All of the big streaming platforms are extremely hesitant to release specific viewership numbers, at least partially because doing so would provide useful data to competitors about how many subscribers a platform has, but it’s also because the first big name in the streaming landscape—Netflix—set a precedent that it’s okay to just insist something is popular without offering up any real evidence. Just this past week, both Hulu and Apple TV+ declared that their newest original movies are the most popular things they’ve ever had (a claim that doesn’t mean much for Apple, given how new it still is), and now Netflix has stepped in to remind everyone that it invented claiming that something is popular without backing it up with numbers… except this time it actually brought the proverbial receipts. 2020 is full of surprises.
This comes from Bloomberg, which managed to get the first-ever list from Netflix of its 10 most popular original movies, complete with the number of how many people actually streamed each film. Before we get to the list, though, Variety pointed out an important detail: Netflix only counts people who watched at least two minutes of movie, meaning someone could hypothetically watch a single scene, turn off the movie, never come back to finish it, and then still apparently count toward this total. So, while this is more information than we normally get, it’s still not necessarily the full picture.
But anyway, here’s the list:
Extraction (99 million views)
Bird Box (89 million views)
Spenser Confidential (85 million)
6 Underground (83 million)
Murder Mystery (73 million)
The Irishman (64 million)
Triple Frontier (63 million)
The Wrong Missy (59 million)
The Platform (56 million)
The Perfect Date (48 million)
There are a few conclusions that can be drawn from this: First, most of these movies are recent, since Netflix has continued to grow in the last few years and therefore has more potential viewers to push a new movie to on the platform’s main page. Second, most of them have at least one big-name star, implying that that is what Netflix users really care about and not, say, big-name directors or critical acclaim. The Irishman is on this list, but it barely edged out Triple Frontier, and both Marriage Story and Roma were left out. That could be because people are more likely to rewatch a breezy Adam Sandler comedy than they are something with a little more weight, but that doesn’t explain, say, Bird Box or The Platform. The latter is one of the real surprises here, since it doesn’t have any big-name Hollywood stars and it’s from Spain, suggesting that maybe—maybe—America isn’t the absolute center of the world and our movie stars aren’t necessarily all that special. That seems unlikely, but who can say?
Speaking of surprises: There’s no mention of Bright, the biggest movie of 2018. We don’t actually care about Bright and we’re not surprised that a teen rom-com with Noah Centineo evidently attracted more viewers, but it is emblematic of why the whole “this thing is popular and you just have to trust us” attitude is so hard to accept. In 2018, Netflix insisted that Bright was a “major success” and was one of the “most viewed original titles ever” on the platform. That may have been true at the time, but if that’s the case, Bright apparently didn’t have any legs. On paper, this seems like it could be hinting at a bigger issue, with Netflix paying a bunch of money to bolster its catalog with original that nobody cares about two years later, but the fact that everything on this top 10 list is so recent suggests that Netflix has already figured out a way to solve that problem. By 2022, when nobody cares about Extraction, there will just be something new to watch with a very famous actor in it.