Most Watched Netflix Original Films Released Before 2022 and Insights on Film Strategy

Which English-speaking Netflix original films released before 2022 were still the most watched in 2023?

Frédéric Durand What's on Netflix Avatar

Most Watched Movies Netflix 2023 Released Before 2022

Pictures: Netflix

Netflix released its second Engagement Report, and with it, we now have a complete view of what Netflix users watched globally in 2023. In this deep dive into the numbers, we’re looking into trends and performances of English-language Netflix Original movies released before 2022. 

The reason for that is that films released in 2022, especially in the second half of the year, were still in their initial phase of availability in 2023, and my focus was on what is left of Netflix films at least a year after their release, hence the cutout date of December 31st, 2021.

This analysis covers 290 live-action and animated films using the CVE metric (Complete Viewing Equivalent), obtained by dividing the hours viewed by the runtime.

Before we dive deep into the Top 20, let’s take a step back and put into context the numbers we are going to use in the analysis. The 290 Netflix films covered in this analysis were watched the equivalent of 2.34 billion times in 2023 by global Netflix subscribers. That is the average equivalent of 75 complete viewings each second of each day of each week of each month of 2023 for films that had been available at that point between one and seven years on the service.

The biggest film in the analysis is Murder Mystery, which was watched the equivalent of 64.7 million times in 2023, or 2 complete viewings per second. The least-watched films had approximately 100,000 CVEs; that’s one complete viewing every 5 minutes.

These impressive numbers are hard to wrap one’s head around as we don’t have any other comparisons for them. We don’t know how many times a theatrical film is watched on video on demand across the globe in a year or how many times it is watched in theaters, so it is up to you to decide if those numbers show that Netflix films sink or swim in the catalog months after they were released. I don’t think so, but we will need to wait for a few more Engagement Reports to see definitive trends about the long tails of viewings for Netflix Original films.

The Top 20 Most Watched Netflix Original Movies of 2023 Released Before 2022

Without further ado, here are the Top 20 most-watched Netflix original films released before 2022 that were the most-watched in 2023.

Most Watched Movies Of 2023 Released Before 2022

This Top 20 has some teachings for us:

Sequels lead to higher viewings of the original films – The first and third films on the list are original films that had a sequel released during the time snapshot provided by the Engagement Reports.

Christmas films are big during the Christmas season – The two Christmas Chronicle films are perennial watchings whose numbers surge during the year’s second half. That’s something that we can see across all Christmas films, and we will come back to it later. It’s fundamentally logical and we will see in the next few years if those bursts of viewing time become less and less important during that time of the year.

Animated films are also watched and/or rewatched a lot—five films in this Top 20 are animated films, and I’ll bet right here right now that The Sea Beast will be there next year when we add the films released in 2022.

the sea beast best netflix original movies on netflix march 2023

Picture: Netflix

Family films are also huge on Netflix – If we count animated and Christmas films, family films make up the bulk of the films in the Top 20.

Action films with big castings still command a lot of viewing time – When we talk about films being watched, we could argue that films that were big successes have exhausted the potential pool of viewers, but the fact that Red Notice (230 million CVEs in its first 91 days) is number 2 here tends to show that it is not the case and it was still watched the equivalent of 2 times every second more than a year after its release. The same could be said with 6 Underground, Triple Frontier, Spenser Confidential, or The Old Guard, some of which have a sequel planned or at various stages of development.

Romantic films are still a draw – At one point in Netflix’s history, films such as The Kissing Booth and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before were touted as “the rebirth of romantic comedies” that found successes on streaming that were no longer available to them in theaters. Well, those two are still in the Top 20, proving that their legacy is still being watched or felt.

Some surprises are still possible – I would not have bet on the fact that Sofia Carson’s Feel the Beat would be in the Top 20 had you asked me before delving deep into the numbers, but here it is, comfortably at number 16. Another surprise is number 20, Army of Thieves, which was more watched last year than the original film set in this universe, Army of the Dead, which was very interesting during the year that saw the release of the new film by Zack Snyder.

Netflix Original Films Released in 2015 and 2016.

Netflix Originals Released In 2015 2016 Performance

Pictured: The Do-Over, The Ridiculous Six and Spectral

The humble beginnings of Netflix’s foray into the original films show that Adam Sandler’s deal back in the day was the right call, providing two films that still attract viewers.

Bar Graph For Most Watched Netflix Original Movies From 2015 In 2023

But the real surprise is Spectral, with 8.2M CVEs during 2023. Now, it’s not so much of a surprise as it is a surprisingly effective action film made with care and talent, so let’s say that in some cases, “quality” is enough to continue being watched.

Netflix Original Films Released in 2017

Most Watched Movies From 2017 On Netflix

Pictured: Bright, A Christmas Prince, The Babysitter

2017 exemplifies two trends that will permeate through this analysis.

