Riveting, Suspenseful, Drama


I was perusing the offerings on Netflix recently and ended up watching nothing. That’s because I was so absorbed by the three-word tags that Netflix has appended to every movie or series title.

Understated, Inspiring, Dramedy

Gruesome, Suspenseful, Horror

As different titles and their accompanying graphics and text tags were presented to me, one after the other, each one shown just long enough for me to make a clickable decision, I became more interested in the three-word descriptive tags than in seeing any actual show or film.  

Raunchy, Quirky, Comedy

Scandalous, Riveting, True Crime

Most of the tags were either adjectives (quirky, witty, cerebral) or genres (drama, comedy, film noir). Put them together and you’ve got a three-word description of a movie.

Intimate, Gritty, Suspenseful

Witty, Romantic, Comedy

The New York Times noticed these three-word tags in an article “A Few Words About Netflix’s Success: Vivid. Snappy. Tags.” The article noted that the tag words are selected by a team of 30 people at Netflix, and that they’ve come up with more than 3,000 tags. The tags used most often: Romantic, Exciting, Suspenseful.

Psychological, Exciting, Thriller

Rousing, Gritty, Drama

According to Netflix, the two- or three-word tags, meant to convey the gestalt of a show or movie, regularly help viewers choose a show from the service’s nearly endless library.” Netflix has over 10,000 titles on its streaming platform and happens to be kicking ass in the market, with 7.4 percent of total television use in the United States and far outpacing its nearest competitor, Amazon Prime Video, which has 3.4 percent.

Humorous, Heartfelt, Reality TV

Understated, Inspiring, Dramedy

I thought I could tell quickly what I’d be interested in just from the tag words:

  • Sentimental, Heartfelt, Drama—that’s a no.
  • Heartfelt, Emotional, Tearjerker—double no.
  • Explosive, Slick, Cyberpunk—also not for me.
  • Provocative, Offbeat, Drama—that’s a real possibility.
  • Cerebral, Suspenseful, Thriller—also could be interesting to me.

Some tags nailed the movie: Cerebral, Dark, Film Noir (Chinatown); Witty, Bittersweet, Drama (Marriage Story). Other tags were red flags for my taste: Heartfelt (rhymes with sappy), Gruesome (don’t need to see it), Reality TV (as if reality by itself isn’t already too much).

But then I saw that the movie Moneyball (an excellent story about the Oakland A’s use of analytics in baseball), had the tags Inspiring, Heartfelt, Drama. Heartfelt? Maybe because Brad Pitt had a daughter. Inspiring? Maybe because the A’s improved as a team but still fell short of their goals. I wouldn’t have clicked on Moneyball based on those tags, but I thought the movie was great. I suppose no system is perfect.

Slick, Witty, Dramedy

Violent, Action, Visually Striking

Mind-bending, Ominous, Epic World

I do like the three-word tag model. I think publishers should apply it to novels. It would serve as a quick sorting mechanism for readers. I’m planning to apply the three-tag system to my next novel, The Suitor, coming out this summer. I’m thinking: Riveting, Suspenseful, Drama. Or maybe: Buy, This, Book.

Read the first chapter of The Suitor here.

By David Klein

David Klein

Published novelist, creative writer, journalist, avid reader, discriminating screen watcher.


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