to shop the rights to the sequels around town, and to whichever streamer or studio would pay the highest price. Indeed, Deadline suggested Netflix beat out Apple and Amazon, among others, in a bidding war for the rights.
This is significant for Netflix, but also another sign of the changing winds in the movie industry. When Knives Out released in 2021, first as a surprise sensation on the film festival circuit at Toronto and Fantastic Fest and then in wide release over Thanksgiving weekend in the U.S., few anticipated the monster it would become. The movie was a mirthful whodunit mystery in the classic Agatha Christie mold, and original variations on this genre (i.e. not based on well-known Christie titles) have failed to make significant profits for decades.
Yet with its twisty plot—much of which involved the politically timely switchbacks around Marta Cabrera (Ana de Armas), the film’s secret protagonist—and its utterly delightful collection of ensemble performances, the movie had folks rolling in the aisles. Or it could’ve just been Daniel Craig’s thick Southern drawl.
It’s a real shame, then, that this unexpected movie franchise for adults will not continue playing in theaters. But as theaters continue to be largely shut down or operating at limited capacity, there is a growing suspicion within the industry that dramas and adult-oriented comedies will struggle to get audiences back into auditoriums. Apparently that includes sequels to box office hits.
Or perhaps the lesson is that streaming services just have more cash to burn for adult-oriented films that prefer seeing Craig in tweed smoking jackets instead of bulletproof tuxedos?
Either way this is a major win for Netflix, which to date has failed to create a significant pop culture sensation with their original film output. This is not to say Netflix hasn’t been able to produce good or even great movies. They’ve become a familiar stop for auteurs looking for big budgets and limited restrictions—think Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma, Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, or David Fincher’s Mank. But while those movies can become critical and even Oscar darlings, they’ve failed to gain the kind of mainstream popularity of something like, well, Knives Out. Never mind $200 million blockbusters.
The Netflix movies that’ve achieved some level of pop culture awareness have tended to be of more questionable quality. While films like Extraction, Bright, Bird Box, and whatever Adam Sandler is making for the streamer this week have their fans, and gotten sequels, they all play to relatively niche audiences and algorithms. There hasn’t been a Netflix movie to dominate the zeitgeist the way certain Netflix series, such as Stranger Things, The Crown, The Queen’s Gambit, and Bridgerton, have.
By acquiring the rights to Knives Out 2 and Knives Out 3, Netflix has purchased its first bona fide hit movie franchise… for at least two sequels. And in the curious case of Rian Johnson and Daniel Craig, they’ve found a donut hole inside of their donut hole. And inside of that donut hole? There’s a whole lot of money.