What the Heck Is ‘The Wandering Earth,’ and Why Didn’t Netflix Tell Us About It?

'The Wandering Earth' is China's second-highest-earning film in history, but it premiered on Netflix this week without any fanfare.

The Wandering Earth Netflix Chinese movie sci-fi
Netflix users are wondering what its new series The Wandering Earth is. Netflix/YouTube

Netflix (NFLX) has long been criticized for its lack of marketing and promotion outside of its flagship series such as House of Cards and Stranger Things. This especially applies to the streamer’s expansive library of international content, which doesn’t receive much of a push stateside. Take The Wandering Earth, for example, a Chinese sci-fi blockbuster from director Frant Gwo that tells the story of a distant future in which the sun is about to expand into a red giant and devour the Earth, prompting humankind to make an audacious attempt to save the planet.

Foreign language films don’t always capture the American zeitgeist. But if Netflix’s own Roma, which included nary a word of English, could become an Oscars powerhouse, why isn’t the $700 million–grossing Wandering Earth getting any love? As of this writing, it’s China’s second-highest-earning film in history, an impressive feat given the increasing importance of the Middle Kingdom box office. It sits just behind Avengers: Endgame and Captain Marvel as the third-biggest global hit of the year. To paraphrase the great Ron Burgundy, that’s kind of a big deal.

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Netflix Asia unveiled a trailer for The Wandering Earth on April 29—a whopping 24 hours ahead of its April 30 premiere on the streamer. Previous studio cast-offs that Netflix gobbled up like The Cloverfield Paradox and Mowgli received significantly more promotion (the former even got a Super Bowl ad).This may not be a direct apples-to-apples comparison, but it speaks to the platform’s selective and often underwhelming marketing choices. That the company shells out roughly $2 billion annually in paid media efforts makes it all the more confounding.

Traditional TV series on linear networks usually receive a four-month window of advertising ahead of their premieres, while blockbuster films generally rev up the awareness campaign six to eight months before the release date. As a direct-to-consumer online streaming service, Netflix doesn’t need to follow these guidelines, but perhaps it should acknowledge that its homepage-based platform and algorithmic suggestions don’t always yield the intended effect. Netflix is a purpose-based viewing model in that users tend to know what they want to watch before they log on. How can they decide if The Wandering Earth—or any other number of shows and movies that get lost in Netflix’s sea of content—is worth watching if they don’t even know it exists?

The streamer wants to release upwards of 90 original films per year on top of its continued avalanche of in-house series. Considering they’re new offerings, they need strong marketing pushes to build buzz, attract audiences and sustain engagement. Subscribers need an anchor lest they scroll right on by without a second glance. The Wandering Earth‘s catch-and-release strategy feels like a microcosm of the streamer’s bigger issues with promotion.

What the Heck Is ‘The Wandering Earth,’ and Why Didn’t Netflix Tell Us About It?