The first one is that blockbusters from any year continue to be blockbusters down the line with Bright being the most-watched film from 2017 in 2023.

The second is that seasonal films, be it Christmas or Halloween films, have a huge swing during the year in terms of viewing and usually do a whole lot better in the second part of the year, such as we can see here with A Christmas Prince, The Babysitter and 1922. That’s their hook compared to films not defined by a time of year.

Most Watched Netflix Movies From 2017 On Netflix

Netflix’s Original Films Released in 2018

Most Watched Netflix Original Films Released In 2018

Picture: The Christmas Chronicles, The Kissing Booth and To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before

We have already mentioned the first three films of the list but let’s look at Bird Box. Its numbers are good but not impressive, especially considering a spin-off called Bird Box Barcelona was released in 2023. It improved its numbers but not by a lot.

Bar Graph Most Watched Movies From 2018 On Netflix

The other interesting one here is number 4, How It Ends, which did huge numbers in 2023 and even came back in some weekly Top 10 last year without any discernible reasons besides the whims of the algorithm. Those phenomena are still fun to watch (even if this film in particular is not).

Netflix Original Films Released in 2019

Most Watched Netflix Original Movies From 2019

Pictured: Murder Mystery, 6 Underground, Triple Frontier

Action and comedy reigned over 2019 films in 2023, but number 4 here is interesting. The Irishman stayed flat viewership-wise between the first and half of the year, which might suggest that the release of Killers of the Flower Moon in the second half of 2023 might have pushed some people to its previous films. Nonetheless, that’s an impressive tally for what is essentially a three-hour prestige film.

Bar Graph Most Watch Netflix Originals From 2019

But being a renowned director might only get you so far, as High Flying Bird by Steven Soderbergh is not getting those huge numbers, even with his film about the NBA.

Netflix Original Films Released in 2020

Most Watched Netflix Original Movies From 2020

Pictured: Extraction, We Can Be Heroes, 6 Underground

We Can Be Heroes by Robert Rodriguez is a mega-hit, still three years after its release and with no sequel released to prop it up. That’s a very impressive total and we will see if it can keep up that way in the next Engagement Reports.

Bar Graph Most Watched Netflix Original Movies From 2020

Now, if you want to avoid being watched on Netflix, there’s one surefire way to do it: make a black-and-white film. Regardless of their artistic merits, Mank by David Fincher and The Forty-Year-Old version by Radha Bank are in the pits because of those black-and-white thumbnails that Netflix subscribers apparently do not like.

Netflix Original Films Released in 2021

Most Watched Netflix Original Movies From 2021

Pictured: Red Notice, Back to the Outback, Wish Dragon

Animated films made a comeback in 2021, and 3 of them populate the top 4 for that year: Back to the Outback, Wish Dragon, and The Mitchells vs the Machines. Based on the first films on this list, if you were to make an animated action family film about a dog, you would have a streaming hit on your hands.

Bar Graph Most Watched Netflix Originals From 2021

But animation will only get you so far as if you’re aimed at very young kids or adults, that won’t do it with the examples of Arlo The Alligator Boy, or America: The Motion Picture.

The bottom is also the home of some black-and-white pictures, and even Zendaya can’t break the curse with Malcolm & Marie. Let’s add another theme that Netflix do not seem to like: musical films with the fantastic tick, tick… Boom! by Lin-Manuel Miranda being so low in the chart.

The Biggest Surges in Viewership Between the First Half of 2023 and The Second Half.

It would make sense for films to steadily lose viewership over time but for 40 or so films out of the 290 in this analysis, they actually gained some viewership. Here are the biggest winners:

Biggest Jumps In Viewership In Second Half Of 2023

Holiday films are the most represented here, followed by films that had sequels, tie-ins, or spin-offs released in the second half of 2024.

But in grey, there are all the films that gained viewership without any obvious reasons besides the algorithm. We could name Duncan Jones’ Mute, which gained 61% of viewing time between the first and second half of the year. It could also be that the film has now reached the lowest viewership it will get now, with some fluctuation around that mark, but we will need more Engagement Reports to see a definite trend.

The Complete Chart of the 290 Films Covered in the Analysis

To finish with, here’s the complete chart of all 290 films covered in this analysis. You can now have the Top 50 or even 100 and if you want more numbers about the Engagement Reports, feel free to check our very own search engine.

Full List Of Most Watched Movies Pre 2022 On Netflix

Written by

Residing in Normandy in France, Frédéric is an avid Netflix follower hosting the French-language podcast Netflixers and running the Netflix & Chiffres substack. For What's on Netflix, Frédéric does deep dives into the weekly top 10s and pioneer the completed viewing equivalent that Netflix adopted themselves.

 Poster Rating: R
Language: English
Genre: Action, Drama
Director: Sam Hargrave
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, David Harbour, Golshifteh Farahani, Derek Luke
Added to Netflix: April 24th, 2020

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