With the recent announcement that Netflix has been hemorrhaging both money and subscriptions (and its stock plunging 60%), many users have taken to considering just why any of us still keeps Netflix around. At $15, the monthly price is definitely too high, and Netflix wants to start charging users for sharing passwords with friends and family. Advertisement implementation is now being considered (assumedly so that the company can actually make money from its handsomely bankrolled films), but the movie selection is poor, both in regards to the amount and selection of films. The latter feature has been widely criticized for its lack of diversity in time period, as most films in the Netflix library remain fairly current.
Thus, many are simply taking to other streaming services that are objectively better in quality. For example, HBO Max offers a better, vaster and more diverse collection of films, in addition to a top-quality selection of series from the HBO archives. The Criterion Channel has a finely curated backlog of films spanning decades, continents and creators of all kinds. And while not quite up to the level of HBO Max, Hulu still allows you to watch a wide array of little-seen, recent indies, along with binge-worthy shows like Pam & Tommy. Personally, the only reason my Netflix account is still active is because when I moved back in with my parents a little over a year ago, they felt it was fair if they began to cover the cost since they use the service so often. Now, they’re the only ones using it. And even they’ve admitted to me that their interest has been gradually waning.
Yes, reasons to keep Netflix around may be in short supply. But what isn’t in short supply are Netflix Original films that don’t sound like they’re real, and Netflix just keeps churning them out. As the film industry fosters an increasingly bizarre landscape—movies based on toys, music biopics sans the rights to either the artist’s music or their likeness, animated videogame adaptations with absurd voice casts, Avatar sequels forever—sometimes the real-life, ridiculous upcoming films are a little too comparable to the beloved fake movies of 30 Rock. Iconic titles like The Rural Juror, A Dog Took My Face and Gave Me a Better Face to Change the World: The Celeste Cunningham Story and Sing Dem Blues, White Girl: The Jackie Jormp-Jomp Story could basically be real now and, arguably, those kinds of movies are Netflix’s bread and butter.
So, without further ado, here are 10 absolutely not real movies you can find on Netflix that, somehow, haven’t been featured in a 30 Rock subplot.
“A cheerleading stunt gone wrong landed her in a 20-year coma. Now she’s 37, newly awake and ready to live out her high school dream: Becoming prom queen.” Yes, that’s actually the synopsis for the upcoming Senior Year starring Rebel Wilson. On the one hand, as ideas are in short supply in Tinseltown these days, I guess I’m glad that Netflix is coming up with “original premises.” But on the other hand, at what cost? Rebel Wilson being goofy trying to assimilate into Zoomer culture? “I just found out there’s eight more Fast and Furious movies!” she exclaims in the trailer. Also, why is she using her native Australian accent when her parents and everyone else in the film is American? Is there going to be an explanation for that? Maybe we deserve this.
This movie has already received its fair share of ribbing over the years for its ludicrous premise: “Jodi, the tallest girl in her high school, has always felt uncomfortable in her own skin. But after years of slouching, being made fun of, and avoiding attention at all costs, Jodi finally decides to find the confidence to stand tall.” But it’s one of the primo examples of a fake Netflix movie with a preposterous premise. And as they say, any press is good press, and the discussion around this movie led to enough hate clicks to snag it a sequel. I am become death, destroyer of worlds, etc.
This one wins for my favorite premise out of any of the films on this list. Airplane Mode is a Brazilian Netflix film about an influencer named Ana (Because I guess all teen rom-com films are now about influencers. Bleak!), who gets into a car accident while talking on the phone. In the aftermath, she is “shipped off to her grandfather’s farm” where she must endure a “digital detox.” Amazing, this sounds like the greatest fake movie in the world. An influencer gets into a car accident because of her phone addiction and has to work on a farm as punishment. If this was on 30 Rock (and it would be, and Jenna Maroney would be starring in it as the teenager), it would be called something like…actually, no, it would still be called Airplane Mode.
Reading the plot synopsis for this one got a real chuckle out of me. I get that Christmas rom-com movies are always going to be absurd, but the ones on this list felt particularly unreal. In A Castle for Christmas, a best-selling author (played by THE Brooke Shields) escapes a recent scandal by shipping off to Scotland, where she falls in love with a castle there. Of course, she’s going to need to contend with the grumpy duke (played by THE Cary Elwes) who owns the castle. This movie actually has an OK rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and stars real actors (including Drew Barrymore). Still, the name is goofy, and it is funny to imagine the movie is actually about a woman with a castle fetish.
