'Cuties' Boycott Fails as Controversial Movie Makes Netflix Top 5 in U.S.

Cuties has been perhaps the most-controversial movie ever to be released by Netflix. Since the French-Senegalese movie was released onto the streamer last week, numerous conservative Twitter pundits have called for the film to be taken off Netflix and/or for people to boycott the streaming service.

This campaign arguably came to a head when Senator Ted Cruz asked the Justice Department to look into whether the streamer and the movie's makers violated federal child pornography laws. The Senator made this request after #CancelNetflix became one of the top Twitter trends, and a Change.org petition asking people to cancel their subscriptions to the service received nearly 650,000 signatures.

However, all of this press attention and controversy seems to have made more people decide to watch the film. According to FlixPatrol, on Saturday, September 14, the movie broke into the Netflix top 10 movies chart, reaching a peak of number four on September 12. At the time of writing, the movie is at number five in the Netflix movie charts, making it the second most-watched Netflix original of the day behind The Social Dilemma.

Though it cannot be said for certain that the movie has gotten a boost in viewers because of all the controversy, the film does seem to be over-performing compared to similar films on the chart. The film is the first French-language film to appear in the U.S. Netflix movie charts since June, when the more commercial action movie Lost Bullet spent 11 days on the chart.

In fact, apart from Cuties, only three French-language movies have appeared in the U.S. Netflix movies top 10 in 2020 (Lost Bullet, Earth and Blood and The Decline), all of which were big-budget action films compared to the intimate drama about teenage girls that is Cuties.

The United States is not the only country in which controversy around Cuties has led to it making the Netflix top 10. Per FlixPatrol, the film has made the Netflix top 10 movies in 17 countries.

This, however, tells its own story. In markets similar to that of the United States, but where the movie has not drawn the same levels of controversy, the film has not appeared in the Netflix top 10 at all. In the United Kingdom, for example, the film has not made the chart.

Cuties also missed out on the chart in its native France. This is notable, as the three other French-language movies that made the Netflix charts in the U.S. made the French top five. French productions Lost Bullet and Earth and Blood reached the number one spot and French-Canadian movie The Decline reached number five.

In these countries, the film would likely have passed relatively unnoticed by mainstream Netflix users and only been watched by fans of foreign and arthouse films—as might have been the case in the U.S. had the movie not been headline news for nearly a week.

This definitely seems to be the case if we compare Cuties to another French-Sengalese Netflix film, Mati Diop's 2019 romance Atlantics. The two films are likely to have had the same (small) audience on Netflix had Cuties generated no controversy. However, a Google News search for Atlantics brings up around 7,500 results, compared to the 18.4 million results for Cuties. As such, Cuties is currently in the Netflix top 5 while Atlantics remains a hidden gem.

cuties netflix
'Cuties' has been hit with criticism since Netflix announced it would be streaming the movie. Netflix

Hence, it seems that Cuties has become the latest film to prove a long-held Hollywood paradox: that huge controversy and calls to boycott a film can make more people want to see it rather than fewer.

Among the biggest examples of the new millennium have been films that have been victims of boycotts from the church. Religious groups campaigned for boycotts of the film adaptations of Dan Brown's novels The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons, which made $760 million and $485 million respectively in the box office. Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, meanwhile, made $622 million despite numerous Jewish groups accusing it of anti-Semitism.

Even films that, like Cuties have been accused of sexualizing young girls have ridden a wave of controversy to become big box office hits. Kubrick's Lolita, for example, made four-and-a-half times its budget in 1962, despite being the story of a man who has an affair with a 14-year-old (moved up from 12 in the book)—though Adrian Lyne's 1997 version of the film struggled financially because its subject matter meant it had troubles finding a U.S. distributor.

The fact that the movie is on Netflix has also surely helped it become a hit despite the huge boycotting pressure. After all, while people may not be willing to be seen going to a cinema to see a film that Fox News pundit Laura Ingraham said was only for "pedophiles and creeps," they are likely to be more willing to click on the movie on Netflix and see what all the fuss is about.

Though Cuties has likely seen a viewership boost as a result of its controversy, the film has had a negative impact on Netflix. On September 10, the day that #CancelNetflix began trending, company stock value fell 2.5 percent to $487.31. It has also continued to fall, and at the time of writing, company shares are at $482.3.

Cuties is streaming now on Netflix.