Netflix has invested hundreds of millions of dollars into original movie and television productions. The result has been highly lucrative for the burgeoning entertainment powerhouse, with movies like Roma and The Power of the Dog nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, and television shows like Squid Game becoming cultural juggernauts.
Netflix’s own data tracks the popularity of all its releases, and while the company has been famously coy in the past regarding the viewing numbers of their content, in recent years, it has begun releasing data relating to viewing numbers of some of their most popular movies and television shows.
10 Enola Holmes (2020)
Starring Millie Bobby Brown as the titular Enola Holmes, sister to world-famous detective Sherlock Holmes (Henry Cavill), Enola Holmes became one of Netflix’s most-watched movies, bagging almost 190 million hours of viewing time by Netflix users during its first 28 days of release. Millie Bobby Brown, in particular, was praised for her first major leading role, while Cavill’s portrayal of the iconic detective was similarly a highlight, even if it did result in a lawsuit against Netflix.
With a high audience and critical score, it’s not surprising that Netflix pushed ahead with a sequel. Production on the sequel recently finished, so fans can expect Enola Holmes 2 to arrive on Netflix sometime in late 2022.
9 Spenser Confidential (2020)
Starring Mark Wahlberg and Winston Duke in the central roles, Spenser Confidential, directed by frequent Wahlberg collaborator Peter Berg, is an action-comedy that failed to impress critics when it dropped in 2020.
But despite a labored plot that deviates heavily from its source material, Spenser Confidential has been a big hit for Netflix, helped no doubt in part by the cinematic draw of leading star, Mark Wahlberg. During its first six weeks on Netflix, the movie was watched by over 85 million Netflix accounts (via Deadline). Spenser Confidential 2 is currently in the works, with all major players from the original set to return.
8 6 Underground (2019)
Netflix’s most expensive movie at the time, before the release of Red Notice in 2021, 6 Underground marked director Michael Bay’s first venture into the world of streaming platforms.
With a diverse star-studded cast that includes Ryan Reynolds, Mélanie Laurent, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, and Dave Franco, what’s most disappointing for some fans about 6 Underground is that it doesn’t have any of the over-the-top elements that make Bay’s better films guilty pleasure viewing. The film failed to impress critics but has been a big hit for Netflix, solidifying its position as the seventh most-watched Netflix movie by the total number of hours viewed. Despite this success, a planned 6 Underground sequel has been canceled.
7 The Kissing Booth 2 (2020)
This sequel to the 2018 teen romantic comedy was largely panned upon its release in 2020, but still got large enough audience numbers to warrant a threequel, as well as a place on this list.
A film based on the popular teen book of the same name by author Beth Reekles, The Kissing Booth 2 was a huge hit for Netflix, clocking up almost 210 million viewing hours in its first 28 days. While critics may not have been taken by the long-distance longing of Elle and Noah, fans of the series have invested hundreds of millions of hours into their love story.
6 The Irishman (2019)
The big-budgeted Martin Scorsese Oscar-nominated crime-drama, starring acting heavyweights Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Al Pacino, among others, was a titanic undertaking for Netflix. Languishing in development hell for years because of its colossal budget, Netflix eventually agreed to finance the project in 2017.
Netflix’s gamble paid huge dividends for the fledgling production house, with The Irishman earning 10 Academy Award nominations in 2020. The movie has been a huge hit on Netflix, becoming one of their most popular original movies of all time.
5 The Unforgivable (2021)
Returning to the big screen for her first feature film appearance since 2018’s Bird Box, The Unforgivable marked the second partnership between Sandra Bullock and Netflix. Based on the ITV miniseries Unforgiven, the movie follows the plot of that series faithfully, telling the story of a woman returning to society after a lengthy spell in prison, and society’s refusal to forgive her for her past deeds.
With almost 215 million hours viewed in its first 28 days of release, The Unforgivable proves yet again the star power of Sandra Bullock and the draw her presence has on audiences.
4 Extraction (2020)
Set against the backdrop of international arms dealing and drug trafficking, Extraction marked the first foray of Joe and Anthony Russo into a new action franchise, following their completion of a host of Marvel movies, concluding with 2019’s Avengers: Endgame. Starring Chris Hemsworth in the leading role, Extraction was praised for its action set-pieces and stunt work but criticized for its aimless plot.
Extraction was Netlfix’s most-watched movie (based on the number of different accounts that streamed it, not the total number of hours streamed) when it was released in 2020, as revealed by co-CEO Ted Sarandos (via Fortune).
3 Bird Box (2018)
Based on the novel of the same name by author Josh Malerman, Susanne Bier’s post-apocalyptic horror starring Sandra Bullock became Netflix’s most-watched original movie when it was released back in 2018.
Bird Box maintained the top position as Netflix’s most-watched movie from 2018 until 2021 when it was dethroned by the movie now sitting at number one, highlighting the huge staying power of the horror hit. What’s even more impressive for Bird Box is the comparatively lower number of Netflix subscribers in 2018 compared to today, meaning its length of time as Netflix’s most-watched movie is even more remarkable.
2 Don’t Look Up (2021)
Adam McKay’s Best Picture nominated black-comedy satire, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Meryl Streep, and Jennifer Lawrence, among a host of other notable stars became a culturally significant movie upon its release in late 2021. Initially conceived of as a climate change allegory, with the meteor representing the impending natural catastrophe awaiting mankind, Don’t Look Up, when it was actually released, came to represent the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Many believe that the movie’s lampooning of the media directly led to its relatively poor critical score, but its success among audiences cannot be understated. Netflix subscribers spent almost 360 million hours watching Don’t Look Up in the 28 days of its release.
1 Red Notice (2021)
Netflix’s most expensive movie to date has been a huge hit with their audience since its release in 2021, clocking more than 364 million hours of viewing time in the first 28 days of its release. Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber, with one of the most bankable cast lists imaginable, including a starring trio of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Gal Gadot, and Ryan Reynolds, Red Notice allows each of the starring leads to basically play themselves on-screen.
The movie wasn’t a hit with the critics, many of whom felt it lacked originality and ambition, especially considering the price tag and the ensemble cast. However, it has been a massive success story for Netflix, which explains why two sequels are currently in development.
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