First, DJ Cinderella is just a goofy title. Second, the plot synopsis on Netflix: “Fiercely independent and disillusioned with love, a teen DJ is determined to chart her own path, till a pop heartthrob falls for her awesome mix.” This one isn’t all that weird or convoluted-sounding, there is just something inherently silly about the concept of a movie about a “teen DJ” and “pop heartthrob” falling for her “awesome mix.” As this is the second Brazilian Netflix Original to make this list, I’m very intrigued by what they have going on over there. Brazil is operating on a teen rom-com filmmaking level that Americans have not caught up to yet.
I’m mostly including this because the name is so stupid. I get that it’s like, what actually happened or whatever (I haven’t watched this movie and I’m never going to), but The Tinder Swindler is such a goofy name for an ostensibly serious documentary about extortion. You know whoever came up with that title was really pleased with themselves. The Tinder Swindler. The Tinder Swindler. Just say it out loud a few times and you might be able to successfully convince yourself that Liz Lemon walked into work and told Jack Donaghy that she was watching it alone in her apartment the night before while choking on a pretzel or something.
In this Mexican film, a “thrill-seeker tween girl” is forbidden by her mom to enter into a BMX race. So, what’s the next logical step? Well, of course it’s hiring an actor with “nothing to lose” to act as her approving father so that she can still compete. I should take a moment to mention that a major factor in considering what kind of Netflix film falls into the “fake movie” category is a combination of silly title and silly plot—and whether I can see Jenna Maroney in the lead role. But not only that, can you see in your mind’s eye this movie within another movie or show? Like, can you imagine the title of this movie plastered onto a poster that Tracy Jordan walks by in Manhattan? I think there is an alternate, fictional universe where Dad Wanted is all over subway station walls and MTA buses for months. Maybe Jack Donaghy went to go see it over the weekend and had an epiphany about his own role as a father. “Dad Wanted, Lemon. It’s so simple. It all makes sense now.”
Obviously there’s a second Christmas movie on this list, because Christmas movies are insane. However, this one is not actually that crazy-sounding. But it catches you a little off guard. Christmas Inheritance? Fine, straightforward stuff. But it’s the plot that really gets me, even though it’s still pretty stereotypical and unassuming. The synopsis: “To inherit her father’s company, socialite Ellen must first visit his small hometown, where she learns the value of hard work and helping others.” Do you see? This is the plot synopsis that makes me laugh the most, in no small part because I can imagine Jenna Maroney desperately vying for the lead role in order to rehabilitate her public image.
Rock My Heart is another title where it’s not a super crazy-sounding film but one in which I can see Jenna Maroney in the lead, or at least trying to get the lead. A film with a lead role she would most cravenly want to exploit for good publicity. Rock My Heart falls into that category, a German film about a girl with a heart defect who “bonds with an unruly stallion” and “trains to compete as an amateur jockey in a life-threatening race.” I think the 30 Rock title might actually be a little sillier, something like “My Horse, My Heart Defect, and Me: One Girl’s Journey.” Again, Jenna Maroney, an adult woman, would be portraying a teenager.
Honorable mention top something that isn’t a movie: This upcoming series starring Mr. Bean himself, Rowan Atkinson, has a poster that absolutely looks like an in-universe, fictional movie poster you’d see in another television series or movie. A bee is positioned towards the bottom center of the image on a countertop, while Rowan Atkinson peers over looking at the camera, holding a spatula and sporting a perturbed look in his eyes as his kitchen is set aflame behind him. The tagline reads “Prepare For Battle.” Great. The plot synopsis is as follows: “A man finds himself at war with a bee while housesitting a luxurious mansion. Who will win, and what irreparable damage will be done in the process?” Apparently, the reason the series is being made is so that Netflix can “boost their comedy content.” For who? British people over the age of 50? No wonder this is a sinking ship!
Brianna Zigler is an entertainment writer based in middle-of-nowhere Massachusetts. Her work has appeared at Little White Lies, Film School Rejects, Thrillist, Bright Wall/Dark Room and more, and she writes a bi-monthly newsletter called That’s Weird. You can follow her on Twitter, where she likes to engage in stimulating discussions on films like Movie 43, Clifford, and Watchmen.