The pop culture winner of this period of enforced lockdown? Chris Hemsworth, at least according to Netflix’s ratings data.
Extraction, the slick new Netflix film in which Hemsworth plays a black market mercenary tasked with rescuing the kidnapped son of an Indian drug lord from the clutches of his rival, has been breaking records for the streaming service since it debuted late last month.
In a rare release of viewership figures, Netflix earlier this month said the film, directed by Sam Hargrave, was “on its way to becoming the biggest-ever film premiere on Netflix – with a projected 90 million households getting in on the action in the first four weeks”. Hemsworth also took to social media to thank fans for the film’s success, saying “it looks like it’s going to be Netflix’s biggest feature of all time, which is mind-blowing.”
Almost a month after its release the film remains entrenched in Netflix’s top 10 trending movies in Australia, and has proved so successful that a sequel – hinted at in the film’s intentionally ambiguous ending – is already in the works.
But the film’s serendipitous timing – premiering just as the pandemic’s global lockdown spawned an abundance of home-bound, content-hungry viewers – can’t explain all its success, says Dr Bruce Isaacs, associate professor in film studies at the University of Sydney.
“Netflix’s viewing has gone up dramatically because we’re all isolated, but you can’t just make any terrible action film and expect viewers to come,” says Dr Isaacs. “Extraction is miles away from being a terrible action film; it’s super-polished and the stunts are sensational.”
With its intricate set pieces and a stuntman-turned-director at the helm, the film follows the successful template of the recent John Wick franchise, which from an initial budget of $US30 million has grossed more than $US500 million globally.
“It’s a smart strategy from Netflix,” says Isaacs, citing the movie’s relatively low $US65 million budget. “You get a huge A-lister who you know can open movies, give him whatever he wants, and stock the rest with people who are going to draw very small salaries. You’re shooting largely in India and Bangladesh, so you’re talking about a labour force that’s going to come at a smaller percentage compared to a more traditional studio approach. But it still has the production value of a high-level studio film that might’ve cost $US150 million.”
There’s also a clever nostalgic kick. With Hemsworth’s stoic performance and the film’s emphasis on hand-to-hand stunts that eschew any hi-tech quirks that might’ve propelled its plot (surely satellite-tracking could’ve simplified Hemworth’s mission?), it’s a throwback to brawny action films of the ’80s such as Commando and First Blood, says Dr Isaacs.
“Through the ’90s and early ’00s, action cinema became much quieter; we kind of lost that hyper-masculine, over-the-top violence we saw with Schwarzenegger. What’s interesting about Extraction is it’s deliberately going for an aesthetic that takes us back to an earlier form of action film, and the reason it works is because Chris Hemsworth steps into those shoes quite well. He’s really charismatic in this movie.”
If the film’s hit one snag with critics, it’s been the perception that it embraces a “white saviour” narrative.
“You’ve got this white Aussie guy coming into this exotic other world to literally remove the kid – this is the kind of thing people were railing against in the ’90s in critical theory,” says Dr Isaacs. “It’s quite surprising, and there are potentially troubling political and ideological positions in the film.”
But judging from Netflix’s figures, such concerns haven’t dissuaded audiences.
“Once you put a movie like this in people’s homes, immediately we’re talking about a far more expansive community of viewers,” says Dr Isaacs.
“To see this at the movies you’d need to seek it out and pay a lot of money, but with [Netflix] it’s $11-a-month and you’ve got it. And as long as you have a decent widescreen TV and decent sound, it’s a pretty amazing experience.”