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Netflix Doesn’t Want the Sequel to One of Its Most Important Movies

Ted Sarandos and Icarus director Bryan Fogel
Netflix co-C.E.O. Ted Sarandos and Icarus director Bryan Fogel at the 90th Annual Academy Awards. Photo: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
Matthew Belloni
December 4, 2022

Have you watched this Netflix documentary about Robert Downey Jr.’s father? Sr. is fun and emotional for sure, but it’s a fairly traditional tribute/vanity doc, with Jr. and wife Susan Downey producing, and directed by Tiger King executive producer Chris Smith. It premiered at the Telluride Film Festival in September and was acquired by Netflix as a long-shot Oscar play in a year in which the streamer’s awards cupboard is unusually bare. (It has Margaret Brown’s slave ship saga Descendant in the doc race and Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio in animated feature, but its two big all-category awards films, Alejandro G. Inarritu’s Bardo and Noah Baumbach’s White Noise, both flamed out at the festivals.) Maybe the Netflix campaign machine and Downey Jr.’s willingness to promote Sr. will overcome the traditional snootiness of the Academy’s 600-person documentary branch, though I doubt it.   

But that’s not why I’m mentioning Sr.. What’s interesting is that at Telluride, Netflix chose to buy that movie instead of Icarus: The Aftermath, the enthusiastically-reviewed follow up to the Russia sports doping documentary Icarus, one of the most important movies in the history of Netflix. Remember, back in 2018, when Icarus won the best documentary Oscar for director Bryan Fogel, it was Netflix’s first win for a feature of any kind. The upstart streamer had spent millions of dollars campaigning for top awards, hoping to translate the Oscar and Emmy halo into brand equity and greater acceptance by the creative community. With Icarus, it finally broke through in a major category.