EXCLUSIVE: Blood Red Sky is now officially Netflix’s most successful German content to date, film or TV, having been watched by more than 50 million households around the world in its first 28 days on the platform. That surpasses the historical series Barbarians, which previously held the record.
The numbers are even more remarkable when you consider that the plane hijacking / vampire film only released on July 23, meaning it has reached the benchmark in fewer than 20 days.
In addition to its global audience figures – which saw an average of 90% of viewers watch the entire two-hour runtime – the film has also reached the top 10 in 93 countries, hitting the number one spot in 57 including the U.S., Brazil, Saudi Arabia and the Philippines. It has actually been more of an international hit than a German one, having only reached no.2 in its native country, though notably the film is primarily in English, with portions in German.
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Deadline sat down with director Peter Thorwarth to break down the reasons behind the title’s success.
DEADLINE: 50 million households worldwide watched your movie. Did you see that coming?
PETER THORWARTH: I always believed it would be a successful movie, but I never believed it would be a hit globally. We got the numbers and everyone freaked out. It’s great.
DEADLINE: And people aren’t just switching it on, they’re watching the majority of the film…
THORWARTH: Yes, 90% watch from the beginning to the end, I think that’s pretty good.
DEADLINE: You reached no.1 in the U.S., Brazil, Saudi Arabia, it’s a very diverse list – why do you think this film appealed to viewers in such disparate territories?
THORWARTH: First of all, I think it’s a very catchy logline – a plane is hijacked and there’s a woman on board who doesn’t want to go into the sunlight. When people talk to each other, they say, ‘have you seen the movie with the vampires on a plane’. I know it’s catchy because I pitched the movie for years, and like a good joke, it had a punchline at the end. I would tell people it was set on a plane that got highjacked – I could feel them getting bored – and then at the end I would explain that she [Peri Baumeister] is a vampire. That was surprising for them.
I think that once you’ve seen the movie, you also see this emotional arc. It’s not a horror movie, it’s also an action drama, but then it has this strong bond between mother and son. I have noticed that viewers who don’t like horror movies kept watching it until the end because they were so touched by the story.
DEADLINE: How did Netflix first get involved in the movie?
THORWARTH: I wrote the screenplay 16 years ago and since then I’ve been running around with the script like crazy. I’ve been to Los Angeles, Cannes, London. There was a time Universal wanted to make a big studio movie out of it, then the chairman left and it didn’t work out. It went to Universal International in London and David Kosse read it, nine years ago. He called me and said he wanted to do it. It didn’t work out because he left, and Universal kept the rights, even extending the option.
Two years ago, he called me again [now in his role as Netflix’s VP International Film], asking me about Blood Red Sky, saying the screenplay had been stuck in his head. I said that a financier wanted to extend the option, take it to Cannes, and find an actress famous enough to make the movie bankable. He said, ‘Don’t do it’. He told me that he was building up Netflix in London and he wanted to do the movie.
DEADLINE: Did it feel like a natural streaming fit to you?
THORWARTH: Yes, because of the people we could reach worldwide. It was hard to get it financed in Germany. I always believed in doing a movie that works globally, because it takes place on a transatlantic flight. I liked the idea that we would cast every actor from the country their character is from. It’s very modern. Narcos did it. I like the idea of having German, British, American, Arabic actors in one movie. Of course, on an international flight everyone speaks English. It’s not a typical German movie, it’s not a typical American movie, it’s an international movie.
DEADLINE: The biggest question mark around a Netflix release is that, once the film is on the platform, will anyone actually watch it… How do you think people discovered your film?
THORWARTH: I cannot explain it because we don’t have any stars in the movie. The awareness was there, the numbers were high from the beginning. My interpretation is that it’s because of the logline. It’s like ‘a skyscraper gets taken over by terrorists’. When it’s too complicated it’s harder to talk to other people about it. Of course, we had the algorithm. When the numbers are high, the advertising is there on Netflix.
DEADLINE: How much of an impact do you think social media had?
THORWARTH: It’s a very big part of it right now, but I’m not the social media guy. I know as a marketing tool it’s a big thing. I’ve had bad experiences with it, personally. Back in the day, there was a Myspace guy who created a fan page for me and took over my digital personality. Since then I try to avoid the stuff.
DEADLINE: How much insight do you get into Netflix’s marketing campaign for your movie? [The campaign featured a notable event where 40 influencers were invited to board the actual plane set used in the movie, which was then “hijacked” by a Twitch streamer, with events broadcast live on the platform].
THORWARTH: It’s mostly for the campaign in Germany. They made the trailers, I think they did a really great job. We also chatted about the poster. That was mostly it.
DEADLINE: What about the image they use on Netflix itself? Apparently they change depending on the viewer.
THORWARTH: Yes, I think there are at least 20 images. It’s their philosophy, it’s a secret of the algorithm. They analyse what the subscribers like and they have lots of images. I haven’t even seen them all.
DEADLINE: What’s the reception been like in Germany? Has it been more of an international hit than at home?
THORWARTH: Yes definitely. It’s funny because so many types of genre movies were created in Germany. Nosferatu for horror, Metropolis for sci-fi, etc. But because of our fucked up history we lost all our talent, they all emigrated to the States. Since then genre movies had a hard time in Germany. Movies were misused by the Nazis for propaganda. After the Second World War everything was destroyed. We had these special films that were mostly very beautiful landscapes with no conflict and very cheesy stories – the people had seen too much violence.
As a reaction to that, very intellectual movies were made by guys like Wim Wenders and Rainer Werner Fassbinder. It has been pretty hard to do genre movies in Germany since then. And this movie [Blood Red Sky] seems to play better in the U.S. than in Germany. The Germans always have a problem with their own culture. We don’t have this confidence in our culture. German film tends to need to be very sophisticated.
DEADLINE: And you still got no.2 in Germany…
DEADLINE: From my perspective, German content has been travelling pretty well recently, you have Barbarians, which is quite genre, and then you have a more high-brow series like Dark.
THORWARTH: I think that’s only because of Netflix and the streaming services. Stories like that would never have been possible without streaming services.
DEADLINE: Do you think that there’s a reason German content is working particularly well on those services?
THORWARTH: I don’t think Blood Red Sky is a particularly German story. Barbarians is very German, but it has a catchy logline – the old Germans versus the Romans. I love Dark. We have all this talent, but they never had the chance to show what they were capable of dong before.
DEADLINE: Does it surprise you that your film surpassed a TV series for total viewers? TV shows are so in vogue.
THORWARTH: We have a special situation right now because of Covid, it’s hard for cinemas. I find with my friends now, they are reluctant to start a series, because it eats up a lot of time. I like a miniseries that ends after six episodes, as well as movies. When I’m traveling, I’m tired in the evenings, I only like to watch one movie, not be hooked for the next couple of months on a series. It’s logical that movies are coming back.
DEADLINE: That’s ironic, one of the reasons people favor TV is because they don’t have the attention span for a feature…
THORWARTH: Yeah, but if you think of it in terms of how much time you need once you’re addicted to a series, sometimes it’s easy to just consume a feature.
DEADLINE: What’s up next for you?
THORWARTH: I’m writing something new. My next thing will have a bit more of my humor, though it’s a really tough story taking place in medieval times. It’s my swansong to chivalry. In Germany I have been compared to Guy Ritchie.